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Biographical Memoirs of Deceased Fellows

Originally prepared for publication as part of Bright Sparcs by the Australian Science Archives Project.

Frederick Colin Courtice 1911-1992

By P.I. Korner


Frederick Colin Courtice was born on 26 March 1911 in Bundaberg, Queensland. As a young man, he spent fifteen years in England, mostly in Oxford. His wartime work aroused his interest in the physiology of the lymphatic system and he went on to become one of the world's leading authorities in that field. He returned to Australia in 1948 as Director of the Kanematsu Memorial Institute of Pathology at Sydney Hospital. His laboratory attracted many young graduates, keen to try their hand at medical research. Courtice had the qualities that encouraged them to develop original lines of research of their own. In 1958, he became Foundation Professor of Experimental Pathology in the Australian National University at the John Curtin School of Medical Research, where his main lines of work were in lymphatic physiology, atherosclerosis and immunology. He held this appointment until 1974, when for the next three years, till his retirement, he became Director of the John Curtin School. His influence on Australian biomedical science went far beyond his personal research. He played an important role in many national medical research organizations, including the National Health & Medical Research Council (NHMRC), the National Heart Foundation of Australia and the Life Insurance Medical Research Fund. He also served on several international bodies, including UNESCO. After his retirement he returned to Sydney, where he continued to teach and to participate in several committees and in the affairs of the International Society of Lymphology. He died in Sydney on 29 February 1992.

Childhood, Schooling and University

Colin Courtice was the second of six children of Frederick and Mary Lillian Courtice. Both his grandparents came from England. His paternal grandfather Francis Courtice came from Exeter in Devonshire and had emigrated to Australia in 1880. The family had at first settled near Townsville but later moved to Bundaberg, where employment conditions were better. Colin's maternal grandparents, after leaving England, lived for a time in the northern rivers region of New South Wales before moving to Queensland, close to Bundaberg. Grandfather Joseph Pegg earned his living hauling copper ore by horse and cart from Mount Perry, before the advent of the railway.

Colin's father Frederick worked for several years in the laboratory of the Millaquin Sugar Refinery. Conditions were hard with long hours and low wages and, together with his brother Benjamin, Frederick helped form a union of sugar industry employees - the Bundaberg and District Workers Union. This later became the Australian Workers Association and eventually merged with a larger national body,the Australian Workers Union. After several years in paid employment, the two brothers became sugar farmers in the Bundaberg district. Both were prominent members of the Australian Labor Party. Frederick served as a member of the Queensland Legislative Council and was, for many years, Chairman of the Woongarra Shire Council. Benjamin Courtice became Senator for Queensland and later served in the Chifley government as Minister for Customs.

The family homestead, where Colin grew up, was 10 km from Bundaberg, not far from the sea. Colin appears to have enjoyed the rural life of his childhood and throughout his life there was always a golden glow when talking about Bundaberg. He attended Woongarra Primary School and then Bundaberg High School. His scholastic performance was outstanding and he gained first place in the Queensland Junior and Senior Public Examinations. His excellence as a scholar was matched by his prowess in sport. He was captain of the high school football and cricket teams and represented the City of Bundaberg in the Queensland inter-city sporting competitions.

Because of his good scholastic performance, Colin was awarded a Public Exhibition in the University of Queensland. He wanted to study medicine in order, as he often said, to return to Bundaberg as a general practitioner. This presented problems since in 1929 there was no medical school in Queensland. He went to King's College in Brisbane for one pre-medical year and then moved to the University of Sydney in 1930. Courtice was in residence in Wesley College, and continued to excel both academically and in sport. He and a fellow student, Maurice Joseph, gained High Distinctions at the end of the preclinical course in third year. This prompted the new professor of physiology, H.W. Davies, to encourage each of them to interrupt his medical course, in order to do an Honours BSc in physiology. Davies originally came from Adelaide, but had trained in Oxford with J.S. Haldane as a respiratory physiologist and had later worked at Edinburgh with the distinguished clinical physiologist J.C. Meakins. The extra year gave Colin the opportunity to get a feel for the substantial advances that were being made in respiratory physiology and to learn some of the techniques, including air and blood gas analysis. In August 1932, he graduated BSc with First Class Honours and the University Medal and resumed his medical course. However, in October of the same year he was awarded the Rhodes Scholarship for Queensland and the lure of going to work in Oxford proved irresistible.

