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Theodore Thomson Flynn (1883–1968)

by William Bryden

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This is a shared entry with Errol Leslie Flynn

Theodore Thomson Flynn (1883-1968), zoologist, and Errol Leslie Flynn (1909-1959), film actor, were father and son. Theodore was born on 11 October 1883 at Coraki, New South Wales, son of John Thompson Flynn, cordial manufacturer, and his wife Jessie, née Thomson. He received his education at Fort Street High School, Sydney, the Sydney Training College for Teachers and the University of Sydney (B.Sc., 1907) where he gained the university medal and the Johns Coutts scholarship in biology. His first teaching post was as science master at Newcastle and Maitland High schools in 1907; later he was appointed to the Newcastle and West Maitland Technical colleges, lecturing in chemistry and physics. His main interest remained in the natural sciences and in 1909 he became lecturer in biology at the University of Tasmania. On 23 January of that year at St John's Church of England, Balmain North, Sydney, he married Lily Mary (Marelle) Young, a descendant of one of the Bounty mutineers.

Flynn's lectureship was initially temporary, but he soon showed his worth, and in 1911 withdrew from an appointment as Macleay research fellow of the Linnean Society of New South Wales to accept the first chair of biology in Hobart as the Ralston professor. The terms of his appointment included liberal provision for research and he pursued a vigorous study of the marsupials of Tasmania and also did original work on megapodes. The Australian Antarctic Expedition of 1912 attracted his interest and he took charge of some research during the Aurora's summer cruise. He also devoted considerable time to fishery research and in 1915 was appointed royal commissioner to enquire into Tasmanian fisheries. He was a fellow of the Royal Society of Tasmania (1909) and in 1913-19 a trustee of the Tasmanian Museum and Botanical Gardens. He gained his D.Sc. at the University of Sydney in 1921 for work on marsupial embryology.

In September 1930 Flynn left Hobart for London to continue his research on marsupial embryology, and also to seek funds on behalf of the Australasian Association for the Advancement of Science for scientific and economic exploration of the south-west coast of Tasmania. Next January he was awarded a Rockefeller Foundation grant to carry out research with his former mentor, Professor J. P. Hill, on the development of monotreme ovum. In June he took up the chair of zoology at Queen's University, Belfast, Northern Ireland; he also became director of the marine station at Portaferry.

Flynn, who held attention during his lectures by a theatrical manner as well as by his subject matter, liked to take part in community affairs—debating, theatre and adult education. He was appointed M.B.E. in 1945. A fellow of the Linnean and Zoological societies, London, he was also a fellow of the International Institute of Embryology, Utrecht, and a member of the Royal Irish Academy. After his retirement in 1948, as emeritus professor, he resided in Surrey, England. He died in a nursing home at Liss, Hampshire, on 23 October 1968, survived by a daughter. His estate was valued for probate at £519.

Errol was born on 20 June 1909 in Hobart. During a rebellious childhood he attended several Hobart schools, in none of which he lasted long, as well as South Western London College, while in London with his father, and Sydney Church of England Grammar School (Shore), from which he was expelled. In 1927, after a short period of office work with a Sydney shipping company, he began training as a district officer in New Guinea, but moved on to become in rapid succession copra plantation overseer, partner in a charter schooner business and gold prospector. He purchased the cutter Sirocco in Sydney in 1930; his seven-month journey back to New Guinea, where as manager of a tobacco plantation at Laloki he wrote columns on New Guinea life for the Sydney Bulletin, became the subject of his first book Beam Ends (1937). Sailing remained a lifelong hobby.

In 1932, back in Sydney and notorious for unpaid debts in New Guinea, he played the part of Fletcher Christian in the film In the Wake of the Bounty directed by Charles Chauvel. Next year he went to England where he acted with the Northampton Repertory Company until signing a contract with Warner Bros. After Murder at Monte Carlo, made at the Teddington studio, he moved to California, where in 1935 he shot to stardom as the swashbuckling hero in Captain Blood. He proceeded to make some sixty films, his heyday as one of Hollywood's most handsome and agile actors being 1936-42. The Adventures of Robin Hood, The Dawn Patrol and The Sea Hawk date from this period. Granted American citizenship in 1942 he never returned to either New Guinea or Australia. In his later years he was a wanderer aboard his schooner Zaca and addicted to drink and narcotics.

On 19 June 1935 at Yuma, Arizona, Flynn married actress Lilliane Marie Madeleine Carré (Lili Damita). Divorced in 1942 he married Nora Eddington in 1943 or 1944 at Acapulco, Mexico. Nora divorced him in 1949 after which, on 23 October 1950 at Monte Carlo, Monaco, he married Patrice Wymore. He died on 14 October 1959 at Vancouver, Canada, survived by his wife, a son of his first marriage and two daughters of his second. His novel Showdown was published in 1946 and his autobiography My Wicked, Wicked Ways, ghosted by Earl Conrad, in 1960. Flynn’s son Sean (1941-1970), a photo-journalist, covered the Vietnam War for Time magazine, and disappeared while on assignment in Cambodia in April 1970. He is thought to have been executed by Khmer Rouge forces.

Select Bibliography

  • T. Thomas, R. Behlmer and C. McCarthy, The Films of Errol Flynn (NY, 1969)
  • J. H. Moore, The Young Errol (Syd, 1975)
  • C. Higham, Errol Flynn (NY, 1980)
  • Industrial Australian and Mining Standard, 4 Sept 1930
  • Who Was Who, 1961-70
  • Weekly Courier (Launceston), 4 Feb 1931
  • New York Times, 21 July 1946, 15 Oct 1959
  • 'Obituary: Mr. Errol Flynn', Times (London), 16 Oct 1959, p 15
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 16 Oct 1959
  • North Shore Times (Sydney), 25 Aug 1976
  • Sun-Herald, 15 Apr 1979, 6 Jan 1980
  • Canberra Times, 6 Jan 1980
  • MS 55, J. P. Hill papers (Australian Academy of Science Library)
  • private information.

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Citation details

William Bryden, 'Flynn, Theodore Thomson (1883–1968)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1981, accessed online 18 July 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 8, (Melbourne University Press), 1981

View the front pages for Volume 8

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