In mid-1914, three hundred scientists arrived in Australia to participate in the 84th annual meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science (BAAS). Formed 1831, the BAAS’ objectives were “to give a stronger impulse and a more systematic direction to scientific inquiry; to promote the intercourse of those who cultivate science in different parts of the British Empire with one another and with foreign philosophers; to obtain more general attention for the objects of science and the removal of any disadvantages of a public kind which impede its progress.”
This was not the first time the British Association had held their annual meeting abroad, with previous gatherings in Canada (Montreal 1884; Toronto 1897 and Winnipeg 1906) and South Africa (1905).
Planning for the visit commenced in 1909 after the Australian Commonwealth government agreed to offer financial support to assist BAAS members to travel to Australia. This support came in the form of a £15,000 grant ($1.7 million today) with the condition that the money was used “to cover passages of not less than 150 official representatives, including a selection of Dominion and foreign scientists”. The State governments would pay the rail travel of delegates and contribute towards the general expense of hosting the local meetings/lectures. Although the majority of the 300 delegates hailing from the British Isles, there was a small group from other countries, including 1 Canadian, 10 Americans, 3 South Africans, 8 German, 1 Russian, 1 Pole, 2 Italians, 1 Swede, 5 Danes and 3 from India.
The years leading up to the meeting involved extensive planning, including arranging appropriate venues, travel, accommodation and excursions. General committees were set up in each of the host states, with Professor Bertram Dillon Steele from the University of Queensland serving as chairman for the Queensland committee.
The tour officially commenced August 8, 1914 in Adelaide, although a small contingent of about 70 delegates (referred to as the Advance Party) arrived a few weeks earlier in Western Australia to partake in lectures, excursions and other activities. The tour continued on to Melbourne and Sydney before the delegates arrived in Brisbane on August 27. By this time the number of delegates had reduced from 300 to about 190, mainly due to the start of the First World War in early August, with many delegates choosing to return home.
A civic reception hosted by the Mayor of Brisbane, Charles Jenkinson was held on the afternoon of August 28 at Bowen Park. A garden party hosted by the Queensland Premier, Digby Denham was held several days later on August 31 at the University of Queensland. In addition several public lectures were given on August 28 and 31 at the Albert Hall, Centennial Hall and Exhibition Hall. The subjects of these lectures included tropical agricultural, cosmical physics and wireless telegraphy. The public could attend these sessions with tickets sold at shops displaying a special placard in their window.
A number of optional excursions were available to the visitors during their stay. These excursions included visits to Mount Coot-tha, Cleveland, the Moreton Central Sugar Mill in Nambour, the Glass House Mountains, the Ipswich Railway Workshops, the Gympie Gold Field, the Mount Morgan Gold and Copper Mine and the Dulacca Prickly-Pear Experimental Station. It was reported that during the excursion to the Glass House Mountains the visitors walked to the summit of Mount Ngun Ngun and the bottom of the cliffs on Mount Crookneck.
The Queensland Tourist Bureau produced a special handbook for delegates, containing background information on the state, as well as detailed descriptions of each excursion. The Daily Standard newspaper reported that the publication was “an exceedingly happy production, nicely printed and appropriately illustrated”. The State Library of Queensland has digitised this original handbook, which can be viewed online through our One Search catalogue.
The State Library also holds an original ticket as well as two ribbons used by delegates to receive complimentary travel on Brisbane trams. These items are part of our ephemera collection.
- Report of the eighty-fourth meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, Australia: 1914 July 28 – August 31 (via Internet Archive)
Myles Sinnamon – Project Coordinator, State Library of Queensland