He left by ship for England and, in September 1933, took up residence at New College. He worked in the University Laboratory of Physiology with Professor C.G. Douglas, who for many years had been one of J.S. Haldane's principal collaborators. Courtice and Douglas set out to re-examine the controversial question whether carbohydrate was the primary fuel in muscular exercise. This had been proposed by A.V. Hill and co-workers, who had measured changes in the respiratory quotient (RQ) (i.e. the vol. of CO**2 exhaled from the lungs per unit time, divided by the corresponding vol. of O**2 absorbed) after strenuous exercise in humans. Their work seemed to support the earlier biochemical studies by Fletcher and Hopkins and by Meyerhof in isolated muscle. Courtice and Douglas recognized that conclusions about the sources of metabolic activity based on changes in RQ were valid only when there was an approximately steady state, which did not obtain in Hill's experiments. They devised a more suitable protocol, where the exercise was performed at a lower rate of work but was more prolonged. They found that early in exercise, fat accounted for 50% of the source of energy and, later on, for an even greater proportion. Their main conclusions, that fat and carbohydrate were both readily available energy sources, have stood the test of time, but not quite in the way that they imagined. In his farewell lecture at the John Curtin School in 1976, Courtice reminded his audience that physiologists of the day had not known about energy-rich phosphate compounds, which were the true 'primary' fuel in exercise and were rapidly derived from fatty acids and carbohydrate during cellular metabolism.

After receiving the DPhil in 1935, Courtice resumed his medical course. This meant moving to London, where most Oxford students obtained their clinical training at the London Hospital Medical School. There he met his future wife, Joyce Mary (Joy) Seaton, an attractive young nurse at the hospital. Their romance began when she treated a finger infection that he had acquired. They married on 18 December 1937, a few weeks after Colin had qualified as a doctor.

He and his bride set up house in Oxford, where Courtice continued his research career. The idea of going into medical practice never surfaced again, except occasionally after dinner over a glass of port. He was awarded a Beit Research Fellowship and continued working with Douglas on metabolic regulation during exercise, mainly by insulin and adrenaline. They found that insulin increased the proportion of carbohydrate utilized by the body. One anecdote, illustrating the occasional tribulations of human physiologists, relates to an experiment on the effects of insulin. Courtice was the subject that day and had completed the walk and received his insulin injection and Douglas' job was to collect the expired air and analyse the samples, using the Haldane apparatus. Courtice's blood sugar must have fallen to a low level and Douglas, glancing in his direction whilst performing the analyses, wondered whether he had stopped breathing. He shook Courtice hard with his free hand and shouted, 'Courtice, Courtice, are you alive?', which roused Colin sufficiently to give a grunt through the mouth-piece. Apparently a look of relief came over Douglas' face and he said, as he continued with the gas analysis: 'Thank heavens, you are still alive.' At the end of the day he chortled and said: 'Courtice, you certainly had me worried. I did not wish to see you perish, but I know you would not have wanted to ruin a good experiment.' Those were heady days, before the advent of Institutional Ethics Committees!

In 1938, Courtice obtained a Nuffield Memorial Fellowship to work with the distinguished neurosurgeon Sir Hugh Cairns an expatriate Australian and former Rhodes scholar, who was Professor of Surgery at Oxford. The aim was to examine the effects of cerebral tumours on the distribution of blood flow in the brain, as assessed from oxygen tensions of the venous blood leaving particular regions and from the arterio-venous O**2 differences. This involved measurements in some of Cairns' patients during brain surgery. In addition, Courtice performed parallel experiments in cats with artificial brain tumours. Courtice found that tumours of the cerebellum and basal ganglia often reduced average cerebral oxygen tensions, whilst tumours of the frontal and parietal regions of the forebrain had virtually no effect. Courtice felt uncomfortable in the clinical environment and later remarked that the experience had taught him about the large communication gaps between clinicians and basic scientists.

