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Stanley Fowler (1895–1961)

by John Laurent

This article was published:

Stanley Fowler (1895-1961), fisheries researcher, was born on 23 November 1895 at Williamstown, Melbourne, seventh child of Victorian-born parents Robert Fowler, fitter, and his wife Emily Sarah, née Booley. Stanley left his state school to take a job as a clerk with the Victorian Railways. On 17 October 1914 he enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force and that month embarked for Egypt with the 5th Battalion. He was wounded on 25 April 1915 at Gallipoli and again on 25 July 1916 at Pozières, France, where he was severely injured in the head and legs. Invalided home, he was discharged on 30 May 1917 in Melbourne.

After lengthy periods in hospital, Fowler joined the Commonwealth Bureau of Commerce and Industry in March 1920. At Scots Church, Melbourne, on 19 November 1921 he married Agnes Maud Lewis with Presbyterian forms; they were to remain childless and were later divorced. In 1927 he was appointed investigating officer with the Development and Migration Commission. He played a key role in organizing the Australian Fisheries Conference which recommended in 1929 that a federal body be established to conduct a 'scientific, statistical and practical investigation of the fisheries, aimed at their commercial exploitation'. Transferring to the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research as fisheries officer in 1935, he was involved in discussions that led to its fisheries investigations section (later fisheries division) being formed in 1937. Fowler immediately joined the new section.

He was concerned that much of Australia's coastline had 'not been explored in a fisheries sense'. With the co-operation of the Royal Australian Air Force, in 1936-39 and 1942-46 he undertook a series of aerial observations of pelagic stock in coastal waters. Fowler spent hundreds of hours in the air, photographing often vast and previously unknown shoals of fish, including such species as the Australian salmon and bluefin tuna. The results were brilliant. His photographs—some 10,000 in all—are still frequently consulted by fisheries scientists and others interested in the Australian coastline.

Equally conscious of the importance of sea-going exploration, Fowler had been instrumental in the C.S.I.R.'s decision to purchase the research vessel, Warreen, in 1933; he was on board for her maiden cruise in 1938 and on numerous occasions thereafter. He welcomed the commercial application of scientific findings and never lost an opportunity to publicize the results of his investigations. Chairman (1940-41) of the Co-operative Fishermen's Association of Victoria Ltd, he enjoyed a close rapport with fishermen and respected their views, though they did not always accord with those of the scientists in the C.S.I.R. His conviction that an abundance of fish awaited exploitation in Australian waters embroiled him in a dispute with his scientific colleagues in 1941.

Fowler's later years with C.S.I.R. were not happy. Promoted principal research officer in 1946, he was overlooked that year for the new position of head of the division's exploration section. He took early retirement in July 1948 on the grounds of ill health, but agreed to compile notes to accompany his photographs; he continued to correspond with newspapers and fishing organizations, and wrote occasional scientific articles for journals. Suffering from atherosclerosis, he died of a coronary occlusion on 22 January 1961 at the Anzac Hostel, Brighton, and was cremated.

Select Bibliography

  • T. C. Roughley, Fish and Fisheries of Australia (Syd, 1957)
  • V. Mawson et al (eds), C.S.I.R.O. at Sea (Hob, 1988)
  • Pacific Fisherman, Aug 1942
  • Fisheries Newsletter, Oct 1942, Dec 1948, Mar 1961
  • Royal Zoological Society of New South Wales, Proceedings, Sept 1947
  • Western Australia Naturalist, Mar 1948, Oct 1961
  • CSIRO Archives, Canberra (Series 120, 155, 1007)
  • private information.

Citation details

John Laurent, 'Fowler, Stanley (1895–1961)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1996, accessed online 24 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (Melbourne University Press), 1996

View the front pages for Volume 14

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