IN TWO PLACES AT ONCE


By 1919 Flynn had a well established database of marsupial research. He had found the Ring-tail Possum an ideal subject because the demand for possum skins made the trappers ideal collectors for research. He had by now dissected nearly a thousand of these diprotodont marsupials and collected many embryos and he planned that embryology, and the study of the placenta and the corpus luteum in particular would be the focus of his future research. Flynn decided that he would do much of this research in the better facilities offered by the University of Sydney and the Australian Museum in Sydney. For much of the next decade he would be something of a visiting professor in Tasmania, spending second and third term there and the summer in Sydney or London.

Alienation from Spouse and employer after 1920

Flynn intended to spend nearly all the summer of 1919-20 in Sydney. That plan was thwarted first by the enquiry, then by a mix of difficulty getting a berth and resistance on the part of the University’s Vice-Chancellor. So Theo remained in Hobart, his wife and daughter in Sydney – whatever had been Marelle’s purpose when heading north in late 1919, it appears that at some stage she decided to stay there indefinitely. One consequence was that 1920 saw Theo as Errol’s sole parent. The boy had started school at Albuera Street public school (just opposite Mrs Roberts’ zoo) before being enrolled as a boarder at Friends. The family lodged with Mrs Susan Schwan of Duke Street in 1918-19, and this remained Theo’s address until 1925.

While continuing as Dean of Science in 1920 (with LF Giblin as chairman of the faculty), Flynn now showed little enthusiasm for this side of academic affairs. Henceforth he attended faculty meetings only when there were issues directly affecting his Department. Through these years the number of science graduates was only about five annually, the number of senior students in Biology never more than two. Electric light had begun to be installed in 1918, but other facilities stayed meagre. A major concern among academic staff was the poverty of library resources. Theo joined in this complaint, adding to it was a grievance that his salary was less than that of some other professors. He had heard that some were to be paid £800 a year.

In February 1921 the Supreme Court approved new wording of the Ralston bequest. It extended the University grant for five years, with proviso that a year’s notice must be given before the grant should thereafter be withdrawn. Flynn’s salary should rise to £600, still less than the top level. The professor’s research commitment should continue, although as soon as his marsupial work was ‘reasonably complete’, he should turn to the ‘life histories and development of commercial food fishes of Tasmania’. [Ralston op cit p 84] Flynn thus had licence to pursue his fisheries interest. However the Trustees probably wanted pertinent research to be essentially biological, perhaps with an emphasis on embryology, consistent with Flynn’s marsupial studies. When he developed a more practical interest in fisheries, troubles would arise.

This summer also saw Flynn get to Sydney, a sojourn evidently decisive in both personal and professional terms. A letter to the University authorities in May 1921 not only resumed his campaign for a higher salary, but insisted that library resources in Hobart were so dismal that henceforth he must ‘spend September to March in Melbourne or Sydney.’ [FSF 6 May 1921 University] Further ‘My last stay cost me so much I could not afford to bring my wife back with me. The cost of re-establishing a home only to break it up in September was too much. I have furniture in store. I feel keenly this separation from my family.’ Presumably the reference to ‘re-establishing a home’ was merely putative, but puzzles remain. Theo could have been hoping to resume living with Marelle, at least during his stays in Sydney.

Soon after writing this letter, Flynn applied for the new chair of Biology at the University of Adelaide, attracted by its promise ‘to suit the man who is anxious to prosecute some original research’.[Flynn to Haswell 18 July 1921 Aust Mus.] Time did not allow securing references from overseas but he won local backing from Professor Haswell and the distinguished anatomist Frederick Wood-Jones.[Frederic Wood Jones was Professor of Anatomy at Adelaide University and a pioneering biologist with an interest in native fauna.] The appointment went elsewhere, and so Flynn remained in Hobart – for part of the time.