War Years and Post-war Period

Douglas had been Britain's leading authority on medical aspects of gas warfare during the First World War and at the outbreak of the Second World War he was again recruited to become the government's chief adviser. He asked for Courtice's assistance with the scientific work, and the latter was thereupon appointed by the Ministry of Supply as Senior Experimental Officer at the Chemical Defence Experimental Station in Porton, near Salisbury in the south of England. At Porton, Courtice met many of Britain's leading medical scientists. One, who probably had the greatest influence on his future career, was Roy Cameron, Professor of Pathology at University College, London, who introduced him to experimental pathology. Joy Courtice and their daughter Rosemary, who had been born in 1938, remained in Oxford. Their son Tony was born there in 1940 but soon afterwards the family was reunited in Porton where, in 1944, daughter Susan was born.

Courtice's main project was to determine the mechanisms that caused shock in thermal burns and after exposure to a range of chemical warfare agents. Both damaged the capillaries and Courtice thought that the extent of damage could be assessed from the changes in the flow and protein composition of the lymph from the affected region. The lymphatics are delicate vessels that are technically difficult to cannulate and, at the time, only a handful of physiologists were interested in studying them. These included Professor C.K. Drinker of the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston and Professor J.M. Yoffey of Bristol. Both had worked together and had written an authoritative monograph on the anatomy and physiology of the lymphatic system. By good luck Yoffey had just returned from the United States and in 1941, taught Courtice how to cannulate the thoratic duct, which is the main lymphatic duct carrying lymph to the venous system. This was the start of Courtice's life-long work on lymphatic physiology. The thoracic duct was of relatively limited interest for the project at hand, since the noxious agents affected predominantly the lungs and skin. Courtice taught himself how to cannulate the even more delicate lymphatics that drain these regions and began his experiments.

The studies confirmed that the capillaries were damaged by burns and by contamination with mustard gas and lewisite, all of which led to substantial loss of fluid from the vascular compartment of the circulation. This was a major factor in the ensuing fall in blood pressure and 'shock'. However, the severity of the latter could be reduced by applying compression bandages to the animal's limbs or by cooling the affected region. These simple measures turned out to be useful emergency measures in patients with incendiary burns.

Inhalation of phosgene gas produced massive pulmonary oedema, which resulted in severe oxygen deficiency of the arterial blood. Again, measurements of changes in flow and protein composition of the lymph drained from the lungs provided an index of the extent of capillary damage. In a study performed together with Cameron, exposure to nitrogen mustards was found to lower the concentration of lymphocytes in blood and thoracic duct lymph. Moreover, there was necrosis of the germinal centres of the lymph nodes and spleen, which they considered to be the reason for the reduction in lymphocytes. For some years after the war, this formed the rationale for using nitrogen mustards therapeutically in certain types of lymphoma.

During this time, Courtice found an occasional call for his skills as a respiratory physiologist. One instance was during the large air attacks on London in 1940 and 1941, when he was asked to go to London to determine what were adequate levels of ventilation in the various types of air raid shelters that were in use at the time.

After the war, the Courtices returned to Oxford, where he was appointed Reader in Human Physiology. With the new skills he had acquired during the war, he wanted to continue research on a whole host of physiological questions relating to the lymphatic system. One study, performed in collaboration with a new DPhil student, Wilfred Simmonds, on a Nuffield Fellowship from Queensland, examined the rates of absorption of protein-rich fluids from the lungs and pleural cavity. Another study was performed with a PhD student from Canada, Ramsay Gunton, to examine the best ways of measuring blood vol. during shock. He again worked with his old chief Douglas and helped him to eliminate one troublesome error in the Haldane ferricyanide method of blood gas analysis, and to revise the student manual, Human Physiology. The University of Sydney awarded Courtice a DSc in 1946 fora thesis, 'The Effects of Chemical Warfare Agents on Capillary Permeability', based on the experimental work at Porton.

