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Biographical entry Hancock, William John (1864 - 1931)

Born
2 May 1864
Dublin, Ireland
Died
26 August 1931
London, England
Occupation
Electrical engineer and Radiologist

Summary

William John Hancock moved to Australia from Ireland to become Western Australia's superintendent of telephones (1885). In 1890 he was transferred to the telegraphs section where he oversaw the expansion of the system. Four years later Hancock was promoted to government electrical engineer and supervised all electrical work in Western Australia (WA) for the next twenty-six years. In his private time, Hancock mastered the use of the newly developed X-ray machine and worked as an honorary radiographer at the Perth Public Hospital. Due to the excessive exposure to the X-rays, William Hancock's health suffered and he became a semi-invalid. This forced him to retire from all duties in 1920. He did however continue to act as an honorary consulting radiologist to Perth Hospital until 1930 when he returned home. The Royal Society of Western Australia honoured his efforts by awarding him their first Kelvin gold medal in 1924.

Details

After spending several years working for the Dublin Telephone Exchange, Hancock moved to Western Australia (WA) to take up the appointment of superintendent of telephones (1885). He installed the first phone lines between Government House and the Colonial Secretary's Office and the Perth Exchange, as well as supervising the Perth-Fremantle line works. From 1890 he was supervisor of telegraphs and saw the expansion of lines to the goldfields and remote areas. Hancock was then appointed government electrical engineer and helped establish the tramways system and the installation of submarine cables.

In addition to his full-time government work, William Hancock held many other positions. He was a member of the Senate of the University of Western Australia (1915-1927), honorary radiographer at the Perth Public Hospital (1898-1920) and honorary radiologist at the Fremantle Base Hospital (1915-1920). Fascinated by the newly created X-ray machine, Hancock imported one to WA and began educating medical staff in its uses and operation. Hancock was soon screening patients at the Perth Public Hospital and over the next twenty-two years he carried out an estimated 30, 000+ X-rays. The harm caused by repeated exposure to X-rays was not yet known, so Hancock worked unprotected for all of this time. His hands become severely damaged and disabled forcing his retirement from both the Government and the radiography work (1920). He did, however, stay on as a consulting radiologist at the hospital for a further ten years before returning home.

William Hancock's major contributions to the health of the people of WA and to the state's infrastructure were recognised in 1924 when he was appointed the inaugural Kelvin gold medalist by the Royal Society (WA). Further accolades came posthumously and include a commemorative stained glass window in Winthrop Hall at the University of Western Australia (1934) and a memorial plaque at the Institute of Anatomy in Canberra.

Events

1885
Life event - Migrated to Australia (Western Australia)
1885 - 1890
Career position - Superintendent of Telephones with the Western Australian Government
1886
Career position - First telephone line between Government House and the Colonial Secretary's Office installed
1887
Career position - First telephone line between Government House and the Perth exchange installed
1890 - 1894
Career position - Superintendent of Telegraphs
1894 - 1920
Career position - Government Electrical Engineer
1898 - 1930
Career position - Honorary Radiographer at the Perth Public Hospital
1915 - 1920
Career position - Honorary Radiologist at the Fremantle Base Hospital
1915 - 1927
Career position - Member of the Senate of the University of Western Australia
1920
Life event - Retired due to ill health
1920 - 1930
Career position - Honorary Consulting Radiologist at the Perth Public Hospital
1924
Award - Inaugural Kelvin Gold Medal received from the Royal Society of Western Australia
1925
Education - Honorary Doctorate of Science received from the University of Western Australia

Published resources

Book Sections

  • Joske, Prue, 'Hancock, William John (1864-1931), Electrical Engineer and Radiologist', in Bede Nairn and Geoffrey Serle (eds), Australian Dictionary of Biography, vol. 9, Melbourne University Press, Melbourne, 1983, pp. 183-184. Also available at http://www.adb.online.anu.edu.au/biogs/A090178b.htm. Details

Conference Papers

  • Moynihan, J. F., 'W.J. Hancock, Engineer and Pioneer Radiographer', in 4th National Conference on Engineering Heritage, 1988, pp. 92-97. Details

Online Resources

McCarthy, G.J.