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Professor Sir Kerr Grant (1878-1967)
Papers 1905-1967

MSS 0075

Biographical Note

Kerr Grant graduated from the University of Melbourne (B.Sc 1900, M.Sc. 1903), where he developed his interest in physics under the teaching of Professor T.R. (later Sir Thomas) Lyle.  After teaching physics and mathematics at the Ballarat School of Mines and a year overseas, mainly at the University of Göttingen, he was appointed lecturer in Natural Philosophy at Melbourne University.  He came to the University of Adelaide in 1909 as a replacement for William Bragg while Bragg was on overseas leave, and on Bragg's resignation the following year to join the Royal Institution in London was appointed to the chair of Physics, a position he held until his retirement in 1948.

Kerr Grant quickly established a reputation as a teacher, his first year lectures most notable and remembered for their sometimes spectacular experiments and demonstrations and the end-of year recitation of Kipling's poem If, but all his teaching, from public (extension) to honours lectures conveying his understanding of and his endless curiosity and passion for his subject.  His infectious enthusiasm, wide-ranging interests and approachability also made him a favourite with the broader community: his public lectures were well-reported, his views on scientific advances regularly sought, and for some years he contributed regular articles on science to the Advertiser newspaper.  He was open to ideas whether on applications of science to problems in industry or the proposals of back-yard inventors (tactfully weeding out 'cranks' by suggestions that they proceed to construction of a working model), and had a long-running interest and involvement in sound and communication, spanning both invention of a new type of hooter to lecturing on wireless telegraphy and suggestions for the improvement of the acoustics of the University's Elder Hall.

Throughout his long career Kerr Grant remained interested in the advancement of his discipline on all fronts and was active in a wide range of general and specialist scientific bodies in addition to his University appointments, including CSIR, the Australian National Research Council, the South Australian School of Mines and the National Committee on Astronomy.  During the War of 1914-1918 he worked on applications of the vibrations caused by fluid jets, and in1922 he took (with the Government Astronomer G.F. Dodwell) a party to Cordillo Downs to observe the eclipse of the sun.  His work as a member and Chairman of the Scientific Instruments and Optical Panel of the Ministry of Munitions in World War II contributed significantly to the production of essential optical materials for the war effort and, with his long service at the University, earned him a knighthood in January 1947.

The Departmental/official papers in this collection remained in the Physics Department, where they were initially inventoried in 1983, until transferred to the custody of the University Archives in 1991.  The Archives transferred the personal papers of Kerr Grant, L.G. Huxley and J.H. Carver to Special Collections in 2001.  The personal papers comprising Series 22-34 were received from Colin Kerr Grant, the son of Professor Sir Kerr Grant, in 1990. See Series 35, The recording of “If”, was received from Graham Parslow in 2008. The 'Binocular cleaners' photograph was transferred from University Archives in 2016.

Contents Listing

Departmental/Official Papers


1. Letter books 1924-1925, 1936-1940 and unbound correspondence 1941-1949. 30cm.
(Letter books are arranged alphabetically annually by name of correspondent, and often have only either the letter received or sent.)
See Series 23

Physics Department Administration, teaching and research

2. Miscellaneous papers relating to departmental administration, including timetables (1909-1926), schedule of application for position of lecturer on physics and electrical engineering (1909), papers relating to conditions of appointment, memoranda re departmental requirements; also re proposed establishment of a science discussion club (1912) and re Elder Hall acoustics (1930).  1908-1930 and undated. 3cm.

3. Testimonials, reports on scientific work and assessment of equipment.1918-1941. 2cm.
[Includes letter supporting M.L. Oliphant's application for an 1851 Scholarship, 1927]

4. Reports on research work in the Physics Department: annual reports and reports on particular projects by individual staff and students. 1936-1948. 4cm.
[Work carried out by staff and research students under Commonwealth Research Grants (1937-1948) and CSIR Grant (1938-1939). Also correspondence relating to research generally and general reports on the activities of the Department, and original reports by V.J.M. Bosher, J. Nankivell, J.R. Prescott, M.J.G. Iliffe, W.C.R. Brooke, R.S. Edgar, K.B.M. and R.S. Burdon with J.M. Cowley and J.L. Symonds]

5. "Physics III 1934". Folder of course notes (ms. and roneoed) on the general course and on particular lecture topics. 4cm.

6. Certificates of Testing (of apparatus). c.1922-1948. 3cm.
[including Instructions for the Use and Care of Ray Track Apparatus]

7. Barr Smith Library: correspondence of Kerr Grant with the Librarian regarding purchases, overdue and lost books, access by visiting scientists and other library matters. 1936-1947. 2cm.

