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William Ralph Jewell (1894–1975)

by E. J. O'Brien

This article was published:

William Ralph Jewell (1894-1975), chemist and public servant, was born on 15 July 1894 at Geelong, Victoria, son of James Thomas Jewell, watchmaker, and his wife Emma, née Williams, both Victorian born. Educated at Geelong College (dux 1912), Bill won a scholarship to Ormond College, University of Melbourne (B.Sc., 1916; M.Sc., 1922). During World War I he was sent with a select group of young Australian scientists to Britain where he worked with the Ministry of Munitions. Jewell was elected an associate (1917), fellow (1923) and life member (1959) of the Royal Institute of Chemistry. When the war ended, he studied at the University of Sheffield (B.Met., 1919). Returning to Melbourne, he was appointed senior chemist (metallurgy) at the Munitions Supply Laboratories, Maribyrnong. At St James's Anglican Church, Sydney, on 17 October 1921 he married Vera Ironsides Dent; they were to have a son and a daughter.

In 1926 Jewell joined the Victorian Public Service as agricultural research chemist. Six years later he was also given control of the chemical laboratories of the health and mines departments; he continued to administer the combined State laboratories until his retirement in 1959. Meantime, he was appointed chief chemist of the Department of Agriculture in 1948. Due to his skills as a scientist and as an administrator, he was placed on numerous committees and frequently consulted by government and industry. He took a leading role in reorganizing the beet-sugar industry at Maffra, and advised the Federal government on the feasibility of producing power alcohol from cereals. In association with the Commonwealth Department of Primary Industry, he was involved in the introduction of specifications and standard methods of analysis for foods used by the Australian and allied armed forces. In addition, he was active on the food additives committee of the National Health and Medical Research Council and on the food standards committee of the Victorian Department of Health. In his retirement he wrote Food Additive Control in Australia (1961).

Apart from the widespread influence Jewell exercised in his formal duties, he was prominent in the work of the Standards Association of Australia, and in the inception and development of the National Association of Testing Authorities. A founding member (1946) of the council of N.A.T.A., he was Victorian representative, executive-member (1954-62) and chairman (1958-61). Jewell devoted considerable time to the Royal Australian Chemical Institute, first as an office-bearer in the Victorian branch, then as general secretary (1933-43) and finally as president (1945-46); he had become an associate of the institute in 1919 and a fellow in 1924. He was also made a fellow (1958) of the Pharmaceutical Society of Victoria.

Described by a colleague as somewhat shy, sharp of mind, hard working, down-to-earth, honest and humorous, Jewell 'enjoyed a barnyard joke, Thursday-night-with-his-mates at the Kelvin Club and reefing money from the poker machines, whenever he was in Sydney'. He died on 28 January 1975 at Glen Iris and was cremated; his wife and son survived him.

Select Bibliography

  • Royal Australian Chemical Institute, Proceedings, Apr 1975
  • Herald (Melbourne), 22 May 1926
  • Sun News-Pictorial (Melbourne), 16 July 1959
  • Weekly Times (Melbourne), 22 July 1959.

Citation details

E. J. O'Brien, 'Jewell, William Ralph (1894–1975)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1996, accessed online 23 February 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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