Peter Herdson


Professor Peter Barrie Herdson was the Professor and Director of Pathology at ACT Pathology, The Canberra Hospital from 1991 until 2000. He died on 27 June 2004 in Auckland at the age of 71 years as a result of mesothelioma.

Peter Herdson was a natural leader, an enthusiastic teacher, a wise counsellor, a visionary planner and a caring colleague. Peter loved life, and lived it fully.  He was an entertaining speaker, with an infectious laugh. At dinners he never had a shortage of stories from his life in Chicago, New Zealand and Saudi Arabia.

Peter contributed much to the Canberra medical community. He was involved in many ACT Health and Canberra Hospital committees. He was also involved in various activities in the Canberra Clinical School, University of Sydney and the Canberra Region Postgraduate Committee in Medicine. He was president of the ACT branch of the AMA from 1999-2000 and Foundation president of the Canberra Medico-legal society from 1992-1994. Peter Herdson promoted ACT Pathology in the wider community and expanded registrar training within ACT Pathology. He was instrumental in planning the new mortuary at The Canberra Hospital. He provided the forensic pathology service with Dr Sanjiv Jain for the ACT from 1991 until 2001.

Peter Herdson graduated MB ChB from Otago in 1959, and after clinical years in Auckland went as New Zealand scholar to train in Pathology at the Middlesex Hospital in London for two years. He then went to Northwestern University Medical School, Chicago, for 6 years, where he gained a PhD in 1965, and was Associate Professor of Pathology for several years.

In 1969, at the age of 37, Peter was appointed the Foundation Professor and Chairman of the Department of Pathology in the University of Auckland School of Medicine, and was admitted as a Fellow of the Royal College of Pathologists of Australasia.  While in Auckland he developed a comprehensive Pathology training programme.  Peter fostered a friendly atmosphere among pathologists in the medical school, public hospitals and private laboratories, to the mutual benefit of pathologists and trainees.

In 1985 Peter was appointed Professor and Chairman of Pathology at the King Faisal Specialist Hospital and Research Centre, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, where he developed Pathology training, and designed a new laboratory.

Peter played a major role in the Royal College of Pathologists of Australasia (RCPA). He was the councillor for New Zealand, College president from 1983-85 and a college examiner.  He was the prime mover in the purchase of Durham Hall in Sydney as the College headquarters, a lasting legacy for the College.  He was also active in the World Association of Societies of Pathology, being Councillor at Large from 1985-89, Vice-President 1989-93, and President from 1993-95.  RCPA honoured Peter with the Distinguished Fellow Award in March 2002. His portrait hangs in the College office, in recognition of his distinguished service to the college.

Peter Herdson published some 88 journal articles and 6 chapters in books. His publications ranged from basic scientific research, mainly renal and cardiac pathology, to education, medical politics and workforce analysis. 

Peter will be remembered fondly by many people for diverse reasons. I will remember him as a strong supporter of young doctors. He was the most regular attendee at the Friday pathology registrar teaching sessions. Many a registrar will recall the lunches he organised (the registrars paid for the food and Peter paid for the many drinks). Peter was never too busy to provide a reference or two (or three) for doctors as they moved through their career. 

Peter Herdson had a remarkable career with contributions to science, education and the profession. He will be missed.

User login


  • The Peter Herdson Pathology Museum is located in Building 10 on level one of The Canberra Hospital, Yamba Drive, Garran ACT 2605
  • Email: [email protected]