Cancer Research

8. Reports, memoranda and circular correspondence of the Anti-Cancer Campaign Committee and its Physics Committee, reports on Radiotherapy Department, and papers (published and roneoed) on cancer research. 1935-1948. 4cm.

University Committees and Associations

9/1. Professorial Board. Proposal to establish a Professorial Board to replace the Education Committee, and correspondence with H.C. Trumble re the proposal. 1944. 1cm.

9/2.  Hostels Committee. Correspondence of Kerr Grant as the Chairman, re accommodation for a hostel for University and School of Mines students. 1946. 1cm.

9/3.  Returns of Departmental profiles 1936.
[staff, lectures held, practical classes, special investigations]

9/4. "Engineering". Circular reports and memoranda, and correspondence re proposed changes in B.E. Course. 1943-1946. 2cm.

9/5.  Reports of Chemistry and Botany departments. undated (c.1940). 1cm.

9/6. "Geology". Memorandum by Douglas Mawson on Housing of the Department. 1944. [Constitutes an historical summary of the teaching of geology at the University] 1cm.

9/7. Adelaide University Staff Association. Agendas and Notices of Motion 1947-1948, Minute 25 July (?1947), draft Constitution and list of (?potential) members. 1cm.

C. S. I. R.

10. Correspondence of Kerr Grant with the Secretary and other members of C.S.I.R. on the work of the Council. 1938-1948. 4cm.
[includes confidential letter of Rivett 1948 on the future of CSIR]

11. C.S.I.R. Advisory Council. First meeting March 1950, agenda papers. 2cm.

12. C.S.I.R. S.A. State Committee. Minutes, Jan. 1943-Nov. 1948 and correspondence 1941-1948. 2cm.
[Mostly received by Kerr Grant as Chairman/Secretary/member of the State Committee. Also copies of Ore-dressing Investigations (joint investigations of the CSIR and the S.A. School of Mines and Industries) and correspondence with Kym Bonython 1948 on the rabbit pest problem]

13. C.S.I.R. National Standards Laboratory. Reports and correspondence.
1942-1948. 4cm.
[Including correspondence re the National Standards Laboratory and legislation on standards; also "Secret" paper on Variable Speed Drive by the National Standards Laboratory, Electrotechnology Section, 1942]

14. C.S.I.R. National Association of Testing Authorities [Standards Association]. Minutes of Executive Committee of Council, Standing Committee, S.A. State Committee and various sub-committees, 1947-1948; also constitution, reports, council agenda papers and correspondence.  Oct.1945-June 1948. 10cm.

Commonwealth Meteorological Bureau
[During the war, known as RAAF Directorate of Meteorological Services, from 1946 as Commonwealth Weather Bureau and in 1947 as Department of the Interior, Meteorological branch]

15. Papers re enquiry into the administration of the Department of Meteorology.
1945-1947. 3cm.
[The enquiry followed RAAF air accidents, alleged by H.M. Treloar to have been caused indirectly by the inadequate provisions by the Director H.N. Warren for an Air Mass Frontal Analysis section. Kerr Grant was a member of the Committee of Enquiry with J.D.G. Medley (Melbourne University) and Professor A.V. Vonwiller (Sydney University). There was subsequent correspondence following the demotion of H.M. Treloar]

Australian National Research Council

16. Correspondence of Kerr Grant with the Secretary (E.L. Sayce/H.R. Carne)
1943-1948. 2cm
[Includes correspondence re proposed Chair of Geophysics at an Australian university; invitation to membership of the National Committee on Astronomy); calendar reform and currency decimalisation proposals]

South Australian School of Mines and Industries

17/1. Précis of Council Minutes. 1942-1948. 3cm.

17/2. Correspondence of Kerr Grant as President of the Council, principally with the Principal R.W. Parsons. 1942-Jan. 1949. 2cm.

17/3. "Financial Statements, Annual Reports, Reports etc." 1942-1948. 3cm.

17/4. Public Assay Department. Reports. 1943-1948. 1cm.


18. "Commonwealth Observatory, Mt. Stromlo." Minutes, agendas, notices of meetings of the International Astronomical Union (1948), Board of Visitors (1945-48), National Committee on Astronomy (1947) and Advisory Board of the Committee, and related correspondence with the Commonwealth Astronomer R. Woolley.
1940, 1944-1948. 2cm.

