Horace Waring 1910-1980

Written by A. R. Main.

Horace (Harry) Waring was born in 1910 on the outskirts of Liverpool. From the Holt High School he entered the University of Liverpool, graduating B.Sc. in 1931, having specialised in parasitology. He completed his Master of Science in 1932 with a thesis on histology. Later (in 1938) he was awarded a Doctorate of Science from the University of Aberdeen.

In the years between 1932 and 1937 Waring held a Herdman Scholarship and an Edward Forbes Exhibition, both for marine work and tenable at the University of Liverpool and the Marine Station, Isle of Man. During this period he developed his interest in colour change, especially of the dogfish. Between 1937 and 1946 Waring was associated with Lancelot Hogben while on the staff of Aberdeen, first as an assistant (Agricultural Zoology), later as a Carnegie Teaching Fellow (Experimental Zoology), and finally as a lecturer. From 1941 he was the Entomologist in charge of the Ministry of Food stores, North and North-East Scotland. In 1946 he took the post of Head, without professorial rank, of the Zoology Department, University of Birmingham.

These were the formative and developmental years. Waring always maintained that the study of marsupials was a youthful ambition and by 1948, when he came to occupy a post where he could fulfil his ambition, he had had a wide experience in all aspects of zoological teaching and research except marsupials!

G. E. Nicholls, Professor of Biology in the University of Western Australia from 1921 until his retirement at the age of 70 in 1947, was followed by Waring as the first Professor of Zoology in 1948. Waring's impact on the University at that time and the trepidation felt at having an experimental zoologist join the staff, are well conveyed by extracts of correspondence and quotations from papers cited by Alexander in 1963 in his Campus at Crawley.

...the Vice-Chancellor was deeply concerned lest the choice of an experimental zoologist with a brilliant research record might result in the University being saddled with a discontented occupant of the Chair.(pp. 421-422)

In a letter to Waring the Vice-Chancellor emphasised that teaching was 'the first essential; research next'; and

My whole point in writing to you is to tell you about the conditions so that if you feel you would not be likely to be contented under those somewhat primitive conditions in which a continual struggle for funds to do what you want with is inevitable, you should decide so and not accept. (p. 422)

Alexander expresses it as 'the University's decision to gamble on the importation of...a pituitary physiologist-cum-pharmacologist'.

In Western Australia Waring saw many of his ambitions and dreams realised. Most of this was achieved by a single-minded dedication to the pursuit at all costs of his curiosity about marsupials. This attitude is perhaps best illustrated by his reactions to suggestions that during the period of University expansion Zoology should have a new building – it was then, as now, housed in the first building constructed on the Crawley campus. But a new building was not one of his ambitions, and on every occasion that a move to a new building was suggested (for reasons ranging from the belief that biological science disciplines could be centralised to the notion that Zoology should be adjacent to kindred departments), he always fought the issue on the premise that a shift to another site would deprive Zoology of the yard space so necessary for the marsupial colonies upon which the research program depended.

On such occasions the rationality of any suggestion was overshadowed by Waring's personality in the role of a prima donna. These exhibitions probably reached their high point on an occasion when Waring's deepest suspicions that no-one understood the need for yard space were apparently justified by a suggestion that the biological sciences should occupy a multi-storied building and Zoology keep its animals on the roof!

Waring's other deep-seated but unexpressed objection to a new building was, however, based on his belief that he could not afford the years of research time which would be lost while a building was designed, built, occupied, and then found to be inadequate.

Waring began his research work on colour change with the dogfish and Xenopus, the South African clawed toad. When he came to Western Australia, one of his first actions was to establish an enclosure with concrete tanks and running water in which he could maintain a number of Xenopus. His affection for this experimental animal is perhaps well illustrated by the fact that even when his research interests had moved exclusively to marsupials and he was no longer actively associated with colour change studies, he still maintained Xenopus in the yards of the Zoology Department, despite the fact that the toads needed to be imported from South Africa, required quarantine clearance for importation and a licence to hold them in the State where it is declared as vermin, and his holding facilities and husbandry were subjected to continuous surveillance.

