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Charles Fenner (1884-1955)
Professor Frank Fenner (1914-2010)
Papers 1889-2003

MSS 0141

Biographical Note

Charles Fenner (1884-1955), educationist, geographer and author, was born in Dunach on the Victorian goldfields, the fifth of eight children of German-born Johannes Fenner, poultry-farmer, publican and miner, and his wife Mary, née Thomas, from Adelaide. He left school at the age of 11 and was apprenticed to the printer of the local paper The Talbot Leader for 5 years, before becoming a pupil-teacher. In 1903 he became principal of two part-time bush schools before gaining a scholarship to Melbourne Teachers’ College in 1905.  He then matriculated to the University of Melbourne, graduating B.Sc. with 1st Class Honours in geology and biology in 1912, and Dip. Ed. in 1913. He rose rapidly in the Victorian Education Dept, becoming Lecturer in Geology at the Ballarat School of Mines in 1914 and Principal in 1916.

In 1916 Fenner moved to South Australia to become Superintendent of Technical Education, continuing in that post until 1939 when he was appointed Acting Director and then, in 1940, Director of Education. He established a vocational guidance and placement scheme and was also responsible for technical training courses for unemployed youths during the Depression, and for reconstruction schemes following both world wars. He helped draft the 1917 Technical Education of Apprentices Act which, with its concept of compulsory, part-time, technical study for apprentices, set a precedent for other States. His plans for a unified technical education system were undermined by the autonomous South Australian School of Mines and Industries and by delays, until 1940, in expanding secondary technical education on the model of Thebarton Technical School (opened 1924). Although an innovative educator, Fenner was frustrated in his attempts at reform by the financial constraints of world war II and the Depression, by political procrastination and by health issues. He retired due to ill-health in 1946.

Parallel with his education work, Fenner continued to explore various fields of science, gaining a D.SC. in 1917 for his Victorian fieldwork in geology and physiography. He wrote numerous papers on the physiography of the Mt Lofty ranges and books on South Australian geography for university and school students, and from 1920-1940 lectured in geography at the University of Adelaide. In retirement Fenner assisted the South Australian Museum in the study of tektites—a field in which he became an authority.

Emeritus Professor Frank Fenner (1914-2010) was born in Ballarat, Victoria. He read medicine at the University of Adelaide, receiving M.B. and B.S. degrees in 1938 and a M.D. in 1942. He also received a Diploma of Tropical Medicine from the University of Sydney in 1940. Between 1940 and 1946 he served in Egypt and Papua New Guinea as an officer in the Australian Army Medical Corps, where he worked on the malarial parasite.

After the war, he went to the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research in Melbourne, where he studied the virus that causes smallpox in mice. In 1949, on a fellowship at the Rockefeller Institute in New York, USA, he worked on tubercle bacilli. Returning to Australia in 1949, he was appointed Professor of Microbiology at the new John Curtin School of Medical Research at the Australian National University. Here, he began to study viruses again, in particular the myxoma virus. He was interested in the balance between virus virulence and host resistance.

Professor Fenner was Director of the John Curtin School from 1967 to 1973. During this time he was also Chairman of the Global Commission for the Certification of Smallpox Eradication. In 1973 Professor Fenner was appointed to set up the new Centre for Resource and Environmental Studies at the Australian National University. He held the position of Director until 1979.

Professor Fenner has been elected to the fellowship of numerous faculties and academies, and has received many awards. Among these are the Britannica Australia Award for Medicine (1967), the Australia and New Zealand Association for the Advancement of Science Medal (1980), the World Health Organization Medal (1988), the Japan Prize (1988), the Senior Australian Achiever of the Year (1999), the Albert Einstein World Award for Science (2000), and the Prime Minister's Science Prize (2002).

In 1945, Frank was made a Member of the Order of the British Empire for work in malaria control, and in 1976, was made a Companion of the Order of St Michael and St George for services to medical research. In addition to these honours, he was made a Companion of the Order of Australia for service to medical science, to public health and to the environment in 1989, and most recently, was awarded the Centenary Medal in 2001 in recognition of his outstanding contribution to microbiology. (Adapted from

These papers were donated by Frank Fenner in December 2009.


