Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Vernon Victor Hickman (1894–1984)

by Eric Guiler

This article was published:

Vernon Victor Hickman (1894-1984), zoologist, was born on 28 August 1894 at Glenorchy, Hobart, elder son of Tasmanian-born George Milford Hickman, storekeeper, and his wife Pauline, née Patterson. Vernon was educated at the Friends’ High School and the University of Tasmania (B.Sc., 1915; BA, 1927; D.Sc., 1937). Briefly a visiting master in mathematics at the Collegiate School, Hobart, in 1915-16 he lectured in chemistry and mineralogy at Zeehan School of Mines and Metallurgy. During World War I he relinquished a commission in the Militia to enlist on 28 August 1917 in the Australian Imperial Force. From April 1918 he served on the Western Front with the 40th Battalion. Promoted to corporal in August, he returned to Tasmania in April 1919 and was discharged from the AIF on 23 May. His wartime experiences left him with nightmares for many years. On 10 April 1920 at Burnie he married with Methodist forms Elvie Frances Eddy.

Appointed head of chemistry at Launceston Technical College in 1920, Hickman pursued an interest in invertebrates, in particular the mountain shrimp, Anaspides tasmaniae (a crustacean), and by 1932 had published eight papers. That year he succeeded Theodore Flynn as Ralston lecturer in biology at the University of Tasmania. The terms of the Ralston bequest required him to devote one term a year to research; because teaching responsibilities made this impossible he fitted out a laboratory at home so that he could fulfil his contract.

Hickman became internationally recognised for his research on arachnids and was promoted to a chair in 1943. A well-built man of about 5 ft 8 ins (173 cm), he always came to work in a suit and hat, carrying a Gladstone bag containing his lunch. He rarely missed a day due to illness. Very reserved, he disliked committee work, spoke little in meetings and had difficulty dealing with the more rambunctious members of the professorial board. Expecting people to listen to his point of view, he could be stubborn and he ignored matters not in the interests of his department. He encouraged his staff to pursue research interests and provided students with helpful advice and practical assistance. On his retirement in 1959 he was appointed emeritus professor.

A zealous field-collector, he discovered a species of spider named Hickmania troglodytes. It was later placed in a new family, Hickmaniidae. He developed an encyclopaedic knowledge of invertebrates and their relationships, and occasionally studied other animal groups, including mammals. In his regular contributions to scientific journals, he skilfully illustrated his papers and provided his own innovative photographs. The Royal Society of Tasmania awarded him its medal in 1940 and the Clive Lord medal in 1960, and made him a life member in 1967. Elected a fellow of the Australian and New Zealand Association for the Advancement of Science in 1940 and of the Royal Entomological Society of London in 1947, he won the Anders Retzius medal of the Royal Physiographical Society of Lund, Sweden, in 1951. In 1977 he was made an honorary life member of the Entomological Society of New South Wales. He had been a corresponding member of the Zoological Society of London since 1934, but never travelled overseas to meet other scientists. A modest man, he rarely talked of his work or achievements, but was proud of his Swedish award.

Hickman loved music; he played the piano and organ and, a staunch Methodist, sang in his church choir. He played grade cricket and enjoyed chess. In 1979 he was appointed OBE. He died on 20 November 1984 at his New Town home and was cremated. Predeceased by his wife, he was survived by two sons and a daughter.

Select Bibliography

  • General and Applied Entomology, vol 17, 1985, p 3
  • Mercury (Hobart), 1 Dec 1984, p 13
  • private information and personal knowledge.

Citation details

Eric Guiler, 'Hickman, Vernon Victor (1894–1984)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2007, accessed online 19 May 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

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


28 August, 1894
Glenorchy, Hobart, Tasmania, Australia


20 November, 1984 (aged 90)
New Town, Hobart, Tasmania, 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.