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Frederick Colin Courtice (1911–1992)

by Trevor G. Redgrave

This article was published:

Frederick Colin Courtice (1911-1992), medical scientist, was born on 26 March 1911 at Bundaberg, Queensland, second of six children of Queensland-born parents, Frederick Courtice, farmer, and his wife Mary Lilian, née Pegg. Courtice had conservative political views despite his paternal family’s involvement in the labour movement; his uncle, Benjamin Courtice, was an Australian Labor Party senator. Excelling at Woongarra Primary and Bundaberg High schools, he was awarded a public exhibition at the University of Queensland in 1929. Wishing to become a general practitioner, he completed a pre-medical year at King's College, University of Queensland, Brisbane. As there was no medical school in Queensland, he moved to Wesley College, University of Sydney, in 1930. Persuaded by Professor Harold Davies to study physiology, he graduated (BSc, 1933) with first-class honours and was awarded the university medal. He resumed his medical course the following year but in October won a Rhodes scholarship to New College, Oxford, where he worked in the physiology laboratory (DPhil, 1935). He completed his medical training at London Hospital Medical College. On 18 December 1937 at St Georges Church of England, Bloomsbury, he married Joyce Mary Seaton, a nurse.

In 1938 Courtice was awarded a Nuffield Memorial Fellowship and spent much of World War II as a senior experimental officer at the government defence establishment, Porton Down, Wiltshire, where he began his life-long work on lymphatic physiology. After the war he was appointed reader in human physiology at Oxford, and in 1946 the University of Sydney awarded him a DSc. Despite having better professional prospects in Britain, Courtice returned to Sydney in 1948 as director of the Kanematsu Memorial Institute of Pathology. There he fostered the careers of many of Australia’s future medical research leaders, and with Joseph Mendel Yoffey rewrote Yoffey and Cecil Kent Drinker’s influential study of the lymphatic system. He was elected an honorary fellow of the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons (1952), a fellow of the Australian Academy of Science (1954), and was a foundation fellow of the Royal College of Pathologists of Australia (1955).

Following Sir Howard (Baron) Florey’s decision to decline the foundation chair of experimental pathology at the John Curtin School of Medical Research, the Australian National University, Canberra, Courtice accepted the position in 1958. He was appointed director of the school (1974-76) and Howard Florey Professor of Medical Research (1974). There he shouldered the administrative responsibilities of the school while building the research culture for his younger colleagues. Experimental pathology flourished as did research on lymphatic physiology. Retiring in 1976, he moved back to Sydney where he became visiting professor (1977-92) in the school of physiology and pharmacology at the University of New South Wales.

Courtice was a council member (1964-66) and vice-president (1965-66) of the Australian Academy of Science, chairman (1965-73) of the National Radiation Committee, Australian delegate (1962, 1964) to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation, and a member of the committee charged with establishing the National Heart Foundation. He was described as ‘a notorious crosser of boundaries’ between ‘disciplines and institutions, and between theory and practice’ (Whyte 101-10). In his private life, he was a serious collector of paintings. Survived by his wife, son and three daughters, Courtice died on 29 February 1992 at St Ives and, following a funeral at Wesley College chapel, was cremated.

Research edited by Brian Wimborne

Select Bibliography

  • Korner, P. I. ‘Frederick Colin Courtice 1911-1992.’ Historical Records of Australian Science 10, no. 1 (1994): 35-49
  • Morris, Bede. ‘F. C. Courtice.’ In Festschrift for F. C. Courtice, edited by D. Garlick, 1-9. Kensington: University of New South Wales, 1981
  • Whyte, H.M. ‘Crossing Boundaries: Voluntary Modifications of Autonomic Functions.’ In Festschrift for F. C. Courtice, edited by D. Garlick, 101-11. Kensington: University of New South Wales, 1981.

Additional Resources

Citation details

Trevor G. Redgrave, 'Courtice, Frederick Colin (1911–1992)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published online 2016, accessed online 19 July 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 19, (ANU Press), 2021

View the front pages for Volume 19

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