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Herbert Henry Woollard (1889–1939)

by Michael J. Blunt

This article was published:

Herbert Henry Woollard (1889-1939), professor of anatomy, was born on 2 August 1889 at Horsham, Victoria, son of Charles Woollard, salesman, and his wife Mary, née Smith, both Victorian born. At Queen's College, University of Melbourne, he studied medicine (M.B., B.S., 1910; M.D., 1912). Enlisting in the Australian Army Medical Corps, Australian Imperial Force, in September 1914, he was regimental medical officer to the 2nd Field Artillery Brigade at Gallipoli. Later, as a major, he served with distinction in France with the A.A.M.C. and was wounded at Pozières. Woollard saw continual front-line service, was mentioned in dispatches and awarded the French Croix de Guerre.

Demobilized in England, he studied for the primary examination of the Royal College of Surgeons. Course work in anatomy at University College, London, brought him into contact with (Sir) Grafton Elliot Smith. Like his compatriots Joseph Shellshear and R. A. Dart who aspired to study surgery, Woollard decided to become an anatomist. He was appointed as an anatomy demonstrator at University College and in 1921 a Rockefeller fellowship enabled him to go to the Johns Hopkins Medical School, Baltimore, United States of America, to pursue experimental studies. The results of his work, published after his return to Britain, included an important paper on the factors involved in the establishment of vascular patterns, another on the phagocytic activity of haemal lymph glands and a third on the macrophage activity of the leptomeninges. He also contributed a monograph on the anatomy of Tarsius spectrum and papers on primate neuroanatomy. In 1925 Woollard began the programme of studies on peripheral innervation for which he is best remembered. Queen's University of Belfast awarded him the Symington memorial prize (1926) for the best original work published by a junior member of the Anatomical Society of Great Britain and Ireland during the preceding three years. Woollard's mastery of the current literature in his subject was reflected in his Recent Advances in Anatomy (London, 1927) which pointed to the vitality of the science of anatomy in other countries; its effect on anatomical research in Britain was profound and continuing.

From 1923 to 1927 Woollard was assistant professor of anatomy at University College, London. He returned to Australia to take up the chair of anatomy and histology (1928-29) at the University of Adelaide in succession to Frederic Jones. Together with his mentor Elliot Smith, W. E. Le Gros Clark and John Irvine Hunter, Woollard pioneered the use of a new style in British anatomical research designed to elucidate the functional implications of structure: it depended upon experimental, as opposed to static, descriptive techniques. He was also among those who advocated a reintegration of the teaching of histology with anatomy following the artificial separation of the two which had developed in British and Australian medical schools. His passionate wish to advance the scientific basis of medicine found yet another outlet in his active promotion of the teaching of radiological anatomy. Woollard returned to London to the chair of anatomy (1929-36) at the medical school of St Bartholomew's Hospital. There he was a guiding influence in planning a new medical college and developing within it an active and progressive anatomy department.

Succeeding Elliot Smith in 1936 as professor of anatomy at University College, London, Woollard won high regard for his research and leadership. He had been a member of the editorial committee of the Journal of Anatomy since 1931, but his inceptive insights found greater scope after he became its editor in 1936. Five ft 4 ins (163 cm) tall, Woollard was a vigorous, dedicated, idealistic enthusiast throughout his career. He had a personality full of colour and force, combining warmth and generosity to his friends and colleagues with uncompromising criticism and intolerance of whatever he saw as slipshod or insincere. In 1938 he was elected a fellow of the Royal Society.

During the last years of his career he was incapacitated by anginal attacks which he attempted to ignore: on 18 January 1939 Woollard collapsed and died at his work at University College hospital. He had married Mary Wilson Howard at Christ Church, Hampstead, on 29 October 1915. She and their two sons survived him.

Select Bibliography

  • E. Barclay-Smith, The Anatomical Society of Great Britain and Ireland, a Retrospect (Lond, 1937)
  • Reveille (Sydney), Mar 1933, May 1938, May 1939
  • British Medical Journal, 28 Jan 1939, p 193
  • Lancet, 28 Jan 1939, p 239
  • St Bartholomew's Hospital Journal, 46, Mar 1939, p 119
  • Science, vol 89, 5 May 1939, p 404
  • Journal of Anatomy (London), vol 73, 1939, p 504
  • Obituary Notices of Fellows of the Royal Society, vol 2, 1940, p 11
  • 'Obituary: Professor H. H. Woollard', Times (London), 19 Jan 1939, p 17.

Citation details

Michael J. Blunt, 'Woollard, Herbert Henry (1889–1939)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1990, accessed online 18 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

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