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Harrison, Launcelot (1880–1928)

by G. P. Walsh

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 9, (MUP), 1983

Launcelot Harrison (1880-1928), zoologist, was born on 13 July 1880 at Wellington, New South Wales, son of Thomas Harrison, medical practitioner, and his wife Elizabeth Maria, née Round. He was educated at The King's School, Parramatta, where for two years he was head of the school and Broughton scholar. He matriculated in 1900 and joined the Citizens' Life Assurance Co. A champion schoolboy athlete, he represented New South Wales in Rugby football against Queensland and New Zealand in 1901. At North Sydney on 29 February 1908, with Methodist forms, he married Amy Eleanor Mack; they had no children.

A keen amateur naturalist from boyhood, Harrison became prominent in the Wild Life Preservation Society of Australia and the Naturalists' Society of New South Wales. In 1911 he went up to the University of Sydney where he was a distinguished prizeman and graduated B.Sc. with first-class honours and the University medal in zoology in 1914. In 1913-14 he was junior demonstrator in zoology and botany and in 1914 won the John Coutts scholarship and an Exhibition of 1851 scholarship on which he went to Emmanuel College, Cambridge, England (B.A. (Research), 1916). He was president of the Cambridge Natural History Society and a vice-president of the Cambridge Union Society.

After about fifteen months postgraduate work and after having previously been rejected for military service, Harrison was appointed advisory entomologist to the British Expeditionary Force in Mesopotamia with the rank of lieutenant. His preventive work on insect-carried diseases saved many lives, although he himself contracted both typhus and malaria. He was promoted captain on the special reserve list of officers.

Appointed lecturer and demonstrator in zoology at the University of Sydney while on active service in 1918, Harrison took up duty in July 1919; next year he was appointed acting professor and lecturer in veterinary parasitology; in 1922 he became Challis professor of zoology. An excellent and enthusiastic teacher, he made his department one of the most active and progressive in the university; he restructured the courses and encouraged a wide variety of research. His students found zoology a dynamic force for the discovery of new knowledge.

Harrison published mainly on Mallophaga and the relations between host and parasite on which he was a world authority, but he was also an expert on frogs, interested in zoogeography and the Wegener hypothesis (the theory of continental drift), especially in relation to the origin of the Australian fauna. His historical and anatomical research was used by H. J. Burrell. In 1925 he organized a successful interdisciplinary scientific reconnaissance of the Barrington Tops and in 1926 began a university tutorial class on the biological basis of sociology and visited Perth for the Australasian Association for the Advancement of Science congress.

A popular public lecturer and publicist on such topics as evolution and heredity, Harrison was president of the Royal Zoological (1923-24), and the Linnean (1928) societies of New South Wales and a trustee of the Australian Museum, Sydney, from 1924. He was president of the Sydney University Union (1920-21) and active in university science and dramatic societies. Despite poor health as a result of his war experiences and severe arthritis, Harrison was always cheerful and optimistic. He wrote and published clever children's verse under the pseudonym 'Alter Ego' including the delightful Tails and Tarradiddles: an Australian Book of Birds and Beasts (1925), which he illustrated himself.

Harrison died suddenly of a cerebral haemorrhage while holidaying at Narooma on 20 February 1928 and was cremated with Anglican rites. His wife survived him.

Select Bibliography

  • H. J. Carter, Gulliver in the Bush (Syd, 1933)
  • Australian Zoologist, 5 (1928), p 132
  • Linnean Society of New South Wales, Proceedings, 53 (1928), p 6
  • Australian Museum Magazine (1928), p 191
  • Sydney University Medical Journal (1928), p 125
  • Hermes (Sydney), 34 (1928), p 3
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 22 Jan 1918, 19 July 1923, 20 June 1924, 10 Jan, 9 Feb 1925, 20 May, 6 June, 26 Aug 1926, 22, 23, 25 Feb 1928.

Additional Resources

Citation details

G. P. Walsh, 'Harrison, Launcelot (1880–1928)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/harrison-launcelot-6586/text11335, published first in hardcopy 1983, accessed online 23 November 2017.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 9, (MUP), 1983

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