JOHN WILLIAM FIELDING F.R.M.S. (LONDON)
(1889 ‑ 1954)
AUSTRALIAN INSTITUTE OF TROPICAL MEDICINE
TOWNSVILLE N.Q. 1910 ‑ 1930
SCHOOL OF PUBLIC HEALTH AND TROPICAL MEDICINE
UNIVERSITY OF SYDNEY 1930 ‑ 1954
"Science is built on the accumulation of experiences and every scientist knows he must not base his conclusions only on the last few experiments in the laboratory. He must take into account all that has been done before. History is to him a real thing: tradition is priceless because there is no substitute for it. Practice is based on the experiments of innumerable years and even when there are no written records to be consulted, the behavior of men, the thoughts turned over and sifted, the knowledge gained in ages of trial and error are all of value, they are not to be thrown aside in favour of the last galvanometer reading. When a scientist records a discovery he only makes a new entry in an old book". Of all this, I believe, my father was very conscious.
John William Fielding was born on the 25th December 1889 in Wigan, Lancs, England. While he was being educated he took a part‑time job in a shop to help the family income ‑ his father had been badly injured and unable to work for a year. He was also taught shorthand, typing and the organ by two retired school‑teachers in Widnes. Eventually he bought a few sets of self‑educator books (beautifully bound!) including Cassell's, popular with Victorian and Edwardian society for those seeking further knowledge. Later he taught himself enough German to understand German scientific books, etc.
But in the meantime he had been working as a young teenager with Dr Anton Breinl at the Runcom Research Laboratory ‑ who had completed the Tropical Medicine course at the School of Tropical Medicine at Liverpool, Lancs. (founded 1899). So that under a meticulous German, a conscientious and ambitious young man should have a propitious start. It was less than ten years after the foundation of the School in Liverpool that my father found himself aware of tropical diseases. He was bitten by a monkey and contracted sleeping sickness (confirmed by his sister) and nursed by Dr Breinl.
Always adventurous, as a young boy he travelled all over England by cycle, so that to come to Australia was a natural progression ‑ to have come out as one of the two foundation members of the Australian Institute of Tropical Medicine at Townsville, must have seemed like a dream come true to a nineteen year old as he was when he left England in 1909. (In a bible presented to him at that time the date is November 16th 1909). It was the first medical research institute in Australia ‑ predating the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute by six years.
The Institute functioned from January 1910 and apart from six months absence on a working holiday (with a Dr Cook) in England in 1922, he remained there until transferred, with most of the staff which had gradually increased over the years, to the School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine, Sydney University.
He married Ellen Hindley on October 13, 1914, who had travelled out from England, having promised to come out if he decided to stay in North Queensland. Previous to this he had brought out his family ‑ so he must have been impressed with the potential of the tropics for white population ‑ which was one of, if not the most important reason for the establishment of the Institute.
He had travelled with Dr Breinl and Dr Priestley on occasions to Cairns, Mosman, Port Douglas, Cooktown, Innisfail, Willis Island to study local fevers, hookworm campaigns etc., The outcome of the Port Douglas trip was a paper, "On the Occurrence and Pathology of Endemic Glandular Fever" Breinl, Priestley and Fielding. (reprint Medical Journal Oct 24, 1914). He was twenty four at this stage.
In the 1915 report when there had been malarial cases to be dealt with and examinations extra to ordinary routine work and examinations for blood and intestinal parasites, Breinl saw fit to commend my father's valuable work.
In 1919 "Notes on Bionomics of Stegomyia Fasciata (Fabr.) was published. (Annals of Tropical Medicine, Parasitology vxiii No 3, December 1919).
"Australian Ticks". Commonwealth of Australia, Dept of Health Service Publication (Tropical Division) was published in 1926.
JW. Fielding had started work in Townsville on the cause of blindness in fowls ‑ eye worms ‑which bear his name.
He had a laboratory in the back garden (Belgian Gardens) where he often worked in the early days.
