Lives of the fellows

John Patrick Horan

b.19 July 1907 d.12 January 1993
KCSGG(1965) MB BS Melb(1930) MD(1933) MRCP(1936) FRACP(1939) FRCP(1963)

John Horan was born in Mt Malcolm, Western Australia, and was educated by the Marist Brothers in New Norcia. He obtained a Government Exhibition at the school leaving examination and elected to use this to study medicine at the University of Melbourne. He was a brilliant student, finishing third on the honours list at graduation with first place in obstetrics and gynaecology, and honours in medicine and surgery. After a few years as a resident medical officer at the Brisbane and Royal Melbourne General Hospitals, he was appointed medical superintendent at St Vincent’s Hospital, Melbourne.

He came to England in 1936 and obtained his membership of the College. In 1937 he travelled to the USA to study with Rudolph Schindler in Chicago, the inventor of the modern flexible gastroscope. He took back one of the Schindler gastroscopes to Australia and was appointed honorary physician to outpatients at St Vincent’s. In 1939 he became a foundation fellow of the Royal Australasian College of Physicians.

In 1940 he married Margaret Cleland who was a paediatrician and also a fellow of the RACP. She was the daughter of Sir John Cleland, emeritus professor of pathology in the University of Adelaide. They had four children, a son and three daughters.

In that same year he enlisted in the Royal Australian Army Medical Corps in which he served until 1944. Early in January of the following year he was appointed physician to the 2/4th Australian General Hospital which sailed to the Middle East and for some time was stationed near Alexandria, Egypt.

At the end of February the hospital embarked for the North African front on a small Greek coastal ship The Knight of Malta which used to ply between Malta, Tunis and Syracuse. During a fierce storm the ship was wrecked, fortunately on a sandy beach between two rocky points. Running aground meant that it was possible to transport the troops and equipment ashore in lifeboats. In addition to his essential water bottle, John’s diary records: ‘I decided to take my tin hat and my gastroscope.’ Eventually all the equipment was saved and reached its destination at Barce-Al-Marj in Libya.

The hospital was barely established when the German counter attack under Rommel necessitated a hasty evacuation and retreat to Tobruk. During the seige of the city the officers and some of the staff slept on the beach in dugouts, between the hospital wards and the sea. John recorded in his diary that there was almost nothing to read; he read the Agatha Christie which had been going the rounds. When the light failed he put it on the sandy ledge above his head and during the night a little desert rat came, not to nibble his hair but to chew up the last four pages of the book. The unit chaplin, Owen Cosgriff, gave him Book 3 of Horace’s Odes which he took and studied It had notes and a vocabulary at the back; and so began an abiding interest in the Latin of Horace and his Odes, much of which he learned by heart. After four months in Tobruk the unit was relieved and returned to Cairo. It was in Jerusalem that John was able to acquire the three other books of the Odes and also some books of Cicero, including De Senectute.

Once back home he continued his study of Latin into old age, completing four years of Latin studies at the University of Melbourne and taking honours in his fourth year - which he then repeated because of the enjoyment that he obtained.

In March 1942 his unit was sent to Colombo, where it was stationed until August of that year. When it returned to Australia, John was promoted to the rank of lieutenant colonel and appointed officer in charge of the medical division of the 121 Australian General Hospital in the Northern Territory. He remained with the unit for a year and it was during that time that he reported in the Medical Journal of Australia, with John Halliday, ‘An epidemic of polyarthritis in the Northern Territory’, an infection which had previously been reported in 1928 as ‘an unusual epidemic’ and as far back as 1886 with the mistaken diagnosis of Dengue Fever. The disorder was later identified as an arbovirus infection and given the name of Ross River Virus Disease.

After his discharge from the Army, John returned to his appointment as honorary physician to St Vincent’s and entered private practice as a consultant physician, specializing in gastroenterology. He very quickly established himself as an excellent physician and a superb teacher of clinical medicine. He served a term as dean of the clinical school within the hospital.

John Horan was a courageous man of great integrity and a wonderful friend. He was always loyal to his Catholic faith which he practised without ostentation. In 1965 his talents were recognized by the award of a Papal Knighthood; Pope Paul VI bestowed on him the title of Knight Commander of the Order of St Gregory the Great. He was a member of the Papal Legate’s suite and Gentleman to his Holiness the Pope at the 40th International Eucharistie Congress in Melbourne in 1973. His devoted wife and children, and his many friends, remember his achievements and the influence he exerted on their own lives.

J J Billings

(Volume IX, page 244)

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