19. "Adelaide Observatory". Correspondence with the Government Astronomer and others, particularly relating to the equipping of the Observatory and proposal for a new telescope 1949; also sketches of the proposed building 1940 and 1942.
1940-1942, 1944, 1948-1949. 2cm.

20. Astronomical Newsletter. Nos. 1-4, 18-19, 30, 32. c1942-1945. 1cm.

Scientific Instruments and Optical Panel

21. Ministry of Munitions, Ordnance Production Directorate, Scientific Instruments and Optical Panel. Minutes, agendas, reports and drawings. 1943-1944. 3cm.


Personal Papers

22. Biographical material. c1905-1967. 4 cm.
[Collection compiled by Colin Kerr Grant for a memoir or memorial address.  Includes in addition to the address two letters of KG from Göttingen and Edinburgh (undated but c1905); letters of sympathy to Colin Kerr Grant and some family letters 1967; a sketch of Kerr Grant by Sir Mark Oliphant 1967; articles and newspaper cuttings 1914-77; Bulletin of the Astronomical Society of South Australia April 1965 with reference to an address by Kerr Grant; letter accompanying Silver Jubilee medal 1935; invitation to Government House garden party 14 April 1959 ; programme of the Kerr Grant Testimonial Dinner 15 April 1959; cards from students; {circular} notes on the Grant family and its coat of arms 1933; unattributed typescript obituary (4 p.); typescript memoir by Sir Mark Oilphant 1967 (2 p.); typescript obituary notice by A.F. Harper (4 p.); typescript biographical extract by S.G. Tomlin (4 p.); booklet 'Physics and physicists in the University of Adelaide: the first seventy five years' / S.G. Tomlin (June 1975); graphic portrait of Kerr Grant (photocopy from 'Focus' July 1959)]

23. Personal correspondence 1931, 1947-1950, 1952-1953, 1958-1960, 1962-1963, 1966-1968.  4cm.
[Correspondents include G.A. Bell (CSIRO) 1962, H.S. Carslaw 1949, C.R. Churchward 1949, W.E. Cooke 1947 (includes recollections of Bragg, X-rays, Frederick Soddy and early wireless experimentation), S.B. Dickinson (Rio Tinto) 1958, B.S. Hanson 1952, L.M.W. Judell 1963 (on Bragg's 1900 wireless communication experiment), Guy Lendon 1967, Tom Lyle 1952, Hedley Marston 1949 (re Kerr Grant's knighthood but also comments on security and secrecy issues), Charles Martin 1949, Keith Mather 1966-1967, Mark Oliphant 1960 and 1967, Ralph Parsons 1959, W.B. Smith White 1949, Reg Sprigg 1952, H.H. Wight 1953.  There are also two separate files of congratulations on Kerr Grant's knighthood, 1947. Also family letters to Colin Kerr Grant on his father's death in 1967. Additional letter to Miss Denise Hine donated by Pauline Wurtke in 2000.}

24.  Correspondence, travel documents, itinerary, invitations and other papers relating to visit to India. 1947-1948. 3cm
See also Series 31

25. Notebook, report, documents and newspaper article relating to visit to South Africa 1952. 2cm.

26. Correspondence with the Advertiser and Agere science articles contributed by Kerr Grant. 1932-1940, 1945. 2cm.

27. Lecture notes, reprints and articles. 1910-1947 and undated. 5cm.
Unpublished material includes some public lectures 1910-1920, obituary of Thorburn Brailsford Robertson; typescript and galley proof of obituary notice of Thomas Ranken Lyle for the Royal Society 1944, with letters re Lyle from Mrs Hanna; undated typescript lecture on space travel; confidential notes re proposal for defence against enemy aircraft by use of projected vortices, and extracts from articles on vortices (undated 15 p. typescript); and "Secret" Paper on Klystrons, with related drawings and papers 'The Convertor Unit and Crystals' and 'Conversion loss and noise measurement' (undated, c1944).
Also copy of Kerr Grant's Lectures on Physics (1934 printing) interleaved with ms annotated blank pages, prepared for a future revised edition, plus unannotated copy
The published items comprise
- issues of Nature 1931, 1937 and 1939 containing articles by Kerr Grant
- reprints of scientific papers
- articles in The Australian Amateur Minerologist (December 1955) and The Bulletin of the Astronomical Society of SA (April 1965) re the finding of the Karoondah Meteorite, with 1931 thank you from the British Museum of Natural History re Kerr Grant's gift of meteor fragments
- a number of general addresses on science (including 'Zeta ... the veto on war?' re generation of power from nuclear fusion, The Australian Journal, March 1958)
- article 'Paris to Rome by Bicycle' re Kerr Grant's 1904 trip (Focus, July 1959)
- the obituary of T.R. Lyle,a  tribute to G.R. Fuller and the 1950 memorial lecture on William Bragg
- Efficient reading: an approach to improving techniques / Wing-Commander A.L. Greenaway (University of Melbourne Extension Committee, ca 1959)
- University of Adelaide. Conversazione in honour of the state centenary celebrations and of the sixtieth anniversary of the foundation of the University. Friday August 28 and Saturday August 29 (Hassell Press, 1936)
- University of Adelaide. Dept of Physics. Conversazione: exhibition of apparatus and demonstrations in physics. Saturday 21st December, 1946