For five months in 1920 Theo vainly tried to have the University rectify the salary anomaly. Failing to get a response he wrote ‘I do not feel inclined to put myself to all the inconvenience and extra expense entailed in living have the year in one place and half the year in another due to the lack of library facilities.’ Flynn, and others had been agitating about the state of the library for some years.[Davis p 63-4] The payment of his salary by the Ralston Bequest freed up some money but it was not enough. The University could not deny that the library was inadequate and thus Flynn was able to justify his decision to board in Hobart during his teaching terms and then return to Sydney where he probably stayed with his mother and used the University Club as his official address.


Continuing Research

While no longer curator at the Tasmania Museum, Flynn continued to work with the Australian Museum in Sydney. In April 1918 he thanked it for the use of their specimens and facilities during the previous summer and ‘in return would like to invite Mr Hedley to attend an expedition under the management of the Tasmanian Museum to Table Cape.’[Flynn to Aust Museum 4 April 1918.] Flynn planned to explore area’s the famous fossil beds with W L May and hoped Charles Hedley would make another trip to Tasmania. Probably due to their dispute with Flynn caused the Trustees of the Museum ‘to postpone the expedition’. Regular exchange of specimens with Sydney colleagues continued. In June 1918 they sent him a cast of the Talgai skull and in November Flynn sent them some Tasmanian eels. Flynn also had on loan the museum’s collection of spider crabs. In 1927 Flynn was to exchange skins and skeletons of a bettong and potoroo in return for the cast of a Queensland lungfish.

Late in 1918 Flynn began to take an interest in beaked whales and asked the Museum whether it had the specimen of Mesoplodon described in their Annals Series 4 Volume VII. In December he sought further records of these whales. Some fourteen months later while walking along the shore of Table Cape, near Wynyard Flynn noticed bones protruding from the cliff face. After much effort, including construction of a substantial scaffold on boulders at the foot of the cliff, he excavated the 56cm fossil. It was extremely well preserved in the Miocene sediments and Flynn soon identified it as the skull of a whale of the Squalodont group. On 9 September 1920 he wrote to Nature saying ‘a detailed description will be published later, but I have thought a preliminary notice might be of interest to British naturalists’.[Squalodont Remains from the Tertiary Strata of Tasmania. (London, Nature, 1921, figs. 1-2.)]

5.1b

Without specialist advice Flynn could not be sure whether his find was just a new species or a new genus. He also needed a major museum to display his find. The Australian Museum was happy to use of its facilities to study the skull, in return for a colour photograph. Flynn shipped the skull to Sydney in time for his summer stay but when he unpacked it he damage, another deal was struck where in return for the Museum’s expertise in repairing the specimen, six casts would be made and the Museum retain the mould.

5.1a The author examines the fossil whale collected by Flynn in the Geology Dept of Univ of Tasmania.

Throughout the winter Flynn organised a group of trappers to collect Potoroos, Bettongs and Possums in order the further elucidate the structure and functions of the placenta and its relationship with the embryo. He was pleased to find among the embryos ‘two late stages of Perameles gunni. One just before birth, one just after showing the placenta in position’ he told Haswell.[Flynn to Haswell 18 July 1921 Aust Mus. ] He also sought Haswell’s advice on how to get rid of the superfluous yolk in the very early stages (about 2-cell) of the marsupial ovum. He had seventeen blastocysts and intra-uterine embryos from potoroos, possums and bettongs. The previous year ‘he was lucky enough’ to find a Tasmanian Devil that had just ovulated and he was writing a short note on his find.[Flynn to Haswell 14 May 1921 Aust Mus.]

Flynn’s academic research on marsupials was acknowledged this year with the awarding of a DSc. from the University of Sydney. His thesis ran to 86 pages together with a booklet of 56 photographs.[Univ of Sydney library 378.94 SO] The significance of this work grew as his discoveries were acknowledged by other experts in embryology. In the first major publication on the subject Flynn’s mentor, JP Hill, had maintained that the development of the placenta in marsupials was quite distinct from that of other mammals, making a substantial divergence in the evolutionary path of the two groups. Flynn showed that this aspect of Hill’s work was wrong and in fact marsupial embryology was consistent with that of other mammals. In placental development the embryonic tissue attacks the maternal tissue and not vice versa. Furthermore by studying the placenta in these more primitive mammals it was possible to throw new light on the embryology of the higher mammals including man and domestic animals. Such detailed interpretation of this aspect of reproduction demanded a continuous series of dissected embryos and meticulous sectioning and illustration.

