In 1852 Walter Russell Hall came with his brother Thomas to Sydney, Australia from humble origins in Herefordshire, England. Walter quickly immersed himself in the Victorian goldfields, but initially had little success. He became an agent for Cobb & Co, the horse-drawn coach line of Australian history and folklore, running a service between Ballarat and Melbourne. In 1861, Hall and partners took over the firm and made it a great success. Hall married Melbourne-born Eliza Rowden Kirk in 1874 and they lived at Potts Point in Sydney.
The Hall brothers joined a syndicate to develop Queensland’s Mt. Morgan mine, which was rich in gold and copper. The mine yielded abundant wealth and Walter became a major shareholder and Director.
The Halls were childless and upon Walter’s death in 1911, Eliza was persuaded by her executor and financial advisor Richard G Casey to use a portion of his legacy to establish a million-pound charitable trust.
The Walter and Eliza Hall Trust was to be used for the relief of poverty, especially among women and children, the advancement of education, and the general benefit of the community, with half of the distributable income to be spent in New South Wales and a quarter each in Victoria and Queensland.
Casey organised for a small portion of the Trust's annual income to be used to found an institute of medical research, the first in Australia, encouraged by Harry Allen, the Dean of Medicine at The University of Melbourne. The vision was for an institute that ‘shall above all things devote itself to medical research….in a broad and comprehensive spirit. The Trustees especially hope that the institute will be the birthplace of discoveries rendering signal service to mankind in the prevention and removal of disease and the mitigation of suffering.’
New institute and director
In April 1915, the Melbourne Hospital agreed to provide a home for the new institute in its recently rebuilt quarters in Lonsdale Street, Melbourne.
Through the endowment from The Walter and Eliza Hall Trust, a third floor and a basement with animal houses were added to the new Pathological Block of the Hospital.
The new research premises were completed in 1916 and named The Walter and Eliza Hall Institute for Research in Pathology and Medicine. Harry Allen was appointed Honorary Director but permanent appointments were put on hold until the end of the war.
During the construction of their own laboratories, the Commonwealth Serum Laboratories used the institute as its home and began the preparation of vaccines and sera there.
Gordon Clunes Mackay Mathison (1883-1915)
Clunes Mathison was to have been the institute’s first director but was killed in World War I before he could take up his post.
Mathison was born at Stanley in northern Victoria. An excellent student, he chose to study medicine at The University of Melbourne. After graduating, and already interested in clinical research, Mathison decided to go to London where he pursued a Doctor of Science at University College.
He returned to Melbourne in 1913 after five years away to take up the position of sub-director of the clinical pathology laboratories at Melbourne Hospital, a position that would allow him to continue clinical research.
In 1914 European war erupted. The Australian force being created in response needed doctors and Mathison enlisted immediately. He was made a field ambulance captain in the Australian Imperial Force’s 2nd Field Ambulance.
Meanwhile, discussions were underway to establish the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute. Mathison was offered the directorship but, sadly, died before receiving the letter.
In Egypt, after working with the 2nd Field Ambulance, Mathison was temporarily assigned to the 5th Battalion as its doctor and headed for Gallipoli on 22 April 1915.
For several days he tended to streams of wounded before transferring to Helles, where losses were also severe. On 9 May, while at his aid-post, Mathison was struck in the head by a stray Turkish bullet. He died in hospital in Alexandria, Egypt, on 18 May.