Pr Lyall Hanton

Pr Lyall Hanton

The Centre for the Book starts the year with a sudden rush of lectures.  This is a lecture from last week presented by the current Mellor Professor, Lyall Hanlan, on the namesake of his eponymous professorship, Joseph Mellor.  The lecture was well attended, with five Mellor Professors in attendance in the audience.  Professorial seats bear some resemblance to time-lords in that respect.

The Mellor family migrated to New Zealand, first to Kaiapoi, then to Dunedin.  Joseph Mellor started at Kaikorai School.  He left school at 13 to work at the Dunedin boot business McKinlays, then as a boot strapper for Sargoods.  The boot-strapping metaphor is not inappropriate for Mellor’s later successful career in chemistry.  He starts from humble beginnings.

The family moved from Marshall Street in Dunedin to Willis Street.  His walk to work took him an hour, one way.  He had a lot of time to think.  At home he took to his shed and copied books.  To keep warm while he studied his mother heated a brick and wrapped it in flannel.  On top of everything else, he started night classes at the King Edward Technical College.  When he turned 20 he attended Professor Black’s lectures on natural science and chemistry at the university, allowed time during working hours.  For a moment Mellor was seen as Black’s successor when his position became vacant.  The University chose Inglis instead.

During his university years at the turn of the twentieth century exam papers were sent to be graded in Britain, a voyage of six months before pass marks could be notified.  His final year exams had the misfortune of being sank off the coast of Cape Horn, requiring him to resit the exam.

He added chess to his pass-times.  He considered himself an average player, enough to frighten other chess-players when he took his skills overseas.  He later described the chess club that encouraged him as a red-hot chess club.

He was a member of the Wesleyan Church where he was a lay preacher and when he was 30 years old he married Emma Bates the church organist.  He referred to her as “The Boss”, and she was very protective of “Her Joe”.  In later life she would become a spiritualist, a world-view that was a source of amusement to Mellor.

His teaching started at Lincoln College in Canterbury.  After the turn of the century he would go to Owens College in Manchester now the University of Manchester.  It was the best academic college of its time in his field.  His Ph.D. from Owens College produced eight papers, two published by the Royal Society and another two with the Chemistry Society.  He wrote a book dedicated to mathematics applied to chemistry, Higher Mathematics for Students of Chemistry and Physics.  By page 6 the mathematics has already started on calculus.

He graduated as a Materials Chemist and took up a teaching position at Newcastle under Lyme (not Newcastle on Tyne) at the Pottery School now part of the University of Staffordshire.  He was not a ceramic artist himself.  He worked in refractory materials, and was a friend of Frank Wedgewood, one of the Wedgewood family.  His work provided an alternative to ceremics manufactured to support the steel industry during the Great War that was previously reliant on material from Germany and Austria.  He declined a peerage for contribution to the war effort, other men had given their lives.

He continued writing late into the night.  His secretary would set out his table at night: an ounce of tabacco for his pipe (no small amount); six pens; and a bottle of worcester sauce (Mellor was a compulsive auto-condimenter of his food).  His writing resulted in a sixteen volume treatise on organic chemistry.  He was only the second ceramicist, after Josiah Wedgewood, elected to the Royal Society.  He paid for a life membership of the Society.

When did he learn to draw cartoons?  His cartoons, produced for a small audience were fluid, confident and complex in composition.  From the beginning his diagrammatics for his manuscripts showed his confidence as an artist.  And where did the friendship with his fellow New Zealand migrant, Ernest Rutherford, come from? These remain questions.

He died aged 69.  At the time of his death when his widow disposed of his library he had collected eight tonnes of books.  He earned a posthumous CBE.  In 2014 historian Doctor Ali Clark pointed out that Mellor House, the oldest building on the University of Otago Dunedin Campus is named for Joseph Mellor.

Joseph W. Mellor, beware the book thief!

Joseph W. Mellor, beware the book thief!