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Maxwell Ralph (Max) Jacobs (1905–1979)

by L. T. Carron

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Max Jacobs, n.d.

Max Jacobs, n.d.

Maxwell Ralph Jacobs (1905-1979), forester, was born on 25 February 1905 in North Adelaide, son of Isaac Jacobs, schoolteacher, and his wife Bertha Marion, née Shorney, both South Australian born. Educated at Unley High School and the University of Adelaide (B.Sc., 1925; M.Sc., 1936), Max was awarded a Lowrie postgraduate scholarship to the Waite Agricultural Research Institute. He was appointed forest assessor in the Federal Capital Territory in 1926 and promoted chief forester in 1928. A Commonwealth scholarship took him to the University of Oxford (diploma in forestry, 1931) and to the Forstliche Hochschule Tharandt, Germany (doctorate in forest science, Technische Hochschule Dresden, 1932).

Returning to Australia, Jacobs was appointed a research officer with the Commonwealth Forestry Bureau, Canberra, in January 1933 and that year made a reconnaissance of the then little-known forest resources of the Northern Territory. On 23 December 1933 he married Phyllis Vesper Quinton (d.1976) at St David's Presbyterian Church, Haberfield, Sydney. He carried out original research on the growth stresses of trees and the effects of wind sway, and experimented with the use of cuttings for propagating radiata pine. His extensive studies of the anatomy of the bud systems and the silvicultural behaviour of various eucalypts in Australia were to be consolidated in his Growth Habits of the Eucalypts (Canberra, 1955) which became a standard international text. In 1939 he was awarded a fellowship from the Commonwealth Fund and attended Yale University (Ph.D., 1941), United States of America, where he continued his investigations into growth stresses.

Back home, on 19 March 1942 Jacobs was mobilized in the Militia as a temporary captain and appointed deputy assistant director, engineering services, Army Headquarters, Melbourne. In 1943-44 he performed staff duties in the directorates of engineering stores and of engineering survey, and served briefly in Papua and New Guinea. He transferred to the Reserve of Officers as honorary major on 8 November 1944. Next month he was appointed principal and lecturer in silviculture at the Australian Forestry School, Canberra. Over fifteen years 'the Doc' lectured to and professionally guided more than three hundred undergraduates from Australia, New Zealand, Asia and Africa; they returned his warmth and interest with respect and affection.

Jacobs was acting director-general (from December 1959) of the Commonwealth Forestry and Timber Bureau and its director-general (from May 1961). He played a leading role in establishing the Australian Forestry Council in 1964 and chaired its first standing committee; he also chaired other bodies connected with forestry or the forest industries, among them the timber industries committee of the Standards Association of Australia, and wrote numerous papers and reports on Australian forest policy. In 1966 he was appointed I.S.O.

In 1927 Jacobs had joined the Empire (later Commonwealth) Forestry Association; he was a member (1963-69) of its governing council. A foundation member (1935) of the Institute of Foresters of Australia, he was awarded its N. W. Jolly medal in 1962 and elected a fellow in 1969. He was made an honorary member of the New Zealand Institute of Forestry (1958) and of the Society of American Foresters (1966).

After retiring from the Commonwealth Public Service in February 1970, Jacobs worked as a consultant to several national and international bodies, including the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, at whose request he undertook a massive rewrite of its Eucalypts for Planting (Rome, 1979). He went on a number of missions abroad, particularly in connection with eucalypts. In addition, he was president of the agricultural and forestry section of the Australian and New Zealand Association for the Advancement of Science, of the Royal Society of Canberra (1948-49) and of the Rotary Club of Canberra (1956-57). His main recreation was golf.

Survived by his two daughters, Jacobs died on 9 October 1979 in Woden Valley Hospital and was cremated. To commemorate his contribution to the discipline, the Institute of Foresters of Australia initiated the M. R. Jacobs fund in 1983. Administered by the Australian Academy of Science, the fund assists individuals to conduct forestry and forest-industry research projects, and to participate in conferences.  A street in the Canberra suburb of Wright is named in his honour.[1]

[1]  amended text, September 2015

Select Bibliography

  • Commonwealth Forestry Review, 59 (1), no 179, Mar 1980, p 4
  • Canberra Times, 12 Oct 1979
  • private information.

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Citation details

L. T. Carron, 'Jacobs, Maxwell Ralph (Max) (1905–1979)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1996, accessed online 26 May 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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