However, Courtice longed to return to Australia, which seemed a better place to bring up his children than England, with the continuing food rationing and general bleakness. Most of his friends thought that his professional prospects were better in England and advised him to remain. Indeed Courtice loved Oxford and always regarded it as a magical place and appreciated the proximity to intellectual giants such as Florey. Notwithstanding, in 1948 he accepted the position of Director of the Kanematsu Memorial Institute of Pathology at Sydney Hospital and, with his English wife and three young children, set sail for Australia.

Kanematsu Institute

The Kanematsu Institute was founded in 1930 from a gift to Sydney Hospital by a Japanese exporter, to commemorate the good medical treatment his wife had received several years earlier. In 1948, the hospital was one of the University of Sydney's major teaching hospitals. The Institute occupied a small narrow block of land on the Domain-side of the hospital, with six small floors, four of which were devoted to the hospital's clinical pathology services, one to the research department plus hospital library, and one to the animal house.

Courtice's predecessor as Director of the Kanematsu Institute had been J.C. Eccles, who had arrived in 1937 from Sherrington's laboratory in Oxford to continue with his neurophysiological studies. He had recruited two quite exceptional assistants, Bernard Katz and Stephen Kuffler and, between 1939 and 1943, this group had performed a series of brilliant experiments on the nature of synaptic transmission. However, after a major row with the Board of the Hospital, Eccles left Sydney in 1943 to become Professor of Physiology in Dunedin, New Zealand.

The Board of Sydney Hospital decided not to look for a new director till after the war. When the time eventually came, Courtice was by far the best applicant. His task, at the age of 37, was to rebuild the research department from scratch. Through his ten years in Sydney, the magnificent harbour views from the Domain-side of the building helped maintain his optimism. It was a matter of great relief to him that Joy and the children adapted quickly to life in Sydney. Their home in Clifton Gardens was roomy and comfortable and in 1950 their fourth child, Gillian, was born. Courtice very much enjoyed the relative proximity to his parents and relatives in Bundaberg and a Christmas visit north became an annual ritual. In Sydney, all the young research fellows shared in the warm family atmosphere at the Courtices'. Joy Courtice was a particularly gracious hostess and her kindness to the young research fellows and their somewhat neglected wives was very much appreciated.

One problem that Colin faced was the small amount of space available for research, which was extended only towards the end of his period in Sydney. In 1948, the research floor consisted of the hospital library, the director's office, a small office for his secretary, three laboratories and a preparation room. The hospital paid for the director's salary and that of a secretary and librarian, and there was a small sum towards the maintenance of the laboratories but for very little else. Soon after his arrival the New South Wales Hospitals Commission provided funds for a full-time senior research assistant, allowing him to appoint Wilfred Simmonds, who came to Sydney from Oxford in 1949. A more difficult task was to persuade the hospital to establish a new Clinical Research Department of ten beds that was closely associated with the Institute. But he succeeded and recruited another Queenslander from Oxford, Malcolm Whyte, to head the new department. Whyte arrived in early 1952. Courtice hoped that the clinical research department would eventually help alter the 'town-orientated' culture of Sydney Hospital, by boosting some of the scholarly or 'gown-orientated' aspects of clinical practice.

In the meantime, he was mindful of Cameron's exhortation on his departure from England, to get research activities under way as soon as possible. A.W. Steinbeck was the first young Sydneysider recruited to the staff as an NHMRC research fellow, and he worked there for three years before leaving for England for further research training. Over the next two years the sedate atmosphere of the Institute became livelier when three more young medical graduates joined the group as Junior NHMRC Research Fellows (Korner and Lake from Sydney; Darian-Smith from Adelaide), together with a young veterinary graduate, Bede Morris, who obtained a University of Sydney Research Fellowship. Courtice's method of dealing with inexperienced research workers was to discuss a project with them that he hoped would interest them, show them (or get Wilf Simmonds to show them) one or two relevant techniques, and then leave them to fend for themselves. From time to time he would come to the laboratory or invite one of them to his office to discuss progress. He was certainly the least 'intrusive' of research directors that I have ever encountered.

