1876 - 1959







John Joseph Holland
John Joseph Holland



John Holland was born at Windsor N.S.W. on February 11th 1876. Although his first name was John, his family always called him Joe.

His early education was at Marist Brothers St Joseph's College, Hunter's Hill where he won the Norbert Quirk Scholarship for Classics to St John's College at the University of Sydney.

From classics he went on to study medicine and surgery but his studies were temporarily interrupted when his father's business suffered severe setbacks during a banking crisis in 1895. John (or Joe as I suppose we should call him) worked as a barman while studying part time.

After he graduated Joe was appointed house surgeon at St Vincent's Hospital. He moved on to the post of resident medical officer at Lewisham Hospital for Women and then to at the Coast Hospital at Little Bay (now called Prince Henry Hospital).


He married Alicia Simmons in 1906 and the following year, enticed by the better salaries offered in the mining areas of the west, he moved to Mulwarrie, northwest of Coolgardie.

After a dispute with the hospital Board Joe left Mulwarrie and took up a position at the White Feather Hospital at Kanowna.

Dr. Holland was greatly respected in the goldfields but Kanowna was starting to decline as the population moved to other areas so in 1910 he moved with his family to Katanning. To begin with Joe rode a bicycle on his rounds, as he had always done on the goldfields but eventually he purchased a motor car (a Vinot) which made doing his rounds a little more comfortable.


Vinot Deguin and Dr. Holland outside his Katanning home. (Courtesy Loreley Morling)
Vinot Deguin and Dr. Holland outside his Katanning home. (Courtesy Loreley Morling)



Fact or folklore? We have to note that the following story of Holland and Flynn meeting has not been verified and may just be folklore. It can be said that Flynn was certainly aware of Dr. Holland's journey to Halls Creek and used it to help raise awareness of the issue of treating outback patients.

During World War 1, Dr. Holland moved to Perth to help alleviate the shortage of doctors in the city. It was while he was working in Perth that he was contacted by telegraph by an operator in the very remote town of Halls Creek. The famous 'operation by telegraph' then took place (for full details see the Halls Creek page) and Dr. Holland decided to make the long arduous trip north to check on the patient.



Dr. Holland, Circa 1910-15. (Courtesy Loreley Morling)
Dr. Holland, Circa 1910-15.
(Courtesy Loreley Morling)


It took him 11 days to reach Halls Creek only to find that the patient had died the day before he arrived, not from the effects of the operation but from a bout of malaria. Joe wrote in his diary: 'The news upset me more than I can express. I felt that I had lost someone near and dear to me.'

Dr. Holland realised that a better way of tending to the sick and injured in the outback was needed and when he arrived back in Fremantle (after the 7400 kilometre journey) he met Rev. John Flynn at Perth train station.

Dr. Holland told Flynn about the trip and of the requests that he return to the area. He added; 'but next time I'll fly.'

The Halls Creek incident sparked the germ of an idea in Rev. Flynn's mind that would eventually lead to the establishment of the Royal Flying Doctor Service.

In 1915 Dr. Holland became honorary gynaecologist at Royal Perth Hospital, an association that lasted until 1939.

In 1929 he became State President of the British Medical Association and was also engaged in work for St. John Ambulance becoming president of the Association in 1924. He was a tireless supporter for the development medical education and was a founder of the WA University's anatomy school. Before he died he was to see the first batch of students graduate.

Also in 1924 Dr. Holland was invested with the Insignia of Commander of the Order of St. John of Jerusalem at Buckingham Palace. In 1934 he was promoted to Knight of Grace and was Medical Attendant to H.R.H. the Duke of Gloucester during a state visit in 1937. He was invited to attend the coronation of King George VI and accepted, travelling to London where he also represented the Western Australian St. John's Association at the St. John's Day celebrations at St. John's Gate.

After World War Two concluded, Dr. Holland wound down his activities with St. John's and concentrated on the office of Lt. of the Commandery in Western Australia. In 1946 he retired from private practice but did not remain idle for long. He worked with the Repatriation Department for another 5 years.

He 'retired' again in 1956 but this was a short lived as the first. He became involved the the anti-poliomyelitis campaign and was in charge of No. 1 mobile clinic. Initially he had agreed to perform these duties for a month but in the end he went on for 12 months until all the children in his zone had been vaccinated.


If the forgoing awards and achievements were not enough, Joe was a JP from 1910 and honorary captain in the Army Reserve during and after the World War One. He was made a Commander of the British Empire in 1952 for his work with St. John Ambulance. He founded the Medical Defence Association of WA, and helped to start the Medical Benevolent Fund. He was honorary surgeon to the WA Turf Club and WA Trotting Association for about 40 years. His leisure activities were almost as numerous and demanding as his working life, spanning horse racing and a love of the arts.

Dr. John Jospeh Holland passed away on January 4th 1959 just before his 83rd birthday. Although he is mostly remembered for his involvement in the 'operation by telegraph' incident, he was a tireless supporter of medical science and his work benefited many thousands of people in Western Australia.

An older John Joseph Holland 1956 - Thanks to Peter Holland for the use of this photograph
An older John Joseph Holland 1956
Thanks to Peter Holland for the use of this photograph


Peter Holland, remembered by many as the epitome of an ABC news-reader, is the grandson of Dr. J. Holland. Our sincere thanks to Peter Holland for the use of the photographs on this page, also to Loreley Morling for photographs and written information from which we have drawn a great deal of the detail about Dr. Holland's life.

Please note: John Joseph Holland should not be confused with the John Holland who pioneered the route to the Goldfields that became known as the Holland Track. there was also a Victorian politician named John Joseph Holland.




1876 - Born February 11th.

1906 - Married Alicia Simmons and moved to Coolgardie.

1910 - Moved to Katanning.

1910 - Became a justice of the peace.

1914 - (Circa)John and his family move to Perth.

1915 - Made an honorary gynaecologist at Royal Perth Hospital.

1917 - July 28th, the 'operation by telegraph' takes place..

1924 - Became president of the St. John Ambulance Association.

1924 - Invested with the Insignia of Commander of the Order of St. John of Jerusalem at Buckingham Palace.

1929 - State President of the British Medical Association.

1934 - Promoted to Knight of Grace.

1937 - Medical Attendant to H.R.H. the Duke of Gloucester during a state visit.

1946 - Retired from private practice.

1947 - Came out of retirement and worked with the Repatriation Department for 5 years.

1952 - Made a Commander of the British Empire.

1956 - Retired again but soon came out of retirement to help with the roll-out of polio vaccines.

1959 - Died on January 4th.



Links to more information:


At the time of writing we can find no other online resources that mention Dr. Holland.




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