Noel Stanley Bayliss 1906-1996

Written by A.R.H. Cole.

Family background

Noel Bayliss was born in Brisbane on 19 December 1906, the only child of Harry (Henry) Bayliss and his wife Nelly (nee Stothers), and had a somewhat unusual childhood.

Nelly's family had emigrated from Ireland in 1859, and at the time of her birth (1873) lived in Melbourne. She was educated at Presbyterian Ladies' College and after a brilliant school career (judging by the number of her prizes which are still in the possession of Noel's family) she entered the University of Melbourne with a Government Exhibition in 1892. After completing her BA, majoring in English, French and German, she became a school teacher, firstly at Methodist Ladies' College in Launceston, and later in Western Australia where she taught at Beaconsfield primary school (1900-01) near Perth, and at Boulder primary school (1902-3) on the Kalgoorlie goldfields. She was at Bunbury primary school in the south-west in 1904 and at Perth Girls' School in 1905. During those years she met Harry Bayliss, a journalist on the staff of Perth's  Morning Herald, and they were married in December 1905.

Harry's family has been traced back to Joseph Baylis who came from England with the Second Fleet (1790) at the age of 20 as a private in the 102nd regiment of foot (New South Wales Corps). Two of Joseph's sons, John and William, crossed the Blue Mountains in the early 1820s and received grants of land in the Bathurst area. Noel's father, Harry, was descended from John, who added the second 's' to the family name. One of John's nine children, Henry Alfred, married Louisa Kable, also of Bathurst, and Harry was the oldest of their six children. The family still has farming interests in the Bathurst area.

Louisa was the grand-daughter of Henry Kable, one of the more remarkable convicts to be transported to New South Wales. A native of the county of Norfolk, England, he and several companions were sentenced to death for burglary but, because of his youth (he was nineteen), his sentence was commuted to transportation. He arrived in Sydney in 1788 with the First Fleet. Kable family tradition has it that Henry was in the boat's crew that rowed Governor Phillip ashore, and that he jumped out and carried Phillip to dry land on his back, thus becoming the first to set foot in the new colony. Henry and his girlfriend Susannah Holmes (transported for theft) with several other couples, were married in the first marriage ceremony to be held in the colony. He was given an unconditional pardon in 1796, went into business, and became one of the richest men in the colony. With two other pardoned convicts, Lord and Underwood, he founded a business with wide commercial interests, including shipping. Their ships traded as far afield as China and Tahiti. In Sydney's Regent Hotel there is now a Kable room commemorating Henry Kable and his descendants.

Early childhood

The marriage between Noel's parents was short-lived, apparently due to an alcohol problem on Harry's part. During 1906 they had moved to Brisbane, where Noel was born, but by February 1908 Nelly was once more back in Western Australia, teaching in Boulder, taking Noel with her and accompanied by her older sister who went along to help look after the infant. Noel was brought up with the fiction that his father was dead, and did not discover that Harry was still alive until after Nelly had died, when he was 23. According to obituaries that appeared in the Bathurst papers after Harry died in 1948, he was regarded by his colleagues as an outstanding journalist, parliamentary reporter and music critic. One of his colleagues wrote:

Comparatively late in life he married an erudite lady whose background was so foreign to Bayliss's accepted bohemianism of the times that the inevitable happened, but not before a child was born.

After two years at Boulder and a brief period at the Fremantle Girls' School, Nelly returned to Victoria to join the Victorian Education Department. She was posted to a country school, leaving Noel in the care of three maiden aunts in Melbourne. He saw little of his mother (except during school vacations) until she obtained her first permanent metropolitan appointment when he was ten years old.

Noel had no memory of his early life in Western Australia and, as far as is known, he never commented as to whether that early connection influenced him in his much later decision to apply for the Chair of Chemistry at the University of Western Australia. Indeed, he never mentioned any of the above historical facts to his friends in Perth, except to say that his mother had taught for a brief period on the goldfields. The present record of those early days has been obtained from autobiographical notes he deposited with the Australian Academy of Science [1].

His earliest recorded memory involved what we could describe as his first scientific observation:

...being held up in someone's arms to see a brilliant light, in the sky. I now believe that this was Halley's comet, which was brilliantly visible in Melbourne's southern skies in the winter of 1910. This was not long after my mother (and I) returned to Victoria from the West, when I was about three and a half.


School days

Noel's schooling began at the Canterbury State School, which he attended from 1912 to 1916. In 1916, Nelly was given a metropolitan appointment to Essendon High School, and in 1917 she was transferred to Coburg. It was decided that Noel should go with her each day to Coburg High School, a rather long journey by public transport from East Camberwell where they lived. During the years 1917-1920 he began to develop a love for the physical sciences, due in some measure to the influence of the science master, 'Terry' O'Brien.

When he was thirteen his mother entered him for the competitive examination for a cadetship at the Royal Australian Naval College, explaining that her health had begun to deteriorate and she was uncertain how long she would be able to care for him financially. If he were to win a cadetship, his living expenses and education would be looked after by the Navy. He passed the written examination but disaster struck on the way to the medical examination and interview. Sitting next to an open window in the coal-burning steam train, he collected a large smut in one eye, and the copious watering of the eye caused him to fail the eyesight test!

In 1921 Nelly was transferred to Melbourne High School, and Noel went there with her for the years 1921-23. By this time he had decided to become a chemist, although by far the greatest influence on him came from the physics master, T.O. ('Toggy') Graham and, most significantly, from the honours mathematics master, A.M. ('Nezzy') Nesbitt. Nesbitt was an elderly bachelor, an Oxford graduate, who often regaled the students with tales and pictures of Oxford, emphasizing life there and the beauties of the buildings and surrounding countryside. 'I even began to have dreams of what a wonderful thing it would be to attend a university like that, knowing them to be no more than empty dreams', Noel later recalled.

At Melbourne High School, Noel was a member of the school tennis team and took up rowing. He records that he visited Adelaide with the school crew to compete against Adelaide High School, an event which MHS won comfortably. Also during his time at MHS he began what was to become a life-long love of classical music. With his mother he attended performances of the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra and, more often, the inexpensive concerts in the Melba Hall given by the University Conservatorium of Music. He learnt to play the piano but says that the demands of school work, his dislike of practice and 'small hands and stubby fingers' made it unlikely that he would be a great performer (although the last point is not borne out by the photograph of Judy Cassab's portrait accompanying this memoir).

University and college examinations

At the 1922 Leaving Examination, Noel was awarded a Senior Scholarship that would cover his university fees, books and so on. He also sat for the residential college examination and won a non-resident scholarship at Ormond College that would entitle him to attend college tutorials. He stayed on at Melbourne High School for a further year of Leaving Honours, and at the end of 1923 won the Exhibition in Chemistry and a residential scholarship to Queen's College. In that year he was also dux of MHS.

Melbourne University

Noel entered the University of Melbourne in 1924 as a resident student of Queen's College, enrolling for a science course majoring in chemistry and metallurgy. Such a course appeared to offer the greatest chance of immediate employment on completion of the degree, and so relieve his mother of the financial responsibility of supporting him. At the end of his first year he obtained the exhibitions in chemistry, physics and mathematics [2].

In the middle of second year, he had a change of heart with respect to metallurgy and switched to a joint major in chemistry and physics, which involved him studying the whole year's course in Mathematics II during the third term. At the end of the year he took out the exhibitions in chemistry and physics, and passed in mathematics. He always looked upon this change of course in the middle of the second year as a very significant turning point in his career. (His progress in mathematics is interesting since, in order to undertake his future research in the quantum mechanics field, he must have studied mathematics beyond the pass level at second year; but no information is available on any other formal courses he took. It is most probable that he taught himself further mathematics in either Oxford or Berkeley. His engineer sons both confirm that he was of enormous help in solving their undergraduate applied mathematics problems).

