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Stewart Henry Bastow (1908–1964)

by J. A. Spink

This article was published:

Stewart Henry Bastow (1908-1964), chemist and administrator, was born on 22 February 1908 at Folkestone, Kent, England, second son of Arthur Henry Bastow, engineer, and his wife Muriel Amy, née Bazeley. Arthur's father Henry Robert Bastow had trained as an architect (with the author Thomas Hardy) at Dorchester in the 1850s before migrating to Tasmania. Educated at The Hutchins School, Hobart, Stewart had a strict upbringing. He attended the University of Tasmania (B.Sc., 1929) and undertook research in electrochemistry for A. L. McAulay. Of imposing physique, Bastow rowed for the university and was Australian royal tennis champion in 1929.

L. F. Giblin—a man whom Bastow was long to admire—advised him to enter King's College, Cambridge (Ph.D., 1932). At the university's physical chemistry laboratory, he studied surface chemistry under (Sir) Eric Rideal and was awarded an 1851 Exhibition senior studentship; with F. P. Bowden, Bastow investigated the physical properties of solid and liquid surfaces. He was captain of the university's real tennis team and won a half-Blue; one of his friends was C. P. (Baron) Snow. From 1934 Bastow gained industrial research experience in England. On 20 August 1937 in St Mary Magdalene's parish church, Littleton, Middlesex, he married Perle ('Pam') Camden.

Having joined the Anglo-Iranian Oil Co. Ltd that year as senior chemist, in 1938 Bastow established a laboratory at Masjid-i-Sulaiman, Iran, to examine 'drilling-mud' problems in the oilfields. He returned to England following the outbreak of World War II. Commissioned in the Royal Engineers in December 1940, he was promoted temporary major on 9 July 1943. As officer commanding No.806 Smoke Company, he had the task of laying smokescreens to cover assaults during the allied advance across North-West Europe in 1944-45. He was awarded the Distinguished Service Order (1945).

In April 1945 he secured a release from military service to take up the post of officer-in-charge of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research's lubricants and bearings (tribophysics) section at the University of Melbourne. Bastow's leadership and wisdom enabled him to transform a wartime programme of research and development to one geared to peacetime needs, despite problems of staff shortages and unsuitable accommodation. He planned a new laboratory, and established groups to work on metal physics, chemical reaction kinetics and the properties of clay suspensions. In early 1947 Bastow visited the Territory of Papua-New Guinea where he advised the Australian Petroleum Co. Pty Ltd on drilling-fluids. Next year C.S.I.R.'s tribophysics section was raised to divisional status.

Interested in languages, in 1948 Bastow completed a course in Russian at the University of Melbourne and translated a Russian monograph which was published as Hardness Reducers in Drilling (1948). In May 1949 he was appointed a full-time member of the executive of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization, a position he was to hold until his death; from January 1957 to June 1959 he was chief executive officer. Responsible for land research and regional survey, he championed C.S.I.R.O.'s efforts to develop the resources of northern Australia. He was also involved in harnessing his country's limited water supplies: having participated in a joint Commonwealth-States conference in 1959 on underground water, he was appointed in 1960 to the Australian Academy of Science's standing committee on hydrology.

Bastow travelled frequently throughout Australia, promoting the research achievements of C.S.I.R.O., expounding the benefits that science could bring to the community and advocating the application of scientific research to industry. His modesty and charm made him a popular visitor at C.S.I.R.O.'s laboratories and outlying field-stations, while he was much sought as a speaker by a range of organizations. An unpretentious man, he became impatient with pompous people and used searching questions to bring them down to earth. He was sympathetic, ready to assist juniors, and 'made it his business to get to know personally as many members of the staff as possible and kept a diary in which he recorded the details of their background and work'. Vice-president (1962) of the Royal Australian Chemical Institute, he was a member (from 1963) of the council of Monash University.

Survived by his wife, daughter and four sons, Bastow died of cardiac disease on 23 January 1964 in Melbourne and was cremated after a secular service. A laboratory at C.S.I.R.O.'s division of materials science and technology, Clayton, was named after him.

Select Bibliography

  • Royal Australian Chemical Institute, Proceedings, Feb 1964, p 65
  • Australian Physicist, Apr 1964, p 6
  • Coresearch, Feb 1964, p 1
  • King's College Cambridge, Annual Report of Council, Nov 1964, p 20
  • CSIRO Archives (Canberra)
  • records and archives, CSIRO Division of Materials Science and Technology (Clayton, Melbourne)
  • private information.

Citation details

J. A. Spink, 'Bastow, Stewart Henry (1908–1964)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1993, accessed online 24 May 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, (Melbourne University Press), 1993

View the front pages for Volume 13

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


22 February, 1908
Folkestone, Kent, England


23 January, 1964 (aged 55)
Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

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