Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Wellish, Edward Montague (1882–1948)

by Denis E. Winch

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 12, (MUP), 1990

Edward Montague Wellish (1882-1948), mathematician, was born on 14 April 1882 at Darlinghurst, Sydney, second son of Albert Wellisch, a Hungarian-born architect, and his English wife Kate Sophia, née Moody. Educated at Fort Street Model School, Edward studied arts at the University of Sydney (B.A., 1903; M.A., 1906) as an evening student, graduating with first-class honours and the University medal for mathematics. In 1907 he went to England and read at Emmanuel College, Cambridge (B.A. [Research], 1909). In the Cavendish Laboratory he tested (Sir) Joseph Thomson's view that, during the passage of electrons through a gas, some of the electrons become attached to molecules, giving rise to negative ions. In 1909 his work was communicated by Thomson to the Royal Society, London. Wellish was awarded the Clerk Maxwell scholarship for research and in 1911 appointed assistant professor of physics at Yale University, United States of America. Returning to Sydney in 1915, he took up a lectureship in applied mathematics at the university. He had anglicized his surname by 1920.

Heavily built, Wellish spoke slowly and was rather taciturn. To undergraduates, he seemed somewhat forbidding, but they appreciated that his lectures were models of clarity and his work at the blackboard magnificent; they respected him for the 'simplicity and uprightness of his character'. Those who later joined the department found him to be conscientious, kind and modest, with a quiet sense of humour and totally without malice. On 18 March 1925 at St Peter's Anglican Church, Newcastle, Wellish married Margaret Ann Buxton, a schoolteacher.

Skilled in both experimental and theoretical research, he developed the equipment required for his research on the passage of electricity through gases, and also worked on the necessary electromagnetic theory. In 1927 the London Mathematical Society published his paper on electric and magnetic displacements. Next year Wellish received a grant to continue the research work he had begun at the Cavendish Laboratory. The results of his experiments were published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society, London, in 1931. He took sabbatical leave in 1924 and 1934.

Appointed associate professor of applied mathematics in 1926, Wellish was a member of the Royal Society of New South Wales and for many years chaired the syllabus committee in mathematics; he was a member of the Board of Secondary School Studies and chief examiner in mathematics for the public examinations. From September 1941 he was acting professor in charge of the department. In poor health, he had hoped to retire in 1942, but did not do so until the end of 1945.

Wellish died of a coronary occlusion on 22 July 1948 at his Roseville home and was cremated. He was survived by his wife; their only son had died as a baby. Wellish had sacrificed his own research interests for the needs of the students and the department. 'His character and sense of duty were such that he judged the sacrifice worth the while in the interest of mathematical education'.

Select Bibliography

  • Australian Mathematics Teacher, 9, 1953, p 26
  • Deptartment of Pure and Applied Mathematics, University of Sydney, Australian Mathematical Society Gazette, 13, 1986, p 29
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 24 July 1948
  • University of Sydney Archives
  • private information.

Citation details

Denis E. Winch, 'Wellish, Edward Montague (1882–1948)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1990, accessed online 20 December 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 12, (MUP), 1990

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