During his undergraduate years at Melbourne, Noel continued with rowing and was a member of the University Eight. At the end of 1920, he won the exhibition in Physics III and was runner-up in Chemistry III. Best of all, he was chosen as Victorian Rhodes Scholar against a strong field of applicants, so the dreams of Oxford engendered by 'Nezzy' Nesbitt at Melbourne High School began to be realised.

In the six months or so before he departed for Oxford, Noel began his first research project – a study of the vapour pressure of concentrated magnesium acetate solutions in water under Professor A.C.D. Rivett. These solutions are very viscous, of the consistency of treacle, and it was thought that physical properties such as vapour pressure might provide some clue about their constitution. Rivett was busy at that time with plans for the establishment of the new national research agency, the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), and the day-to-day supervision of the research project was handled by E.J. Hartung who had inspired many of the students by his brilliant first-year lectures and, in second year, by the meticulous technique he taught in the laboratory class. Of all the teaching staff at the University of Melbourne, Hartung was the one to whom Noel felt he owed the most. In the short time available, Noel succeeded only in assembling the necessary apparatus and getting it to work, and the vapour pressure measurements were completed by E.A. Goode, another fourth-year student.

Also during this period, Queen's College made him a resident tutor in Chemistry and the University employed him as a Demonstrator, each post carrying with it a small stipend. So, for the first time, he felt he was able to stand on his own feet financially and to relieve his mother of his support.

By the time Noel departed from Melbourne for Oxford on the  Esperance Bay  in August 1927, his mother's health had further deteriorated and she had been forced to retire permanently from teaching, with an invalid pension. He (and probably she) wondered whether they would see one another again.


Lincoln College

On the advice of Rivett, Noel chose Lincoln College at Oxford because there he would be under the guidance of N.V. Sidgwick who had been Rivett's tutor when he was Victorian Rhodes Scholar about twenty years earlier. Rivett also suggested that he might enrol for a DPhil, but Sidgwick's advice was to take the undergraduate BA course in chemistry. Sidgwick's experience was that Melbourne graduates of the day were well prepared in inorganic chemistry, but somewhat deficient in physical and organic chemistry. Noel followed Sidgwick's advice and in the end was very glad he had done so. The Oxford course was much broader in scope than were Australian degree courses, and furthermore, he was able to enter much more fully into the Oxford life as an undergraduate with 'senior standing' (granted because of his Melbourne degree) than would have been the case if he had been working for a research degree. The senior standing enabled him to complete his honours BA in three years instead of the normal four.

Thus, he led the life of a normal Oxford chemistry undergraduate: extensive reading lists, weekly essay and tutorial, laboratory sessions from 11-1 and 5-7 each day, lectures as recommended by his tutor. 'Schools' (examinations) came at the end of his second year, and his third year was spent in 'Part II' of the degree with a research project and a 'viva' at the end:

I rowed for the College and was Captain of Boats in my third year...I had Sunday lunches on salmon mayonnaise at the Trout Inn; I punted on the Cherwell during summer term; I joined the stampede to the back of the Balliol Hall to listen to the Sunday evening concerts of the Balliol Musical Society; I was elected to the Goblin Club – all in all a standard undergraduate existence.
Germany and Austria

Noel spent most of the summer of 1928 in Germany, partly because it was cheaper than staying in England, and partly to improve his knowledge of German. Based in Munich, he enjoyed the countryside and especially the music. He sat in on one of the courses at Munich University to hear Fischer lecture on the porphyrins, and with Sidgwick's introduction was able to meet Prandtl, famous for his work on the rare earths. After two months there he suddenly realised that he was understanding the conversation around him without mentally translating into English.

He returned to the Continent in the summer of 1929, visiting Berlin, Leipzig, Dresden and Prague before settling for a longer period in Salzburg. Music and tramping in the mountains were again his greatest delights.

Noel loved Germany at that time for its scenic beauty, its lifestyle, its music and its contribution to science. But, after the Nazi period and the Second World War, he never forgave the German people for the desolation they caused, and refused to visit the country ever again.


Oxford chemistry students take their final written examinations at the end of third year (second year for those with senior standing), to be followed by a year doing the research project of Part II before classes of Honours are awarded. Noel took those examinations in May 1929 and, no doubt with the benefit of both Melbourne and Oxford courses behind him, felt he had done pretty well, The breadth of knowledge engendered by such a prolonged and broad undergraduate study obviously prepared him well for some of his future challenges, especially in his early days at the University of Western Australia.

Research for Part II

Sidgwick decided that for his Part II research project Noel should investigate the parachor of what is now known as the hydrogen bond, called then 'co-ordinated hydrogen'. The parachor, which is practically forgotten these days, is essentially a molecular volume with the fourth root of the surface tension as a correcting factor. It was devised by S. Sugden of the University of London and atomic parachors, which were approximately additive, had been derived from compounds of known structure. Sidgwick hoped that the determination of such a structural factor for the hydrogen bond would enable one to detect or confirm its presence in compounds such as orthonitro-phenol and salicylaldehyde.

In 1929, the use of infrared spectra for structure determination had hardly begun. Debye had just pioneered the use of dipole moments, and in fact, during his 1929 tour of Europe, at Sidgwick's suggestion, Noel had called on Debye in Berlin to ask whether dipole moment measurements were likely to be useful in the study of the hydrogen bond. Debye had been courteous and helpful in discussion, but thought such measurements would be of little use in his particular problem.

Thus, during the latter part of 1929 and early 1930 Noel prepared suitable compounds in a state of very high purity and measured their densities and surface tensions, finally arriving at a value for the atomic parachor of co-ordinated hydrogen. However, interest in the parachor was already waning in the scientific world, partly because of uncertainty about the accuracy of the atomic parameters, but mainly because of the emergence of more fundamental methods of structure determination. Still, the problem had provided useful training, especially in the rigorous purification of all the materials and, in the case of the surface tension measurements, absolute cleanliness. The work was published, and after his viva he was awarded First Class Honours.

Not surprisingly, during his final year in Oxford Noel's thoughts turned to the problem of what he should do after his scholarship ended in mid-1930. 'Jock' Behan, Australia's first Rhodes Scholar, and at that time Warden of Trinity College in the University of Melbourne, offered him the position of Resident Tutor at Trinity. However, after consideration, he decided not to accept the offer, partly because of uncertainty about what his relationship to the University Chemistry Department would be and whether he would have access to research facilities. Instead, he applied for and was awarded a Commonwealth Fund Fellowship for two years' postgraduate study in the United States.

When he broke the news of his Commonwealth Fund application to his mother, she was somewhat upset, suggesting that it was time that he considered a permanent job rather than continuing to live on scholarships. The Fund, however, had generous and flexible travel arrangements, and with their agreement he decided he would travel to the United States via Melbourne so that he and his mother could be together again for a brief period. In the event it was not to be. His mother's health deteriorated further and she died just before he completed his third year at Oxford. So he abandoned the plan to travel via Melbourne, and towards the end of July 1930 went directly to the US:

My mother was a remarkable woman with great strength of character, and courage in the way she battled increasingly bad health for so many years. She had a great love for, and knowledge of, English literature. She subscribed to no organised religion; but was an agnostic with an inner religious sense of her own. She was a pacifist, and if she were alive today I think she would be a non-violent feminist.

As far as the mails would permit, we corresponded regularly once a week during my stay abroad. Her letters were full of wisdom, written in her beautiful copperplate handwriting. I wish I had kept them all; but as it is I have only a few written just before her death. Even the letter that must have been written only a few days before she died is in handwriting as firm and regular as it ever was.