Over the next few years, wide-ranging experiments on the lymphatic system were performed, mostly in animals. Some provided quantitative information on the rates of lymphatic absorption of fluid, plasma proteins and red cells, from the peritoneal and pleural cavities. Others examined the role of lymphatics in the reabsorption of red cells from the cerebro-spinal fluid. From patients with thoracic duct fistulae, estimates were made of the daily bulk flow of lymph and extra-vascular proteins. There were experiments on the time-course of attaining equilibrium between plasma and lymph protein concentrations, and how this was affected by food intake and intravenous infusions of electrolyte solutions and vasoconstrictor drugs. Moderate levels of arterial hypoxia were found not to increase the permeability of the major systemic capillaries that drain into the thoracic duct. The introduction of various electrophoretic techniques led to the investigation of the protein fractions in plasma and lymph in different animal species. Eventually the focus shifted towards atherosclerosis, with investigations on the sources of some of the lipo-protein fractions and chylomicrons and the effects of experimental hyperlipidaemias.

Malcolm Whyte recalls an anecdote from the latter part of Courtice's Kanematsu period, which is recounted in The Heart Foundation Story 1958-1960 (an oral history presented by Dr Ralph Reader):

I think the Dairy Produce Board approached the Kanematsu, saying they would be interested to consider contributing to the research. Colin Courtice went up and down the labs, rubbing his hands and saying "Oh boy, we are going to get some money out of these people", and "we want an ultracentrifuge to do these lipid trials" and all this sort of thing. And the day came when two or three of the top brass of the dairy industry came and sat in his office. But on this day Colin wasn't in the best of moods and opened the discussion by saying: "Well, I haven't eaten butter for many years". You could feel the interest dropping through the floor. But still we went on to talk about the research and the prospects, and about heart disease and fats and polyunsaturates and so on. After a while one of them loosened up and said: "As a matter of fact I had a touch of heart trouble 1-2 years ago and my doctor advised me to cut down on my dairy products too".

The story had a good outcome and they did get the ultracentrifuge! It was a characteristic of Colin that he hated overselling his cause.

Parenthetically, when Courtice first taught us how to cannulate lymphatics, this was done with a glass cannula, after which one sat for hours collecting the lymph with a Pasteur pipette and placing it into heparinized test tubes, from time to time a fine wire loop with powdered heparin was placed into the cannula to prevent it from clotting. The advent of polyethylene and polyvinyl plastic tubing made possible the performance of chronic studies in different species and much more imaginative experimental designs, which were fully exploited, first by Wilf Simmonds in Sydney and later by Bede Morris in Canberra.

Cardiovascular studies were undertaken with the aid of the gas analysers from Oxford, to determine the mechanisms by which hypoxia increased susceptibility to pulmonary oedema. Another set of experiments examined the mechanisms responsible for the high cardiac output in experimental anaemia.

Courtice spent much of his time at the Kanematsu Institute in rewriting the monograph by Drinker and Yoffey on the lymphatic system. Yoffey had asked Courtice in 1951 to revise Drinker's part of the book, because the latter's health was failing rapidly. Courtice wrote most of the physiology and some of the anatomy of the book, which was published in 1956. This helped with international recognition of the work of the Kanematsu group, much of which had been published in the Australian Journal of Experimental Biology and Medical Science. Shortly before publication of the monograph, in 1954, Courtice was elected to Fellowship of the Australian Academy of Science.

As Director of the Kanematsu Institute, Courtice had no formal teaching duties, but he regularly gave lectures in physiology at the University of Sydney. He was also involved in the courses for the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons and was an examiner for many years for Part I of the Fellowship. In addition, he began a series of 'Clinical Physiology' talks for the residents and staff of Sydney Hospital, in which his young Turks were encouraged to participate. This initiative was not well received by C.G. Lambie, who was Professor of Medicine in the University of Sydney. Lambie wrote a terse letter, querying the wisdom of giving a course that might differ from his own 'official' story in both information content and interpretation.