28. Copy of applications for the Australian patent on Electrostatic Voltmeter or Oscillograph (undated) and provisional specification for 'Improvements in Means for Synchronisation at a Distance': application number 34738, December 1927. 1cm.
[also miscellaneous (unrelated) blueprints and calculations]

29. Diaries 1916, 1924-1925, 1928-1929, 1932, 1934-1936, 1939-42, 1944-1947, 1950, 1952-1953, 1957, 1962. 25v. [two diaries for 1952 and 1954]
[Contain notes on activities, equipment, experiments, visits, appointments and journeys, and occasional notes for lectures. The volumes for 1952, 1953 and 1957 are more notebooks than diaries]

30. Notebooks.  undated but entries in some suggest c1916, 1930s, 1953, 1957. 8v.
[Contain variously notes for talks and on apparatus, experiments, references to books and articles; one has 'Headings and notes for lectures to Honours students 1953' and another includes lecture notes 1956 with other extracts and notes made 1956-1957.  Volume 8 is possibly not that of Kerr Grant but rather used for medical/case notes by his son Colin Kerr Grant]
See also visit to South Africa 1952, Series 25

31. Photographs
- collection from Cordillo Downs Expedition of 1922/23 (to view eclipse)
- Binocular cleaners group formed by Professor Kerr Grant 1942-43, with supporting letter from Mary Howie (Joyce White, Margaret Dunstone, Mr Grovenlock, Prof. Kerr Grant, John Adolf Schulz, Mrs H. Both, Mrs Spinskton, Mrs E. Both, Sheila Holding, Patricia Fraser, Margaret Christie, Audrey Douglass, Betty Laughton, Unice Tharratt, Mary Howie, Jean Crompton)
- collection from visit to India 1947-1948;
- Physics Department function for retirement of George Fuller [1963]
- development of electrocardiograph with Edward (Nick) Both [c 1932]
- studio portrait
- Savage Club 'portrait'
- unidentified function
- undated and unidentified negatives (family, holidays?)
- collection of glass slides of 'famous physicists'
- photograph of Soviet satellite and Great Nebulae from Mt. Stromlo 1957
- Ormond College students and Masters, University of Melbourne, 1899, in frame (Strong Room OVERSIZE shelves)
- Melbourne University Science Club Committee, 1900, in frame (F. Campbell, H. Cummins, J.L. Rickin, W.R. Grimwade, G. Smith, K. Grant, A.D. Gilchrist, F. Stillwell, Prof. Lyle, H. Laurie, Prof. Spencer, H.R. Connell, D. Mahoney, E. Remfry) (Strong Room OVERSIZE shelves)`
- Teaching staff of the University of Adelaide 1906
- Lady Mawson toasting Sir Kerr Grant at H.R.M.'s barbecue, Sept. 11th 1963, in honour of Sir Howard Florey, President of the Royal Society

32. Accounts and receipts. 1910-1948. 3cm.
[Private subscriptions and contributions, including book purchases from W. Muller 1914-36; also some departmental accounts]

33. Copies (typescripts and reprints) of scientific papers by
V.S.M. Bosher, R.C.L. Bosworth, K.B. Mather, E.H. Mercer, W.W. Honnor and by Kerr Grant and Grant, Allen and Burdon. 1936-1945. 3cm.

34. Memorabilia and miscellaneous publications
[include papers from James Clerk Maxwell and Faraday centenary celebrations 1931; S.A. Technical Museum Society agendas, rules and regulations and correspondence 1944-1945; SAIT Open Night program 13 August 1965]

35. Recording of Kerr Grant reciting Rudyard Kipling’s “If” at the Annual Science Association Dinner, Pier Hotel, Glenelg, 30/7/1964. 1 CD.

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