University of California, Berkeley

On accepting the award of the Commonwealth Fund Fellowship, Noel had to nominate six American universities in order of preference. His own preference was for the University of California since he had been greatly impressed by Lewis & Randall's  Thermodynamics  and felt he would like to work in a school headed by G.N. Lewis. However, Sidgwick prevailed upon him to nominate Princeton first, because chemistry there was in the charge of H.S. Taylor, a distinguished British physical chemist who was a world authority on reaction kinetics. He placed Berkeley second, and the Fund in New York assigned him there – a decision with which he was very pleased and for which in later years he was extremely grateful.

He arrived in Berkeley towards the end of August 1930 and, after discussions with various members of staff, decided to undertake a study of the absorption spectrum of chlorine over a wide temperature range under the supervision of Dr George Gibson. The latter was a first class theoretician but:

not much help on the experimental side; this lack was made up by the help I received from research workers both in chemistry and physics. One of the advantages, I found, of working in a big research laboratory was the help and knowhow that we were all able to give each other.

This project in spectroscopy and theoretical chemistry was to form the basis of much of Noel's future career. His period at Berkeley was a time of great and rapid change in physical science. Just as he had found that Oxford was a quantum leap ahead of Melbourne, so now he found that Berkeley, at least in physical chemistry, was a quantum jump ahead of Oxford. Everyone was talking in a new language – the language of spectroscopy and energy states, of quantum numbers and eigenfunctions. It was only a few years since the foundations of quantum mechanics had been laid down by Schrödinger and Heisenberg – the theory of atomic spectra and of diatomic molecules was well advanced, studies of polyatomic molecules and of Raman spectra were still in their infancy. Those exciting new developments were being actively studied and taught in the departments of chemistry and physics, and Noel was able to take advantage of an excellent set of postgraduate lectures given by Birge and others on atomic and molecular spectra.

In October 1930 a little-known professor named Linus Pauling, of the California institute of Technology, visited the chemistry department at Berkeley and lectured with clarity and confidence on how chemical bonds could be interpreted in terms of overlap between bond eigenfunctions. Those lectures were probably the first preview of a series of famous papers in the  J. Amer. Chem. Soc.  by Pauling, which led to his even more famous book on  The Nature of the Chemical Bond  [3].

Research proceeded slowly. Equipment was made and assembled and the laborious techniques of photographic photometry had to be learned, and these tasks occupied most of the first academic year at Berkeley. After a summer (1831) spent in touring and sightseeing in the western third of the United States and Canada with two other Commonwealth Fund Fellows, Noel settled down in his second year to the collection of a large amount of experimental data on the spectrum of chlorine over a wide temperature range, and very significant results began to emerge. As the temperature increased, the bell-shaped absorption curve with its maximum near 330nm became flatter and wider; the maximum was depressed and the 'wings' were intensified. They were seeing increased contributions to the absorption from higher vibrational levels of the chlorine molecule at the higher temperatures. Full resolution of the absorption from each vibrational level was not possible but, after advice from W.F. Giauque [4], Noel was able to interpret his observations as showing that the absorption from the lowest vibrational level was bell-shaped but narrower than his experimental curve, and that from the first excited vibrational level had two maxima that contributed to the broadening at higher temperatures. There was even an indication that the absorption from the second excited vibrational level had three maxima:

These results caused a minor flurry in the Chemistry and Physics Departments. Quantum mechanics was only a few years old, and these results were possibly the first to provide an experimental proof, or demonstration, that the eigenfunctions predicted by theory for the lower vibrational levels did have one, two and three maxima respectively.

On the basis of these results, Gibson and the Chemistry Department strongly supported an application to the Commonwealth Fund for an extension of Noel's fellowship for a third year. Summer travel (1932) included a visit to Washington DC, a week's summer course on molecular spectra at Johns Hopkins University, and presenting a paper on the chlorine results at the American Physical Society conference at Yale University. The paper was well received but, with many others, was lost in the buzz of excitement over the presentation by Urey on the recently-announced discovery of the isotope of hydrogen, later named deuterium. This was one of the four major discoveries that led to 1932 being called  l'annee merveilleuse  – others were the neutron by Chadwick at Cambridge, the positron by Anderson of CalTech and artificial radioactivity by Joliot-Curie in Paris.

Return to Berkeley was marked by excitement over heavy water (deuterium oxide), Lewis and his PhD student Ron Macdonald being the first to measure accurately the properties of this new substance.

The chlorine work advanced rapidly to a new phase. Oscar Rice, a former research student of Gibson and now on the staff at Harvard, had returned to Berkeley for the summer. He was an accomplished mathematician and undertook the quantum mechanical theory of the absorption spectrum. Rice set up the necessary equations and returned to Harvard, leaving Noel to carry out the laborious computations. This was ages before the development of computers and, even with the aid of the latest electric calculating machines, the calculations took several months. Noel and Gibson worked together in the laboratory, calculating in parallel for about four hours each day, each with his own machine. If their results were in agreement at the end of each half hour they continued; otherwise they began again at the previous half-hour stage [5]. Satisfactory agreement between theory and experimental results was achieved and the whole work was published in the  Physical Review. This was the first completely quantitative quantum mechanical analysis and interpretation of a continuous electronic molecular spectrum.

Late in 1932 Hartung wrote from Melbourne to say that a Senior Lectureship would be available at the beginning of the 1933 academic year and suggested that Noel should apply. He did so and was soon notified that he had been appointed. This was a great relief since it was the period of the Great Depression, and meant that his academic and financial future were assured. He completed his PhD thesis, passed his oral examination early in 1933 and decided to get married before leaving for Australia.

He had been friendly for some months with Nellie Banks, a chemistry student at Berkeley, and when news of his Melbourne appointment arrived they decided to marry. Nellie had lost her father; her mother, of Spanish-Chilean descent, and a number of other relatives lived in San Francisco, but she had been living and supporting herself independently in Berkeley for some years. She did not want a family wedding, so they did what a number of their friends had done – they got married in Reno (eloped?). A week later they joined the  Aorangi  en route for Australia via Honolulu, Suva and Auckland, arriving in early March, Two notable events occurred during the voyage – the United States repealed Prohibition and went off the Gold Standard. On arrival at Sydney,

A shortish elderly man came on board as we were preparing to disembark, and introduced himself to me as 'a very old friend'. I knew at once that it was my father, who was living at Bathurst at the time. I confess that I felt no emotion at the meeting. We spent the rest of the day with him, and then boarded the overnight express for Melbourne.

Melbourne 1933-37

Hartung greeted Noel in the Melbourne Department with two surprising bits of news. The first was that, because of the Depression, the salary he had been promised had been cut by twenty-five percent. The second was that he had been allocated the first-year medical class of about two hundred students, much larger than any group to whom he had hitherto lectured; he did not know the syllabus, and his first lecture was the following morning. This class had the reputation of being quite unruly, but he had no particular problems in lecturing to them. Some years later, he said, he heard that there had been a rumour among the students that he had been a boxing 'blue' (middleweight champion) during his Melbourne student days and this might have helped with discipline. The rumour was completely untrue, as he readily admitted when asked, but the present writer distinctly remembers hearing the same rumour at the University of Western Australia nearly ten years later. In the UWA case the rumour had it that his boxing 'blue' had been achieved at Oxford. No evidence has ever surfaced as to how the rumours originated.

Hartung handled the main first-year course for science students, and was extremely helpful in assisting Noel to develop his lecture materials and lecture demonstrations, many of which Hartung had personally designed for screen projection. However, the first year back was somewhat of a let-down after Oxford and Berkeley. There was still no proper course in physical chemistry, and the language and significance of quantum mechanics and spectroscopy were unheard of; physical equipment was virtually non-existent. In 1934, in addition to his first-year medical course, he was allocated the second-year physical chemistry lecture course, but with no laboratory backup. The laboratory work was still predominantly the inorganic qualitative and quantitative analysis that he knew well from six years earlier. In the first-year courses, because of limited facilities, it was necessary to roughly synchronize the laboratory work in the science and medical streams. He was able to introduce some more modern laboratory work based on the course conducted by Hildebrand at Berkeley (mostly gleaned from Nellie's undergraduate notes and papers), but it was not until he went to Perth that he was able to develop a completely new laboratory programme based on Bray and Latimer's California laboratory manual.

