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Alfred Thomas Stanley Sissons (1888–1975)

by Gregory Haines

This article was published:

Alfred Thomas Stanley Sissons (1888-1975), chemist and college dean, was born on 22 April 1888 at Malvern, Melbourne, second son of Victorian-born parents Alfred Francis Sissons, a draper who became a builder and real-estate agent, and his wife Annie, née Stanley. Young Stanley grew up at Brunswick. Educated at Moreland State School, at Thomas Palmer's University High School, and at the Continuation School, he began teaching in 1907. He attended (1908-09) the Melbourne Training College (where he was Gladman prize-winner), joined (1910) the staff of the new University Practising (University High) School and studied at the University of Melbourne (B.Sc., Dip.Ed., 1915). At Scots Church, Melbourne, on 15 September 1916 he married with Presbyterian forms Jessie Taylor Tope, a public servant.

That year Sissons was granted leave to take a post as a research chemist with the British government's cordite-production complex at Gretna, Scotland. In 1920, after returning to Melbourne, he was appointed director of studies (retitled dean in 1937) at the College of Pharmacy, Swanston Street. The college was owned and operated by the Pharmaceutical Society of Australasia, as Victorian pharmacists then proudly styled their professional body. Sissons was one of the few full-time staff and soon won the respect of his employers.

Working closely with Byron Stanton, the college's lecturer in materia medica, Sissons made innovative changes to the curriculum. In 1928 he added biology and practical botany. Eight years later he redesigned the course around a four-year apprenticeship. The change reflected developments in pharmaceutical chemistry (especially the advent of 'sulpha-drugs'), provided for 'postgraduate' studies leading to a fellowship of the pharmaceutical society, and included lessons in the history of pharmacy. Sissons' curriculum was recognized as a model for education in pharmacy. From 1960 the college provided a three-year, full-time course.

In 1939 Sissons had been elected a fellow of the (Royal) Australian Chemical Institute. Through his efforts as science editor of the Australasian Journal of Pharmacy, and his help with various editions of The Australian and New Zealand (later Australian) Pharmaceutical Formulary, he did much to raise the scientific standing of the profession. He was a member of Stanton's group which compiled an emergency formulary and a war pharmacopoeia for the Medical Equipment Control Committee during World War II. The team worked in the evenings—often until after midnight—and Sissons trudged home in the brownouts to sleep before the next day's classes.

Sissons helped to transform pharmacy from a hand-me-down craft to a practice which used, and responded to, the latest scientific developments. One of the founders of the pharmaceutical science section of the Australasian (Australian and New Zealand) Association for the Advancement of Science, he presided over that section at A.N.Z.A.A.S.'s 1946 congress in Adelaide. He suggested that, as Britain's strong organic-chemical industry was founded on coal tar and America's on petroleum, Australia might base a similar industry on the alcohols. The potential of radioactive chemistry excited him, as did discoveries in organic chemistry (especially the adaptations of the phenanthrene ring) which were beginning to influence medicine.

Perhaps Sissons' most enduring legacy was as a teacher. 'A. T. S.' (or 'Sisso') and Jessie were beloved by many students. The couple attended the weddings and reunions of former pupils, kept scrapbooks recording their careers, and sent parcels to those on active service in wartime. Following his retirement in 1962, she spoke of their forty-two years at the college happily immersed in 'the stream of youth that we have been able to enjoy'. By then he had taught more than two-thirds of Victoria's practising pharmacists, seen several expansions of the college, and supervised its move to Royal Parade, Parkville, in 1960.

Sissons contributed articles on the history of pharmacy to the Australasian Journal of Pharmacy. His love of literature, especially the Romantics, influenced his historical writing, but not his scientific prose. A preference for Romanticism was also evident in his appreciation of music. Survived by his wife and their two sons, he died on 30 June 1975 at Griffith, Canberra, and was cremated. A mural by Leonard Annois in the main hall of the College of Pharmacy, Monash University, commemorates his work. The college holds Laurence Pendlebury's portrait of Sissons.

Select Bibliography

  • G. Haines, A History of Pharmacy in Victoria (Melb, 1994)
  • Australian Journal of Pharmacy, Aug 1975, p 461
  • Proceedings of the Royal Australian Chemical Institute, 42, no 9, Sept 1975, p 271
  • Age (Melbourne), 2 July 1975.

Citation details

Gregory Haines, 'Sissons, Alfred Thomas Stanley (1888–1975)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2002, accessed online 25 July 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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