In the introduction to the thesis Flynn describes his efforts over the past ten years to put together a comprehensive collection that will allow him to describe marsupial development before some key members became extinct.

In the not very distant future, with the spread of settlement and the almost incredible devastation caused among these animals by fur hunters and trappers, a depletion but little compensated for by restrictive legislation, it may be considered certain that the connected stages necessary for the elucidation of the intra-uterine development will be practically unobtainable.
…it is to be fervently hoped that these genera that that are rapidly diminishing in their native land, some even on the verge of disappearance, may yet be fully investigated before they have been exterminated.

The genera he referred to were Thylacinus and Sarcophilus, the tiger and the devil. From his observations both were ‘absolutely on the verge of extinction’. He believed that were it not for the largesse of the Ralston Trust and support from the BAAS the development of these animals and their place in the evolution of mammals would never have been known.

A Working Visit to England

JP Hill now occupied a personal Chair as Professor of Embryology and Histology in the newly formed Department of Anatomy at University College London and he invited Flynn to come to England. Earlier Hill had been awarded a D.Sc from UCL and a gold medal for a thesis of high excellence. He was elected to fellowship of the Royal Society in 1913 and had just relinquished the Jodrell Chair to take the new position. Flynn left for London in October 1921. His aspiration was to have the Royal Society publish his thesis and to discuss future research with other scientists. He planned to see Hill in London, Hubrectht and van Brock in Utrecht, Bouvier in Paris and Keibel in Berlin with object of getting European finance to widen his work on the development ‘of the fast disappearing fauna’ of Tasmania. He also hoped to get support from the Royal Society or elsewhere further to explore the Wynyard fossil deposit. ‘In addition I hope to look into the scientific on fisheries for sooner or later the University will have to take an active part in this area’, he told Tasmanian confreres.[Flynn Staff file 9 Oct 1921.]

When Flynn arrived at University College London he renewed a friendship with Prof DMS Watson. Watson had come to Tasmania in 1914 as part of the BAAS delegation in 1914. The two had later visited the northwest coast where FA Callaway of Wynyard had drawn their attention to a shaded pool formed by the damming of a creek to drive the wheels of a flour mill. Callaway believed it contained a freshwater sponge. Flynn and Watson found the pale yellow encrustation together with ‘a plentiful supply of the interesting fresh-water hydrozoan, Cordylophora.’ Like the sponge this had not been previously recorded in Tasmania. When Flynn sent the specimens to ‘Dr. N Annadale of the Indian Biological Survey’ he discovered that the sponge was identical to one discovered near Subiaco in Western Australia, but not elsewhere in Australia.[Flynn TT, On a freshwater Sponge from Tasmania. Pap & Proc Roy Soc Tas 1922 p.58-59.]

The Australian Museum sent one of the Wynyard whales skull casts to London and Flynn showed it to a meeting of the Zoological Society. ‘It aroused much complimentary comment, reported Flynn to one correspondent,[Flynn to Aust Museum 13 June 1922] and to another that ‘There was a most interesting discussion but the evening stands out in my mind particularly for the excellent dinner we had afterwards.[Flynn to Haswell. 13 June 1922 Aust Museum] He spent a month at the British Museum working on the whale skull. ‘My find has proved to be much more interesting even than I thought. It proves to be the same genus as a badly described whale from Patagonia. Watson and I have been able to put these things in order and the find forms an interesting way of correlating the geological beds of Tertiary age in Patagonia and Australia.’ Watson and Flynn started work on a full description but decided that to have a paper published they needed to work from the original specimen. After London Theo went to Belgium to look at Hubrecht’s embryological collection and was so impressed that he planned to return for a much longer stay. To facilitate this he arranged to give a course of lectures on the placental relationships in the marsupials. He had a short stay in Brussels ‘where I saw Dollo and Brachet and then to Paris where I only stayed a few hours’. The second visit to Berlin did not eventuate.
His time with Hill included robust discussions about Flynn’s new interpretation of the Perameles placenta that was part of his DSc thesis.