Family matters

Now that he knew that his father was alive, he and Nellie visited Bathurst in early 1934 to see Harry and to meet his other Bayliss relatives. These included his grandfather, Henry Alfred, who regaled him with memories of  his  grandfather, and of the monthlong journey over the mountains into Sydney to get supplies for the next six months. Noel and Nellie's first son, Anthony, was born in Melbourne on 4 May 1936.


By 1934, having coped with his teaching programme and generally settled back into Melbourne, Bayliss was ready to establish some research. The Department had only two good pieces of potential research equipment – a Wolff potentiometer and a Hilger E3 quartz spectrograph similar to the one he had used in Berkeley. It was not a difficult decision to follow up the Berkeley work on chlorine with a similar investigation of the continuous absorption of bromine. Ancillary equipment such as a glass vacuum line mostly had to be made by hand. The Department had never used Pyrex; Hartung was a magnificent glassblower in soda glass and both he and Rivett were of the opinion that 'Pyrex made glass-blowing too easy'. A backing pump was available, but Noel had to make a mercury diffusion pump from a design given to him by Leslie Martin [6] of the Physics Department. The method of photographic photometry was to be used as in Berkeley, but this involved constructing a microdensitometer by using a microscope mechanical stage, a slit made from two safety razor blades, a barrier-layer photocell and a galvanometer.

Two MSc research students were recruited at this stage, Peter Acton [7] and Geoff Aickin [8].

The study of the spectrum of bromine over a wide temperature range by Acton, Aickin and Bayliss was successful, and the experimental results were satisfactorily interpreted in quantum mechanical terms. This work on gaseous halogens was then extended to an investigation of the effect of different solvents on the absorption spectra, in the hope of identifying the factors that caused solution spectra to differ from those in the gas phase. The group was joined at this stage by Lloyd Rees, another MSc student, and thus began a lifelong friendship and scientific collaboration between Bayliss and Rees. It was Rees who first drew Bayliss's attention to the importance of the rigidity of the 'cage' of solvent molecules around the solute in relation to the time scale of an electronic transition in the solute molecule. A number of very significant papers resulted from this period (1934-37). Many years later, Rees wrote of the bromine work:

Bayliss developed a modified quantum mechanical theory of these spectra, formulated quantitatively an empirical rule for relating the vibrational eigenfunction with the extinction coefficient at any frequency and interpreted the bromine spectrum quantitatively in molecular quantum mechanical terms. These papers stand side by side with the Berkeley papers on chlorine as landmarks in the field and are still quoted frequently, To make it possible to perform the forbidding number of computations associated with this work Bayliss had asked for a calculating machine. This was acquired only after a protracted and bitter battle; the Registrar of the day could not see why scientists should not do all their arithmetic manually like everyone else!' [9]

During these early years after Bayliss's return to Melbourne, other researchers in the Department were Len Weickhardt [10] who assisted Hartung in the production of a motion film of the Brownian movement. (A copy of that film was used for many years in teaching at the University of Western Australia). Also present was Ian Wark [11] who was carrying out research on mineral flotation for a group of mining companies. Wark was often assisted in the laboratory by his unpaid laboratory assistant and wife, Elsie.

By 1937 Bayliss, at the age of 30, was ambitious enough to apply for chairs of chemistry, and was successful in his application to the University of Western Australia, where N.T.M. Wilsmore was retiring. He took up the appointment in February 1938:

My mother [he later wrote] had always loved Perth, in spite of the fact that it was the city where her unfortunate marriage took place. On one occasion, I think it must have been in 1927 when I wrote to her after our ship had passed through Fremantle, saying that I had been shown the new site to which the university would shortly be moving, she wrote in reply wondering if I might ever become in Perth 'a young professor in a young university.' It seemed that in 1938 her prophecy was about to become true.

Bayliss has recorded the fact that not long after he received the official letter confirming his appointment to UWA, he received a letter from Wilsmore, whom he had met only once, briefly, in Melbourne on one of Wilsmore's rare visits to eastern Australia. Wilsmore's letter was not one of congratulation, but of consolation:

In his inimical style, he commiserated with me for being appointed to a position which had such a hopeless future in such a mess of a new building [12].


Bayliss arrived at the University of Western Australia about two weeks before the beginning of the 1938 academic year and found, somewhat to his surprise, that the new Chemistry building was quite pleasing. It was otherwise, however, as regards physical equipment – no pH meter or potentiometer, no calorimeter, no refractometer; no workshop except for a room in the basement containing a vice, a hammer and a saw. A further shock awaited him when he entered his office. Wilsmore had left no files, no course details, no departmental records of any kind except a book containing all previous examination results going back to 1913. Wilsmore told him later that he thought it best if Bayliss began with a clean sheet.

The Department was small – 79 students in first year (science + agriculture + engineering + medicine), 20 in second year, 14 in third year, two candidates for Honours and one for MSc. The staff numbered three – Bayliss, George Tattersall (organic) and George Elliott (physical/inorganic). There was one full-time technician (untrained in chemistry) assisted by two part-time student cadets.

The University climate was not encouraging for research, since the authorities considered the institution to be a 'Teaching university'. Despite the fact that Wilsmore had carried out significant research in England before he came to Perth and again during the First World War, he had actively discouraged students in Perth from enrolling for research degrees on the grounds that facilities in the Chemistry Department were so poor. Therefore, between 1913 and 1937 very few research projects had been carried out. Bayliss realised that analytical problems associated with the currently popular field of trace element deficiencies would be cheap, could be organised quickly, and would provide useful projects for the honours students. Thus, Malcolm Smith [13] studied the effect of zinc on the growth of  Pinus radiata  which was of interest to the State Forestry Department, and Ralph Pickering worked on a colorimetric method of estimating cobalt, which had recently been shown by Eric Underwood [14] to be important in the nutrition of cattle and deficient in the poor soil of south-west Western Australia. The Vice-Chancellor produced a grant of £500 from the University's CSIR grant for the purchase of a Hilger E3 medium quartz spectrograph, so that Bayliss could further his own research. However, by the time it became available the Second World War was imminent, and it was not, in fact, used for its intended purpose until after the war.

The Bayliss's second son, John, was born on 31 August 1938.

Tattersall became ill towards the end of 1938, necessitating a long period in hospital running over first term of 1939. This raised the serious problem of how to cope with the organic chemistry courses, and this was temporarily solved by the recruitment of Lloyd Rees who was filling in time before leaving in August 1939 to take up a Beit Fellowship in England. Who would have thought that the future Chief of Chemical Physics in CSIRO would begin his professional career teaching organic chemistry [15]!

Needless to say, Rees coped very well, and found his future wife, Marion, in Perth during this appointment.

When war appeared imminent in the middle of 1939, the Western Australian state government decided to organise an Air Raid Precaution campaign (later renamed Civil Defence). Because of a hangover from the First World War they placed an emphasis on anti-gas measures, and looked for someone with a knowledge of chemistry to take a leading role. Bayliss was appointed to the honorary position of Chief Warden for Civil Defence, a post he occupied until 1943. By then, it had become apparent that gas attacks were not going to play a part in the war and the emphasis was on high explosives and fire. At this stage he was heavily involved in the alunite project (see below) and he relinquished the civil defence job.


