Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Herbert Ward Wilson (1877–1955)

by Tess Kloot

This article was published:

Herbert Ward Wilson (1877-1955), lecturer in science, was born on 29 September 1877 at Bradford, Yorkshire, England, fifth child of William Wilson, joiner, and his wife Fanny, née Ward. The family migrated to Australia in 1883, settling at Dimboola, Victoria, where William became a farmer and builder. Herbert attended a local school and in 1894 joined the Education Department. While teaching in remote areas of the colony, he matriculated in 1896. Fascinated by natural history, he made it his lifelong study; though reference books were few, he was encouraged by naturalists and was well prepared when it became a school subject in the early 1900s. At exhibitions held in various inspectorates, Wilson's talents were quickly recognized. Chosen to undergo special instruction at the Melbourne Training College, he completed the course brilliantly and was appointed lecturer in nature study; as deputy to J. A. Leach, he assisted him with publications.

In 1908 Wilson commenced a diploma of agriculture with honours in agricultural botany at the University of Melbourne, but college duties and World War I interrupted his course. Enlisting in the Australian Imperial Force on 11 March 1915, he served at Gallipoli, in Egypt and in France where he gave instruction in gas warfare and liaised between armies in France and the Chemical Warfare Committee, London. Promoted lieutenant (1917) and captain (1918), he was demobilized in July 1919 with the rank of major; awarded the Military Cross (1918) and the Belgian Croix de Guerre avec palme (1921), he was twice mentioned in dispatches and was appointed O.B.E. (1919).

Returning to civilian life, 'the major' resumed work at the teachers' college and his studies at the university (B.Sc., 1920; M.Sc., 1925). He shared the 1922 MacBain research scholarship for botany and later lectured on the subject at the university. In 1924-42 he was lecturer in method for geography and biological science at the university's school of education; in 1927-52 he lectured in botany at the Victorian College of Pharmacy and was examiner to the Pharmacy Board of Victoria. Retiring from the Melbourne Teachers' College in 1942, Wilson requested and was granted permission to continue at the pharmacy college until the last of his ex-servicemen students had completed the course.

A member of the Royal Australasian Ornithologists' Union, the Bird Observers' Club, the Field Naturalists' Club of Victoria and the Microscopical Society, Wilson had been responsible for founding the Gould League of Bird Lovers of Victoria (1910) and for its subsequent spread to other States: in 1963 a perpetual trophy was named in his honour. He had also been awarded the Natural History medallion in 1943. Stout and 5 ft 10 ins (178 cm) tall, he covered his bald head with a black skull-cap. His forthright manner and dominant personality hid a dedicated and highly disciplined nature; his descriptive language, humour and unconventional manner of teaching transmitted enthusiasm to his students. Survived by his son, Wilson died at his Caulfield home on 1 October 1955 and was cremated; he left an estate sworn for probate at £11,122. His wife, Myra Hester, née Smith, whom he had married at St John's Anglican Church, Camberwell, on 22 May 1920, had predeceased him.

Select Bibliography

  • University of Melbourne Gazette, 11, no 6, Nov 1955, p 84
  • Victorian Naturalist, 72, pt 10, Feb 1956, p 148
  • Education Magazine, 13, no 3, Apr 1956, p 97
  • Australasian Journal of Pharmacy, 49, no 585, Sept 1968, p 669.

Citation details

Tess Kloot, 'Wilson, Herbert Ward (1877–1955)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1990, accessed online 26 May 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 12, (Melbourne University Press), 1990

View the front pages for Volume 12

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


29 September, 1877
Bradford, Yorkshire, England


1 October, 1955 (aged 78)
Caulfield, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

Cultural Heritage

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