Courtice was a member of numerous committees. These included the Research Advisory Committee of the NHMRC, the Advisory Committee of the Life Insurance Medical Research Fund, the Postgraduate Committee in Medicine of the University of Sydney and the Research Committee of the Red Cross Blood Transfusion Service. He was Honorary Secretary of the Australian National Research Council and a member of the Australian UNESCO Committee for Natural Science. He also served as a member of a committee that advised the New South Wales government to establish a second medical school in Sydney at what is now the University of New South Wales.

The sheer no. of these committees is a good measure of his capacity for hard work and the esteem in which his advice was held. He became friends with some of the grey eminences of Australian medical research of the day including Sydney Sunderland, Bill (E.V.) Keogh and Edgar King, and this gave him a very wide national perspective of what was going on.

One of his few visits abroad during his period at the Kanematsu Institute, apart from to New Zealand, was a visit to Singapore and Malaysia in 1957. This was followed by a visit to China, where Courtice was a member of a medical delegation that included eighteen Australian physicians and surgeons. Joy Courtice also went on that trip and the slide shows for their friends that followed their return home were instructive, perceptive and humorous.

In 1956 Courtice had applied for sabbatical leave, which he felt was essential in order to keep up to date with recent advances in medical science. This was regarded as unreasonable by the New South Wales Hospitals Commission. After a series of bitter wrangles, he decided in 1958 that enough was enough! He had been approached on a no. of occasions as to whether he would be interested in taking on the chair of experimental pathology in the newly established John Curtin School for Medical Research in Canberra, after Florey's decision to turn this down. He had not been keen because of what had been achieved at the Institute during the previous decade, which he later referred to as his 'golden age'. He was proud of the success of the Clinical Research Department under Malcolm Whyte, which had helped pioneer renal dialysis and coronary care units in Australia. However, in 1958, he suddenly decided that it was time to go to Canberra. The Australian National University agreed to allow him to spend a few months visiting some of the major research centres in Britain, Europe and the United States before moving to Canberra.

The John Curtin School of Medical Research

Courtice was Head of the Department of Experimental Pathology from 1958 to 1974. He had asked Bede Morris, who was by far his most gifted disciple in his own field of research, to join him as Senior Fellow in the new department. Morris had just spent three years at Oxford with Florey and accepted the offer with enthusiasm. Morris arrived in Canberra late in 1958. Courtice arrived early in 1959 and lived with the Morrises in Canberra for a few months, whilst Joy was supervising the sale of the house in Sydney and the builders were completing their new residence on State Circle. Another person who accompanied him to Canberra was Jack Harding, the highly competent head technician at the Kanematsu Institute, who became chief technician of the new department in Canberra and remained there throughout Courtice's reign.

The move to Canberra meant starting another department, but this time the circumstances were entirely different from any he had encountered previously. Now there was enough space and money for staff and equipment to allow him to do exactly what he wanted. As in Sydney, Courtice gave his staff their head in research and this 'laissez-faire' approach appears to have been popular.(1) Where it paid off most was that it allowed Bede Morris to embark on new and original approaches to immunology and lymphatic physiology. In many ways, during the first decade of Courtice's reign. Morris's work was the jewel in the crown of the department's research effort.(2) In 1971, with Courtice's blessing, the University invited Morris to form an autonomous Department of Immunology.

Courtice's own work extended his earlier studies on the transport and diffusion of macromolecules. New pro-jects included work on vascular injury, particularly in relation to atherogenic stimuli and collaborative studies with several distinguished scientists from overseas who chose to spend their sabbaticals in his department. These included Paul Nicoll, Don Zilversmit and Norman Staub, all from the United States, and Bunsuke Osogoe from Japan. His Australian collaborators, apart from Morris, included Lafferty, Lascelles, W.J. Cliff, Simpson-Morgan, McCullagh, Redgrave, R. Fraser, D.G. Garlick, J.W. Quin, J.C. Roberts, Stehbens, T.J. Heath, Schoefl, West and Brandon. During his time in Experimental Pathology, the university awarded forty PhD's and several other higher degrees to scholars from the department. In 1969/70 Yoffey spent a year in Canberra and together they completely rewrote their book, Lymphatics, Lymph and the Lymphomyeloid Complex. This was more authoritative than the 1956 monograph and included reference to the important findings and techniques emanating from Canberra.

