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James Peter Hill (1873–1954)

by K. W. Cleland

This article was published:

James Peter Hill (1873-1954), embryologist, was born on 21 February 1873 at Kennoway, Fifeshire, Scotland, younger son of John Hill, a prominent farmer and cattle breeder, and his wife Catherine Campbell, née McInroy. Educated at the Kennoway village school and in Edinburgh at the Royal High School and Heriot-Watt College, in 1889 he entered the University of Edinburgh (B.Sc., 1898; D.Sc., 1903). In 1891-92 he studied at the Royal College of Science, London, under G. B. Howes, who recommended him as a demonstrator to Professor W. A. Haswell at the University of Sydney. With his degree incomplete, Hill sailed for Sydney in August 1892. In Sydney he was stimulated by such part-time lecturers in the medical school as (Sir) Alexander MacCormick and (Sir) Charles Martin and especially by Professor J. T. Wilson, with whom he lived for about five years.

Elected a fellow of the Linnean Society of London in 1895, Hill visited Edinburgh in 1897-98 where he graduated in 1898 and received scholarships and grants which assisted his work on monotremes in Sydney. On a brief visit to London he married Marjorie Marshall Forrester (d.1953) at Finchley on 6 January 1900; they returned to Sydney and in 1904 he became lecturer in embryology. In 1906 he was awarded the Mueller medal of the Australasian Association for the Advancement of Science. That year he was appointed to the Jodrell chair of zoology and anatomy at University College, London. Here he did more than his fair share of teaching, but was rewarded by the enthusiasm he generated in his students. (Sir) Grafton Elliot Smith, head of the department of anatomy, arranged for Rockefeller money to endow a personal chair of embryology and histology for Hill, to which he was appointed in 1921. Although it was intended as a research position, Hill continued to teach, especially research students. He retired in 1938 but continued to work in the department of anatomy and at home until 1954. Elected in 1913 to the Royal Society, London, he had served on its council in 1925-27 and was its Darwin medallist in 1940. He also received honorary doctorates of science from Trinity College, Dublin (1925) and the Queen's University of Belfast (1938); he was a fellow of the Zoological Society of London, and an honorary member of many societies including the Royal and Linnean societies of New South Wales.

While in Australia Hill had published nineteen articles. His interest in monotremes and marsupials dates from a paper, with Martin, on a platypus embryo, published in 1895 in the Proceedings of the local Linnean Society. His interest was continued in eight other Sydney publications and eighteen in London, the last appearing posthumously in 1955. Some of his papers were short, but others were major works, such as his article with T. T. Flynn on 'The Development of the Monotremata. IV' in the Transactions of the Zoological Society, London, in 1939. Hill's other embryological work was on the development of eutherian mammals, especially primates. One of his peers, G. R. de Beer, claimed that Hill had 'laid the foundations of our knowledge of the development of the Monotremes and Marsupials … which constitutes a contribution to science of permanent and inestimable value'. Although noted for his detailed and accurate descriptions, he was diffident in contributing to public discussion. He enjoyed the camaraderie of marsupial collecting trips in Australia and Brazil. At home he was a keen golfer.

Hill died at his home at Finchley, London, on 24 May 1954 and was survived by two daughters; his only son died in Sarawak in 1935. Hill's estate in New South Wales was valued for probate at £6293, and in England £24,152.

Select Bibliography

  • Obituary Notices of Fellows of the Royal Society, 2 (Jan, 1938), no 6, p 323, 6 (Nov, 1949), no 18, p 643
  • Journal of Anatomy (London), 82 (1948), pp 3, 5
  • Biographical Memoirs of Fellows of Royal Society, 1 (1955), p 101, and for publications.

Citation details

K. W. Cleland, 'Hill, James Peter (1873–1954)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1983, accessed online 22 May 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 9, (Melbourne University Press), 1983

View the front pages for Volume 9

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


21 February, 1873
Kennoway, Fife, Scotland


24 May, 1954 (aged 81)
London, Middlesex, England

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