Physician John Foulis had a medical practice on today’s Broadway and at two addresses in Glebe Rd. Born in Woodhall in Scotland, the second son of Sir James Foulis, he graduated in Medicine from the University of Edinburgh in 1839 and migrated to Australia soon after. By 1840 he was a registered doctor in New South Wales, and by 1842 was in a partnership with Dr Gordon Gwynne at Parramatta. In the same year he married Mary Buchanan. Aged 25, poor Mary died soon after giving birth to their daughter, Agnes Lillie. In April 1844,Dr Foulis dissolved his partnership with Gwynne and announced he was leaving the colony.

He remained, however, and two months later married Jane Selina, a daughter of composer Isaac Nathan. He also formed a syndicate to buy out the existing inhabitants on Lord Howe Island and obtain a lease to develop it, and in July 1844 sailed there aboard the Captain Camroux with baby Agnes and his new wife. Failure to get the lease led to Foulis pulling out; in August 1847 the family (including new baby James) sailed on the General Pike back to Sydney where Dr Foulis resumed his medical practice first in Elizabeth St and later at 99 Hunter St. In 1851 he wrote a report, including a detailed map, on the suitability of Lord Howe Island as the site for a new penal colony. (The Foulis home on the island is today Pinetrees Lodge).

By 1855 Foulis was at 42 Parramatta St, a stone and brick cottage later occupied by doctors Walker and Palmer. In 1861 he moved from 1 Glebe Rd to a new house ‘five doors further up the street’. Items in the Sydney Morning Herald give an idea of his lifestyle; attending suicides, ads for wet nurses, a ‘general girl useful’ and other servants and an auction of his libraries.

In 1859 Foulis became a foundation member and councillor of the Australian Medical Association. In 1863 he was appointed an Examiner in Medicine and in 1866 an Examiner in the Faculty of Arts. He sat on the Medical Board of New South Wales. Foulis died on 12 March 1870 at the Macquarie St home of his brother-in-law Charles Nathan, Isaac Nathan’s eldest son and prominent surgeon. (An aside: Charles rushed to assist Isaac, killed when alighting from a city horse-drawn tram, despite their history – Charles had run away from home, aged 13, because of his father’s cruelty).

Foulis’ widow, Jane, died on 16 June 1871. James (1846-1901), the eldest of their three children (the others were William and Florence), like his father, studied Medicine at the University of Edinburgh. John Foulis’ oldest child, Agnes Lillie, had died aged 10 in 1852 in Scotland at the home of her grandmother, the Dowager Lady Foulis.

John Foulis (image: State Library of Victoria)
John Foulis (image: State Library of Victoria)


Sources: Lillian Foulis papers MLMSS 6152 Mitchell Library/State Library NSW; Sands Sydney Directory 1868; SMH, various editions.