It was never Waring's intention that the Department of Zoology become specialised solely in marsupial studies. Accordingly he fostered the research interests of other staff members as well as maintaining a broadly-based undergraduate course in Zoology which aimed at introducing students to both the classical and comparative anatomical bases of morphology as well as physiology and endocrinology. It is noteworthy that it was only after his retirement that a course on marsupial biology was instituted in the department.

Waring's approach to undergraduate teaching was, to many students, quite the most devastating experience of their undergraduate career. For example, all his practical endocrinology and physiology classes commenced with a virtual examination of students on their ability to identify correctly - with detailed reasons - a number of histological preparations made by Waring himself of endocrine glands such as the pituitary and adrenal which had been the subject of his early research. Even in the very rare event that a student could correctly identify the histologically-distinct parts displayed in these preparations, Waring was not satisfied and immediately launched into a long inquisition to establish whether the student understood the embryological development of the structure being identified in the microscope slide. Undoubtedly this method ensured real understanding and formed an admirable basis for the comparative physiology and endocrinology which followed.

Of all his teaching Waring enjoyed instructing in surgery most of all. There was a flamboyance about his surgery and experimental preparations which, depending on whether one's sympathies lay with the animal preparations or the replicability of the scientific results, could be quite stunning. Waring believed that a short operation and quickly-made preparations were more likely to lead to valid and repeatable results, a circumstance which was vitally necessary as he eschewed statistics and ignored variability, as one would expect in a person trained exclusively in classical methods.

Waring was proud and boastful of his youthful boxing prowess. He obviously carried the attitude of the boxer into later life, and dealings with people took on the appearance of the boxing ring, with Waring adopting the posturing and sparring characteristics of the boxer, much to the consternation and dismay of the uninitiated.

The boxer's trick of feinting to deceive and mislead or unsettle his opponent while seeking advantage was highly developed in Waring. He would often use the ploy of posing as a physiologist and then display his detailed knowledge of comparative anatomy or somewhat specialised taxonomic fields, especially agricultural parasitology and entomology – relics from the time he taught these subjects in Scotland.

It is therefore surprising that despite the tensions inherent in the adversary situation engendered by Waring's personality he developed such fruitful and lasting associations with collaborators as is evidenced in his published papers, first with Landgrebe, then Moir, and finally with Stanley. The association with the late A. J. Fraser (then Director of the Department of Fisheries and Fauna) and K. S. Sheard of CSIRO Fisheries in establishing the Rottnest Biological Research Station was pivotal in Waring's ambition to study marsupials. The later association of A. J. Fraser and the Hon. Graham Mackinnon (at that time Minister for Fisheries and Fauna) in obtaining the lease of the land and establishing the Jandakot field station for marsupial research are outstanding examples of how he could promote an ideal and work with people to achieve it.

A similar fruitful association for marsupial studies was his friendship with, and support from, Ian Clunies Ross and the Executive of CSIRO, as well as Francis Ratcliffe, at that time head of CSIRO Wildlife, for field studies in marsupials.

Waring's contribution to marsupial studies and his fostering of studies on the Australian biota as a whole is perhaps best expressed in a quote from the citation on the occasion of his award of the Mueller Medal by ANZAAS in 1980:

...a research worker can stimulate advances in knowledge in the following ways:

  1. By asking questions and performing the research himself
  2. By establishing an ongoing research program.
  3. By training and guiding research students who in an appropriate research environment apply their skills and extend the frontiers of knowledge.
  4. By virtue of all the foregoing create an atmosphere of endeavour which attracts additional workers and support from fund-granting bodies.

Waring has done all these in respect to marsupial studies in Australia. Moreover, we believe that without his initiatives, knowledge of this characteristic Australian element would be very much poorer than it is.

