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Arthur Henry Lucas (1853–1936)

by Sophie C. Ducker

This article was published:

Arthur Henry Shakespeare Lucas (1853-1936), schoolmaster and biologist, was born on 7 May 1853 at Stratford-on-Avon, Warwickshire, England, third son of Rev. Samuel Lucas, Wesleyan minister, and his wife Elizabeth, née Broadhead. His father was an itinerant clergyman with a small stipend and a passion for the natural sciences, especially geology. He awakened a love of Nature in Arthur, who as a boy collected seaweeds, flowers, fossils and shells.

With a scholarship, Lucas spent seven years at New Kingswood School, near Bath. In 1870-74 he was an exhibitioner at Balliol College, Oxford (B.A., 1874; M.A., 1877); but shy, poor and poorly clad, he was unable to join sports clubs or participate in social life. After a bout of pneumonia he graduated with fourth-class honours in mathematics in 1874, but was awarded the coveted Burdett-Coutts scholarship in 1876. He had won an entrance scholarship at the London Hospital in the East End and the gold medal for botany of the Society of Apothecaries.

Awarded a B.Sc. by the University of London in 1879, Lucas had sacrificed his medical career to support the three children of his widowed brother, Dr Thomas Pennington Lucas (1843-1917), who was tubercular and advised to migrate to Australia. Arthur taught at Leys School, Cambridge, for five years and was elected a fellow of the Geological Society in 1881. At the parish church of St Cuthbert, Bedfordshire, he married Charlotte Christmas on 29 July 1882.

Appointed mathematics and science master at Wesley College, Melbourne, Lucas reached Australia in January 1883. Finding the science laboratory was a shed with a few test-tubes and bottles of reagents, he introduced nature study in the field and, taking an ad eundem M.A., became a member of the Senate of the University of Melbourne. He was soon busy trying to improve the position of science in schools and the university. With C. A. Topp he suggested a separate chair of biology, which led to the appointment of (Sir) Baldwin Spencer. Within the university he also tutored at Ormond and Trinity colleges and was a founder and fellow of Queen's College.

In 1884-92 Lucas edited the Victorian Naturalist, the journal of the Field Naturalists' Club of Victoria (founded by his brother in 1882). As its president in 1887-89 he urged the government to reserve Wilson's Promontory for a national park (which came about in 1898). He was a council-member of the Royal Society of Victoria, and with Spencer, J. B. Wilson and others organized its first biological survey of Port Phillip. At Spencer's suggestion Lucas wrote an Introduction to the Study of Botany (1892) with A. Dendy, and The Animals of Australia (1909) and The Birds of Australia (1911) with W. H. D. Le Souef. He also published numerous papers on fishes and, with C. Frost, on lizards.

Moving to Sydney, Lucas was headmaster of Newington College in 1892-98. He included French, history and natural science in the curriculum, but was frustrated by lack of funds for expansion and a system of dual control with Rev. J. E. Moulton as president. In January 1899 he became senior mathematical and science master at Sydney Grammar School. Known affectionately as 'Daddy' by Sydneians, he was, according to Dr C. J. Prescott, 'a masterly teacher, lucid, thorough, exacting, inspiring, with a surprising variety of subject. And his teaching was shot through with a human interest in everyone he taught'. In his twenty-five years at Sydney Grammar, his pupils won medals at the senior public examination in thirteen subjects, including languages. He read French, German, Spanish and Italian, taught himself Russian in order to read a book about lizards, and was well versed in English literature.

During World War I Lucas was acting headmaster in 1916-19 while H. N. P. Sloman was at the front. Despite his gentle calm and the school's high morale and sporting triumphs, Lucas found these 'the bitterest days I ever experienced'—of 1740 old Sydneians who enlisted 301 did not return, and his only son was fighting in France. He was headmaster from 1920 to 1923 and after retirement was acting professor of mathematics at the University of Tasmania for two years.

A council-member of the Linnean Society of New South Wales in 1894-1936, Lucas served as president in 1907-09. In its journal he published on diverse topics with an astonishing productivity while schoolteaching. After his retirement he concentrated on the study of marine algae—he also worked as honorary curator of algae at the National Herbarium of New South Wales. His interests were not shared by other Australian botanists but he corresponded on algal matters with overseas phycologists.

After his wife's death in 1919 Lucas lived with his daughter Ida Cortis-Jones at Roseville, but spent many summer vacations at Point Lonsdale, Victoria, with the family of Herbert Brookes, an ex-pupil. At their instigation he wrote his memoirs, published posthumously in 1937 as A. H. S. Lucas, Scientist, his Own Story. Frequently he visited Mrs George Perrin (née Florence Dawson) at Launceston, Tasmania. They visited Lord Howe Island and Low Islands in Queensland, and exchanged many letters; he called her 'his eyes' when collecting. On their last expedition Lucas, despite stormy weather, collected seaweeds from rockpools at Warrnambool, Victoria. He developed pneumonia and was taken from the train at Albury, New South Wales, where he died on 10 June 1936; he was cremated with Methodist forms. A son and three of his four daughters survived him.

After W. H. Harvey Lucas was the most important earlier worker on Australian algae, publishing in Adelaide The Seaweeds of South Australia (part I in 1936 and part II with Florence Perrin in 1947). Many of his observations have stood the test of time. The devout, shy, self-effacing, modest and unselfish man in a shiny and threadbare black suit, had a sharp wit and was happy without too many worldly possessions. With white hair and beard, 'his face had a touch of sadness' in repose. His portrait by H. A. Hanke (1935) is held by Sydney Grammar School.

Select Bibliography

  • D. S. Macmillan, Newington College 1863-1963 (Syd, 1963)
  • Sydney Grammar School, Sydneian, Apr 1923, Aug 1936, centenary number 1957
  • Wesley College Chronicle, Aug 1936
  • Victorian Naturalist, 54 (1936)
  • Linnean Society of New South Wales, Proceedings, 62 (1937)
  • Australian Quarterly, June 1938
  • Brookes papers (National Library of Australia)
  • Perrin family papers and Lucas papers (S. Ducker collection, University of Melbourne Archives).

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Sophie C. Ducker, 'Lucas, Arthur Henry (1853–1936)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1986, accessed online 17 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

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


7 May, 1853
Stratford-on-Avon, Warwickshire, England


10 June, 1936 (aged 83)
Albury, New South Wales, Australia

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