John Kellerman Adey, affectionately known as 'JK' was born at Taunton,Somerset, England, the son of Captain Charles Adey. Arriving in Australia when he was fourteen years old, he was educated at Melbourne Grammar School and proceeded to the University of Melbourne, graduating in medicine in 1909 at the early age of twenty-one.
From the outset, Adey was attracted to psychiatry and through his appointment to the Victorian Department of Mental Hygiene on 1 October 1911, he embarked on a distinguished career, becoming an affectionately revered legendary figure throughout Victoria and Australia. JK was a great pioneer, courageous and unafraid to face the challenges of a field bedevilled by public ignorance, neglect and prejudice.
Serving in various hospitals, he made his greatest contributions at Sunbury Mental Hospital (1922 to 1932) and at Royal Park Hospital (1932 to 1953). At Sunbury, Adey set about promoting the liberty of patients, unlocking doors and establishing a system of parole - enlightened innovations at that time - and together with Reginald Ellery began the malarial treatment of neurosyphilis.
At Royal Park, he installed an open ward for acutely ill patients, and through his energy, professional excellence and clinical teaching presented psychiatry as an exciting challenge. Adey was a superb clinical academic known for clarity, incisive thinking and integrity - a man who sought knowledge wherever it could be found.
Early in his career he visited centres in the United Kingdom and in Europe - he was fluent in German - and his influence on undergraduate students and postgraduate practitioners became legendary. He was one of the most popular teachers until his retirement in 1953, and made his demonstrations and clinical conferences a delight. He was the lecturer in psychiatry at the University of Melbourne from 1932, a member of the faculty of medicine from 1939 to 1953, and played a major role in the creation of the Diploma of Psychological Medicine of which he was chairman of examiners.
Adey was president of the section of neurology and psychiatry at the Australasian Medical Congress (BMA) in 1937, a foundation Fellow of The Royal Australasian College of Physicians, and a foundation member of the Australasian Association of Psychiatrists of which he was president in 1954. As an active member of the Medico-Legal Society he confronted its members with a magnificently provocative introduction to the operation of prefrontal leucotomy. He was a member of the Medical Board of Victoria. He was proud of his association with the Royal Society of St George and was the senior vice-president at the time of his death.
Adey served with distinction and was mentioned in dispatches in both World Wars; he was honoured with the OBE in 1917. He was first commissioned in the Third Light Horse Field Ambulance in 1911 at the time of entering psychiatry. In 1913 during a period of postgraduate study he met Eva Hughes, the future Mrs Adey, at a military parade in Edinburgh. They were married in January 1915. In the First World War he was soon in 6 Field Ambulance, served in Gallipoli, France and Germany, becoming lieutenant-colonel in charge of 3 Casualty Clearing Station. In the Second World War he was a distinguished leader in the Middle East as commanding officer, 2/1 AGH at Gaza Ridge. He established a high reputation as an administrator and became adviser in psychiatry, making many visits to the medical units in this capacity. Adey's sons were also on active service in the Middle East.
He was described as 'a man of few words, he was short, to the point of curtness in conversation but a most successful lecturer to other ranks.' 'He probably never held an officers' conference but took all decisions himself instantly and very definitely'. 'He delegated responsibility to the fullest and obtained loyalty by so doing. He had little time for non-essentials as evidenced by his personal dress, which was a byword of the division'. Adey with his Bombay-bloomers and an inability to keep his shirt within his belt, was something to be seen.
A firm disciplinarian, he was eminently approachable and careful never to hurt one's susceptibilities, carrying responsibility unobtrusively but with great dignity, who gave his time unsparingly to patients, staff and colleagues alike. As a teacher he was brilliant, lucid and decisive, a friend and mentor to young psychiatrists and a compassionate examiner. He possessed a restless energy seen even in his recreations such as bridge, tennis and golf. Following an attack of coronary occlusion he informed the senior medical officer of the diagnosis and in a short time was soon hard at work again. However, it should be left to his former colleague at Sunbury Mental Hospital, Reginald Ellery, to have the last word, expressed so sensitively in his book The Cow Jumped over the Moon: `A down to earth man, not given to flights of fancy, not hampered with cloying sentiment, not favoured with facile charm, but with a strict sense of duty, a passionate loyalty, a love of commonsense and a high regard for the rights and comforts of his patients was John Kellerman Adey.'
Two sons graduated in medicine, one practising in obstetrics and gynaecology and one in general practice, while a nephew continues the tradition as a psychiatrist.
Update your details
Careers at RACP
ABN: 90 270 343 237
ACN: 000 039 047
© 2020 The Royal Australasian College of Physicians