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Frederick Hugh Sherston Roberts (1901–1972)

by Beverley M. Angus

This article was published:

Frederick Hugh Sherston Roberts (1901-1972), entomologist and parasitologist, was born on 16 January 1901 at Rockhampton, Queensland, second child of Australian-born parents Richard Ussher Roberts, clerk, and his wife Letitia Julia, née Spicer. 'Bob', as he was nicknamed, was educated at Townsville Grammar School and the University of Queensland (B.Sc., 1923; M.Sc., 1925; Ph.D., 1935). After being employed for six months as a microscopist with the Australian Hookworm Campaign, he joined the Commonwealth Prickly Pear Board as a research entomologist in April 1923 and worked at several field-stations in Queensland. The board's investigation of biological control agents led to the introduction (1925) of the moth, Cactoblastis cactorum, and to the destruction (by 1930) of the prickly pear which had infested 65 million acres (26,304,850 ha) of the land in Australia. On 6 April 1929 Roberts married Ethel Anne Cornell with Anglican rites in her home at Toowoomba; they were to have a son and daughter.

In 1930 Roberts was appointed veterinary entomologist with the Queensland Department of Agriculture and Stock. From 1933 he was based at the Animal Health Station, Yeerongpilly. Sent abroad in 1938 to study the control of parasitic diseases in livestock, he visited laboratories in North America, Britain, Europe and South Africa. He also studied parasites of domestic animals, discovered a new tapeworm in pigeons and found trichostrongyles in rabbits. Between 1939 and 1941 he lectured part time in veterinary parasitology at the University of Queensland.

Appointed a lieutenant in the Militia on 19 December 1941, Roberts transferred to the Australian Imperial Force on 11 August 1942. He served with various medical units in Australia and New Guinea before being posted in May 1943 to the 2nd Mobile Entomology Unit, with which he studied the behaviour of Anopheles mosquitoes. Promoted major in October, he collaborated with his colleague Josephine Mackerras in experiments to combat malaria. His army service ended on 22 March 1945.

Two months later Roberts rejoined the Department of Agriculture and Stock as acting-director of research in the division of animal industry. In June 1947 he was appointed to the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research's division of animal health and production as principal research officer and officer-in-charge of the newly established veterinary parasitology laboratory at Yeerongpilly. Under his direction, the laboratory gained a worldwide reputation for its studies of the parasitic diseases of cattle. He published a finely illustrated monograph, Insects Affecting Livestock, with special reference to important species occurring in Australia (Sydney, 1952), which became a standard textbook in Australia and overseas. He also initiated negotiations and planning for the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization's new laboratories at Long Pocket, Indooroopilly, which were opened on 2 September 1968.

During his career Roberts published 133 papers dealing with ticks, insects and parasitic worms. He was president (1935 and 1946) of the Entomological Society of Queensland and an associate-member of the Queensland division of the Australian Veterinary Association. Following his retirement in January 1966, he became a senior research fellow with the C.S.I.R.O. Over the next three years he wrote an authoritative monograph, Australian Ticks (Melbourne, 1970), which described their taxonomy and biology and drew on his research of more than thirty years.

Invariably kind, supportive and encouraging to younger scientists in his division, Roberts was a man of integrity who was gifted with a good sense of humour. He died on 26 July 1972 at Canossa Hospital, Oxley, and was cremated; his wife and son survived him.

Select Bibliography

  • Historical Directory of CSIR and CSIRO (Canb, 1978)
  • P. J. Skerman, The First 100 Years (Brisb, 1998)
  • Australian Veterinary Journal, 48, 1972, p 641
  • Entomological Society of Queensland, News Bulletin, 88, July-Aug 1972, p 16
  • series 3, PH/ROB/16, parts 1 and 2 (CSIRO Archives, Canberra)
  • student records, UQA S157, 171 (University of Queensland Archives).

Citation details

Beverley M. Angus, 'Roberts, Frederick Hugh Sherston (1901–1972)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2002, accessed online 28 May 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 16, (Melbourne University Press), 2002

View the front pages for Volume 16

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