Hill fought hard for his interpretation but admitted at last that he must allow for some foetal penetration which is all I wanted. I think he is prepared to admit that some of my conclusions are correct. He has a slide, earlier than mine, which we both examined. This shows diplokaryocytes similar to those found by Aspheton in the sheep. Hill has therefore not a leg to stand on.
He was very good in going carefully over all I had written, in pointing out some necessary alterations and smoothing the way for publication.’


At this point the relationship between Hill and Flynn changes from teacher and gifted student to professional colleagues as well as friends. The trip left a lasting impression on Theo and probably planted the thought that he could one day work in Europe and not have to stay in Tasmania. ‘You can imagine what a stimulus it is for me to meet men of this type’ he wrote to Haswell. He was pleased and proud that his linkage of the embryology of marsupials and other mammals had been so well regarded.

Back to Hobart Alone

Errol (and some platypus) joined his father on the trip home, as both of them referred to England despite neither of them having been there before. Later Marelle and Rosemary also crossed the seas. While his father worked and his mother and sister went to France to live with Marelle’s sister, Errol was sent to boarding school.[Norman Errol Flynn in Hobart p10. Meyers says it was St Paul’s School, p246] Betty had been in New York at the end of World War I where she met and married George Glover. In April 1922 Theo returned to Hobart alone and Errol remained unhappily in London. It is not clear how long Marelle stayed in France. One source says that Errol visited her, and his sister and aunt, in the south of France before returning to Hobart in June 1924 . In 1960 Marelle recalled ‘all’ the places she had lived in (outside Australia) but did not mention France. She never returned to Tasmania, but may have lived in, or visited, Sydney during the late 1920s. Later Theo thanked Albert Ogilvie and his wife for their kindness around this time. ‘I can never forget how kind you were to me in Hobart at times when I felt particularly lonely’.[Flynn to Ogilvie 30 April 1935 PD 8/1/6] After lectures the Professor could sometimes be found at the nearby Heathorn’s Hotel.

When the chair of Zoology in Sydney was advertised this seemed an ideal opportunity. In 1930, when faced with the loss of his position in Hobart, Flynn suggests he withdrew his application in order to ‘keep up the research I had commenced in Tasmania. By this decision I willingly lost £100 per annum in salary. Prof Hill said it was a foolish action on my part and I now bitterly regret the action.[TTF to Vice-Chancellor 2 Sep 1930 AE 463/1/614 AOT]

The Chair went to Launcelot Harrison who, like Flynn, was also born in country New South Wales and had a similar academic record. He had subsequently graduated from Cambridge where he was president of the Natural History Society and a vice-president of the Union Society. After about fifteen months postgraduate work and having been rejected for military service, Harrison was appointed advisory entomologist to the British Expeditionary Force in Mesopotamia. He was appointed lecturer and demonstrator in zoology at the University of Sydney while on active service in 1918 and took up duty in July 1919; next year he was appointed acting professor and lecturer in veterinary parasitology.




Brighter Times

Flynn’s decision to withdraw his application for the Sydney chair seems to rule out any suggestion that Marelle was seeking an offering to resume married life in Sydney. Back in Hobart Flynn’s fortunes now took an upward swing. Montagu Ansell resigned as university registrar in 1922 to be replaced by LR Thomas, who Flynn found a far more amenable man. In place of the somewhat poisonous relationship with Ansell, Flynn established a friend in his replacement, Colonel Thomas. Thomas was a former army officer and with similar likes and interests to Flynn. Flynn regularly wrote to Thomas informing him of his movements, making requests and enquiring about his wife’s health.[In contrast to Flynn’s good rapport with Thomas, Morris Miller objected to the latter’s moves to increase the status of registrar and claimed ‘eventually the staff lost confidence in him’ Notes on the History of the University.]