In 1940 it became obvious that many strategic materials would be unobtainable from overseas because of the war. Two of these were aluminium and potash fertiliser. Bayliss was approached by H. Bowley, the director of the Western Australian Government Chemical Laboratory, and by two brothers Martin, entrepreneurs, concerning the possible exploitation of a deposit of alunite at Lake Campion, a dry lake about thirty kilometres north of Merredin, a town about three hundred kilometres east of Perth on the railway to Kalgoorlie. Alunite is essentially a basic aluminium potassium sulfate, and in Italy has been used as a source of potash alum for centuries. It is insoluble in water, hut when roasted at about 600ºC it loses sulfur trioxide and is converted ideally to alumina and potassium sulfate. The latter can be leached out with water to provide potash fertiliser and the residue of alumina can be treated as a source of aluminium. The full story of the alunite project has been published, and here we need only note that this major investigation showed very clearly the full capability of Noel Bayliss in the widest possible areas of chemistry. We must remember that here was a rather young man who had recently come to what was almost certainly the most isolated university in the world, with a background in spectroscopy and theoretical chemistry and with few, if any, facilities available to him. Undaunted, he welded together a research team to carry out a large-scale investigation of the chemistry of alunite. This was a very practical problem that combined thermodynamic work, phase rule studies, thermal decompositions and electron microscopy with technical aspects of pilot plant design and operation – all very remote from spectroscopy and theoretical chemistry. However, two undergraduate courses in chemistry (Melbourne and Oxford) stood him in good stead for such an undertaking. Collaboration extended from the University to state government instrumentalities and to CSIR (as it was then). Ian Wark, who by that time was Chief of the CSIR Division of Industrial Chemistry, was very helpful in arranging for a few officers of his Division to join the team in Perth. The commercial plant producing potash fertiliser was established at Lake Campion in 1943 and ran until 1949, by which time it became cheaper to import the fertiliser. The alumina part of the project, based on the use of hydrochloric acid to precipitate aluminium chloride hexahydrate that could be roasted to yield alumina and HCl for re-cycling, was abandoned at the end of the war. It is slightly ironic to know now that while that work was going on, one of the largest deposits of bauxite in the world was lying undeveloped in the Darling Range quite near to Perth. This now forms the basis of the Western Australian alumina industry (using the Bayer Process) established since the 1960s by Western Mining Corporation and Alcoa.

The alunite investigation was remarkable not only because it led to the establishment of a viable potash fertiliser industry but also because it provided over seven or eight years the introduction to research of about sixteen research students and research officers. Among that group were eleven who subsequently became:

  • Director of Research, Electrolytic Zinc Co. (Ralph Pickering)
  • Chief, Mineral Division, WA Government Chemical Laboratories (George Payne)
  • Officer-in-Charge, CSIRO Division of Mineralogy (Wilf Ewers)
  • Chief Chemist & Deputy Director, AAEC Research Establishment (Grant Miles)
  • Director, Australian Lead and Zinc Development Association (Neil Hanley)
  • Professor and Head of Clinical Biochemistry, University of WA (David Curnow)
  • Director of the Corporate Research Department, Cabot Corp, Boston (Frank Feakes)
  • Chief Chemical Engineer, Australian Paper Manufacturers (Noel Norman)
  • Professor and Head of Chemistry, University of WA (Andy Cole)
  • Chief of the CSIRO Division of Mineral Chemistry (David Koch)
  • Head of the Petrochemical Division, Shell International, The Hague (Ron Lee).

Others became a chemical consultant (John Pearse) and a medical specialist (Frank Johnson).

Such a scoreboard amply illustrates the fact that Bayliss could inspire research students to great achievements. It also shows that, even in a small, isolated university with relatively poor facilities, significant research results can be obtained if the participants are given the right kind of leadership. So much for the pessimism of his predecessor in this respect.

At the same time, it should be pointed out that the entire lecturing and laboratory teaching programme of the Chemistry Department was carried out by Bayliss, Tattersall and Elliott, obviously with teaching loads far greater than those tolerated today. Because of his ill-health, Tattersall did not teach after 1941 (he died in 1943), and was not replaced until Doug White came from Sydney in mid-1943. Looking back to my own first-year studies in 1942, it is amazing to recall that Bayliss and Elliott taught and examined all courses in physical and organic chemistry from first to third year (there were no formal lecture courses in inorganic chemistry), conducted all laboratory classes and supervised the research projects of the honours students, while Bayliss administered the Department, acted as Chief Civil Defence Warden and ran the alunite project.

Although obviously overburdened, Bayliss was able slowly to introduce improvements in the undergraduate teaching programme. As mentioned above, he brought to the University an advanced outlook on the teaching of chemistry in which he was greatly influenced by Hildebrand, Latimer and G.N. Lewis in California. His lecturing technique was always superb, and it was one of his most important tenets of university life that the Head of Department should teach the main science first-year class. In his first-year lectures he introduced many topics two decades before they appeared in popular textbooks. I know from personal experience that he independently invented, but did not publish, the 'aufbau' form of the Periodic Table at least fifteen years before its publication in 1957 by Longuet-Higgins [16].

He used oxidation-reduction half-equations in elementary lectures for many years while others in much bigger universities were still writing equations involving 'oxygen available for oxidation'. How they ever explained the oxidising properties of chlorine remains a mystery to us from Western Australia! The main criticism among students was always that he made all topics appear deceptively simple. In many ways, it is a great pity that he did not write an undergraduate textbook on chemistry. He did, however, write many reviews and educational articles for the general reader on a wide variety of chemical topics.

The post-war years

The cessation of hostilities in 1945 brought new responsibilities and opportunities. The University expanded rapidly in the period 1946-48 due to the influx of ex-service men and women under the Commonwealth Reconstruction Training Scheme which facilitated the appointment of extra staff members and expansion of facilities such as the departmental workshop. In addition to Doug White (organic), Noel Riggs (organic), Robin Stokes (physical) and Joe Miller (physical organic) were appointed, and apart from sharing the rapidly increasing teaching load each established a new research programme.

Bayliss took his turn as Chairman of the Professional Board in 1945-46 and in early 1948 spent a period as Acting Vice-Chancellor while the Vice-Chancellor (Professor George Currie) was overseas.


At this stage Bayliss had to consider the resumption of his own research programme. On the basis of the alunite project, he very seriously thought of taking up the general field of mineral chemistry, bearing in mind the wealth of mineral resources in Western Australia. However, he came to the conclusion that it would take too long to catch up with existing knowledge and decided to stick with spectroscopy and theoretical chemistry.

'Free-electron Theory'

While reading a review paper by Mulliken and Rieke [17] that discussed the intensities of absorption spectra of long-chain conjugated organic compounds, a new idea formed in his mind. This was to consider that the spectrum due to the excitation of the p-electrons could be related to the quantum mechanical problem of the 'electron in a one-dimensional box'. It was already widely known that the p-electrons could move freely along the system of conjugated double bonds, and the theoretical energy levels of an electron oscillating in a box with a vertical potential profile at each end had already been analysed. The novelty of his approach lay in using the known bond lengths in the conjugated molecule to define the length of the box. When he first did the simple calculations he was surprised at the good agreement between the theory and experiment for the positions and intensities of the spectra of simple polyenes. This surprise made him wonder whether such a simple theory could be true, but after his initial hesitation, he published the results in the  Journal of Chemical Physics. The paper was immediately followed by others by H. Kuhn of Zurich [18] and W. Simpson of Berkeley [19] who had had similar thoughts quite independently. The free-electron model caused a brief flurry of attention; it was attractive in its simplicity and it emphasized the mobility of the p-electrons in a conjugated chain. But Bayliss knew it was obviously too simple and could be no more than an approximation to reality. During the next few years he experimented with slightly more sophisticated versions of the FE model, in part with the assistance of John Riviere, an honours student. However, by the early fifties it was clear that the future of that kind of work lay with the electronic computers that were beginning to be available in a few major centres, but certainly not in Western Australia, and he discontinued free-electron calculations in favour of other interests.

