John Smith Purdy was a distinguished health worker who worked as metropolitan medical officer of health in Sydney. He was influential in slum clearance and contributed to Sydney's falling death rate through improvements in sanitation and food purity.

Purdy was born in 1872 in Morpeth, England. He was educated at the Universities of Aberdeen (MB, CM 1898; MD 1904) and Cambridge (Diploma of public health 1903). He worked briefly as surgeon at the Otaki Hospital, New Zealand, then became a surgeon-captain in Boer War, serving in the 6th and 10th New Zealand Mounted Rifles. After the war he worked in various London hospitals, moving briefly into general practice in Liverpool.

In 1905-06 he worked for the Quarantine Service of Egypt, then moved to New Zealand as district medical officer in Auckland. In 1910 he became chief health officer in Tasmania, and three years later became metropolitan medical officer of health and city health officer in Sydney. When World War I broke out he again served, this time with the Australian Army Medical Corps as major, lieutenant-colonel and acting colonel.

After the war Purdy lectured in sanitary law at Sydney Technical College. In 1921 he became President of the Health Society of New South Wales, as well as contributing to the Australian Association for Fighting Venereal Disease and the Town Planning Association of New South Wales. Thereafter he became Chair of the Public Health Association of New South Wales and State President of the Returned Sailors' and Soldiers' Imperial League of Australia. He was also active in the Boy Scouts' Association, deputy chair of the St John Ambulance Association and Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh. In 1933 he received the French Medaille d'Honneur des Epidemies.

Purdy died in 1936 and Sydney Technical College issued a medal in his honour in the same year. (NU 20724-5).

University of Melbourne Bright Sparcs website, accessed 24 Sep 2003.

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