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Potts, Henry William (1855–1931)

by H. G. Holland and B. R. Rose

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

Henry William Potts (1855-1931), agricultural educationist, was born on 12 September 1855 at Broomhaugh, Northumberland, England, second of seven children of George Potts, schoolmaster, and his first wife Mary Ann, née Little. Henry was educated under his father at the Mickley National School in 1869-72. Under contract to the Queensland government, George Potts arrived with his family in Brisbane on 4 July 1872, teaching thereafter at Rockhampton. In Brisbane Henry was apprenticed to Moses Ward, pharmacist and dentist, and was registered as a pharmaceutical chemist on 6 April 1876. That year he set up in Queen Street as Potts & Berkley, chemists and druggists. He was also a dispenser in Brisbane and, later, Ipswich hospitals, and in 1880 an inaugural council-member of the Pharmaceutical Society of Queensland. He also practised dentistry. Potts was an early contributor to the Bulletin; in a letter of 29 April 1882 J. F. Archibald thanked him for his 'interesting and clever pars'. On 14 July 1884 he married a widow Lucy Sara Euste (d.1891), née Callaghan, at St James' Church, Sydney; they were childless.

Moving to Victoria, Potts bought a pharmacy at Chiltern in August 1885 but soon bought a business in Melbourne, where he was active in establishing professional associations for pharmacists, dentists and practitioners of veterinary medicine. He was registered as a dentist on 20 March 1888, in May became a foundation member of the Dental Board of Victoria, and was a founder of the Melbourne dental hospital. On 22 June 1892 at St James' Church, Melbourne, he married Unëe Apperley St Clair Meade.

In 1891-98 Potts had a business and practice at Euroa where he acted as analyst and scientific consultant to the new co-operative butter factory. He became interested in all aspects of the dairy and related industries (including pig-raising), and was soon sought as part-time dairy adviser and voluntary educator; his illustrated lectures were very popular. Appointed scientific instructor in dairying in the Department of Agriculture, he returned to Melbourne in 1898. Working with R. Crowe and D. Wilson he reached a wide audience in Victoria (and also lectured for the Tasmanian government). By encouraging improved hygiene, pasteurisation, use of analytical methods, mechanization and quality control, he contributed significantly to expansion of the butter export trade.

In 1899-1901 Potts served on the royal commission on technical education, but his expectation of achieving permanent employment was not realized. There was a public outcry against the Victorian government when on 1 May 1902 Potts took up duties as principal of Hawkesbury Agricultural College, Richmond, New South Wales.

At Hawkesbury, Potts reorganized the curriculum, introduced a diploma in dairying, extended the buildings to accommodate 200 students by 1907, and planted hundreds of trees to embellish the grounds. He reduced 'the amazing variety of breeds of various kinds of live stock', building up studs of high quality poultry, sheep, pigs, cattle and horses. Other developments included summer schools for teachers and winter schools for farmers. 'For the Hawkesbury College he made a reputation throughout the world for the combination of practice and science'. It attracted students from across Australia and beyond, and a constant stream of visitors. Widely known as Principal Potts, he was skilful in public relations. In 1910 he published Pigs and Their Management; known as Potts on Pigs, it went through three more editions by 1923. He also published numerous articles, mainly in the Agricultural Gazette of New South Wales, and inaugurated three journals.

He was a fellow of the Chemical and Linnean societies of London, and a member of the local Royal and Linnean societies, giving some notable lectures before them. A council-member of the Royal Agricultural Society of New South Wales from 1902, he presided over the agricultural section of the 1909-10 meeting of the Australasian Association for the Advancement of Science. In 1914 he visited agricultural colleges in North America, Britain and Europe.

Retiring from the college in 1921, Potts became a director of the Lindley, Walker Wheat Co-operative Co. Ltd, and negotiated a sale of Australian wheat to Sweden. He visited North America and Europe (1921), South Africa (1925 and 1928) and Malta (1930) where he stayed with its prime minister Sir Gerald Strickland. He also encouraged immigration to Australia. When over 70, with an international financier R. Tilden Smith he joined a scheme to train young men in Britain for farm life in Australia. In 1926 the Australian Farms Training College was opened at Lynford Hall, Norfolk, with Potts as principal. Despite his strenuous efforts the scheme was dogged by misfortune and was abandoned.

He returned to Sydney in 1930 and next year, now commissioner for Malta, visited North Queensland to assist Maltese cane farmers who had been victims of embezzlement. On 10 February 1931 Potts died at Innisfail and was buried there. His wife, three sons and two daughters survived him.

Of imposing appearance, Potts was genial, generous and gregarious. Highly industrious, largely self-taught, he was remembered by his former charges not only for his qualities as a teacher and moulder of men (and a few women), but also for his solicitude and pastoral care. He was an active member of the Church of England, and of several Masonic lodges.

Select Bibliography

  • R. N. Dart, Hawkesbury Agricultural College, Richmond, New South Wales (Syd, 1941)
  • Scientific Australian, 20 June 1902
  • Hawkesbury Agricultural College Journal, 5 (Feb 1908), p 38, 10 (Jan 1913), p 14, 17 (Nov 1920), p 132
  • Lone Hand, 1 Jan 1913
  • Agricultural Gazette (New South Wales), Mar 1931, p 1836
  • Chemist and Druggist of Australasia, 40 (Oct 1925), p 186
  • Time and Tide (London), 12 Feb 1926
  • Geelong Advertiser, 28 Apr 1902
  • Daily Telegraph (Sydney), 12 Sept 1915
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 11 Feb 1931
  • Potts papers (State Library of New South Wales)
  • private information.

Citation details

H. G. Holland and B. R. Rose, 'Potts, Henry William (1855–1931)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/potts-henry-william-8086/text14111, published first in hardcopy 1988, accessed online 23 April 2019.

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

View the front pages for Volume 11

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