This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 11, (MUP), 1988
Edward Henry Rennie (1852-1927), scientist, was born on 19 August 1852 at Balmain, Sydney, eldest son of Edward Alexander Rennie, clerk and later auditor-general, and his English wife Harriet, née Cummins, and grandson of James Rennie, professor of natural history at King's College, University of London, who later lived in Sydney and Adelaide. Edward attended Fort Street Model School, Sydney Grammar School and the University of Sydney (B.A., 1870; M.A., 1876). He was influenced by Archibald Liversidge with whom he remained in contact until his death. He taught at Sydney and Brisbane Grammar schools from 1871 to 1877, when he went to study at the University of London (B.Sc., 1879; D.Sc., 1882). Later he worked in Sydney for eighteen months before taking up his appointment to the new Angas chair of chemistry at the University of Adelaide early in 1885. On 23 December 1884 at St John's, Raymond Terrace, he married Agnes Alison Cadell; they had two daughters and two sons.
Rennie was the university's first dean of science in 1887 and a council-member in 1889-98 and 1909-27. On committees, in teaching and research, and twice as acting vice-chancellor, he showed tact, dedication and sound judgement. As a teacher he was noted for precise explanation and the use of practical demonstrations. He also lectured on metallurgy to external classes and at the South Australian School of Mines and Industries; he had little time for writing and limited facilities for research.
Rennie had worked in London on chemical dynamics. In 1898 he went overseas and in England, with (Sir) William Bragg, he discussed the new physics with a leader in the field Sir William Crookes, whose work Rennie had studied. In Adelaide he investigated the chemistry of Australian plants and in World War I he was on two Commonwealth committees studying plant products of potential industrial use (resin of Xanthorrhoea sp., fibres of Posidonia sp.).
Rennie was initially also South Australia's government analyst and inspector of explosives. He helped to form the School of Mines and Industries, on whose council he represented the university; he was acting president in 1924. Twice president of the Royal Society of South Australia (1886-89 and 1900-03), in his addresses he reflected an interest in the application of science to industry. He was president of the Society of Chemical Industry of South Australia in 1916-17, of the Australasian Association for the Advancement of Science in 1926, and in the same year of the Royal Australian Chemical Institute which he had helped to found. He was a member of the Advisory Standing Committee of Australian Universities in the mid-1920s, and of the first Australian national committee of the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry in 1925-26. A foundation committee-member of the local branch of the British Science Guild from 1910, and chairman of the State committee of the Commonwealth Advisory Council (later Institute) of Science and Industry in 1916-25, he was active in the foundation in 1926 of the Commonwealth Council for Scientific and Industrial Research.
A Presbyterian, Rennie supported the Student Christian Movement and Adelaide's Presbyterian colleges. He combined Calvinistic principle, modesty and authority. Of simple tastes and austere habits, he was noted for his stately walk and flowing beard; he was kindly and helpful to others and to staff and students was known as 'Dad Rennie'. Still working, he died suddenly on 8 January 1927, and was cremated. His name is memorialized in the university, in the R.A.C.I. and at Scots Church, Adelaide. George Edward Rennie was his brother.
J. M. Barker and D. R. Stranks, 'Rennie, Edward Henry (1852–1927)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/rennie-edward-henry-8182/text14307, published in hardcopy 1988, accessed online 31 July 2014.
This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 11, (MUP), 1988