Contents Listing

Series 1: Fenner family

1.1    Fenner family photographs 1889, 1902, 1911, 1931-51, 1994, 2002-3. Also obituaries and biographical clippings and extracts re Charles Fenner, Mrs E.L. (Peggy) Fenner (widow of Charles) and Frank Fenner; English translation of extract on the Fenner Clan from the German Family Tree Book (Deutsches Geschlechterbuch) and details of the Malaysian Fenner clan.

1.2    Photograph album arranged and annotated by Frank Fenner, including postcards written by Charles Fenner when on active service in Cairo 1915-17; early photographs of Charles and Peggy Fenner 1909, 1931, 1937; the Fenner family in Adelaide 1920-1990, including places stayed during holidays in the Barossa Valley, and the ancestral farmhouse in Niedergrenzebach in Germany; photographs taken by Frank Fenner on his trip to Adelaide and Ballarat 1990; Bill Fenner’s visit to Canberra 1990; the Robin Boyd house, Canberra; personal photographs of Frank Fenner (including Frank Fenner at laboratory bench assaying myxoma virus 1958, award presentations, with friends and colleagues, and early nursing photographs of Bobbie Fenner); extensions to Boyd house.

Series 2: Charles Fenner

2.1    Diary of 1931 trip to Europe: undertaken when chosen as one of four Australian delegates to the Centenary Meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science. In 4 parts: Adelaide to Malta, Mediterranean Sea to England, Ayr through Europe to London, London to Adelaide. Typescript transcript with sketches. 1 volume.

2.2    Diary of 1937 trip to North America and Europe: funded by a Carnegie Foundation grant and focused on educational matters. In 4 parts: Adelaide to Montreal; New York to Nice; Nice to Bewdley, England; London to Adelaide. Typescript transcript with sketches. 2 volumes.
Another copy of the Diaries has been catalogued separately for the University Collection
910.4 F336d

2.3    Postcards collected by Charles and Mrs Fenner during their 1937 trip to Europe (Hungary, Austria, Prague, Norway, Switzerland, Germany, England, Italy). Most are annotated and some sent to family members, with some addressed to Charles Fenner by Novalgin in 1937 and K. Sekiguchi(?) 1932. Also includes a few postcards from the 1931 trip to England. The Fenners were accompanied on their trip by Dr Draper Campbell of the University of Adelaide. [These postcards were rescued from rubbish bins at ANU in 2008 by JR Gonzalez and later returned to Frank Fenner – see accompanying letter]

2.4    Miscellaneous correspondence concerning publications (removed from reprints): includes letters received in thanks for ‘Tendencies in education in SA’ 1946 from Bill Marten, C.A. Richards, A.C. Hitchcox, Alec Paull, Keith Polkinghorne, Mark McDonald, John Shaw, H. Flint; with L.G. Symons of the Royal Society 1955 re Australites proof; and letter from H. Otley Beyer (Museum and Institute of Archaeology and Ethnology, University of Philippines) to Winifred Fenner 12/8/1955 on the death of her father. Also additional material (reprints by others (many by Alex Bevan), newspaper clippings 1993-94 concerning australites and meteorites, with copies of correspondence of W.G. (Bill) Fenner with Dr Alex Bevan 1993-94 and with Robert Sielecki 2000.

The reprints of Charles Fenner have been catalogued as a collection for the University Collection. Further papers of Charles Fenner can be found in the State Library of SA and the Basser Library of the Australian Academy of Science.

Technical education in Australia and New Zealand / E.H. Spencer (NY: Carnegie Corp., 1939) and inscribed to Fenner by the author has been catalogued separately for the Rare Book Collection.


Series 3: Frank Fenner

3.1    Frank Fenner photographs (individual and portraits) 1916-1973

3.2    Photographs of Frank and Bobbie (Ellen) Fenner 1939-1995

3.3    War service record 1940-46 and Certificate of Service of an Officer (photocopies)

3.4    Frank Fenner group photographs 1957-2003 (photographs with colleagues, friends, and conference and social groups). Includes doctors invited to China by the Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences 1957; 25th anniversary of the Australian Academy of Sciences 1979; members of the Global Commission for the Certification of Smallpox Eradication 1979; Smallpox book launch 1988; launch of the Fenner Exhibit 1994; Nobel Prize presentations 1996; launch of the Australian Embassy, Stockholm 1996. Also individual friends photographs eg Beattie Hackett with Westminster Abbey gargoyle in her likeness.

