Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Andrew Desmond Herbert (1898–1976)

by H. Trevor Clifford

This article was published:

Andrew Desmond Herbert (1898-1976), professor of botany, was born on 17 June 1898 at Diamond Creek, Melbourne, eldest of three children of Victorian-born parents Andrew Burgess Herbert, fruit-grower, and his wife Winifred Alice, née Connell. Desmond (who had reversed the order of his given names) was educated at Malvern State School, Melbourne Church of England Grammar School and the University of Melbourne (B.Sc., 1918; M.Sc., 1920; D.Sc., 1929). At the age of 20 he was appointed government botanist in Western Australia and subsequently lectured part time in agricultural botany and plant pathology at the University of Western Australia. In 1921 he accepted the post of professor of plant physiology and pathology at the University of the Philippines. On 11 December 1922, in Manila, he married his assistant Vera McNeilance, daughter of J. H. Prowse. Herbert moved to the department of biology at the University of Queensland in 1924 as a lecturer in botany; he was promoted associate-professor (1946), acting-professor (1948) and foundation professor of botany (1948-65). He examined for the State pharmacy board and represented Queensland on the board of higher forestry education.

Two themes, the pathology and biogeography of plants, dominated Herbert's scientific writings. He was attracted to the former because 'bitter pit' was a serious disease in apples on the family orchard. From the time of his appointment in Brisbane he developed plant pathology into a scientific discipline. Through his students, many of whom entered government service, he contributed significantly to the development of Queensland's agriculture. His interest in climate as a major factor controlling the geographical distribution of vegetation was first expressed in his doctoral dissertation and the theme recurred in several of his publications.

Soon after arriving in Brisbane, Herbert became an acknowledged leader of its small scientific community. President of the Queensland Naturalists' Club (1926), of the Royal (1928), the Horticultural (1936-42) and the Orchid (1940) societies of Queensland, of Section M (Botany) of the Australian and New Zealand Association for the Advancement of Science (1932) and of the Queensland branch of the Australian Institute of Agricultural Science (1942), he was granted an honorary D.Sc. by the University of Queensland in 1935. He was an excellent communicator who lectured on horticulture for the Australian Broadcasting Commission and for the Board of Adult Education, and wrote for the Sunday Mail; his book, Gardening in Warm Climates (Sydney, 1952), was compiled from his articles. Being red-green colour-blind neither diminished his enjoyment of gardening nor inhibited his enthusiasm for judging garden competitions.

During World War II Herbert advised on the selection of sites suitable for research on chemical warfare. With C. T. White and R. E. P. Dwyer, he wrote Friendly Fruits and Vegetables (Melbourne, 1943), a survival manual for members of the Royal Australian Air Force. In 1966 he was appointed C.M.G. A large man with a swarthy complexion, he had a commanding presence which belied a gentle and kindly nature. He was an active Freemason and an accomplished raconteur whose utterances were punctuated by the waving of a pipe from which he was rarely separated. Predeceased by his wife and survived by his two sons and two daughters, he died on 8 September 1976 in Royal Brisbane Hospital and was cremated with Methodist forms; his estate was sworn for probate at $138,805. Herbert's son John Desmond (1925-1978) was a minister (1965-78) in the Legislative Assembly and his daughter Joan Winifred (Cribb) (b.1930) became a noted naturalist and author.

Select Bibliography

  • D. P. Mellor, The Role of Science and Industry (Canb, 1958)
  • University of Queensland Gazette, Dec 1948
  • Royal Society of Western Australia, Journal, 60, 1977
  • Royal Society of Queensland, Proceedings, 89, June 1978, pp xix, 134
  • Queensland Naturalist, 22, nos 1-4, May 1978, p 72, 22, nos 5-6, 1979, p 96
  • Courier-Mail (Brisbane), 15 Dec 1965, 10 Sept 1976
  • Telegraph (Brisbane), 9 Sept 1976
  • University of Queensland Archives
  • University of Western Australia archives
  • private information.

Citation details

H. Trevor Clifford, 'Herbert, Andrew Desmond (1898–1976)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1996, accessed online 13 July 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

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Herbert, Desmond Andrew

17 June, 1898
Diamond Creek, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia


8 September, 1976 (aged 78)
Brisbane, Queensland, 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.

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