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Pearson, Alfred Naylor (1856–1933)

by W. R. Jewell

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 11, (MUP), 1988

Alfred Naylor Pearson (1856-1933), chemist and agriculturalist, was born on 17 May 1856 at Halton, near Leeds, Yorkshire, England, son of John Pearson, lacemaker, and his wife Hannah, née Boothman. At the local mechanics' institute he was dux in 1872 and at examinations at Leeds in 1874 he won the mayor's prize for chemistry. He also won a Royal exhibition at the Royal School of Mines, London, where he gained two scholarships for the highest marks in two successive years. He became an associate of the Royal Institute of Chemistry, a fellow of the Royal Meteorological Society, the Chemical Society and the University of Bombay, and an associate of arts at Oxford.

In 1877 Pearson accepted an appointment to develop the mineral resources of Kutch, India. Next year in Bombay he was appointed professor of biology at its university and curator of its Victoria and Albert Museum. Shortly afterwards he became resident engineer of an Indian mining company, for which he visited Australia to obtain men and machinery. On 4 January 1882 he married Grace Campbell Corbett (d.1895) at Brighton, Victoria. Next year he took temporary charge of the meteorological department, West India.

His wife's illness obliged Pearson to leave India. He arrived in Melbourne in January 1885 intending to proceed to New Zealand but instead remained to become a university examiner and in 1886-1902 chemist for government departments. In addition to controlling the agricultural laboratory Pearson extended his work into experimental agriculture and in 1887 inaugurated trials, at field stations and on individual farms, on the effects of manures, climate and cultivation on various crops. The results were published in a number of pamphlets of the Department of Agriculture and formed the basis of his book, Manures and Manuring (1895). The first Artificial Manures Act came into operation in 1897 and was supervised by Pearson.

Other major activities on which Pearson was engaged included proposals for the sewage-disposal farm at Werribee, the development of a sugar-beet industry and a general scheme for developing the State's agriculture. He was a member of the royal commission on the introduction of contagious diseases amongst rabbits (1888) and of the Intercolonial Rust in Wheat Conference (1890), and he gave evidence to the inquiry into the butter industry in Victoria in 1895-96. He was a trustee of the Leongatha Labour Colony.

In 1900 Pearson presented a paper to the Australasian Association for the Advancement of Science, Scientific Directing of a Country's Agriculture, in which he concluded that the development of Victorian agriculture was dependent on additional knowledge, such as that provided by soil surveys, and the application of that knowledge through education and extension work. Apart from numerous scientific studies, Pearson also wrote popular articles for newspapers. In 1889 he published Search for Knowledge and Other Papers.

In 1902 Pearson left Australia to become head of the department of agriculture in Natal, South Africa. He returned to Victoria in 1907 to establish a demonstration farm, Holton Grange, at Lang Lang. It was built on swampland and despite the investment of all his capital and the employment of Swedish and Danish farm-workers, it failed. Pearson died suddenly on 5 August 1933 at his Brighton home, and was cremated with Anglican rites. His second wife, Ellen Mary, née Harding, whom he had married at Malvern on 8 August 1896, four children of the first marriage and one of the second survived him.

Select Bibliography

  • A. Sutherland et al, Victoria and its Metropolis, vol 2 (Melb, 1888)
  • Argus (Melbourne), 27 July 1886, 16 July 1887, 1, 15 Feb 1888, 9 Aug 1933
  • Chemical Laboratory, Dept of Agriculture, Melbourne records.

Citation details

W. R. Jewell, 'Pearson, Alfred Naylor (1856–1933)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/pearson-alfred-naylor-8002/text13945, published first in hardcopy 1988, accessed online 6 December 2019.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 11, (MUP), 1988

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