Obituary John Hall-Jones,14 September 1927 - 19 November 2015

Mon, 22 Feb 2016

John Hall-Jones, Surgeon, Adventurer and Historian.

14 September 1927 - 19 November 2015


John was born in Invercargill where his father was a lawyer and historian. John was brought up in the family home "Lemmel " which had been built as a replica of the family home in Scotland by his great grandfather John Turnbull Thompson, a pioneering surveyor of southern New Zealand who designed Invercargill (and Singapore) and was an important artist. John Hall-Jones' first experience of surgery was using his pocket knife to remove from a mate's leg an air gun pellet acquired while the two were defending the Hall-Jones' orchard from neighbouring children. He had two older brothers Geoffrey and Ted and a younger brother Gerard. Ted was killed aged 21 on active service with the Royal Air Force. John attended Waihopai primary school until age 12 and was then sent to board at Christ's College in Christchurch. He was a member of the school shooting team having gained considerable additional experience during holidays on the North Canterbury farms of classmates.
From secondary school he went to Otago University determined on a career in medicine rather than law like his father and surviving brothers. He had four years at Selwyn College where he starred in the Selwyn Ballet at capping concert. He then had 2 years in private digs. He completed his final year in Christchurch and continued as a junior doctor in Christchurch. This included working for ENT surgeons Mr Malcolm Robertson senior and Mr Ross Smith, He decided to travel to Britain to train as an otolaryngologist as there was no training programme in New Zealand at that time.
John had already developed an intense love for mountains and lakes and especially for Fiordland.
In 1932 his father had bought a crib which was the very first holiday house on the foreshore of Lake Te Anau. It had no facilities whatsoever but the area provided wonderful opportunities for 3 brothers and their friends to develop their fishing skills to facilitate which they embarked on long tramps through rugged terrain to find the best fishing spots. As a university student he made many trips to the mountains and lakes. On completing his studies he celebrated by tramping through the Haast Pass to the West Coast long before a road had been built. As a junior hospital doctor in Christchurch he became the medical member of a Canterbury Museum project to map an unknown area west of Lake Te Anau beyond its south Fiord in the summer of 1955. This was his first prolonged expedition and the forerunner of many more. His search for adventure led him to apply for the position of medical officer with Sir Edmund Hillary's Antarctic expedition in 1955 and he was tentatively appointed until it was realised that he was only looking for a summertime adventure and the expedition required a commitment for several years.
To get to London for specialist training John sailed from Bluff as ship's doctor on the Karamea via the Panama canal to Liverpool and then by train to London. After 6 month's fulltime study at the Royal National Throat, Nose and Ear Hospital he obtained the Diploma of Laryngology and Otology (along with Malcolm Robertson Jr) and continued there as a house surgeon for 6 months. Subsequently he worked as a registrar at the Royal infirmary at Stoke on Trent and subsequent to that as a registrar at the Edinburgh Infirmary under I. Simson Hall and senior registrar Bernard Coleman. After watching John Shea perform a stapedectomy in London (the first in Britain) Simson Hall rushed home to carry out a stapedectomy the following morning in Edinburgh (probably being the first Briton to do so) organised by and under the watchful eye of his registrar John Hall-Jones. John realised that he was at the beginning of a new era of ear surgery. Even more exciting for John's future was renewing acquaintance with obstetric nursing sister Pamela Simpson whom he had met briefly in Christchurch. Pamela had returned from Christchurch and was working in the maternity block. He learned of Pamela's touring around New Zealand on a motorcycle. They discovered a common love for skiing and mountains. Their relationship blossomed, they became engaged and married with great support from her family and from their Edinburgh colleagues. After a skiing honeymoon in Europe they returned to New Zealand in 1959, John again as the ship's doctor this time on the Cymric and Pamela shortly after as a passenger on the Southern Cross.
John was appointed to Southland Hospital as its first qualified ENT surgeon. He and Pamela quickly purchased a house and John then set up private practice with a great deal of help from Pamela. Their son Iain Simpson Hall-Jones was born in 1960 and their daughter Janet Menzies Hall-Jones in 1962. John and Pamela quickly introduced their children to the joys of New Zealand's mountains, lakes, beaches and skiing fields. While still at primary school the children had each completed most of the great Fiordland walks.
