History of Australian Science Newsletter

No. 32, March 1994

The Great Scientific Memorial Search

I think it's about time the Great Scientific Memorial Search was wrapped up. The winner will be announced in the August edition of HASN. However, if you come across interesting science-related memorials on your travels please take a photo and send it in for publication. All that remains now is for me to raise the necessary funds for my year-long round-Australia pilgrimage to photograph sites of scientific significance. Watch out for the coffee-table book (and accompanying CD-ROM that will map my progress across the country, providing fascinating additional information like petrol consumption and restaurant ratings). If you want to support this worthy cause please send your cheques into 'Tim's round-Australia scientific memorials junket'.

Entries from Barbara Randell and David Symon are printed below, together with Part Two of Garry Tee's magnum opus. David Branagan reeled off a long list of memorials related to Australian geology, which may make me rethink the comments I made on medical scientists in the previous edition. In particular, he reminded me of Reg Sprigg's memorials to Mawson and others at Arkaroola in the Flinders Ranges.

Keith Farrer provided information on a granite obelisk on the beach front at Kingston Beach, Tasmania, near the mouth of Brown's River. The plaque reads:

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Keith comments: 'Brown's career is outlined in Volume 1 of the Australian Dictionary of Biography, and, to chemists such as I, his name lives on in "Brownian movement". He spent six months botanising in Southern Tasmania in the very earliest days of Hobart Town.'

Boonarga Cactoblastis Memorial Hall

Early this century, wide areas of New South Wales and Southern Queensland were very thickly covered with infestations of the cactus Opuntia inermis (prickly pear), and were rendered almost useless for agricultural and pastoral activities.

An American moth, Cactoblastis cactorum, was imported to Australia to combat this pest, as females lay their eggs on the pear, and the caterpillars feed on it. The moth had a spectacular success in controlling this weed, and populations of them are still to be found in Australia, keeping the numbers of Opuntia under control.

Following the success of the control measures, land previously unsuitable for intensive settlement was opened up for agriculture. Boonarga is one of the small settlements established west of Dalby at this time. Its residents built a district hall along with their church and school. In gratitude to their entomological benefactor, they named their hall the 'Cactoblastis Memorial Hall'.

The hall is still a centre of community activities, and is well maintained. It can be seen beside the Warrego Highway, about 10 kilometres east of Chinchilla.

-Barbara Randell, State Herbarium of SA

More on Moths

The Cactoblastis Memorial Hall also featured in the Weekend Australian of 26-27 February 1994. The article included an interview with Clarrie Barr, an 83-year-old bandleader, who played his saxophone at the hall's opening in 1936. Clarrie recalled: 'My father had a 640-acre dairy property but could only use 13 acres of it. The rest was prickly pear. In the end the pear hunted us off completely and we had to move to another property.'

The hall was in the news because the local committee that runs it had just received a $5000 maintenance grant from the Queensland Department of Environment and Heritage. In 1993, the hall was placed on Queensland's State Heritage Register.

'The people round here still have a lot of affection for that moth', Clarrie said.

Living Memorials at the Waite Arboretum

From David Symon, also of the State Herbarium of SA. came a list of individuals associated with the Waite Arboretum, whose contributions are commemorated by specially-planted trees:

Miss C.M. Eardley (Tree no. 440, Quercus calliprinos, planted 28 June 1969).
South Australian botanist. Curator of the ADW herbarium 1933-43, systematic botanist 1943-49, in charge of the Waite Arboretum. Later at the Department of Botany. A botanical enthusiast and educator.
Professor J.A. Prescott (Tree no. 407, Quercus pubescens, planted 14 August 1972).
Eminent Australian soil scientist. Inaugural Professor of Soil Chemistry 1924, Director of Waite Institute 1938- 1955. Professor Prescott was personally interested in the Arboretum. He was responsible for getting a collection of Californian Oaks for the Arboretum. His work on climatology was a direct influence on the tree plating programme of D. Symon. The tree chosen came from Crete and was toasted with Greek wine.
Mrs E.L. Robertson (ne้ Ashby) (Tree no. 430A, Quercus pubescens, planted 16 August 1972).
South Australian botanist and naturalist. In charge of the Waite Arboretum 1947-53.
Mr K.A. Pike (Tree no. 255B, Allocasuarina luehmannii, planted 15 May 1973).
Farm manager Waite Institute 1926-1972. Perhaps not usually called a research scientist but a great facilitator of work done by many people at the Institute over many years.
Professor J. Melville (Tree no. 495A, Quercus pubescens, planted 31 May 1973). Director of the Waite Institute 1956-73.
His special interest was pasture growth and quality in relation to animal production. He greatly enhanced work done on animal production at the Institute.
Mr D.E. Symon (Tree no. 496, Quercus agrifolia, planted 25 July 1984).
South Australian botanist. In charge of the Waite Arboretum 1956-85. During this period changes in policy were made and summer watering ceased. A 'homocline' approach was used in the introduction of tree species. Recording of data was intensified.

Scientific Memorials

Part Two of Garry Tee's article

John Gilbert (1810-1845) came from England to Australia as a collector of biological specimens for John Gould, and he collected extensively in many parts of Australia. In 1845 he joined Dr Leichhardt's expedition from Moreton Bay to Port Essington, when he was killed by Aborigines near the Gulf of Carpentaria. A marble plaque in St James Church Sydney bears the inscription:

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The Latin phrase means 'How sweet and fitting it is to die for science', it is adapted from a line by Horace about dying for one's country. The date of Gilbert's death should be 28th of June(1).

