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Norman Elliott White McCallum (1915–1976)

by Gavin Brown

This article was published:

Norman Elliott White McCallum (1915-1976), forensic scientist, was born on 11 August 1915 at Corowa, New South Wales, second son of Australian-born parents John Ulysses McCallum, bank-teller, and his wife Olive Mary, née Elliott. Educated locally, Norman joined the Victoria Police in 1937 and became a patrol-car driver, taking night-shifts in order to continue studying by day. In 1941 he transferred to the scientific section as a chemist and began a part-time course at the University of Melbourne (B.Sc., 1946; M.Sc., 1949). His exhibition-winning research on alcohol in the blood led the courts to admit as evidence the results of chemical tests for alcohol.

At Chalmers Church, Auburn, on 23 April 1942 McCallum had married with Presbyterian forms Phillida Mary Taylor, a 22-year-old chemist. In 1949-50 he studied forensic science at the laboratory at New Scotland Yard, London, and at Interpol Headquarters, Paris. Seconded (1951) to work at the University of Melbourne with Keith Bowden (senior lecturer in forensic medicine and government pathologist), he grew frustrated with the police force's continued undervaluing of his skills and resigned in 1952 to take a lectureship in chemical pathology. His studies on the metabolism of phenobarbitone earned him a Ph.D. in 1955.

In the following year McCallum studied modern forensic-science methods at the school of legal medicine, Harvard University, and visited laboratories associated with law enforcement in the United States of America. Back in Melbourne, he returned to the university and built up a laboratory devoted to forensic science, which in 1958 was combined with the scientific section at Russell Street Police Headquarters under his directorship. He demanded that his staff adhere meticulously to his own high standards. In 1963 the laboratories were transferred to premises (named after him) in Spring Street. McCallum remained nominal director, but retained his position at the university where he was promoted reader in chemical pathology in 1967. His teaching ability, enthusiasm and practical experience resulted in the reorganization of the course on forensic medicine.

Despite the heavy burdens of academic responsibility and indifferent health in later years, McCallum continued to practise forensic science when opportunities arose. He was frequently consulted as a reliable and impartial authority, and was called on to provide testimony in cases involving blood-alcohol determinations. Deeply interested in the law, he became a justice of the peace, chairman of the Diamond Valley-Carlton branch of the Royal Victorian Association of Honorary Justices and a member of the board of studies in criminology at the university. He was an associate-member of the Royal College of Pathologists of Australia and a fellow of the Royal Australian Chemical Institute.

McCallum died of hypertensive cardiovascular disease on 19 November 1976 at Heidelberg and was cremated; his wife, son and daughter survived him. For his work on blood alcohol, which was responsible for the introduction of the Breathalyser in Victoria in 1969, he posthumously received the Widmark award, presented by the International Committee on Alcohol, Drugs and Traffic Safety in January 1977.

Select Bibliography

  • A. Dower, Crime Chemist (Lond, 1965)
  • Victoria Police, Police in Victoria (Melb, 1980)
  • R. Haldane, The People's Force (Melb, 1986)
  • Victoria Police personnel records (held at Victoria Police Headquarters, Melbourne).

Citation details

Gavin Brown, 'McCallum, Norman Elliott White (1915–1976)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2000, accessed online 24 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 15, (Melbourne University Press), 2000

View the front pages for Volume 15

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