Courtice was a regular visitor to international conferences and was often asked as an invited speaker. As chairman of the Australian National Committee for Physiological Sciences, he represented Australia at the international physiological congresses in Tokyo (1965) and in Washington (1968). Following the Tokyo meeting, he attended an international symposium in New Orleans to honour H.S. Mayerson, the doyen of American lymphatic physiologists. At this meeting, Courtice played a leading role in establishing the International Society of Lymphology. In 1973, at the meeting in Tucson, he received the Society's prize for the best scientific paper published in its journal Lymphology. The new society tended to go to rather exotic places, to keep up the interest of its members. One meeting was in Rio de Janeiro and Courtice was fond of recalling that at the dinner a troupe of dancing girls was showing off the Samba to the members, with little reaction from the audience. That is, until the leader of the troupe, a beautiful girl clad in very little, dragged Colin on to the floor to dance the Samba with her. As he was the oldest and, as he put it, most sedate member of the party, the audience gave a mighty roar of approval and all joined in on the dance floor to a hilarious evening.

When Courtice took up his appointment in Canberra, there were no clinical research activities in the John Curtin School. This was in accordance with Florey's plan to emphasize basic medical sciences. Courtice believed that this was no longer appropriate and played a major role in the establishment of the Department of Clinical Science in the School. In 1966, Malcolm Whyte became the Foundation Professor and soon built up a strong group with interests in atherosclerosis, metabolic disorders and selected aspects of cardiovascular epidemiology. Interestingly, after Courtice's departure from the Kanematsu Institute, Malcolm Whyte had been appointed Director of Medical Research, in contrast to Courtice's appointment as director of the entire institute. In other words, the hospital board had fragmented the administration of this already small institution by separating its research and service functions.

Courtice served for many years on the Board of the Canberra Hospital and the new academic unit owed much to his moderating influence in another 'town-orientated' institution. He hoped that the Department of Clinical Science would be the vanguard of a new type of Australian medical school, where the students would not only receive excellent clinical teaching, but could be fired up by their contacts with research scientists from all departments of the John Curtin School. He was much involved in a government advisory committee, to make out a ease for such a development. To his great disappointment, when the decision was made in 1973 by the Universities Commission, community medicine won and Newcastle and Townsville were recommended ahead of Canberra.

Courtice served on many other national and international committees. On the national scene, he served on the Council of the Australian Academy of Science and was Vice-President in 1965-66. In 1959-60 he served on a committee charged with establishing the National Heart Foundation and subsequently was for many years a member of the Foundation's National Medical and Scientific Advisory Committee. From 1965 to 1973, he was chairman of the National Radiation Committee, which advised the Prime Minister on biological aspects of radiation. On the international scene, he was Australian delegate at UNESCO in 1962 and 1964 and on each occasion he stayed in Paris for six weeks.

In 1973, Courtice became Acting Director of the John Curtin School, following Frank Fenner's term as Director. He had previously been in this position in 1967 when Hugh Ennor had resigned to become Secretary to the Commonwealth Depart-ment of Education and Science. However, on becoming Director of the School in November 1974, he relinquished the position of Head of the Department of Experimental Pathology. He also became Howard Florey Professor of Medical Research - the first time that this title was conferred on the Director of the School. His period as Director appears to have been uneventful and he retired from the position in December 1976. At the 'Festschrift' held in 1980 to commemorate his 70th birthday, the general comment was that he had been a good director and an effective and scrupulously fair administrator. After his retirement in December 1976, the Courtices returned to Sydney and settled in St Ives. He accepted appointment as Visiting Professor in the School of Physiology and Pharmacology at the University of New South Wales, where he contributed to the undergraduate teaching. He generally came in once a week to attend the departmental seminars and often to talk to members of the staff, including his daughter Gillian of whom he was very proud.