When Waring arrived at the University of Western Australia to take up the Chair of Zoology in 1948, studies on marsupials were virtually restricted to comparative and anatomical studies. Waring's background was as a physiologist, and in the first years of his stay in Perth he continued to produce papers based on the skills and background with which he arrived in Western Australia.

However, by 1952 the first paper on adrenalectomy in the wallaby was published. By 1956, in his presidential address to Section D of ANZAAS, he was able to talk of fields of study in adrenal, reproductive and digestive physiology, temperature regulation and water metabolism, as well as ecological studies.

Subsequently Waring's interest in all these fields did not flag. His approach was based on two sorts of questions:

  1. Comparative: how does a marsupial compare with a eutherian in respect to certain physiological functions?
  2. Ecophysiological: how does a particular aspect of physiology relate to function and survival in a field situation?

In a sense Waring's contribution to Australian marsupial studies depended upon good fortune: marsupials were first regarded as pests by pastoralists and therefore had to be controlled; and more latterly as elements of the fauna to be conserved, and therefore to be studied in their own right. Both these aspects stimulated massive government support, and this happened at a time when there was a core of active workers trained by Waring or his department, capable of filling the research posts offered and actively exploiting the research environment provided.

The problem of the freemartin had always fascinated Waring, and life in the pouch posed problems which challenged his innate curiosity. These two interests led to his later immunological studies which were prompted first by the experimental possibilities offered by a readily-accessible embryo and latterly in wondering how the very immature pouched young defended itself against the many pathogens which would seem to find the warm moist pouch an ideal site for proliferation.

Despite the apparent dissimilarity of Waring's early studies on colour change and his later ones on marsupial reproduction and immunology, one can see that the research was united by a common methodology, namely that of simple surgical manipulation followed by replacement therapy.

Waring was well known for his boisterous sense of humour, his unwillingness to suffer fools, and his dedication to education coupled with a belief that teachers should have a personal involvement in research, an ideal he pursued throughout his academic life.

Waring took his role as a teacher very seriously. He saw teaching as more than mere instruction or imparting of information, and strove at all times to enthuse students and impart a love of zoology. In his first year lecturing Waring achieved these aims by a flamboyant presentation designed to shock students into realising that teaching at University was different from that experienced at school.

To Waring the graduation of students was never an end to his interest in them. His liberal approach to education never tried to fit students into a mould, and he saw each graduand rather as an omniscient biological Deity might look upon a new gene combination being released into a world where Natural Selection would provide a test of adequacy. Yet Waring realised that chance and selection would both be at work, and he was always active and persistent in promoting all graduates lest chance rather than true worth determine their success in the more worldly situation outside the University.

Though Waring displayed a rough abrasive exterior, one often detected that this facade covered a liberal and humane personality. For those who endured misfortune his compassion was both deep and profound.

Despite outward appearances he was sensitive to recognition and he found election to the Academy in 1954, the participation in the 1963 UNESCO Conference in South America on Arid Regions, the receipt of the Britannica Australia Award in 1970, the Honorary Doctorate of Science from the University of Western Australia in 1970, and the Mueller Medal in 1980, particularly gratifying. He was a member of the Council of the Academy 1957-59 and Vice-President 1958-59. He died on 9 August 1980.

In 1938 Waring married Doreen Dickinson (deceased 1976). He is survived by a son (George) and a daughter (Linda) by his first marriage, and his second wife (Muriel Naomi Crapp).

At the memorial service in St. George's College Chapel the oration was given by his former professorial colleague Mervyn Austin.

About this memoir

This memoir was originally published in Historical Records of Australian Science, vol.5, no.2, 1981. It was written by Albert Russell Main, CBE, PhD, FAA is Professor of Zoology at the University of Western Australia.


I am thankful to the following who read and commented on the manuscript: S. D. Bradshaw, B. D. Curtis, E. P. Hodgkin, R. J. Moir, N. F. Stanley and H. M. Vose.

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