3.5    Interview transcripts

  • Edited transcript of videotape interview from the Australian Academy of Science’s ‘Video Histories of Australian Scientists’ program 1992-93.
  • The Wisdom Interviews: Frank Fenner. Radio National with Peter Thompson 1/9/2002

3.6    Frank Fenner newspaper/journal cuttings, press releases 1967-2003
(includes photograph of the Frank Fenner Building, ANU John Curtin School of Medical Research 2003)

3.7    ANU (various)
Includes photographs of

  • Fenner’s farewell from Directorship of the John Curtin School of Medical Research September 1973
  • Frank Fenner Display opened 1994
  • the launch of The John Curtin School of Medical Research: The First Fifty Years, 1948–1998 / by Frank Fenner & David Curtis (2001)
  • Frank Fenner Medal, John Curtin School of Medical Research

Also programme of Unveiling of a memorial to Howard Florey, Evensong, Westmister Abbey November 1981 (address by Frank Fenner); 1997 ANU Memorial Service for HC Coombs (quote by Frank Fenner); catalogue of exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery ‘Portrait of Howard Florey’ 21 September-15 November 1998, with biographical section by Frank Fenner.

3.8    Various awards
Photographs and newspaper articles: 1980 Anzac Peace Prize; 1980 ANZAAS Medal; 1982 The Order of the Index; 1986 Stuart Mudd Award; Advance Australia Award 1989; University of Liege Docteur honoris cause (acceptance address); 2002 presentation of duplicates of David Syme medal originally awarded 1949; 2001 Centenary Medal (official letter); Clunies Ross Award 2002

3.9    Japan Prize 1988 (presented by the Science and Technology Foundation of Japan)
Articles, press release, transcript of Fenner’s Japan Prize lecture: The history of smallpox and its control; dinner menus; letters of thanks and congratulations; programme of awards ceremony; newspaper clippings; ephemera and photographs

3.10    Frank and Bobbie Fenner Conference in Medical Research 1994 (Frank Fenner’s 80th birthday celebrations)
Includes leaflets; photographs and list of visiting wives; newspaper clippings; guest list for Conference dinner; talks given at the dinner and correspondence received by Frank Fenner on the occasion.

3.11    Copley Medal 1995
Photographs, newspaper articles and clippings, congratulatory correspondence

3.12    50th Anniversary of Fenner’s appointment at ANU 29/11/1999
Includes invitation, guest list, menu and running order of the Anniversary Dinner, correspondence received on the occasion and photographs

3.13    Prime Minister’s Prize for Science August 2002
Photographs, media releases, newspaper clippings, extract from House of Representative’s Question Time 21/8/2002.

3.14    Red Hill house, Canberra- listing by Heritage Council of ACT
The house of Professor. and Mrs Frank Fenner of Monaro Cres. Red Hill was designed by Robin Boyd. It was the first winner of the Canberra Medallion for meritorious architecture in 1956. File includes correspondence re heritage listing 1993-95; extracts from The Australian Home Beautiful magazine and The Canberra Times November 1956; sketch plans; notes concerning the garden; photographs of Fenner family and the house 1956; ‘Conservation study for Fenner house and garden, Canberra 1995’ / Madeleine Maple; and 1994 correspondence with Dr Geoffrey Serle re Robin Boyd
See also photographs in Series 1.2

3.15    Fenner Hall, The Australian National University
Fenner Hall was named in honour of Emeritus Professor Frank Fenner. Includes photographs of Fenner Hall and Frank Fenner (including oil portrait of Frank Fenner) 1995; college and student handbooks 1993-94; newspaper articles 1992.

Frank Fenner’s ‘Original research papers presented for M.D. degree [1942]’ is catalogued separately and held in Library Store.

Series 4: Source materials supplied for the production of film Microbes to Macrobes: The story of Frank Fenner (South Australian Film Corporation, 2011) 20 cm.

These materials were provided by Frank Fenner’s daughter, Marilyn Fenner, for the making of the film “Microbes to Macrobes.” Attempts by the University to contact Marilyn Fenner to return the items have proved unsuccessful.

