Professor Henry George Chapman 1879 - 1934

Professor Chapman


Professor  Henry George  Chapman was born in England, in 1879. When  his family migrated to Australia, Henry attended Melbourne  University on a scholarship.  He  studied medicine,   graduating with first – class honours and excelling in anatomy, physiology and pathology. He was described as being tall, ruggedly good looking  and with a dominant personality.

During  a brief sojourn in Adelaide he married Julie Adelaide Cox. That same year (1903) he joined the University of Sydney. He had become an expert in toxicology, and lectured in pharmacology and plant physiology.  A few years later he was appointed honorary pathological chemist at the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital.

For a number years Henry and Adelaide Chapman  lived in  the harbour suburb of Mosman, on Sydney’s Lower North Shore.  This was where their three children were born; two girls and a boy. At some point they moved to the Blue Mountains, to a  house called Hiawatha, in Station Street, Blackheath.

The house was on a large block, conveniently close to the  village and the railway station.  I wonder if that’s his jackaroo son Rupert in the photo below, herding  sheep along the Great Western Highway?  I have to say, jackarooing   seems an odd occupation for a professor’s son, especially in Blackheath.

Blackheath looking toward the railway statiom

Professor Chapman and his family lived just behind the railway station.


In 1915 Chapman was appointed honorary secretary of the prestigious Royal Society.  Two years later he  accepted the Chair of Pharmacology at Sydney University.  Through this role, he was appointed chairman of an inquiry into  serious lung  disease  affecting miners  at  Broken Hill.  His report confirmed that pneumoconiosis was  an industrial disease caused by  inhaling dust. It was largely through his efforts that  the men received compensation and  their working hours were reduced.  In the midst of a bitter strike at the mines, he deliberately withheld the names of the 251 men involved until it was certain they would receive  compensation.  The publicity surrounding the inquiry raised Chapman’s profile  and certainly enhanced his reputation. When pharmacology and physiology were combined  at the university  he successfully  applied to take over  the enlarged role.

In 1926  the university’s  Chancellor,  Sir William  Cullen, raised over  £120,000  through public donations for cancer research. The following year Professor Chapman applied for the position of  Director  of Cancer Research. He stated that he was very interested both  in the biochemical aspects of the disease, and its occurrence in particular families.   He was appointed after the preferred candidate turned down the position and there were those in the Faculty of Science who had  some misgivings. They considered  his research methods suspect and disliked  his  penchant for self promotion.

Meanwhile, Chapman was  also involved in some  interesting research with  the commercial firm of Berlei Limited, the  well known brassier and corset manufacturers. The company set out to determine accurate body shapes of women aged from 15 to 65.  6,000 women were measured around the country and results were  tabulated  by Professor Chapman’s team.    Five distinct figure types were identified.  The survey became known as the National Census of Women’s Measurements. Another of his long term  interests was the  science of bread making, a subject he lectured on at the  Sydney Technical College.

As time went by, it was  felt  that Professor Chapman  was not putting  enough effort into cancer research. This may be why he suddenly reported on an experiment he had carried out himself, albeit a rather strange one. He said he had, ‘macerated a portion of a patient’s own tumour made an  emulsion of it , then injected it back into the patient.‘  This, Chapman insisted, was a promising new form of attack on cancer.

Chapman still found time for an active role in the community of Blackheath. He became a patron of the Blackheath and District Horticultural Society, and gave an address each year at the local primary school, during Education Week.  His daughter Gladys was in charge of the Blackheath Girl Guides and later  became District Commissioner. She married  Bob Flynn  at St Joseph’s Church, Blackheath in  January 1934 with  girl guides forming a guard of honour. It was a proud day for the Chapman family.

Later that year a problem arose over the finances of the Royal Society.   As Treasurer, Chapman had been called on to provide the auditor, Mr  Minell,  with information on bonds held on the Society’s  behalf at the Union  Bank.  He continually delayed doing so, and when pushed he sent  the following letter;

Dear Mr Minell – I greatly regret the delay in regard to the completion of your audit. My illness has unfortunately prevented me from finding the keys of the strong box at the bank, which seem to have been mislaid some months ago. I shall take steps to get the authority of the council to open forcibly the box at the bank.  With apologies for the trouble that you have been occasioned. I am, yours sincerely. Henry G. Chapman. Hon. Treasurer.

Despite Chapman’s  assurances, nothing happened.  Early on the afternoon of May 25  Mr Minell and other executive officers of the Royal Society took the matter into their own hands. They met at the Union Bank of Australia with a locksmith.  When the strongbox was opened, it was discovered that  several thousand pounds worth of bonds were missing.

Union Bank Sydney

The Union Bank, where the strongbox was broken open.

One thing was certain, Professor  Chapman would have to be confronted over the missing funds.  He was also treasurer of the Australian  National Research Council, and there had recently  been problems in paying staff.


  1. Great story! Can’t wait for episode 2 !

    • Pauline

      Thanks Terry. Published part two quickly, especially for you.

  2. Great story. Waiting for part two. There was a Professior Chapman and his son at St George Hospital at Kogarah in Sydney. In 1972 i was operated on by Dr. Chapman who was a gynocologist at that stage. I was in hospital for quite some weeks.

  3. Wow…..another great story Pauline. What an interesting place Blackheath is. Makes me want to visit and check out all the historical places.

    • Pauline

      Thanks Chris. I have to admit the village has become far more interesting to me too, since I’ve been researching these stories.

  4. Gladys was my grandmother and I believe she converted. My grandfather Bob Flynn was catholic. It’s possible they did marry in the Catholic Church.

    Gladys and Bob had four children and thirteen grand children (my cousins).

    • Pauline

      Thanks so much James. Do you have any other information I should add?

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