This aspect of his research has been assessed by Professor Michael Kasha of the University of Florida as follows:

I think Noel Bayliss should be given full and primary credit for developing the free electron model generally for dye molecules. The subsequent work by Hans Kuhn constitutes an extensive elaboration of this work, and that of Platt was an extension to polycyclic aromatics, but Noel Bayliss's work constitutes the landmark, the first full development of the free electron model in molecular spectroscopy. I believe that this is a notable achievement in the history of the subject [20].

Solvent Effects on Electronic Spectra

Following his earlier work with Rees in Melbourne, Bayliss took up a prolonged study of the manner in which the positions and intensities of absorption bands are affected by having the absorbing species surrounded by solvent molecules. The shifts in the wavelength of maximum absorption were first interpreted in terms of the dielectric constant and refractive index of the solvent. Then, with one of his research students, Eion McRae, the theory was extended to give what Jaffé and Orchin [21] called 'a general and comprehensive treatment of solvent effects on spectra'. It gave a qualitative account of these effects in terms of dipole, polarisation and hydrogen-bonding forces. Overall, they concluded that superimposed on the 'polarisation red shift' (i.e. a shift towards longer wavelengths due to dispersion forces) are other shifts due to the fact that the solute molecule, in accordance with the Franck-Condon principle, at the instant of excitation is not in equilibrium and is therefore in a state of strain with respect to its environment. This strain can be related partly to the polarity of the solute and solvent molecules, and to changes in the dipole moment of the solute during the transition, and partly to packing strain arising from changes in the dimensions of the solute due to the absorption and excitation.

McRae [22] later applied second-order perturbation theory to the problem and came up with a more elaborate formulation that took account of dispersion forces, solute dipole-solvent induced dipole interactions, permanent dipole-dipole interactions and the Stark effect. The Bayliss-McRae model has become one of the most popular theories of solvent effects, and many studies have confirmed its applicability.

Over the years, a number of other papers resulted from the study of various solvent-solute systems, and from the application of spectroscopic measurements to systems containing nitrates and nitrites.

University development

Important though his personal research was, I think no-one would seriously challenge the statement that from the late 1950s onwards, Bayliss's greatest contributions lay in building up the research expertise and infrastructure of the University and the Chemistry Department, participating in the work of the Australian Universities Commission, and later as Chief Planner of Murdoch University.

Immediately after the war he played an active role, with Harry Waring and Eric Underwood, in having the PhD degree introduced. At the same time, unfortunately with no success, he tried at length to have the basic BSc degree course extended from three to four years. He always maintained that with the explosive growth in scientific knowledge, it was illogical to confine the Science course to three years while Agriculture, Architecture, Dentistry, Engineering, Law and Medicine all were allowed between four and six years. However, such an extension was always vetoed by the University authorities and later by the Universities Commission on the grounds of excessive cost.

Campus development

The Chemistry building had been expanded in 1948 because of the influx of CRTS students, but by the late 1950s it was apparent that, due to the rapid growth of postgraduate enrolments, a much bigger building with more elaborate facilities would be needed. The original building, of which Wilsmore had been so critical, did not have suitable foundations for an upward extension to be considered, and it was already surrounded by other buildings that prevented sideways development. Therefore a new site was chosen for a completely new building at the southern end of the campus, and this occupied an extraordinarily important position in the overall campus plan. While acting as Vice-Chancellor in the interregnum between Currie's departure (1952) and the appointment of Prescott in his place, Bayliss was able to interest Professor Gordon Stephenson [23], a noted town planner who was acting as a consultant to the Western Australian Government on the planning of the Perth metropolitan area, in the need for a comprehensive campus plan for the University. The previous plan, drawn up many years earlier by Professor Wilkinson of the University of Sydney, had not envisaged such dramatic growth in the University, and it further suffered from the defect that an existing building would have to be demolished before a new one could be erected, thus leaving no accommodation for the students during the construction period. The outcome was that Stephenson was engaged to draw up a completely new plan, and he showed great prescience in placing Chemistry in a central position with, on one side, the physical disciplines of Engineering, Mathematics, Physics, Geography and Geology, and on the other, the pure and applied biological group – Biochemistry, Physiology, Anatomy, Psychology, Agriculture, Botany and Zoology.

The planning and construction of the new Chemistry building occupied much of 1960-65, it being completed in stages so that first and second year classes could be moved first, then physical and inorganic chemistry followed by organic chemistry. During the late 1950s and early 1960s Bayliss had been able to make a series of staff appointments, and his choices say much about his flair for the overall development of academic chemistry. The early research groups under White, Stokes and Miller had expanded [24], and new groups were established under Cole (infrared spectra, 1955), Jefferies (natural products, 1956), Bevan (solid state, 1957), Bottomley (thermodynamics/gas properties, 1959), Parker (non-aqueous solution chemistry, 1962), Watts (inorganic kinetics, 1962), Figgis (inorganic/magnetism, 1963), Kepert (inorganic, 1965), White (inorganic/crystallography, 1965) and Hyde (solid state, 1965) [25]. Over the years, Bayliss gave these groups, and others, strong support in gaining research facilities, research grants and travel money for either study leave or conference attendance – often, one feels, to his own detriment. He had only three periods of study leave during his long career, and probably never travelled overseas for the sole purpose of attending an international conference. This at a time when many of us were able to travel for such purposes every year or two.

Study leave

By 1949, Bayliss had been virtually isolated from international contacts for sixteen years and he was very grateful to the Carnegie Corporation for enabling him to re-visit Berkeley, to spend some time with Michael Kasha in Chicago, and to re-visit Oxford and London [26]. In Chicago he also began a long-term friendship with Robert Mulliken, the doyen of spectroscopy and theoretical chemistry throughout the world. This enabled him to send one of his brightest, mathematically-inclined research students, Doug McLean, to Mulliken for his PhD. In a long career in theoretical chemistry, McLean was able brilliantly to exploit the availability of computers for this purpose, eventually spending the greater part of his subsequent working life at IBM in San Jose, California.

A second period of study leave in late 1964 and early 1965 was spent partly in Oxford, working on the manuscript of a book on solvent effects in spectra (which was never completed), and partly with Michael Kasha at Tallahassee, Florida, where he had moved from Chicago. This led to some fruitful developments involving the dipole moment operator and intensities of spectra.

Bayliss's last study leave covered the period November 1969 to May 1970, and was spent principally in London, at University College:

I had the benefit of stimulating talks with various members of the University College staff, including Ron Nyholm, Allan Maccoll and M.L. Taube. David Craig was frequently there, since although he had been appointed to the ANU in Canberra some years previously, he seemed to flit in and out of London almost on an annual basis.

The latter comment was perhaps a wistful reflection on his own relative isolation in Perth for so long.

Australian Universities Commission

Bayliss was appointed to the Australian Universities Commission when it was established by the Menzies Government in 1959, under the chairmanship of his old friend from Melbourne, Leslie Martin. He participated in its work for the following eleven years during which time the whole Australian tertiary education system was enormously expanded. He took a particular interest in the allocation of money earmarked for research purposes and in the expansion of buildings and other physical facilities for the rapidly growing postgraduate numbers. This appointment involved a large amount of flying back and forth to the eastern states, but by astute timetabling he was able to fulfil all his teaching duties in Perth.

This experience on the AUC led to his appointment for the period 1966-78 to the University and Polytech Grants Committee of Hong Kong.

