Theodore OsbornPrint Page Print this page


Photographs supplied by Paul Scott

The stained glass window commemorates Theodore George Bentley Osborn (1887 - 1973), who was a botanist, ecologist and academic.

He was born in October 1887 at Great Clacton, Essex, England, and after  the family settled in Lancashire, Osborn he attended Burnley Grammar School.  In 1905 he went to the Victoria University of Manchester on a scholarship, and won first-class honours in botany (B.Sc., 1908). He became a lecturer in economic botany at Manchester (M.Sc., 1911; D.Sc., 1920).

In 1912 Osborn was appointed first professor of botany, vegetable pathology and parasitology at the University of Adelaide. On 17 July he married Edith May Kershaw, also a Manchester M.Sc. (1908). With his wife's collaboration, he established a department in Adelaide with a high reputation. He was also botanical consultant to the South Australian government. Though Osborn's early papers had been on fungi, he worked on a variety of botanical problems. He saw that the developing discipline of plant ecology should be applied to Australian vegetation, and began work on the forests of the Adelaide hills.

The dangers of over-grazing in arid regions were not then understood; saltbush and bluebush plains were in danger of becoming plantless deserts. Osborn applied his ecological ideas to these questions and in 1926, with the help of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research and some pastoralists, he established the Koonamore Vegetation Reserve about 386 kilometres north-east of Adelaide, where the average, but very unreliable, annual rainfall is only 203 mm. Research and teaching at that station still continues.

In 1926 the C.S.I.R. invited Osborn to investigate the botanical sciences in Australia. Council members so admired his work that two years later they invited him to take charge of the C.S.I.R.'s division of plant industry. Osborn chose to accept the chair of botany at the University of Sydney instead. He became increasingly interested in the coastal vegetation of New South Wales and his new ideas enhanced the school's reputation. Osborn was dean of the faculty of science from 1930 to 1933 and a fellow of the university senate from 1931.

In 1937 he became Sherardian professor of botany at the University of Oxford where he was elected fellow of Magdalen College and admitted to the degree of M.A. Partly due to World War Two, Osborn was less active in research; but his improvements included moving the department from old premises at the Botanic Garden to a new building. He undertook much advisory work during the war for the government, was chairman of the National Institute for Research in Agricultural Botany, a member of the Agricultural Research Council, and of the governing bodies of various research institutions.

On retiring in 1953 as emeritus professor, Osborn returned to Australia and, except for a short period in Melbourne, lived in Adelaide. In 1958 he was awarded the Clarke medal by the Royal Society of New South Wales. That year his wife died and in England on 8 October 1960 he married Marjorie Hope Sabine, his secretary. He lectured and continued his research in Adelaide until about 1960. On the fiftieth anniversary of the botany department in 1962 the university designated him emeritus professor.

Osborn's Australian studies were innovative. They had been reported in the Transactions of the Royal Society of South Australia, of which he was president in 1925, and the Proceedings of the Linnean Society of New South Wales (president, 1932). His administrative contributions to scientific developments were important, but his teaching had more lasting influence. An inspiring lecturer and revered leader, he drew young men and women to botany.

A devout Anglican, he helped to found St Mark's College at the University of Adelaide and, while living there after his first wife's death, was acting master in 1959. He died on 3 June 1973.



Address:46 Pennington Terrace, St Mark's College, Adelaide, 5000
GPS Coordinates:Lat: -34.921394
Long: 138.598653
Note: GPS Coordinates are approximate.
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Monument Type:Window
Monument Theme:People
Designer:Cedar Prest
Monument Manufacturer:Cedar Prest


Approx. Monument Dedication Date:1979
Front Inscription

The rose window above the altar was given in 1979 memory of Theodore George Bentley Osborn D.Sc. M. A. F. L. S. F. I Biol 1887 - 1973

Professor of Botany Adelaide 1912 - 27, Sydney  1928 - 37, and Oxford 1938 - 53
Member of the Executive Committee for the foundation of St Mark`s College 1922 - 25
Member of Council 1925 - 28, 1958 - 73
Acting Master 1959  Honorary Fellow 1952
Foundation Fellow 1972
Deisgner of the College Coat of Arms

A. M. D. G.

The window was designed and made by Cedar Prest

Source: MA,PS,ADB
Monument details supplied by Monument Australia - www.monumentaustralia.org.au