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Gwynneth Vaughan Buchanan (1886–1945)

by Cecily Close

This article was published:

Gwynneth Vaughan Buchanan (1886-1945), by unknown photographer

Gwynneth Vaughan Buchanan (1886-1945), by unknown photographer

University of Melbourne Archives, UMA/I/1553

Gwynneth Vaughan Buchanan (1886-1945), zoologist, was born on 21 November 1886 in Sydney, only child of Thomas Buchanan, banker, and his second wife Gwynneth, née Vaughan. After her father's death in 1897, Gwynneth settled with her mother in Melbourne. An Anglican, she attended Toorak College, and later the University of Melbourne where she graduated B.Sc. with first-class honours, winning the scholarship in biology at the final honours examination in March 1908. In December she won the MacBain scholarship for her contribution to research on the blood vessels of Australian earth-worms. A government scholarship enabled her to continue this work in 1909, when she was also appointed junior demonstrator in biology. In 1910 Miss Buchanan graduated M.Sc., began tutoring in biology at Queen's College, and received a bursary to enable her to study the blood of Australian birds and marsupials. In August 1913 she took an Orient Free Passage for England where she worked, until late 1914, on the embryology of Australian marsupials under Professor J. P. Hill at University College, London. This research together with earlier published work won her a D.Sc. at the University of Melbourne in April 1916.

In 1915 Gwynneth Buchanan received a government scholarship for inquiry into human embryology, and in the following years tutored in biology at Queen's, Ormond and Trinity colleges. Between 1910 and 1920 she was senior biology mistress at the Presbyterian Ladies' College. She was also a public examiner in anatomy and physiology in 1914-16, and in animal morphology and physiology from 1919 to 1922. In 1921 she published her best-known work, Elements of Animal Morphology (Melbourne), which ran to four editions; it was a recommended reference for schools until 1963 and was used by university practical classes for many years.

Dr Buchanan was appointed lecturer-in-charge of biology at the University of Western Australia for two terms in 1920. Next year she became full-time lecturer in zoology at the University of Melbourne and in 1925, after a year's study leave in Britain and the United States of America, senior lecturer; in 1926 she was acting head of department. Preoccupied increasingly with teaching rather than research, she was devoted to the interests of her students, energetically carrying out a heavy programme in the senior zoology years.

Gwynneth Buchanan was a leading member of the University Science Club, a founding member in 1935 and sometime secretary of the McCoy Society for Field Investigation and Research, and a staff representative on the Melbourne University Union Committee in 1921-35. Active in the Victorian Women Graduates' Association, she was its president in 1934-35 and a delegate to the conferences of the International Federation of University Women in Oslo in 1924 and in Cracow in 1936. Co-honorary secretary in 1920-37 of the committee working to establish the University Women's College, she was one of the college's first governors and a council-member until 1945. She was also president of the Lyceum Club in 1929-31, and held office as president and vice-president both of the University Women's Hockey Club and, for most of 1927-37, of the Victorian Women's Hockey Association.

By 1935 Dr Buchanan was already affected by arteriosclerosis and chronic nephritis; she took leave of absence in 1944 and retired at the end of that year. A woman of great energy, compassion and warm friendships — though not without some personal conflicts in her years of failing health — she maintained her interest in university affairs to the end. She died on 21 June 1945 and was cremated. The greater part of her estate, valued for probate at £8588, was left to the Women's College.

Select Bibliography

  • Australian Journal of Science, 8 (1945)
  • University of Melbourne Gazette, July 1945
  • Royal Society of Victoria, Proceedings, 58 (1946)
  • Argus (Melbourne), 22 June 1945
  • University (Women's) College Archives (Melbourne)
  • University of Melbourne Archives.

Citation details

Cecily Close, 'Buchanan, Gwynneth Vaughan (1886–1945)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1979, accessed online 24 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 7, (Melbourne University Press), 1979

View the front pages for Volume 7

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Gwynneth Vaughan Buchanan (1886-1945), by unknown photographer

Gwynneth Vaughan Buchanan (1886-1945), by unknown photographer

University of Melbourne Archives, UMA/I/1553

Life Summary [details]


21 November, 1886
Sydney, New South Wales, Australia


21 June, 1945 (aged 58)
Victoria, Australia

Religious Influence

Includes the religion in which subjects were raised, have chosen themselves, attendance at religious schools and/or religious funeral rites; Atheism and Agnosticism have been included.