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Story: Wallis, Wilfred Stanley

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Wallis, Wilfred Stanley


Orthopaedic surgeon, hospital superintendent, artist

This biography, written by Derek A. Dow, was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography in 2000.

Wilfred Stanley Wallis was born at Opawa, Christchurch, on 15 May 1891, the son of Eliza Hart and her husband, John Wallis, a 53-year-old carpenter who hailed originally from London. Stan, as he was generally known, attended Christchurch Boys’ High School from 1904 to 1909. He then entered the University of Otago, where he studied medicine between 1910 and 1914. His most notable contribution as a student was his involvement in the 1913 smallpox epidemic, which attacked over 2,000 people in the North Island, 95 per cent of whom were Maori. On 29 August 1913 the minister of public health, R. H. Rhodes, announced his intention to send a group of fifth-year Otago medical students to revaccinate Maori in the North Island. Four months later he named the 14 individuals, including Wallis, who had answered his call. Praising their contribution, Rhodes expressed the hope that the experience they had gained would be of value in the future. In Wallis’s case, it would bear fruit within the decade.

After graduating MB, ChB in 1915, Wallis married Elsie Ada Williams, on 18 May that year in Timaru. He then joined the war effort as a member of No 1 New Zealand Stationary Hospital; he was to rise to the rank of major. After service in Egypt he was transferred in 1917 to England, where he became one of six New Zealanders to train in orthopaedics under Sir Robert Jones, the leading surgeon of the time.

On his return to New Zealand Wallis was appointed superintendent in 1920 of the King George V Military Hospital, Rotorua, then a rehabilitation centre. He retained the position when the hospital was transferred to the Department of Health in October 1921. During the major outbreak of poliomyelitis in 1925 he instituted rehabilitation treatment to help the victims, a move that attracted the attention of the Mayo Clinic in America. As part of the hospital’s transition to a civilian facility Wallis also called on his 1913 experiences to encourage local Maori to make use of the hospital, which they had generally shunned in favour of their own traditional healers.

In 1926 Wallis resigned to go into private practice in Rotorua. During the 1930s he worked with Alexander Gillies, another New Zealander trained by Jones, to help establish the New Zealand Crippled Children Society; in 1935 he became one of its vice presidents. His work in this area helped convince William and Ruby Wilson to gift their Takapuna home to the society in 1937.

In March 1942 Wallis donned his uniform once again, with the rank of colonel, to become superintendent of the new services convalescent hospital in Rotorua. When the unit was renamed the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in 1948 and began to specialise in the treatment of rheumatic disease and cerebral palsy, he was appointed the first medical superintendent. That year he was made an OBE. His knowledge of the history of orthopaedics in New Zealand was recognised by Alexander Gillies in his presidential address to the first annual general meeting of the New Zealand Orthopaedic Association in 1950. Wallis later became an honorary fellow of the association.

A keen sportsman, Stan Wallis played cricket, golf and bowls, and was a rugby referee. He also enjoyed more solitary pursuits such as fishing and shooting. In 1940 he took up painting after watching a patient working with watercolours. In 1946 he became the first, and only, president of the Rotorua Arts Society. At a retrospective exhibition of his work in 1987 the director of the Rotorua Art Gallery said that limited exposure of Wallis’s work had prevented him from becoming a household name, but that he had been ‘at the crest of the wave of modern art’ in New Zealand.

Wallis retired from his hospital post in March 1957. He had suffered from ill health for many years and a month after resuming private practice he died suddenly in Rotorua on 20 September 1957. He was survived by his wife, a daughter and a son.

How to cite this page:

Derek A. Dow. 'Wallis, Wilfred Stanley', Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, first published in 2000. Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, https://teara.govt.nz/en/biographies/5w5/wallis-wilfred-stanley (accessed 21 July 2024)