Skip to main content
Browse the 1966 Encyclopaedia of New Zealand
Graphic: An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand 1966.


This information was published in 1966 in An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand, edited by A. H. McLintock. It has not been corrected and will not be updated.

Up-to-date information can be found elsewhere in Te Ara.


SCOTT, John Halliday


Professor of anatomy and Dean of the Medical School, University of Otago.

A new biography of Scott, John Halliday appears in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography on this site.

John Scott was born in Edinburgh on 28 December 1851, the son of Andrew Scott, a Writer to the Signet in Edinburgh. He was educated at the Edinburgh Institution and at the University of Edinburgh where he graduated in medicine in 1874. In 1877 he took his M.D., winning the gold medal for his thesis on The Nervous System of the Dog. He was elected a fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh in 1879. For six months he served as a house surgeon under Professor Spence at the Royal Infirmary, Edinburgh, and for a similar period at the Royal Infirmary, Stirling. He then embarked on a career in anatomy by joining the staff of the Department of Anatomy in the University of Edinburgh under Professor Sir William Turner, where he worked for 18 months, resigning to come to New Zealand as Professor of Anatomy and Physiology. He arrived in Dunedin in July 1877 at the age of 26. He found a small struggling school inadequately financed, staffed, and housed. He proceeded with great determination and an inflexible sense of duty for the next 37 years to guide and largely control a policy of development which culminated in a modern medical school. For 28 years he taught both anatomy and physiology with no professional assistance, and on the appointment of a Professor of Physiology in 1905, continued to teach anatomy until his death. He was also Dean of the Medical Faculty, a member of the Hospital Trustees, University Council, and of the New Zealand University Senate. His research interests were in anthropology; he collected a large range of osteological material and published in 1893 a monograph which remains the most authoritative statement on the subject.

Professor Scott had considerable artistic gifts and he was a water-colour painter of distinction. He was the honorary secretary of the Otago Art Society from 1881 until his death. He was a member of the Otago Institute, acting both as secretary and as president.

His character was such as to endear him to all who were honoured by his friendship. He was a man of transparent honesty and was held in high esteem by his colleagues, his students, and the community. His reputation as a teacher of anatomy was widely recognised throughout the British Empire. He demanded efficiency and exercised sound discipline.

In January 1883, at Cheltenham, England, he married Helen Gardner, a daughter of John Bealey, an early settler in Canterbury. Of his five children, three sons and two daughters, two of his sons qualified in medicine and practised in New Zealand.

He died at his post on 25 February 1914, leaving as his living memorial the Otago University Medical School.

by Charles Ernest Hercus, KT., D.S.O., O.B.E., U.D., M.B. CH.B.(N.Z.), M.D., D.P.H., B.D.S., F.R.C.P., F.R.A.C.P., F.R.A.C.S., Emeritus Professor, University of Otago.

  • Transactions and Proceedings of the New Zealand Institute, 26: 1–64 (1893), “Contribution to the Osteology of the Aborigines of New Zealand and the Chatham Islands”, Scott, J. H.
  • Medical Practice in Otago and Southland in the Early Days, Fulton, R. V. (1922)
  • Annals of the University of Otago Medical School, 1875–1939, Carmalt Jones, D. W. (1945)
  • The Otago Medical School Under the First Three Deans, Hercus, C. E., and Bell, F. G. (1964).


Charles Ernest Hercus, KT., D.S.O., O.B.E., U.D., M.B. CH.B.(N.Z.), M.D., D.P.H., B.D.S., F.R.C.P., F.R.A.C.P., F.R.A.C.S., Emeritus Professor, University of Otago.