The German geologist Ferdinand von Hochstetter made a geological reconnaissance of New Zealand in 1858, which resulted in a series of major publications by him. At his birthplace in Esslingen in Swabia a memorial plaque bears a portrait of Hochstetter, with the text (translated from German) (2):

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Before William Rowan Hamilton (1805-1865) had graduated from Trinity College Dublin, he was appointed in 1827 as Professor of Astronomy and Royal Astronomer of Ireland. He trained three of his many sisters to operate Dunsink Observatory for him, whilst he worked on his mathematics. His invention of quaternions in 1843 made him one of the most renowned mathematicians of the 19th century. His third sister Sydney Margaret Hamilton (1811-1889) administered the Observatory, did much of the observing and performed extensive computations to reduce the observational data to publishable form. Sydney lived in Nicaragua from 1863 to 1874. Her scientific friends tried twice to arrange a Civil List Pension for her from the British Government, but their appeals were rejected first by Disraeli and then by Gladstone. Accordingly, Sydney sailed from Dublin in 1875 to Auckland, to earn her living at the age of 64 as Matron of the Pauper Lunatic Asylum in Auckland. To her surprise, New Zealand's elder statesman Sir George Grey (1812-1896) was eager to meet her as sister of the great Hamilton. Grey had intense interest in science, he was a personal friend of many scientists, and at the age of 63 he was studying quaternions. Grey's magnificent gifts to Auckland Public Library include many papers which Sydney presented to him, including manuscripts of William Rowan Hamilton and editions of two of his major books which are earlier than any listed in any of the biographies and bibliographies of Hamilton. Grey attended Sydney's funeral in 1889, when she was buried in Rosebank Road cemetery in Auckland, across the road from Avondale College (3). Archdeacon Robert Perceval Graves, author of the 4-volume biography of William Rowan Hamilton, later arranged for a tombstone to be erected on Sydney's grave, with the following inscription (4):

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In 1993, Marina View Primary School in Auckland inaugurated a Sydney Margaret Hamilton Prize in Mathematics. The pupils are taken to pay homage at the grave of Sydney Margaret Hamilton.

Richard Cockburn Maclaurin (1870-1920) was born in Scotland but educated in New Zealand. After graduating MA from the University of New Zealand in 1891, he went to Cambridge University, where he won a Smith's Prize in Mathematics and a Yorke Prize in Law. In 1899 he became the foundation Professor of Mathematics at Victoria University College of Wellington, and in 1908 he became Professor of Mathematical Physics at Columbia University in New York. In 1909 he became President of MIT, which had been founded in Boston in 1868 and had become one of the better technical colleges in the USA, but was then moribund and bankrupt. When Maclaurin died at the age of 49, he had converted a small technical college into a world-class technological university (5). At the University of Auckland the Maclaurin Chapel opened in 1964. It was given by Sir William Goodfellow in memory of his son Richard Maclaurin Goodfellow who had been killed in World War II, and of his uncle Richard Cockburn Maclaurin.

Ernest Rutherford (1871-1937) was born at Brightwater, 20km southwest of Nelson. He attended Canterbury University College in Christchurch, where as a graduate student he performed his first researches into radio-frequency magnetisation. Later Rutherford became a world leader in nuclear physics, and is regarded as being second only to Faraday as an experimental physicist. A plaque mounted in the basement at the old buildings of Canterbury University College identifies that as the 'Den' which was Rutherford's first laboratory, and a replica of that 'Den' is exhibited at the Ilam campus of the University of Canterbury. Dr John Campbell, of the Physics Department of the University of Canterbury, is writing a book about Rutherford in New Zealand, and campaigned successfully for the new NZ $100 banknote to portray Rutherford. Dr Campbell and others arranged for the creation of the Rutherford Birthsite Memorial, which was opened by the Governor-General on 6 December 1991. The ceremony was attended by many descendants of Rutherford, Sir Mark Oliphant came from Adelaide, many scientists came from around the world, and the High Commissioners of the UK and of Canada attended. That most impressive monument appears to have been inspired by the Temple of Earth in Beijing: the memorial is a mound about 40m diameter with 3 marble-walled cylinders mounted on top of one another (diameters decreasing upwards), surmounted by a bronze statue of a little boy running, holding an Arithmetic Primer under his arm.

Vaughan Jones was born at Gisborne on 31 December 1952, and he graduated from the University of Auckland in May 1974 as MSc (lst class Honours in Mathematics). In that same month he presented his first research paper at the 1974 NZ Mathematics Colloquium, which was held at the University of Auckland. His advances in the mathematical theory of knots have excited scientists of many disciplines since 1984. In March 1990 he was elected FRS, and in August 1990 he was awarded the Fields Medal (equivalent to a Nobel Prize for mathematics). On 14 January 1991 he attended the ceremony unveiling a bronze plaque in the Mathematics/Physics building of the University of Auckland, with the inscription:

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Vaughan Jones is now based at the University of California -Berkeley, with a permanent part-time post as Professor of Mathematics at the University of Auckland.


  1. Ann Moyal, 'A bright and savage land': Scientists in Colonial Australia, Collins, Sydney, 1986, p.59.
  2. Walter Carle, Biography of Ferdinand von Hochstetter, translated from German by C. A. Fleming, L. O. Kermode, J. Northcote-Bade & K. B. Sporli, Geological Society of New Zealand, Miscellaneous Publication No. 40,1988, Figure 6, p. 3.
  3. Garry J. Tee, 'Mathematics in the Pacific Basin', British Journal for the History of Science, vol. 21, 1988, pp. 414-416.
  4. Marin G. Segedin, 'Sir William Rowan Hamilton', The New Zealand Mathematics Magazine, vol. 5, 1967-1968, p.131.
  5. Henry Greenleaf Pearson, Richard Cockburn Maclaurin, President of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 1909-1920, Macmillan, New York, 1937.
-Garry J. Tee, Department of Mathematics & Statistics, University of Auckland.

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