Being the sole ENT surgeon in the city of Invercargill and province of Southland presented severe challenges for a specialist who was determined to always be up to date, provide the best possible care for his patients while also indulging his passion for the outdoors. John arranged to share responsibilities with colleagues in complementary specialties and with ENT surgeons in Dunedin (200 km away). This allowed him to be a regular attendee at meetings and courses in New Zealand and overseas. In 1962 when the new operation of stapedectomy was demonstrated in Dunedin by visiting German surgeon Detrich Plester John was there and subsequently took Detrich to his crib in Te Anau and to Milford Sound. John immediately ordered a microscope and was soon carrying out stapedectomies in Invercargill. He visited Cologne to learn the new techniques of micro-laryngoscopy and was amongst the first obtain the specialised equipment and carry out the procedure in New Zealand. He lectured and wrote about his experiences. However he became best known for the innovative service he established at Southland Hospital for the identification, early diagnosis and subsequent care of deaf babies.
After a first very successful combined conference in Rotorua and 1969 the New Zealand and Australian Otolaryngological Societies persuaded John and Pamela to organise a second combined international meeting in Te Anau in 1973. His friend and colleague Malcolm Robertson Jr. arranged the academic program but John and Pamela did everything else which was very challenging in what was then a remote village with limited facilities. Surgeons and their wives came from all round the world and offered more papers than could be accommodated. The entire conference was bussed to Milford Sound. Every aspect had been organised to perfection except for heavy rain on the grass runway the day after the conference ended. He and Pamela were persuaded to organise an equally successful New Zealand meeting in Queenstown three years later.
John was a powerhouse in the executive of the New Zealand Otolaryngologcal Society for 11 years including three as secretary and 2 as its president. He was elected to fellowship of the RACS in 1979.
However the stress of being a sole practitioner with very high standards was exhausting for John. He felt continuing conflict between his responsibilities to ensure a continuing service in Invercargill and his need to get way to conferences and workshops to refresh and maintain his high standards. At age 60 he decided to retire from ear nose and throat practice and focus entirely on his other career as an adventurer, historian and writer.
John's first book had been published in 1968. In the 28 years after "retirement" John travelled extensively. He continued tramping, climbing and kayaking and only gave up skiing after having his hips replaced. His primary focus was always on his beloved Fiordland , Central Otago and its goldfields and on Stewart Island. Sometimes he was accompanied by Pamela who often preferred horse back to walking. He recorded his adventures in a diary each night and on film. In winter he collated them into more than 30 books. He wrote the legend for the photographic art of others. He acted as historian on boat tours of the southern fiords. He was honorary historian and adviser at the Southland Museum.
John also journeyed much further afield. He went to Antarctica, and subantarctic islands, the Himalayas, the Rockies and Patagonia. He visited the Galapagos and most of the Pacific Islands. He retraced his father's First World War adventures in Egypt. He made trips back to Europe and especially to Scotland to enjoy with Pamela her family and home country.
John was a keen Rotarian and like his father had been president of the Invercargill Rotary club. John was an inaugural honorary fellow of the Hocken Library at the University of Otago. His books received several literary awards. In 1995 he was awarded an OBE as had his father before him. In 2007 he received an honorary degree of Doctor of Laws from the University of Otago in recognition of his writing.
Pamela died 4 years before him but despite his grief he did as she would have wished-he continued travelling, walking and writing until the very day of his death. As a surgeon he had exemplified the qualities of a skilled and dedicated doctor providing the best possible patient care from a sole specialist practice. As an adventurer he was the world authority on Fiordland. As an author he worked diligently with skill, sensitivity and humour to leave permanent records for everyone who wants to enjoy the challenges, beauty and history of southern New Zealand.
John is survived by his daughter Janet Menzies Malcolm, three grand children and seven great-grandchildren.


Ron Goodey