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John Edward (Jack) Cummins (1902–1989)

by Barry W. Butcher

This article was published:

John Edward (Jack) Cummins (1902-1989), chemist and science administrator, was born on 21 October 1902 in Perth, son of Australian-born parents Ambrose Michael Cummins, tailor’s cutter, and his wife Elizabeth Mary, née Hamilton. Jack attended Perth Modern School and the University of Western Australia (B.Sc., 1923). He was officer-in-charge of chemical investigations with the Western Australian Forests Department from 1924 to 1927 before taking up a Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization) research studentship in forest products at the University of Wisconsin (M.Sc., 1932), United States of America. On 4 January 1927 at St Mary’s Church of England, West Perth, he had married Elizabeth Margaret Lamborne (d.1983).

Back in Australia in 1929, Cummins was appointed to the staff of CSIR’s division of forest products, at first on a senior studentship. In 1940, after the outbreak of World War II, he was moved to the information section, and in March 1943 he became assistant-director of the Scientific Liaison Bureau in Melbourne, under (Sir) Eric (Baron) Ashby. The bureau’s major function was to co-ordinate scientific and manufacturing objectives as part of the war effort. Cummins became full-time director in June and held that post until 1945.

In 1948 Cummins was transferred to London as chief scientific liaison officer, a position which gave him access to visiting Australian scientists and students. His responsibilities included handling enquiries for CSIRO, procuring equipment, attending conferences, maintaining close links with overseas scientific developments and facilitating the exchange of information. The CSIRO executive arranged in 1954 for him to be sent to Washington to take charge of the Australian Scientific Liaison Office there; he assumed control in August 1955. That year he became a member of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization’s committee on scientific documentation.

Cummins was granted leave without pay in 1958 to become director of the division of scientific and technical information at the International Atomic Energy Agency, Vienna. Returning to Australia in January 1961, he retired from CSIRO in October 1962 but continued to work in a consultative capacity. In 1965 he acted as scientific attaché in Washington for six months pending the appointment of a full-time replacement. Having helped to set up the Ian Clunies Ross Memorial Foundation in 1959, he served at various times as treasurer, executive officer, secretary and governor.

Cummins was described by colleagues as enthusiastic, loyal and hard working, and as a man of simple tastes. In his youth he had been a keen rower, cricketer and golfer, and he maintained passions for fishing and gardening throughout his life. He was elected a fellow of the (Royal) Australian Chemical Institute (1940), the Royal Institute of Chemistry, London (1949), and the Royal Society of Arts (1974). In 1970 he was appointed OBE. Survived by his daughter, he died on 7 October 1989 in his home at Kew, Melbourne, and was cremated.

Select Bibliography

  • D. P. Mellor, The Role of Science and Industry (1958)
  • C. B. Schedvin, Shaping Science and Industry (1987)
  • M. C. O’Dea, Ian Clunies Ross (1997)
  • Chemistry in Australia, vol 57, nos 1 and 2, 1990, p 17
  • Smith’s Weekly, 27 Mar 1943, p 11
  • CSIRO Archives, Canberra.

Citation details

Barry W. Butcher, 'Cummins, John Edward (Jack) (1902–1989)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2007, accessed online 14 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 17, (Melbourne University Press), 2007

View the front pages for Volume 17

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