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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Campbell, Allan (1836–1898)

by Suzanne Edgar

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 7, (MUP), 1979

Allan Campbell (1836-1898), medical practitioner and administrator, was born on 30 April 1836 in Glasgow, Scotland, fifth child of Allan Campbell, print-cutter, and his wife Agnes, née Dawson. Poor health cut short his study of architecture, but he qualified as a physician (L.R.C.P., Edinburgh, L.F.P.S., Glasgow, 1864) and worked in London. He arrived in Adelaide on 24 January 1867 and practised with Dr H. Wheeler. Next year on 30 April, Campbell married Florence Ann, sister of (Sir) Samuel Way.

In 1876 Campbell's practical suggestions formed the basis of the report of the government's commission on sanitation, of which he was a member. It suggested increased power for the Central Board of Health, to which he was later nominated, and the appointment of district health officers. Soon Adelaide became the first Australian capital to undertake a deep-drainage sewage system. When an epidemic struck the city, Campbell and his brother Dr William Macdonald Campbell rented a Currie Street shop which they called the Children's Outpatients' Dispensary, and treated the sick, often free of charge.

He then formed a committee to raise funds to build a hospital for poor children. Two years later the Adelaide Children's Hospital and Training School for Nurses opened; Campbell's architectural knowledge had influenced its design. He lectured there on physiology and hygiene and tended the poor at the Adelaide Homoeopathic Medical Charity. In 1879-91 he was on the board of management of the Adelaide Hospital.

In 1878 Campbell had been elected to the Legislative Council; he remained a member until his death. A liberal free trader, he was no orator, but was exact, 'honest and industrious', studying political economy, Whitaker's Almanack and the Statesman's Yearbook incessantly. He sat on many parliamentary commissions, one of which recommended progressive reforms for the Adelaide and Parkside lunatic asylums.

In 1889 Campbell was made minister without portfolio to strengthen (Sir) J. A. Cockburn's cabinet, but arguments over its constitutional propriety caused Campbell to resign the appointment after two weeks. In December he spoke at a public meeting to discuss sweated labour among female shirtmakers, showing thorough knowledge of their frequently dehumanizing conditions. A similar sensitivity to the difficulties of the unemployed in the winter of 1893 led him to collaborate with Edith Noble and Rev. B. C. Stephenson to devise a home-nursing scheme for Bowden, one of Adelaide's poorest suburbs. Next year he used his 'social influence and prestige' to extend this project to found the District Trained Nursing Society.

In 1895 the Children's Hospital, whose board Campbell headed, became reputedly the first in the southern hemisphere to set up a specifically bacteriological laboratory for the diagnosis of typhoid, diphtheria and tuberculosis. Two years later new isolation wards, the Allan Campbell buildings, were added. Campbell saw the projects as 'part and parcel of a great system of public hygiene'. He worked unsparingly on improvements to South Australia's health laws: the innovative Health Act, 1898, carried his stamp, particularly in the clauses relating to infectious diseases. His inaugural address to the Institute of Hygiene and Bacteriology, on tuberculosis and public health, urged government inspection of food supplies. Shortly afterwards another Campbell scheme, the Queen Victoria Home for Convalescent Children at Mount Lofty, was completed.

Survived by his wife, two daughters and six sons, two of whom were doctors, Campbell died of cardio-vascular disease in Adelaide on 30 October 1898 and was buried in North Road cemetery. He had been a prolific anonymous contributor to the South Australian Register in an effort to increase public understanding of sanitation, and had belonged to many religious, political, artistic, philanthropic, academic and professional societies. Active in all of them, he was 'no mere figure-head'.

Select Bibliography

  • The ‘Register’ Guide to the Parliament of South Australia (Adel, 1887)
  • W. F. Morrison, The Aldine History of South Australia (Adel, 1890)
  • J. J. Pascoe (ed), History of Adelaide and Vicinity (Adel, 1901)
  • Parliamentary Papers (South Australia), 1876, 2 (18), 1884, 3 (136)
  • Critic (Adelaide), 11 Nov 1899
  • Advertiser (Adelaide), 28 Jan 1867, 31 Oct, 2 Nov 1898
  • Observer (Adelaide), 1 Oct, 12 Nov 1887, 14 Dec 1889, 5 Nov 1898
  • Register (Adelaide), 9, 10 July 1889, 2 July 1897, 10 Sept, 31 Oct 1898
  • A. Campbell, notes, and Jean Stewart, letter, Jan 1960 (records, Adelaide Children's Hospital)
  • private information.

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Suzanne Edgar, 'Campbell, Allan (1836–1898)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1979, accessed online 28 September 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 7, (MUP), 1979

View the front pages for Volume 7

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