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Story: Acland, Hugh Thomas Dyke

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Acland, Hugh Thomas Dyke


Surgeon, local politician

This biography, written by Peter B. Maling, was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography in 1996.

Hugh Thomas Dyke Acland was born in Christchurch, New Zealand, on 10 September 1874, the youngest of 11 children of a prominent Canterbury family. His father, John Barton Arundel Acland, with his partner, Charles Tripp, had established Mount Peel station in 1856. His mother, Emily Weddell Harper, was the eldest daughter of H. J. C. Harper, first Anglican bishop of Christchurch and first primate of New Zealand.

Hugh was educated at T. S. Baker's preparatory school at French Farm, Akaroa, at Christ's College from 1885 to 1893, and at the University of Otago in 1893. He left for England in February 1894, and later that year began medical studies at St Thomas's Hospital, London, qualifying LRCP in 1898. He also won the Cheselden Medal, awarded to the top surgical student of the year. He then volunteered for service in the South African War and was appointed a civil surgeon with the Royal Army Medical Corps. On returning to London in 1901 he was appointed junior obstetric house physician at St Thomas's and resident medical officer to St Thomas's Home, and gained his FRCS.

On 15 April 1903 Acland married Evelyn Mary Ovans at New Sleaford, Lincolnshire. She was sister of the obstetric ward in which Hugh worked. Two months later they sailed for New Zealand on the Ruapehu, arriving at Wellington on 8 June 1903. Hugh and Evelyn set up house in Christchurch, where they raised a family of three sons and a daughter; two other children died in infancy. In 1904 Hugh was appointed honorary surgeon to the Christchurch Hospital. He held this position until 1929 when he resigned; he maintained his association with the hospital by serving on the board from 1926 to 1947.

Acland was one of the first doctors in New Zealand to confine his private practice exclusively to surgery. He was regarded as a master of operating technique and did much to raise the standard of surgery. His influence was aided by his friendly personality and unassuming manner. Physically he was of average height and stature with a rather comic, puckish expression.

When the First World War broke out, Acland, who had joined the New Zealand Medical Corps in May 1913, offered his services and was appointed senior surgeon to No 1 New Zealand Stationary Hospital with the rank of major. He was in Egypt until October 1915 when his unit was sent to Salonika in the Marquette. On 23 October, in the Gulf of Salonika, a German submarine sank the ship with heavy loss of life, including 10 New Zealand nurses. Acland was saved after some seven hours in the sea.

For the next five months Acland served in Salonika. He then returned to Egypt from where, in June 1916, he went with his unit to France, in time to assist with the sick and wounded from the battle of the Somme. In 1916 Acland was appointed head of the surgical division of No 1 New Zealand General Hospital at Brockenhurst, England, and consulting surgeon to the New Zealand Expeditionary Force with the rank of lieutenant colonel. In 1917 a standing medical board was established under Acland's presidency with headquarters at No 2 New Zealand General Hospital, Walton-on-Thames. Acland was appointed a CMG in 1917 and a CBE in 1919. He was said to have performed some 4,000 operations during the war.

Hugh Acland returned to Christchurch in January 1919 and spent the next three years in charge of the military section of Christchurch Hospital, tending war wounded. It was not until 1922 that he resumed his private surgical practice. He became prominent in cancer research and in the campaign for the prevention of goitre by the use of iodised salt. In 1921 he was a member of a commission appointed to inquire into hospital funding, costs and administration. Acland was also a foundation fellow of the College of Surgeons of Australasia (later the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons). He was knighted in 1933.

On being elected to the hospital board Acland began to take a greater interest in local body affairs. He was the Citizens' Association candidate for the Christchurch mayoralty in 1935, narrowly losing to Dan Sullivan, the sitting mayor, in a record poll. The following year he headed the poll for the Christchurch City Council and served from 1936 to 1941. He had no political or sectional interest, and believed that party politics had no place in council affairs.

Acland had retained the rank of colonel and in 1940 he was appointed assistant director of medical services and officer commanding New Zealand Medical Corps (Southern Military District). He held this position until 1948, thereby serving in three wars. His duties were so demanding of his time that he had to give up his own practice.

In 1924 Acland had bought Chippenham in Browns Road, St Albans, and this became the family home for the rest of his life. He was a keen gardener and proud of his grapevines, which were pruned with surgical precision. He was also part owner of Mount Peel station, to which he was a frequent visitor, and was chairman of the Peel Forest Board. He died at Chippenham on 15 April 1956, and was buried in the cemetery at Mount Peel. Evelyn Acland died on 6 April 1964.

How to cite this page:

Peter B. Maling. 'Acland, Hugh Thomas Dyke', Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, first published in 1996. Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, https://teara.govt.nz/en/biographies/3a2/acland-hugh-thomas-dyke (accessed 23 June 2024)