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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Simmonds, John Howard (Jack) (1901–1992)

by G. S. Purss

This article was published online in 2016

John Howard (Jack) Simmonds (1901–1992), plant pathologist, was born on 13 June 1901 at Taringa, Brisbane, elder of two children of Victorian-born John Howard Simmonds, stone-mason, and his English-born wife Rose, née Culpin. His father was an enthusiastic field naturalist and shell-collector and his mother became a notable photographer later in life. Educated at Boys’ College, Clayfield (Brisbane Boys’ College), Jack graduated from the University of Queensland (BSc, 1923; MSc, 1926) with first class honours and was appointed to the staff of the entomology branch of the State Department of Agriculture and Stock.

Simmonds became the first full-time plant pathologist in the department. He combined an interest in research and extension in all plant diseases, and produced a steady stream of publications from 1927. From March 1931 until April 1932 he took leave without pay to study developments in plant pathological research in the United States of America, Canada, Britain, the Middle East, India, Malaya, and Java. He also completed one term of a postgraduate course at Imperial College, London. On 10 November 1933 at her parents’ home in South Brisbane, he married Marjorie Isabel Dowrie, with a Presbyterian clergyman officiating.

Called up for full-time duty on 15 September 1941 as a captain in the Citizen Military Forces, Simmonds transferred to the Australian Imperial Force twelve months later. He commanded the 11th Malaria Control Unit in Papua and New Guinea between July 1943 and June 1944. Landing at Madang and Alexishafen (April 1944) with the first Australian troops, he ensured minimal rates of infection and carried out valuable experiments; he was appointed MBE (1945) for this work. In February 1945 he was promoted to major. From April to November he commanded the 1st Mobile Entomological Section in New Guinea and Bougainville. Back in Australia, he transferred to the Reserve of Officers on 28 February 1946.

On returning to his department, Simmonds was placed in charge of the science branch, overseeing the entomology, plant pathology, and botany sections, and continuing his personal research program. Following reorganisation of his branch into separate entities, he continued to lead plant pathology until 1961 when, on his own volition, he stood down to concentrate on his own research, such as a host index of plant diseases in Queensland. He retired in 1966, having seen the section grow from only a few to twenty scientists covering specialist activities in mycology, bacteriology, and virology, and with plant pathologists situated at seven field stations around the State. The University of Queensland conferred an honorary doctorate of science on him in 1969.

Simmonds set a fine example of originality and application. He carried out research on a wide range of crops, but his particular interest was in tropical fruits. Among his outstanding research contributions was an understanding of the epidemiology of banana leaf spot (Mycosphaerella musicola), which led directly to improved control measures. He was one of the first researchers to use mild strain protection to control a virus disease, the woodiness virus of passion vine. He established a world reputation for research into the ripe fruit rots of tropical fruits, especially through revealing the processes of latent infection in these diseases. He organised the taxonomy of the species of Colletotrichum involved in ripe fruit rots and described a new species, Colletotrichum acutatum.

An ardent member of the Queensland Naturalists’ Club, and a boating enthusiast, Simmonds was a humble and quiet man, deeply respected by all who knew him well. Predeceased by his wife but survived by two daughters he died on 3 November 1992 at Indooroopilly, Brisbane, and was cremated at Mt Thompson crematorium.

Research edited by Brian Wimborne

Select Bibliography

  • Alcorn, J. L., and G. S. Purss. ‘A Tribute to John Howard Simmonds.’ Australasian Plant Pathology 21, no. 3 (1992): 91–93
  • Fenner, Frank, ed. History of Microbiology in Australia. Canberra: Australian Society for Microbiology, 1990
  • National Archives of Australia. B883, QX33890.

Additional Resources

Citation details

G. S. Purss, 'Simmonds, John Howard (Jack) (1901–1992)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published online 2016, accessed online 22 October 2020.

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