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Pridham, John Theodore (1879–1954)

by R. W. Fitzsimmons

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

John Theodore Pridham (1879-1954), plant breeder, was born on 7 November 1879 at Stanmore, Sydney, son of Theodore Pridham, civil engineer from Guernsey, Channel Islands, and his English wife Alice, née Collard. Educated at Sydney Grammar School and Hawkesbury Agricultural College, where he was dux in 1900, he joined the Department of Agriculture as an experimentalist in June 1901. For three years he assisted William Farrer in his wheat-improvement programme, living with him at Lambrigg, near Canberra.

While experimentalist at Bathurst Experiment Farm in 1904-06, Pridham began an oat-breeding programme despite Farrer's warning that his would be a difficult task. He continued the work for forty years, concentrating on developing varieties with early maturity, less tillering and better adapted to wheat belt conditions. In 1906-08 he was assistant manager at Cowra Experiment Farm, then worked with the Victorian Department of Agriculture in 1908-11. In Melbourne on 1 September 1911 he married Helen Macfie Urquhart.

At Longerenong Agricultural College, Victoria, in a plot of Algerian, the dominant oat variety in Australia, Pridham selected an earlier maturing plant which became the variety Sunrise and the most popular oat in New South Wales. Other varieties developed in later years included Belar (his most successful variety), Mulga, Guyra, Lampton, Lachlan and Weston. He was probably the first to carry out cross-breeding in oats in Australia and laid the foundation of oat improvement. Some of his varieties became important in other countries, notably on the Pacific coast of the United States of America.

Plant breeder at Cowra Experiment Farm, New South Wales in 1911-44, Pridham also continued the wheat-improvement programme started by Farrer. His first notable variety was Canberra, selected and released in 1914 at Wagga Wagga Experiment Farm from a cross made by R. J. Hurst, which proved a satisfactory early-maturing variety for dry areas of the wheat-belt and for late sowing in good rainfall areas. He also developed the hard, translucent variety, Hard Federation (1914), which demonstrated that it was possible to combine moderately good baking quality and satisfactory yield in an Australian wheat. Noting the drought resistance of the old wheat variety, Steinwedel, he crossed it with Thew to produce Bobin in 1925. Other notable varieties produced by Pridham and which made significant contributions to the wheat industry included Dundee, Gular, Aussie, Wandilla, Union, Bena, Baringa, and Clarendon. He also did important pioneering work on barley on lines imported from North Africa. Pridham was in charge of all cereal improvement work carried out at the various research stations until the formation of the plant-breeding branch in 1938. From 1940 until he retired in 1945 he worked in and from Sydney.

Although he gave careful attention to disease resistance and quality, he took the realistic attitude that yield was the most important attribute in crops for the farmer. He realized that by breaking away from one-crop farming with oats as an alternative to wheat, stability of western farming could be increased. He contributed many articles (100 of them in the Agricultural Gazette of New South Wales) on all aspects of cereal growing, but particularly in regard to plant-breeding and the description of varieties.

Distinguished by his sincerity, his deep religious convictions and his consideration for others, Pridham was awarded the Farrer memorial medal in 1944. Survived by his wife, two sons and a daughter, he died on 24 May 1954 at his home at Croydon, Sydney, and was buried in Rookwood cemetery with Brethren forms.

Select Bibliography

  • Australian Institute of Agricultural Science, Journal, 11 (1945), p 74
  • Department of Agriculture (New South Wales), Science Bulletin, 1968, no 76
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 19 Feb 1940, 4 Apr 1945.

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Citation details

R. W. Fitzsimmons, 'Pridham, John Theodore (1879–1954)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/pridham-john-theodore-8113/text14167, published first in hardcopy 1988, accessed online 15 December 2019.

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

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