“Leonard Rhys Thomas was born in England in 1882. He was a genial, rotund, bright-eyed man who shared with Flynn an interest in walking and amateur dramatics. He was well educated, particularly in classical Greek and was admitted to the Bar at the Inner Temple in London. When World War I began he served on Gallipoli and Mesopotamia and later as a staff officer at Army Headquarters in Baghdad. He was awarded a DSO in 1917 and left the army with the rank of Colonel. Not unexpectedly he was later known as ‘Tommy’.
He served as registrar at the University of Tasmania from 1922 to 1933 then joined the ABC as Controller of talks in Melbourne. He returned to Tasmania as state manager and after three years in that role he took up the equivalent position in South Australia and then in Victoria. He was awarded an MBE in 1937. He retired in 1947 and died in April 1948.”[Radio Active 12 may 1948, ABC. ]

Although the appointment of Thomas was an advantage, in October Flynn lost a key ally. Dr Thompson the chairman of the Ralston Trustees died in October 1923 and over the next five years the significance of his departure steadily grew. Thompson and Flynn were both colleagues and friends and the former was probably the only Trustee who fully understood and appreciated Flynn’s research.

In the summer of 1922-3 Flynn was again in Sydney, finishing his paper on the whale. During 1921 the Australian Museum had made the six casts of the fossil whale that Flynn had now described and named Prosqalodon davidis. Through the Museum in 1923 Flynn sent one to Sir Edgeworth David after whom he named the species, one each to the British and Tasmanian Museums, and one to Hill at University College. The gift was something of a peace offering; in telling Vice Chancellor, William Stops of the presentations Theo pointed out they had been given ‘in the joint names of yourself (as executive head of the University) and myself as discoverer and describer.) He asked the Stops if he might send the two remaining casts to the palaeo-biological Institute in Vienna and the Musee Royal d’Histoire Naturelle in Bruxelles.[Flynn Staff file 12 April 1921.] The obliging Thomas was conscripted to arrange the details of delivery, with the aid of the Tasmanian Agent-General in London.

While working on the whale Flynn’s attention was drawn to a lizard, labelled Tiliqua scincoides, that had been brought into the Museum. A lady in Hornsby saw the animal in her garden and killed it with a spade. Perhaps in remorse she took it to the Museum where it was found to be a pregnant female and the oviducts were removed and preserved. When the specimen was drawn to Flynn’s attention he thought it looked interesting. Dissecting the animal he discovered it had a placenta ‘perhaps one of the most important discoveries in embryology in the last ten years…. Naturally I feel bucked up about the whole matter and my old Prof (Haswell) was nearly as excited as I was myself’, he told Thomas.[Flynn Staff file 27 Jan 1923.] Later Edgeworth David told him it was ‘almost incredible’. Flynn’s account and detailed illustrations were published by the Museum.[On the Occurrence of a true Allantoplacenta of the Conjoint Type in an Australian Lizard, Rec. Aust Museum Vol XIV No.1 1923, p 73-77]

His two recent discoveries and his doctoral thesis led Flynn to being selected to chair a session at Sydney’s Pan Pacific Science Congress in August 1923. He reported this to the Vice Chancellor - saying ‘You understand how important it is for our little university to be represented in a prominent manner’ - and requested a two week extension of his stay in Sydney to prepare. ‘You understand that I must be absolutely up to the knocker in my knowledge before I face such a critical audience as will be at the Conference’.[Flynn Staff file 28 Feb 1923] He foreshadowed that he would probably have to come back to Sydney in the May vacation ‘because the library facilities in our little University are strictly limited and I have come back to the same point as I have so many times before, that in order to prosecute this research at all, I must have access to the larger libraries of the mainland’. [Flynn Staff file 8 May 1923]

