Australian Dictionary of Biography

  • Tip: searches only the name field
  • Tip: Use double quotes to search for a phrase

King, Gordon (1900–1991)

by Malcolm Allbrook

This article was published online in 2017

Gordon King, n.d.

Gordon King, n.d.

photo provided by Ellen Tulip

Gordon King (1900-1991), professor of medicine, was born on 7 July 1900 in London, son of English-born Frederick Henry King, Baptist minister, and his Scottish-born wife Minnie Elizabeth, née Wakeham. Educated at Bristol Grammar School (1912-15) and Liverpool Institute High School for Boys (1915-18), Gordon undertook medical training at the London Hospital Medical College (MRCS, LRCP, 1924), winning prizes for anatomy, clinical pathology, pathology, clinical medicine, and diseases of children. He was elected a fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons (1926), and became a foundation fellow of the Royal College of Obstetrics and Gynaecology (1930).

Motivated by his Christian faith and imbued with the spirit of adventure, King joined the Baptist Missionary Society and took a post in China at Peking Union Medical College. On 9 April 1927 he married Mary Ellison, a medical practitioner and missionary, at the British Consulate, Peking (Beijing). In 1931, following the Japanese occupation of Manchuria, he was appointed professor of obstetrics and gynaecology at Cheloo University of Tsinan, Shantung (Shandong). With the Sino-Japanese War intensifying, he moved to the University of Hong Kong (HKU), where he held the same post (from 1938) and served (1940-49, 1951-54) as dean of the faculty of medicine.

On Christmas Day 1941 the Japanese army occupied the island. Having evacuated his family, which now included three daughters, to Melbourne, and after two months in charge of the local University Relief Hospital, he escaped to avoid internment as a prisoner of war. Wearing a shabby overcoat and with a blood-stained bandage concealing his gold watch, he made the hazardous journey ‘by foot, junk and bullock cart’ (Saint 1965, 63) to the Chinese mainland and thence to Chungking (Chongqing), the provisional capital of Chiang Kai-shek’s Free China. Appointed visiting professor at the Shanghai National Medical College—which had transferred its wartime operations to Koloshan, twenty miles (32 km) from Chungking—he continued the medical education of students who had also escaped from Hong Kong. On 20 January 1945 he was commissioned as a lieutenant in the Royal Army Medical Corps.

Following the Japanese surrender, King returned to Hong Kong in August 1945 where, in addition to teaching at HKU, he had responsibility for reorganising the hospitals and medical services of the colony. During his tenure he consolidated the relationship between the university and the hospitals, with the 1955 opening of the new Tsun Yuk Maternity Hospital providing improved opportunities for teaching obstetrics. He acted as pro vice-chancellor between 1954 and 1955, and had been appointed OBE in 1953.

After a visit to Hong Kong by (Sir) Stanley Prescott, vice-chancellor of the University of Western Australia (UWA), in 1956, King was invited to become professor of obstetrics and inaugural dean of the new faculty of medicine in Perth. Taking up the post in 1957, he sought to impart into medical education in the State a ‘sympathetic humanism,’ whereby the role of a doctor is ‘one of continued stimulation and study’ (King 1958, 712) founded on insights into the needs and social circumstances of patients. At Royal Perth Hospital he was a consultant in obstetrics, and he published many papers, notably on the containment of maternal and perinatal mortality, and the diagnosis of early uterine cervical cancer. He was elected a fellow of the Royal Australian College of Surgeons in 1958.

Retiring from UWA in 1965, King became president of the Royal College of Gynaecologists (1966-67). The Australian Department of External Affairs, on behalf of the government of Kenya, requested him to help establish a medical school at University College, Nairobi. Initially medical coordinator, he became dean of the faculty of medicine (1967-69). Following Mary’s sudden death in 1967, on 14 June 1968 at the Church of St George, Bristol, he married Bek To Chiu, a botanist, who had been a family friend for many years. Two short appointments followed: in 1972 he was invited by the World Health Organization to report on medical education in Taiwan, and in August that year he returned to Hong Kong for seven months as director of the Family Planning Association. Honorary degrees were conferred on him by UWA (MD, 1971) and HKU (LLD, 1973).

King was tall and strongly built, and exuded energy and determination. A keen hockey and tennis player when young, he was an accomplished pianist who loved the works of Chopin, and an inveterate photographer. Leonard Young praised him as ‘a scrupulous practitioner of his craft, a skilled administrator, and a resourceful medical educationalist,’ (Young n.d.) while his daughter, Ellen Tulip, recalled his humour and an ability to argue his point with tact and empathy. Having suffered increasingly from dementia, he died on 4 October 1991 at South Perth and was buried in Karrakatta cemetery; his wife and the three daughters of his first marriage survived him. The annual Professor Gordon King scholarship in medical research honours his contribution to medical education at UWA, and the Hong Kong Museum of Medical Sciences has a lecture theatre named after him.

Research edited by Kylie Carman-Brown

Select Bibliography

  • Alexander, Fred. Campus at Crawley: A Narrative and Critical Appreciation of the First Fifty Years of the University of Western Australia. Melbourne: F. W. Cheshire for University of Western Australia Press, 1963
  • Brockis, Gwynne, Richard Davis, and Neil Cumpston. Emeritus Consultant Biographies, Royal Perth Hospital, Volume Two. South Metropolitan Health Service, Department of Health, Government of Western Australia, n.d.
  • King, Gordon. ‘An Episode in the History of the University.’ In Dispersal and Renewal: Hong Kong University During the War Years, edited by Matthews, Clifford and Oswald Cheung, 85–104. Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press, 1998
  • King. Gordon. ‘Curriculum Vitae.’ Copy on ADB file
  • King, Gordon. ‘The Medical School of the University of Western Australia.’ Journal of Medical Education 33, no. 10 (October 1958): 709–716
  • Martin, John. ‘Obstetrics and Gynaecology.’ In The First Quarter Century, edited by Neville Stanley, 74–80. Faculty of Medicine, University of Western Australia, Perth, 1982
  • Saint, Eric Galton. ‘Professor Gordon King.’ Gazette of the University of Western Australia 15, no. 4 (November 1965): 63
  • Tulip, Ellen. Personal communication
  • Young, Leonard Kenneth. ‘Citations: 84th Congregation (1973): Gordon King.’ Accessed 22 July 2016. http://www4.hku.hk/hongrads/index.php/archive/citation_detail/66. Copy held on ADB file

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Malcolm Allbrook, 'King, Gordon (1900–1991)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.online.anu.edu.au/biography/king-gordon-24841/text33420, published online 2017, accessed online 25 June 2018.

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2018