Academy of Science

Bayliss was elected to Fellowship of the Australian Academy of Science in its first, major election in 1954. He served on the Academy's Council in 1965-68 and as Vice-President in 1967-68, in addition to several committees, including the National Committee for Chemistry. When the Academy began investigating whether it would sponsor a major project involving the production of a high school textbook on chemistry, it commissioned Bayliss and Don Watts to conduct a survey of chemistry courses in all States of Australia. That survey resulted in a comprehensive document,  Chemistry for Australian Secondary Students: A Recommended Course of Study   (1979). The booklet covered the background philosophy, the general and specific aims, and a detailed syllabus of a proposed course. This later resulted in the production of  Elements of Chemistry: Earth, Air, Fire and Water  in two volumes (1983, 1984) edited by another of Bayliss's former research students, Bob Bucat.

Learned societies

Bayliss was an active member of the Royal Australian Chemical Institute throughout his career. He was elected to Fellowship in 1942, was Western Australian Branch President in 1946 and National President in 1956. He received the Institute's H.G. Smith Medal in 1950 for his research work in the previous decade, and in 1967 was awarded the RACI's most prestigious award, the Leighton Medal, for his overall contribution to chemistry.

He was President of the Chemistry Section of ANZAAS in 1950, President of ANZAAS itself in 1962 and Liversidge Lecturer in 1972.

Collaboration with CSIRO

After moving from Melbourne to Perth, Bayliss sought at every opportunity to maintain contacts with Ian Wark and with CSIR in general. Mention has been made above of the assistance received from CSIR in the early days of the alunite project with the appointments of George Payne, Wilf Ewers and Frank Johnson to work with the group in Perth, and until 1953 David Koch of Wark's Division was retained in the UWA Department investigating the thermal decomposition of alunite. With the appointment of Lloyd Rees as Chief of the new Division of Chemical Physics, further opportunities for collaboration arose. Because of their overlapping interests in the halogen spectra, Rees arranged for a programme of work in the vacuum ultraviolet to be carried out in Perth in the mid-1950s by Jack Sullivan of his Division. This project also had a conspicuous consequence for Australian spectroscopy. In 1957 Rees and Alan Walsh paid a visit to Perth to discuss the collaborative projects and, considering the variety of spectroscopic work that was being done in the Department of Chemistry and Physics of the University, it was decided on the spur of the moment to organize a small conference. This was held in the Chemistry Department and extended over one and a half days. All participants agreed that it was most successful, and two years later, in 1959, Rees and Walsh organized a similar conference on a considerably larger scale in Melbourne. This one was even more successful, so it was named the 'Second  Australian Spectroscopy Conference'. After some negotiation, the Australian Academy of Science agreed to sponsor future Spectroscopy Conferences, and the series has continued with success at two-yearly intervals until the present, although in recent years the meetings have been combined with the Laser Group and others.

Bayliss became Chairman of the Western Australian State Committee of CSIRO and was a member of the CSIRO Advisory Committee in 1956-61.

The Rottnest Conferences

Between 1960 and 1966 Bayliss instituted a different series of meetings known as the Rottnest Conferences [27] which had a great influence on the chemistry teaching programme at the University of Western Australia. All (or as many as possible) of the chemistry staff went to the holiday island of Rottnest, about l5km off the coast from Fremantle (needless to say, without families), and lived together for a week during the first-term vacation each year. A rigid timetable applied whereby we worked from 9 am until 1 pm on various aspects of the undergraduate curriculum. After lunch different groups went fishing or played golf, followed by a few beers at the Quokka Arms while two or three were delegated to cook the roast dinner. The evenings were spent either in completing something left unresolved from the morning's work or, more often, in informal discussion of a wide variety of scientific and non-scientific topics enlivened by the dinner-time claret. In this way, over about five or six years, we discussed, without outside interruptions, the fine detail of the whole teaching programme from first year to honours, and introduced many improvements. The series of conferences continued sporadically until the late 1960s, but came to an end when the Government altered the school year to bring the school and university vacations into coincidence, and the Rottnest authorities refused to let the cottage to a group of adults not accompanied by school children. We have often thought since then that there were not many other departments of chemistry in Australia where all the staff, including the Head of Department, could stand living together at close quarters for a week like that.

Departure from the University of Western Australia

When Bayliss returned from his 1970 study leave, plans were already advanced for the establishment of a second university in Perth, Murdoch University, and he was invited by the Premier to become Chairman of the new university's Planning Board. With only a little over a year to go before he reached the official retiring age of 65, he felt he would like to undertake one more major project in the education field so he accepted the invitation with alacrity.

Thus, he departed from the University of Western Australia in 1970 after 32 years, leaving the School of Chemistry superbly housed in its new building, with a staff of 23 at Lecturer level and above, about 25 technical staff including electronic and glassblowing specialists, and 83 research students. I believe we can fairly say that the University of Western Australia has for many years been fortunate in having such a fine School of Chemistry, and it was Noel Bayliss who made it so.

He left his mark on Murdoch University with its rapid development of research and the introduction of novel courses. He was particularly pleased when they appointed as Foundation Professor of Chemistry a graduate of his old department, Jim Parker, who had carried out some outstanding research in the field of chemical reactions in non-aqueous solvents. Many of the latter had application in the minerals industry, and Bayliss played an important part as Chairman of Murmin Pty Ltd which took over some of the patent developments from Anumin Pty Ltd of the Australian National University, Canberra, where Parker had begun the work. With many others, he was greatly saddened by Parker's untimely death at the age of 49 [28].

After the work of the Planning Board had been completed, Bayliss became a member of the Murdoch University Senate for nine years. During that period he was honoured by the award of a knighthood (1979), with the citation laying particular emphasis on his leadership of the Planning Board of the new university. Previous honours had been CBE (1960), Hon DSc (UWA, 1968) and Honorary Fellow of the Australian College of Education (1972). Murdoch University awarded him its first degree, Doctor of the University, in 1975 and named a very pretty courtyard between some of its prominent buildings 'Bayliss Court'.

After 'retirement' in 1973, apart from the Murmin post, he became a member of a State Committee investigating and recommending on the future development of tertiary education in Western Australia (1975), and in 1978 took part in a review of chemistry at the Flinders University of South Australia. He also became involved at that time in the award of Churchill Fellowships, as Chairman of the Western Australian Regional Committee and as a member of the Board of Directors of the Churchill Memorial Trust.

Personal note

What can we say of Noel Bayliss the man? All who have known him will be aware of his modest, gentlemanly manner. He always found time to talk things over, always took an interest in the staff and students' welfare, and was always willing to give the fullest support to others in the development of their careers and research programmes. Phil Jefferies, a former student of Bayliss's who became Professor of Organic Chemistry at the University of Western Australia, recently wrote:

Noel was a man of personal charm and intellectual strength who would have been a leader in any society and it was particularly fortunate for us that he had chosen Western Australia as his home. He would have risen to the top anywhere, but he clearly enjoyed the seductive lifestyle of WA [29].

In similar vein, we can do no better than to reproduce the words of Lloyd Rees written on the award of Bayliss's knighthood:

One might be pardoned for thinking that, to achieve all that he has achieved, Noel Bayliss must have dedicated his whole waking life to work. Not a bit of it; he is a very human human being, who enjoys both outdoor activity and social life. Athletically, he has progressed from rowing, tennis and squash, through sailing, finally to golf and has enjoyed all the social involvement that these activities engender. His leisure activities have never been allowed to interfere with his duties and obligations; his integrity and modesty have been by-words throughout his career...

His charming Californian bride, Nellie, who has shared with him both the pleasures and hardships of his career has always been a charming hostess to the many visitors that were entertained in the Bayliss home...

Those of us who have been privileged to be counted among his friends have gained immeasurably by association with Noel Bayliss. The chemical profession and the Australian community are indebted to him for his distinguished contributions to science, education and public life [30].

After Lady Bayliss died in 1993, Bayliss moved into the Dorothy Genders Retirement Hostel, where every day he played his beloved classical music and often went shopping on a battery driven tricycle (which he referred to as his motor bike). He entered the Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital early in February 1996, suffering from pneumonia, and died peacefully in his sleep early in the morning of 17 February, aged 89. He and Lady Bayliss are survived by their two sons, Anthony and John, both professional engineers.

