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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Albiston, Harold Edward (1897–1994)

by Gerald T. Clarkson

This article was published online in 2018

Harold Edward Albiston (1897–1994), veterinary scientist, was born on 26 March 1897 at Launceston, Tasmania, the second of four children of Victorian-born parents Arthur Edward Albiston, Methodist minister, and his wife Harriette, née Skinner. The family moved to Melbourne in 1899 and eventually settled at South Yarra. Harold attended Woodbury College (1903–06), Kew, and then Rathdown Street and Malvern State schools. Having won a State government and an Old Wesley Collegians' Association scholarships in 1911, he went to Wesley College, where he was put into the bright boys’ class known as ‘the twenty.’ He did well in his final exams, achieving honours and winning an award to study veterinary science.

At the University of Melbourne (BVSc, 1918; DVSc, 1929) Albiston proved to be a brilliant scholar. In the fourth year of his degree he obtained first-class honours in all subjects together with the Payne exhibition, the Georgina Sweet prize for parasitology, and the Royal Agricultural Society of Victoria medal for clinical acumen. While studying he served in the Melbourne University Regiment. On 26 August 1918 he was commissioned in the Australian Imperial Force as a captain, Australian Army Veterinary Corps. Sailing to Britain, he was sent to France and Belgium, where in April and May 1919 he helped in the demobilisation and classification of horses used in the war. After studying briefly at the Royal Veterinary College, London, he returned to Australia in September. His AIF appointment was terminated on 12 October.

In March 1920 Albiston became the Caroline Kay scholar in veterinary anatomy at the University of Melbourne and the next year was awarded a Walter and Eliza Hall fellowship to study lung worm and braxy-like diseases in sheep. Motivated by the work of Sydney Dodd in New South Wales, Albiston’s research helped to confirm the existence of black disease (infectious necrotic hepatitis), the most serious braxy-like condition, in Victoria. He also added to the understanding of its pathology and produced pure isolates of the organism. In 1922 he was appointed to the faculty of veterinary science where he lectured in pathology and bacteriology. On 22 August 1923 his father officiated at Albiston’s marriage to Hazel Ruve Hattam at Queen’s College chapel, Carlton.

By 1928 a worldwide reduction in veterinary work, following a decline in the use of horses as a source of transport and power, saw student numbers diminish, and teaching at the school ceased. In March that year Albiston was made assistant director of the veterinary school. During 1929 papers on his research into black disease, tubercle bacilli in Melbourne’s milk supply, and actinomycosis of the mammary glands of cows in Victoria were accepted as his doctoral thesis. Following the university’s decision that the veterinary school should change its focus and become a research institute for the Department of Agriculture, Albiston was appointed (1931) director of the Veterinary Research Institute (VRI).

As director, Albiston worked under the aegis of the university while performing diagnostic and research tasks for the department. In addition to overseeing operations, he maintained the institute as a focus for the veterinary profession, and demonstrated the drive and vision necessary for the institute’s success. As members of an organisation serving the State’s expanding livestock industries, VRI staff often worked with scientists attached to the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research’s division of animal health to solve disease and nutritional problems faced by farmers. Although the university and the department were supposed to finance the VRI jointly, funding was rarely sufficient. This shortfall led Albiston to seek money elsewhere for new equipment and minor building alterations. One source was the ‘Monkey Account’ (University of Melbourne 1961/1410). The Commonwealth Serum Laboratories imported monkeys for use in the manufacture of poliomyelitis vaccine in the 1950s and the CSL paid the VRI to undertake post-mortems of deceased animals.

Albiston was awarded the Gilruth prize for meritorious services to veterinary science in 1959. He retired in 1963 and was appointed CBE. Guided by his genial, intelligent, and perceptive personality, the VRI had become a meeting place, almost a club, where any veterinarian was welcome. A colleague recalled that he ‘dressed well, spoke well and, while always friendly and helpful, exuded authority’ (Arundel 1993, 282). Devoted to the profession, he had been president (1932–34) of the Australian Veterinary Association, spent decades serving on the board of the Veterinary Association of Victoria (president 1934) and the Zoological Board of Victoria (chairman by 1962), and for twenty-three years was the editor (1939–62) of the Australian Veterinary Journal.

In retirement Albiston prepared the second edition of H. R. Seddon’s six volume work Diseases of Domestic Animals in Australia and wrote its seventh volume, Some Metabolic Diseases, Deficiencies, and Toxaemias (1975). From 1965 the Harold E. Albiston prize in veterinary pathology was awarded at the university, and the Australian College of Veterinary Scientists named its 1993 oration in his honour. He died on 13 August the following year at Richmond and was cremated. Survived by two sons and two daughters, he was predeceased by his wife and a son.

Research edited by Nicole McLennan

Select Bibliography

  • Albiston, Harold E. Interview by the author, 1990

  • Albiston, Harold E. ‘Veterinary Education in Victoria.’ Australian Veterinary Journal 27 (September 1951): 253–57

  • Arundel, J. H. ‘The Harold E. Albiston Oration.’ Australian Veterinary Journal 70, no. 8 (August 1993): 281–83

  • Australian Veterinary Journal. ‘Gilruth Prize Award: Dr. H. E. Albiston.’ 35 (July 1959): 341–43

  • Clarkson, G. T. ‘The Life and Veterinary Contribution of Dr. Harold E. Albiston.’ MEd diss., University of Melbourne, 1993

  • Jones, T. E. ‘Obituary: Harold Edward Albiston.’ Australian Veterinary Journal 71, no. 11 (November 1994): 391

  • National Archives of Australia. B2455, Albiston H E

  • University of Melbourne Archives. 1961/1410, Veterinary Research Institute

Additional Resources

Citation details

Gerald T. Clarkson, 'Albiston, Harold Edward (1897–1994)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published online 2018, accessed online 20 September 2020.

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