As always, he was involved in much committee work. He was chairman of an Australian Academy of Science committee to report on possible adverse effects on health, of lead in the environment, which was published in 1981 and led to considerable changes in governmental policy. In 1980, he was the Academy's nominee on a committee to advise the Commonwealth Minister for Veterans Affairs on the possible long-term effects on health of 'Agent Orange' and other herbicides that were used in the war in Vietnam. In 1983, he was treasurer for the successful 29th International Union of Physiological Sciences Congress held in Sydney, at the University of New South Wales. In 1985, he was very pleased to be elected Honorary President for the 1985 Congress of the International Society of Lymphology. When the Australian and New Zealand Microcirculation was formed in 1987, Courtice became its first president. He held the position for six years and took a keen interest in the society's scientific activities.

The last years of his life involved him in a long-drawn out struggle with prostatic cancer, with periods of pain and sickness that he bore calmly, with a minimum of fuss. He was as always, interested in the day-to-day activities of his family and grandchilden and visits from some of his old friends. His trips to the University became less frequent, but he still attended seminars that he thought would interest him. The unexpected death of Bede Morris in a motor car accident in 1988 was a great sorrow to him and the moving tribute he wrote about his friend conveys a great sense of national and personal loss. ['Bede Morris, 1927-1988', Hist. Rec. Aust. Sci., 8 (1989), 15-36]

Summing Up

Colin Courtice's return to Sydney from Oxford in 1948 came at a time when biomedical research in Sydney was at a particularly low ebb. The research vacuum was much greater than in Melbourne, where the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute and the Baker Medical Research Institute were firmly established. Courtice's laboratory at the Kanematsu Institute provided a niche for young local graduates keen to do research. Courtice understood the sociology of medical research much better than other Sydney-siders and knew that in order to improve matters, one had to cater for young research workers and give them self-confidence. He understood intuitively that the esprit de corps of an interacting research group strengthened its overall intellectual output, and this probably accounted for much of the success of his small band from the Kanematsu Institute. At the John Curtin School he was happy to shoulder administrative responsibilities to allow his younger colleagues to get on with the job of science, but he was also a good international ambassador for Australian science. He strongly believed that young would-be scientists who wished to try themselves out had to be allowed to sink or swim. He took great pride that so many of his 'survivors' have made their mark on Australia's universities and on international science. Malcolm Whyte has described his contribution to Australian science as 'crossing boundaries' - not just those of his beloved capillary membrane but those between disciplines, between clinic and laboratory and between local and international scientific communities.(3)


I am greatly indebted to Mrs Joy Courtice and to Gillian Courtice for allowing me to study some of Colin Courtice's personal writings. In addition, I am indebted to Peter Bishop, Malcolm Whyte, Wally Cliff and David Garlick for their comments and observations.

Professional Milestones

Frederick Colin Courtice, MA, DPhil (Oxon), DSc (Syd), LRCP (Lond), MRCS (Eng), FRCPA, FRACS (Hon), FRACP, FAA. Born in Bundaberg, 26 March 1911: died in Sydney, 29 February 1992.


(1) Morris, B., 'F.C. Courtice', in Festschrift for F.C. Courtice, ed. D. Garlick (Sydney: University of New South Wales, School of Physiology and Pharmacology, 1981), pp. 1-9.

(2) Morris, B., 'The evolution of experimental approaches to studying aspects of lymphatic physiology', Ibid,. pp. 234-244.

(3) Whyte, H.M., 'Crossing boundaries: Voluntary modifications of autonomic functions', Ibid., pp. 102-111.

This memoir was originally published in Historical Records of Australian Science, vol. 10, no. 1, 1994

Published by the Australian Science Archives Project on ASAPWeb, 1995
Comments or corrections to: Bright Sparcs (bsparcs@asap.unimelb.edu.au)
© Australian Academy of Science
Prepared by: Victoria Young
Updated by: Elissa Tenkate
Date modified: 8 April 1998

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