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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Angell, Herbert Raleigh (1893–1992)

by Nancy Poundstone Opdyke

This article was published online in 2020

Herbert Raleigh Angell (1893–1992), plant pathologist, was born on 21 August 1893 at Old England, Manchester, Jamaica, son of Jamaican-born parents Charles Angell, pen keeper, and his wife Rose Edith, née Sconce. In World War I he served in the British West Indies Regiment. Commissioned on 31 May 1917 and promoted to lieutenant (November 1918), he was posted to the 7th Battalion, which was deployed to the Western Front (1917) and Italy (1918). In 1921 he moved to Montreal, Canada, where he studied agriculture at Macdonald College (McGill University), Montreal Island, (BSA, 1925). Nicknamed ‘Herbie,’ he was photographer for the college magazine and president of the literary and debating society. After graduating, he moved to the United States of America to continue his studies at the University of Wisconsin, Madison (MS, 1926; PhD, 1928). His doctoral thesis, ‘Purple Blotch of Onion (Macrosporium porri Ell.)’ was published in a shortened version in the Journal of Agricultural Research (1929).

Angell was appointed senior plant pathologist in 1928 in the newly established Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, Canberra. On 30 October 1930 at Scots Church, Sydney, he married Rosalind Kate Ramsay, a librarian. His research interests were broad; they included the relationship of protocatechuic acid (a type of phenolic acid) with disease resistance in onions, and the control of soft rot (also known as black rot) in pineapples by benzoic acid. In 1929 and 1930 he visited Papua to investigate a disease of coconuts. His most notable work was research (1928–38) into the fungistatic properties of vapours of benzol in the control and prevention of downy mildew (blue mould) in tobacco, a disease that threatened the viability of the industry in Australia. The method he developed was to grow seedlings under tents, using benzol as a mist, but only at night. He found that the vapour prevented development of the disease. According to Angell, before his research, Australian tobacco was unpopular and difficult to market because it had an unpleasant odour. In the course of his research he developed a close relationship with growers, even learning some Italian to communicate directly with many of them. Before he could complete his work on tobacco he was directed to undertake research into take-all of wheat, a plant disease caused by a fungus. However, following requests from the tobacco industry, Angell, who was the only person with the knowledge to introduce growers to the practical application of his research, was allowed to return and finish his work. His solution was described as a ‘boon to Australian tobacco growers, [which] … with modifications, was adopted worldwide’ (Technology in Australia 1788—1988 2001, 43).

In 1934 Angell published the results of his research into the early symptoms of flag smut in wheat in the Journal of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, and in 1939 he was appointed OBE for his work on downy mildew in tobacco. Promoted to principal plant pathologist in 1940, his research focused on browning of flax (1945), seedling blight of peas and poppy (1949–54), and brown rot of stone fruits (1949–55). He retired in 1958 but at the request of his employers continued research for another four years, with his wife working as his associate. His hobbies were gardening and mechanical pursuits that included reassembling a T-model Ford, grinding telescope lenses, and casting parts from scrap aluminium that he melted in an open-hearth fireplace in his dining room. Having had a long interest in pottery he produced stoneware that was fired with sump oil in a downdraft kiln he had constructed. He died on 18 March 1992 when visiting his daughter at Mornington, Victoria, and was cremated. His wife, their son and two daughters survived him. A street in Banks, Australian Capital Territory, is named after him.

Research edited by Brian Wimborne

Select Bibliography

  • Angell, Herbert Raleigh. Interview by Judy Cannon, 20 February 1986. Sound recording. National Library of Australia
  • McCarthy, G. J. ‘Angell, Herbert Raleigh (1893–1992).’ Encyclopedia of Australian Science. Last updated 20 February 2010. Accessed 6 January 2019. http://www.eoas.info/biogs/P000020b.htm. Copy held on ADB file
  • Technology in Australia 1788–1988. Melbourne: Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering, 1988

Additional Resources

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Citation details

Nancy Poundstone Opdyke, 'Angell, Herbert Raleigh (1893–1992)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/angell-herbert-raleigh-28254/text35956, published online 2020, accessed online 23 October 2020.

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