Graphic: An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand 1966.

LOVELOCK, John Edward

(1910–49).

Medical practitioner and international athlete.

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

Lovelock was born on 5 January 1910 at Crushington (near Reefton), the son of J. E. J. Lovelock, a battery superintendent in the mines. Learning and athletics went hand in hand from Lovelock's earliest days. When his family moved to South Canterbury he distinguished himself as a pupil at Temuka and Fairlie schools and won a scholarship to Timaru Boys' High School, where he established a school mile track record. In 1928 he won another scholarship, which took him to the University of Otago where he studied medicine. In 1931, as a Rhodes Scholar, he entered Exeter College, Oxford, where he soon won renown as an athlete. He graduated B.A. (with third-class honours in physiology) in 1934, M.A. in 1937, and obtained his M.R.C.P. (London) in 1940.

In 1933, as a member of a visiting British University team, he established a world record (4 minutes 7.6 seconds) for the mile at Princeton, United States, winning that event again at the Empire Games in 1934. In 1936, at the Olympic Games in Berlin, before 120,000 spectators, he took the New Zealand flag to the masthead for the first time when he won the 1,500 metres in 3 minutes 49·8 seconds – a world record. He then retired from athletics and devoted himself to medicine. From 1939 to 1945 he served with the R.A.M.C. (rising to the rank of major), and in 1947 was appointed to the staff of Manhattan Hospital, New York, where, in 1948, he became assistant director of the department specialising in the treatment of infantile paralysis and similar diseases. On 28 December 1949 he was killed by a train in a New York subway, overcome, it was said, by a fit of giddiness. In 1945 Lovelock married Cynthia Wells James, by whom he had two daughters. He published a book, Athletics for Health, in 1937, and this was later translated into Finnish and Norwegian.

Lovelock was a great athlete and extremely popular on both sides of the Atlantic. An oak tree presented to him by Adolf Hitler in 1936 grows as his memorial in the grounds of Timaru Boys' High School.

by Oliver Arthur Gillespie, M.B.E., M.M. (1895–1960), Author.

  • Register of Rhodes House Scholars (1903–1945)
  • The Times (London), 29 Dec 1949 (Obit)
  • Press (Christchurch). 30 Dec 1949 (Obit)
  • The Legend of Lovelock, Harris, Norman (1964).


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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.

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