Even visits to his own University’s library became more cordial after Mrs Betty Canning became library assistant in June 1924. She was the de facto librarian for several decades, although Morris Miller held the formal position; her husband Robert, a lecturer in Electrical Engineering, had died from a respiratory disease leaving her with a young son. Betty and Theo were similar in age, and both had come to Hobart from other States: they had more in common now she was widowed and Marelle Flynn had chosen to live elsewhere. Some thirty years later Torliev Hytten told Flynn that he still had many friends in Hobart and Mrs Canning still loved him . Perhaps the affection was platonic.[Flynn Staff file 7 June 1953]

At the Pan Pacific Congress representatives of the country’s Universities and Museums had agreed to meet to discuss regulating the export of native fauna. This was an initiative of the South Australian Museum and Flynn was nominated by his Vice-Chancellor to represent Tasmania.[Whatever the zoologists hope to gain from the discussions on export controls nothing eventuated.] Late in 1923 Flynn travelled again to Europe, leaving his teaching in the hands of Leonard Rodway. Rodway had held the title of honorary Government Botanist since 1896 although his profession was dentistry. The two biologists were founding members of the National Parks Board and are each commemorated by lakes named after them in the Cradle Mountain National Park. Water from Flynn’s tarn cascades down into the larger Lake Rodway below. At 70 Rodway decided to retire and asked the University if he could spend his retirement teaching botany. The University, and Flynn, were only too pleased to acquire such a resource for only £200 a year. Consistent with its previous practice the University asked the Ralston Trustees to meet half the cost but received no encouragement.[Vice-Chancellor to Ralston Trustees 16 may 1923 AE 463/1/614 AOT]

5.2-Flynn-tarn
Flynn’s Tarn

Theo intended to leave Sydney on 17 September 1923 and arranged to collect any mail from the Colombo Museum. He expected to be with Hill at University College London before the end of October, stay a month and then go to Holland and Austria. However his departure was delayed. From on board the Jervis Bay off Fremantle on 21 December he wrote to Thomas – ‘I am last on my way to London. My finances have now considerably mended.’ (Flynn’s involvement with the with Tasmanian Fisheries Development is dealt with in the next chapter.) He asked the Registrar to send the Australian Museum a cheque for £10 to cover the expenses of his research there and to post Hill six copies of his paper on Perameles. ‘You will find them in my office. … I am looking forward to seeing you in June. I would be glad if you could remind Grant that he should empty the radiator pipes and refill them before I return.’ [Flynn Staff file 21 Dec 1923]

Such a request was probably pushing his relationship with Thomas.
His next letter, nearly four months spoke of being -
Very hurt at not receiving answer to his letter from Fremantle and you have not sent the copies as I asked you. … I bought a book in London for the Library.. and a microtome in Paris for about a third of the price we would have to pay in Australia….
I hope everyone is in good trim. I will be glad to be back at the little lab for which I have great affection in spite of its drawbacks…
I would like you to write to J Farrow of Albert Park Moonah asking him to be ready to trap for me when I return.
Please remember me to all (Particularly to Dunbabin and MacDougall). I hope Mrs Thomas has improved in health and is happy in her new environment
(34 View Street).[DG McDougall was the Law Professor and R L Dunbabin was Professor in Classics.]

Flynn reached Hill’s new laboratory, a ‘beautiful place’ in mid January 1924. A laboratory was set aside for his use and he revised his paper with David Watson on the Wynyard whale. Watson had succeeded Hill as Jodrell Professor of Zoology. Born in Lancashire, he was originally a geologist and published a paper with Marie Stopes, then a paleo-botanist, on fossils in coal. In 1917 he had married Katherine Parker who was initially an undergraduate student of Hill’s and went on work with him on her doctoral thesis, published in April 1917. [Parker, K. M. 1917 The development of the hypophysis cerebri, pre-oral gut, and related structures in the Marsupialia. Journal of Anatomy 51: 13-249
Flynn Staff file 4 Jul 1924] Flynn, Hill and the two Watsons formed a close-knit group. During this time Flynn drafted a paper on the transference of the marsupial embryo to the pouch that would later be published by the Workers Educational Association in Hobart, but apparently the Royal Society decided not to publish the whale paper as he had expected.