He published "Preliminary Note on the Transmission of the Eye Worm of Australian Poultry", printed in Australian Journal of Experimental Biology and Medical Science 1926.
"Further Observations" in 1927.
"Additional Observations" in 1928.
Plus, "Observations on Eye Worms in Birds" in Queensland Agricultural Journal.
He had a kindly letter from a German doctor who had been working on the same subject but for more years and was just arriving at his conclusions ‑ congratulating him on his achievement; a magnanimous action! The result meant a great saving for the poultry industry and the end of twelve or thirteen years work.
Just prior to 1930 he spent time on Palm Island injecting, recording names and diseases of the black population. At that time there was a proficient Mothercraft service on the island. The island was clean and well kept too.
He was very interested in cancer and leprosy research. He reduced the time of diagnosis of cancer from three weeks to two or three days, by a staining method he evolved. Recently in Brisbane the time has been reduced still further.
He travelled for his investigation of leprosy to Darwin, Peel Island (off Brisbane), Fantome Island (near Townsville) run by French‑Canadian Roman Catholic nuns, as well as Prince Henry Lazaret (Sydney).
He kept in touch with Dr R.G. Cochrane of Lady Willingdon Leprosy Sanitarium, Chingleput, Madras, India and who also visited Sydney. They both published "A Plea for the Standardisation of Lepromin TesC in 1944.
Dr Cochrane was a world authority on leprosy and my father spoke of retiring and going to India to understand more about the subject, but this was not to be.
He was very enthusiastic about his work. Once he could not obtain a photograph of a magnified subject that drew out the point of interest. The "Sun" newspaper had just introduced infra‑red photography so he went down to their office and enquired about it. The result was he got an exceedingly good photo and a full page on the Sunday Sun ‑ headline "Infra‑red photography used for the first time in Science in Australia". I'm not sure how that was received. In 1941 Journal of the Royal Microscopical Society was an article on the use of infra red rays in microscopy.
My father assisted Dr F. Clements with his work on Vitamins which was very successful ‑ he was grateful for the help.
Over the years he took medical students, Missionary workers for tropical areas, Americans during wartime and New Guineans demonstrating techniques, etc.
The Medical Journal of Australia published articles by him over the years and said they would be only too pleased to print anything he had to offer. He was open to new ideas and was very aware at that time that the school had a basement with quite a few superceded books. He was meticulous and liked everything well kept and clean, claiming there were enough bacteria, etc., within the school to cause trouble, so that it was necessary to be precise.
He was proud he cut a thinner and better section with a cut throat razor than the microtomes available then.
With all the information built on the accumulation of experiences, the knowledge gained over the years, all the marvellous electronic equipment available to scientists today, education geared to specialization, the older conclusions against which scientists can pit their own ideas, one realises all the thoughtful energy produced in the past with less background and less sophisticated equipment.
He was pleased to be in Australia and the only times he appeared nostalgic was with Professor Priestley when they both tried to assume a dialect!
My father was designated "Biochemist" and was accepted as a Fellow of the Royal Microscopical Society (London) on November 18, 1936.
He was pleased to be able to stay longer at a microscope than most, despite the fact he had only one eye, having lost the other in a childhood accident. It was with his first pay he bought his first glass eye.
He published twenty four papers.
Before he died in 1954, my father, on the instigation of Professor Ford, as 1 recall, wrote "The Australian Institute of Tropical Medicine, Townsville, North Queensland. Reminiscences. Staff and Work 1910 ‑1930". Unpublished and written between 1952 and 1954.
As Dr R.A. Douglas put it in his Jackson Lecture (46th) delivered at the Twelfth North Queensland Medical Conference, September 13, 1976. Rockhampton. "Hence from the two men BreinI and Fielding commencing the first Institute of Medical Research in Australia in an iron‑roofed wooden shed in 1910, we have the clear line of succession to what will be the major medical research facility in the country" ‑The Australian Institute of Health.
(Quotation: Introduction to an article in the "Times" London, 1941 by Sir W Bragg 0. M.).
Mary Elizabeth Fielding October 13 1979