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Hodgkin, Ernest Pease (1908–1998)

by Don Bradshaw

This article was published online in 2022

Ernest Pease Hodgkin (1908–1998), zoologist and marine scientist, was born on 26 June 1908 at Arivonimamo, Madagascar, oldest of three surviving children of English-born Harold Olaf Hodgkin, and his Irish-born wife Lydia, née Grubb, both Quaker missionaries. The Hodgkin family had been prominent in the Quaker society, and active in philanthropic and humanitarian movements in the early nineteenth century. Three other infant siblings died in Madagascar from malaria. While his parents continued their mission, Ernest was educated in Britain, first at the Downs School, Herefordshire (1917–20), and then at Sidcot Quaker School, Somerset (1920–26). He studied zoology at the Victoria University of Manchester (BSc Hons, 1930), and on 13 February 1931 married Mary Constance McKerrow, a fellow student, at the Register Office, St Pancras, London.

Hodgkin’s first employment was as an entomologist (1931–42) at the Institute of Medical Research, Kuala Lumpur, Federated Malay States (Malaysia), where he worked on insect vectors of malaria, filariasis, and rickettsia. Having fled to Singapore ahead of advancing Japanese forces, Mary and their four children were evacuated to Western Australia, but Ernest was captured and interned at Changi. Among his activities, which included larval surveys at the nearby prisoner-of-war camp, he busied himself making spectacle frames ‘from old toothbrushes, they are sturdy and efficient, and with their bright colours help to cheer the life of the camp’ (Wood 2003, 242).

After his release in 1945, Hodgkin was reunited with his family in Perth, and the next year was employed as a lecturer in the department of biology at the University of Western Australia; he was promoted to senior lecturer, department of zoology, in 1948. Horace (Harry) Waring arrived in 1948 as foundation professor and persuaded Hodgkin to write up his work on the Anopheles mosquito. He was appointed reader in comparative anatomy and entomology in 1949, his teaching focusing on entomology. In 1950 he was awarded a doctorate of science for his thesis ‘The Transmission of Malaria in Malaya,’ which was published in 1956.

From the mid-1950s Hodgkin led a major research program on the ecology of invertebrate fauna of freshwater estuaries and rocky shores, linked with changes in coastal geomorphology. He supervised a number of doctoral students, many of whom went on to positions in universities, government, and private consultancies. From 1955 to 1958 he was a trustee of the Museum and Art Gallery Board of Western Australia, then vice-chairman (1959–81) and chairman (1982–83) of the Western Australian Museum Board. He was appointed associate professor in 1971.

On retiring from the university in 1973, Hodgkin continued his contribution to science in Western Australia. From 1974 to 1989 he was environmental consultant for the Department of Conservation and Environment (DCE), coordinating team research studies of the Blackwood River and, later, on eutrophication in the Peel-Harvey estuarine system. His first task was to survey the Blackwood River and Hardy Inlet as there was a proposal to mine the system’s rich mineral sands deposits. The project report set the standard for how environmental studies should be conducted. Although Hodgkin recommended against mining, he was typically modest in saying that the project foundered not because of the study, but because the proponent concluded that the returns would not justify its investment. He published a series of twenty-five papers on the Blackwood, Peel-Harvey, and other estuaries, including the Estuarine Studies Series, published by the DCE. In 1983 he was appointed a fellow of the Western Australian Museum, and was awarded an OAM. From 1989 until 1996 he was an advisor to the Western Australian Environmental Protection Authority, providing advice on the management of Culham Inlet and other estuarine systems.

The later part of Hodgkin’s working life was devoted to trying to understand the geomorphology and evolution of these estuaries and the suite of organisms that inhabit them, his last two scientific publications dealing with this topic. His greatest regret was that he did not complete the book he had planned to write on estuaries, drawing together his research. A former student, Anne Brearley, would do this for him, and Ernest Hodgkin’s Swanland: Estuaries and Coastal Lagoons of South-western Australia, a seminal book, was published in 2005. The Royal Society of Western Australia awarded him its 1997 gold medal for his work.

All who knew Hodgkin, affectionately called ‘Hodge,’ recognised his integrity and honesty, and his commitment to the service and advancement of those around him. He rarely said an unkind word and in his everyday life exemplified the religious convictions that flowed from his membership of the Quaker family. A deeply religious person, he was neither a zealot nor a dilettante. Predeceased by his wife (d. 1985), and survived by their three sons and one daughter, he died on 23 September 1998 at Dalkeith, Perth, and was cremated. Just before his death, he established a trust that would continue his lifelong study of estuarine environments.

Research edited by Malcolm Allbrook

Select Bibliography

  • Bradshaw, S.D. ‘Obituary: Ernest Pease Hodgkin.’ Journal of the Royal Society of Western Australia 81 (1998): 229
  • Jones, Diana. Personal communication
  • Jones, M. G. K. ‘The Royal Society of Western Australia Medallists 1997: Dr Ernest Hodgkin, OAM.’ Journal of the Royal Society of Western Australia, 80 (1997): 287
  • Personal knowledge of ADB subject
  • Wood, A. If This Should Be Farewell: A Family Separated by War. Fremantle, WA: Fremantle Arts Centre Press, 2003

Additional Resources

Citation details

Don Bradshaw, 'Hodgkin, Ernest Pease (1908–1998)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, https://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/hodgkin-ernest-pease-31462/text38914, published online 2022, accessed online 4 July 2022.

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