4.1 Charles Fenner and family

  • Folder ‘Various documents and notes relating to the Fenner family.’ Photographs and biographical information re Charles and Peggy Fenner and family. Includes photographs of Charles Fenner with Sir Edgeworth David; photographs of their visit to Germany in 1937; Charles Fenner’s geological work and bibliography of articles (including a ms of Charles Fenner’s First note on Australites and notes on the geology of the Mt Lofty ranges); Charles Fenner’s recollections of childhood ..; articles concerning Charles’ career in technical education; copies of family documents; information about German relatives; sundry biographical material concerning Frank Fenner; letter to Frank Fenner from Patricia Fenner (niece?) and invitation to her daughter’s Bat Mitzvah 2006
  • Original Fenner lineage ms scroll (from 1465). In metal tube.
  • Book: Hessisches Geschlechterbuch  / compiled by R. Gottfried (1971) vol. 18. Contains chapter on Fenner family.
  • Biographical sources on Dr Charles Fenner collected by his son Frank Fenner for a joint biography of Charles and an autobiography. Includes a Short Biography of Charles Fenner, by F.F., 25/3/2004.
  • Photocopied newspaper clippings and articles concerning Charles’ Fenner’s activities between 1916, when he was appointed Superintendent of Technical Education, until he was promoted to Director of Education in South Australia in 1939.

4.2 Charles and Frank Fenner photographs

  • Ballarat School of Mines and Industries staff, 1915 (Charles Fenner only named)
  • Adelaide University Hockey Team 1938 (N.C. Hargrave, J.T. Hutton, M.D. Close, R. Spafford, G. Leyland, W.M. Irwin, W. Forbes, M.C. Newland, A.W. Cocks, J.E. Kelly, F.J. Fenner, R. Motteram, J. McPhie, M. Knight)
  • Frank Fenner with parents and siblings (Tom, Lyell, Father, Winn, Mother, Frank, Bill) – annotated 1930 but must be 1932 or after as Tom is in naval uniform.
  • Printout: Frank Fenner at laboratory bench (see DVD below)
  • Printout: Professor Frank Fenner, Professor Peacock & Glen McGrath at Rabbit Scan launch 4/3/2009 (see DVD below)
  • Frank Fenner at Ashburton Public Library 6/8/2006, presenting a copy of his biography to the Librarian

4.3. Fenner family photocopied photograph compilations:

  • Fenner family photographs: Imaroo, Rose Park, South Australia / compiled by Charles Fenner in 1950 and Lyall Fenner in 1954 in two books. Section 1: Charles Fenner, wife Peggy and their forebears. Section 2: The Iramoo family. Section 3: Overseas trips, 1931 and 1937, by Charles and Peggy. Section 4. Hamburg and Hannover families.

4.4 DVDs (computer  files – all copied to Special Collections Resources drive)

  • Powerpoint: Bioterrorism and emerging infections: smallpox and SARS as examples / Emeritus Professor Frank Fenner, John Curtin School of Medical Research, ANU. 16/4/2004
  • Powerpoint: The Threat of Bioterrorism, with special reference to smallpox / Emeritus Professor Frank Fenner, John Curtin School of Medical Research, ANU. 2003 (variation of above)
  • Powerpoint: Two Related Problems: Bioterrorism  and Emerging Infections / Emeritus Professor Frank Fenner, John Curtin School of Medical Research, ANU. 10/7/2003.
  • Images: Professor Fenner, Professor Peacock & Glen McGrath at Rabbit Scan launch 4/3/2009. 3 photographs.
  • Images: Fenner at laboratory bench. Image by Andrew Taylor from Sydney Morning Herald. 1 photograph x 3 image sizes

4.5 DVDs (films)

  • Microbes to Macrobes: the story of Frank Fenner (South Australian Film Corporation, 2011)
  • Japan prize 2008 (The Science and Technology Foundation of Japan). Disk 1: Presentation ceremony and banquet. Disk 2: Commemorative lectures and japan Prize Week photos
  • Primary Connections: linking science with literacy. Questioning Minds DVD. Aust. Dept of Education, Science and Training. (Australian Academy of Science, 2005) Frank Fenner was a contributor to the film.
  • Research School of Biological Sciences, Fortieth Anniversary Seminars (ANU College of Science). Frank Fenner was one of the Foundation speakers.

Revised May 2016
Cheryl Hoskin

University Library

Barr Smith Library
South Australia 5005


Phone: +61 8 8313 5224