Finally, as a life-long friend and as one whose entire career was greatly influenced by Bayliss, perhaps I may be permitted to paraphrase the well-known quotation from Sir Isaac Newton [31]: 'Many of us who have worked in science in the last fifty years have been able to observe frontiers never before seen by Man, but only because we stood upon the shoulders of giants like Sir Noel Bayliss'.

Honours and awards

  • BSc University of Melbourne, 1926
  • Victorian Rhodes Scholar, 1927
  • BA (1st Class Hons) University of Oxford, 1930
  • Commonwealth Fund Fellow, University of California, Berkeley, 1930-33
  • PhD University of California, 1933
  • Fellow of the Royal Australian Chemical Institute, 1942
  • President, WA Branch, RACI, 1946
  • H.G. Smith Medal, RACI, 1950
  • Fellow of the Australian Academy of Science, 1954
  • President, Royal Australian Chemical Institute, 1956
  • Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE), 1960
  • President of ANZAAS, 1960-61
  • Vice-President of the Australian Academy of Science, 1967-68
  • Leighton Medal of the RACI, 1967
  • Hon DSc University of Western Australia, 1968
  • Bayliss Youth Lectures – RACI, 1970
  • Liversidge Lecturer, ANZAAS, 1972
  • Hon Fellow, Australian College of Education, 1973
  • Hon DUniv Murdoch University, 1975
  • Knight Bachelor, 1979

About this memoir

This memoir was originally published in Historical Records of Australian Science, vol.11, no.2, 1996. It was written by A.R.H. Cole FAA, Emeritus Professor of Chemistry, University of Western Australia.


A particularly good account of Bayliss's contribution to science and education is given in the honours thesis of Miss J.M. Patrick, [32] which also includes an account of the determination of the crystal structure of the mineral, baylissite [33].


  • [1] N.S. Bayliss, Autobiographical Notes,(1990), Basser Library, Australian Academy of Science.
  • [2] At Melbourne University in those days one could obtain honours in each subject in every year. Candidates who opted only for pass sat for just one paper; candidates for honours took one or more additional papers at the examinations. In mathematics, candidates for honours took a completely different syllabus from the pass candidates throughout, the year. The exhibition in each subject was awarded to the top student in the first-class honours group.
  • [3] L. Pauling, The Nature of the Chemical Bond (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1939).
  • [4] W.F. Giauque had achieved fame for his discovery of the isotopes of oxygen (for which he later received the Nobel Prize) and for attaining temperatures closer to the absolute zero than anyone else at that time. Early in the 1930s he had an active group pioneering the determination of specific heats of simple diatomic compounds from the detailed consideration of their molecular spectra.
  • [5] A modern computer could have done the work in a few seconds or minutes, given the required program.
  • [6] Leslie Martin (later Sir Leslie) was a Senior Lecturer in Physics, having recently returned from postgraduate studies with Rutherford's group in Cambridge. The Bayliss family lived near the Martins in East Camberwell and, with their research students, often played tennis on the Martins' court.
  • [7] Peter Acton went into the paper industry as part of the team that established the first pulp mill in Australia to use eucalypt wood by means of the Kraft process. He later held a senior management position with Amcor Ltd.
  • [8] Geoff Aickin joined the Shell Company and went to England where he was involved in research and development of surfactants. He later held senior technical, management and board positions in the Shell Company and its associated companies.
  • [9] A.L.G. Rees, Chemistry in Australia, 46 (1979), 507.
  • [10] Weickhardt later became Chairman of ICIANZ and Chancellor of the University of Melbourne.
  • [11] Wark later became Chief of the CSIR Division of Industrial Chemistry.
  • [12] The University of Western Australia had commissioned a new building to house Chemistry, Physics and Agriculture in the mid-1930s. However, Wilsmore, who was already beyond the ordinary retiring age of 65, declined to co-operate with the architects because (a) he had not been invited to join the building committee and (b) he objected to funds being expended on an external colonnade to match other nearby buildings instead of on internal facilities. He gave the architects no specifications of the needs of Chemistry, and did not attend the official opening of the building in October 1935.
  • [13] Malcolm Smith subsequently changed his name to Malcolm Winfield by deed poll.
  • [14] Eric Underwood (later FAA, FRS) at that time worked for the Western Australian Department of Agriculture. He became Professor of Agriculture at UWA in 1946.
  • [15] Actually, this was not so strange in those days, since Tattersall had originally come to Perth to teach mathematics and physics at the Perth Technical School. When the University opened in 1913, he transferred to become assistant to Professor A.D. Ross in the Department of Mathematics and Physics. When Wilsmore went to England for work on munitions during the First World War, Tattersall was placed temporarily in charge of Chemistry, and remained on with the rank of Associate Professor in Organic Chemistry after Wilsmore returned.
  • [16] H.C. Longuet-Higgins, J. Chem Ed., 34 (1957), 30.
  • [17] R.S. Mulliken and C.A. Rieke, Rep. Prog. Phys., 8 (1941), 231.
  • [18] H. Kuhn, Helv. Chim. Acta, 31 (1948), 1441; J. Chem. Phys.,16 (1948), 840.
  • [19] W.T. Simpson, J. Chem. Phys.,16 (1948), 1124.
  • [20] M. Kasha, personal communication to A.L.G. Rees, quoted in ref. 9.
  • [21] H.H. Jaffe and M. Orchin, Theory and Applications of Ultraviolet Spectroscopy (New York: Wiley, 1962), p. 189.
  • [22] E.G. McRae, J. Phys. Chem., 61 (1957), 562.
  • [23] Stephenson, at that time of the University of Toronto, had been a Commonwealth Fund Fellow, which gave a useful point of contact with Bayliss. He was subsequently appointed Professor of Architecture at the University of Western Australia.
  • [24] Miller later became Professor of Chemistry at Khartoum, Hong Kong and Sao Paulo, White Professor of Organic Chemistry at UWA and Stokes Professor of Physical Chemistry at the University of New England, Armidale. Riggs, who did not return to UWA after going to Cambridge for his PhD, became Professor of Organic Chemistry at New England.
  • [25] Of these appointees, Jefferies, Cole, Figgis and Kepert went on to become Professors of Chemistry at UWA, Bevan at Flinders, Parker at Murdoch, Watts at UWA (later becoming Vice-Chancellor at Curtin and Bond Universities) and Hyde at ANU.
  • [26] At that time, study leave travel grants were non-existent at the University of Western Australia and salary was reduced by one-third during the period of absence in order to pay for a temporary lecturer to take over the teaching responsibilities.
  • [27] G.A. Elliott, University of WA Gazette,10 (1960), 41; A.R.H. Cole, Proc. Roy. Aust. Chem. Inst., 33 (1966), 71.
  • [28] A.R.H. Cole and D.W. Watts, Historical Records of Australian Science,6 (1986), 399.
  • [29] P.R. Jefferies, personal communication to A.R.H. Cole, March 1996.
  • [30] A.L.G. Rees, op. cit. (n. 9.)
  • [31] 'If I have seen further [than you and Decartes] it is by standing upon the shoulders of giants', Sir Isaac Newton, letter to Robert Hooke, 5 February 1675/6.
  • [32] J.M. Patrick, Honours thesis, School of Chemistry, University of Western Australia, 1976.
  • [33] The compound K2CO3. MgCO3. 4H2O, first identified in 1851, was characterised in more detail by Bayliss and Koch in their studies of the phase equilibria related to the Engel-Precht method for the production of potassium carbonate. It was reported as a mineral occurrence in Switzerland in 1972, and the name 'baylissite' adopted; R.B. Bucat, J.M. Patrick, A.H. White and A.C. Willis, Aust. J. Chem., 30 (1977), 1379.

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