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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Easterby, Harry Tinniswood (1867–1932)

by John D. Kerr

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Supplementary Volume, (MUP), 2005

Harry Tinniswood Easterby (1867-1932), sugar-chemist and administrator, was born on 10 October 1867 at Echuca, Victoria, son of English-born parents Richard Tinniswood Easterby, journalist, and his wife Jane, née Bould. Harry became a shorthand writer and on 8 April 1890 at St Paul's Church of England, Sale, married Alice Marriott Watson. He later worked in Australia's only sugar beet factory at Maffra, Victoria, and in 1899 was recruited by Angus Gibson to be head chemist at Bingera sugar mill and plantation near Bundaberg, Queensland. Walter Maxwell, the first director of the Bureau of Sugar Experiment Stations, appointed Easterby assistant director on 24 July 1901 and placed him in charge of the station at Mackay.

Easterby carried out the experimental programme at Mackay effectively. Maxwell left in 1909 and the industry's campaign to control the bureau was thwarted when the minister for agriculture added the duties of director to those of the under-secretary E. G. E. Scriven. Easterby remained assistant director, thus saving the director's salary. In 1910, however, he resigned and became manager of the Maffra refinery. A new position, general superintendent of the bureau, was created for Gibson's son Arthur. Easterby replaced him two years later, and moved the headquarters to Brisbane, still under Scriven's control. Responsible for the experimental and scientific programme, Easterby recruited staff more qualified than he, allowing them scope to pursue scientific investigations, including plant growth, varietal selection, disease and entomological studies. The decision to acquire a new station at Bundaberg was taken by Scriven, but Easterby selected the site. He also oversaw the expansion of work to South Johnstone and Meringa stations in the far north.

Easterby's detailed knowledge of the industry was recognized by his appointment to the 1915 royal commission into the working of Central Sugar Mills at Mackay, the 1916 board of enquiry into overproduction and the establishment of additional sugar mills and the 1922 royal commission into suitable locations for new sugar mills. He complained forcefully when departmental misdirection in 1922 proved 'liable to puzzle the officers in charge and weaken my control' and later that year was eventually appointed director. The most far-reaching change to the bureau came from the suggestion of the chief justice T. W. McCawley that surplus funds paid by the sugar industry be used to award three-year scholarships to three young graduates—A. F. Bell, N. Bennett and H. W. Kerr—to enable them to study overseas and return to work for the bureau. Easterby applauded the scheme and gave the recipients the opportunity to implement their ideas.

Although he was an amiable gentleman, Easterby 'had no place for agitators in his domain' and moved the abrasive Bennett to Mackay in the minister's electorate, thus solving a problem and earning kudos. He continued to undertake onerous field trips despite years of heart trouble. It was on such a visit shortly before his planned retirement that he died of a cerebral haemorrhage on 28 September 1932 at Cairns; his wife and their daughter and son survived him. He was buried with Anglican rites in Cairns cemetery. He had written The Queensland Sugar Industry, which was published from his manuscript in 1933 and became the most quoted general historical reference on the subject.

Select Bibliography

  • Parliamentary Debates (Queensland), 86, 1900, p 2325
  • Bureau of Sugar Experiment Stations (Queensland), Annual Report, 1901-32
  • Bundaberg Mail, 12 June 1899
  • Australian Sugar Journal, 67, no 7, Oct 1975, p 363
  • Gympie Times, 26 July 1910
  • 38/20524, AGS/N72 and 3626, A/53973-54451 (Queensland State Archives)
  • H. W. Kerr memoirs (c.1990).

Citation details

John D. Kerr, 'Easterby, Harry Tinniswood (1867–1932)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2005, accessed online 21 October 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Supplementary Volume, (MUP), 2005

View the front pages for the Supplementary Volume

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