The beginnings...Chemistry labs from 1912

  • UQ was founded in 1910 with four inaugural professors - one being Professor of Chemistry, Bertram Dillon Steele (pictured below).
  • Chemistry classes started in 1911 in George St, Brisbane, where UQ was based.
  • A Chemistry Building was opened in 1912 with purpose-built student labs.  CSR donated 1,000 pounds for equipment. 
  • Early UQ Chemistry research on the distillation of rum helped the progress of the Bundaberg Rum Distillery.
  • Initial courses were in physical, organic and inorganic chemistry, with the introduction of applied chemistry in 1915, in a second building, funded by the Walter & Eliza Hall Institute. 
  • There were three other academic staff by then, one of them Thomas Henry Gilbert Jones, who would eventually succeed Steele as Head of Department. 


World War I and the 1920s and 1930s...Bertram Dillon Steele
  • Steele went to the UK for 4 years during the first world war, developing a new type of gas mask and the production of synthetic phenol, which he oversaw on an industrial scale.  Jones also returned to the homeland for the war effort.
  • Graduates of 1920s recall Steele as a reserved but courteous gentleman of science of 19th century English traditions, and Jones as the brash, self-assertive, young-man-in-a-hurry with a focus on chemical solutions for Australia.
  • Steele's research was in the general area of synthetic and physical inorganic chemistry and he was made a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1931 when he retired.
  • Jones's research during this era focussed on the extraction of natural products from native plants and he published prolifically, becoming the Department's star performer in the 1920s and 1930s.
  • Miss Vida Dabbs was appointed stock attendant and clerk in 1925, going on to be Departmental Secretary until her retirement 41 years later.
  • By the 1930s, when the Great Depression was biting, the academic staff had grown to only five (all male) and the department remained small, but comprehensive.
  • When war broke out at the end of the decade, the influence of Britain on Australia and its universities was about to yield to a new force moving westward across the Pacific from the USA.
  • UQ was yet to have departments of biochemistry or microbiology, the other major disciplines that make up today's School. 

Source:  A Brief History of the Chemistry Department of the University of Queensland 1910-1985, by Barry Chiswell.

 Biochemistry begins at UQ

  • John Hines was the first biochemistry academic at UQ, appointed within the Department of Agriculture in 1928.

Source:  The History and Development of the Faculty of Agriculture, by L.J. Hartley Teakle

Go to top