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Henry Tasman Lovell (1878–1958)

by W. M. O'Neil

This article was published:

Henry Tasman Lovell (1878-1958), psychologist and educator, was born on 6 January 1878 at East Kempsey, New South Wales, third child of James Haines Lovell, a New Zealand-born schoolteacher, and his Victorian wife Elizabeth, née Shepherd. His father taught in small country schools and Tasman became a pupil-teacher at Bowraville Public School in 1894. In December 1898 he won a scholarship to Fort Street Training School, Sydney, completing the course with a class 2 certificate. After a few months at Redfern, he was appointed on 26 April 1900 to Fort Street Model School where he spent six years. At St Paul's Anglican Church, Redfern, he married Alice Eleanor Arnold on 4 January 1904; they had three sons.

In 1902 Lovell had enrolled in arts as an unmatriculated evening student at the University of Sydney and also studied for and passed the matriculation examination in March 1903. He was twice awarded Professor (Sir) Francis Anderson's prize for philosophy and in 1906 graduated B.A. with first-class honours and the university medal in logic and mental philosophy and first-class honours in French. He gained his M.A. in philosophy in 1908 and was awarded the graduates' prize for a philosophical thesis and the Woolley scholarship. He held this scholarship at the University of Jena, Germany, where he was awarded a doctorate in 1909, his thesis being on Spencer's utilitarian theory of education. Though he began serious study of the language only in 1907, he wrote his thesis in German.

Before leaving for Jena, Lovell had been on the staff of the Teachers' College at Blackfriars which on his return he rejoined, teaching education, French and possibly German. In 1913 he was appointed assistant lecturer in philosophy at the university and during World War I was also a part-time assistant censor from 1914 for his expert knowledge of German and French. Anderson handed over to him the first-year course in logic and psychology. The psychology was markedly philosophical and in the Scottish manner. Lovell slowly gave it a more observational flavour, included some statistical method and in 1915 provided a second (half) course in experimental psychology. By 1917 this had grown into a full-course alternative to philosophy II. It consisted of abnormal (including Freudian), social and experimental psychology and in both first and second years laboratory and other observational work was required. In 1921 Lovell was appointed McCaughey associate professor and given an assistant, A. H. Martin. By 1925 they provided the first Australian three-year psychology sequence leading to a pass or honours degree. Experimental psychology was replaced with psychometrics in psychology II and the new psychology III became almost exclusively experimental with extensive laboratory work.

Appointed McCaughey professor of psychology in 1929, Lovell was given charge of a separate department—the first professor and the first department of psychology in Australia. In 1938 the faculty of arts required a fourth year for the honours B.A. In psychology IV students were required to attend a seminar on theoretical psychology and a course in advanced statistics, to write a short thesis on a set theoretical topic and to report on a piece of observational work (laboratory, psychometric, social field observation or clinical case studies). Over the next decade about one-third of the honours graduates proceeded to M.A.

Lovell was a superb teacher. His speech was fluent and pleasing, he was a great user of blackboard, slides and front-bench demonstrations. An ex-student wrote that his 'integrity and sincerity, his passion for truth burned in his eyes'. He was highly innovative but once having introduced something he rarely changed it, although he added new developments deriving from his avid reading of books and journals in English, French and German. This diligence can be seen in the brief marginal notes he wrote in the journals of his day. He taught what he had learned from his reading and contributed little of his own to it beyond integration.

His position indicated background in the Scottish philosophy of common sense. The central task of psychology was the study of mental life (he added unconscious processes to the Scottish exclusive concern with consciousness). Cognition he treated as phenomenalist, adopting the representative theory of ideas. He accepted the notion of self as an agent in cognition and affection and as an entity which possessed continuity except in special states such as fugues and multiple personality. He accepted purposivism both at the instinctive level, which he placed in a firm evolutionary context, and at the voluntary and moral levels. He accepted that mind was embodied, being influenced by both neurophysiological and endocrinological states and processes. Lovell wrote two small books, The Springs of Human Action (1914) and Dreams (1923, and greatly extended as Dreams and Dreaming, 1938), and numerous journal articles. He was editor of the Australasian Journal of Psychology and Philosophy in 1927-34.

He was dean of the faculty of arts and fellow of the senate in 1937-41 and first president of the Australian branch of the British Psychological Society. Lovell was also active in the policy-making of many social services: he was chairman of the Child Welfare Advisory Council and president of the Council of Social Service of New South Wales, the Recreation and Leadership Movement, Toc H, and the Australian Council for Educational Research (1939-48), among many other offices.

Lovell retired in 1945; his wife died in 1953 and on 26 June 1954 he married a widow Alice Wood Johnson, née Younger. He died on 30 September 1958 at Parramatta and was cremated with Anglican rites. His wife and the sons of his first marriage survived him. A portrait medallion of Lovell by Andor Meszaros was struck, and may be awarded annually for the best Ph.D. thesis in psychology at the University of Sydney.

Select Bibliography

  • K. F. Walker, W. M. O'Neil and J. F. Clark (eds), Australasian Journal of Psychology, 10 (1958), no 1
  • Register of teachers (Education Dept Archives, Sydney)
  • Dept of Defence, B543, correspondence files 1911-17, file 363/4/700 (National Archives of Australia).

Additional Resources

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

W. M. O'Neil, 'Lovell, Henry Tasman (1878–1958)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1986, accessed online 15 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 10, (Melbourne University Press), 1986

View the front pages for Volume 10

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