Within the nurturing climate of Hill’s Department, Flynn began to further develop his theories on the corpus luteum. He was very happy and proud that his expertise in embryology was now being recognised internationally. There was much interest in London in the reptile placenta, and he ‘met with all sorts of courtesy’. However his stay was marred by an illness brought on the worst winter in years.

In March Theo spent three weeks at the Sorbonne and at the Musee d’Histoire Naturelle. Hill wanted him to go to an anatomical conference in Strasbourg but by then his ‘mended finances’ had exhausted. He had not expected the inflation in accommodation costs generated by the approaching Empire Exhibition in London and the Olympic games in Paris. The same reason forced him to abandon his hopes to visit Utrecht and Vienna. He spent £150 more than he planned for and cabled Thomas requesting the University to advance him three months salary. When he returned he sought refunds for the help of attendants at the British Museum, Hill’s laboratory and in Paris ‘Naturally under the circumstances receipts were not obtained for them.’ The University Council agreed to pay him £25 towards his expenses and to allow him a similar sum each year.[Flynn Staff file 4 Jul 1924]


In Hobart with Errol

Flynn returned to Hobart in May 1924 with Errol in tow, and the pair moved into a house in the Glebe.
5.4-Aberdeen-St
The house in Aberdeen St Glebe.

Errol spent a year at Hobart High School before being expelled. With Marelle and Rosemary now living in France, Theo had less personal need to be in Sydney, but having a large collection of material there was a strong incentive to use that as his research base. In October 1924 Flynn’s frustration with the library at the University of Tasmania and the cost and inconvenience of travelling to Sydney and Melbourne prompted him to seek a meeting with the Ralston Trustees to discuss how he could better meet their expectations of his research. His request was granted.
Soon afterwards Flynn applied for leave until July 31 1925, remarking there were no second and third year students in Zoology. He was also still trying to finish the work promised to Mawson after the Antarctic expedition. Taxonomic research depends on the availability of type specimens for comparison or at least published descriptions of related groups. The literature on the Pycnogonids was specialised and not readily available so Flynn had sought the assistance of the British Museum of Natural History. He received generous help from the Museum’s crustacean expert, William Calman, in 1919 but had more difficulty with other European experts until he went to see Bouvier in Paris in 1922. During his stay in Sydney in the summer of 1922-3 he did some more work on Pycnognid paper while still progressing with his marsupial research. He delayed his return to his students by a week or so, sure in the knowledge that he would catch up in term III. He decided not to return to England in 1925 despite hearing from Hill that another grant was possible. His growing commitment to his fishing business was the likely reason as shall appear.


In November 1925 he told the Vice Chancellor that he was ‘transferring his research work from Tasmania to Europe where I will be working in the University College London with Prof J P Hill and in the University of Paris with Profs. Perez and Verne.’ Apart from his salary in advance he did not seek funds for this trip, presumably because it was being paid for by his fisheries project and because Hill had arranged a grant of £100. He wrote to his sister–in-law Betty Glover, now living in Los Angeles, saying he might visit them early in 1926.[Elizabeth Flynn to Harry Young 5 Jan 1926 Mitchell] But his son’s troubles intervened.


Errol’s biography is not a reliable record of his upbringing neither are most of the biographies written by others. Don Norman provides a factual account of the Flynns family life in Hobart from 1909 to 1920 and Conrad’s reflections in the Errol Flynn Memoir give a much deeper understanding than he was allowed to write in Errol’s ‘autobiography’ My Wicked Wicked Ways. Moore’s study of the pre Hollywood Flynn also shows evidence of diligent research. Myers otherwise excellent biography of Errol, and his son Sean, is also not truly reliable as he too was dependent of Errol’s own account and those who knew him only as an adult.

Like very nearly all of my generation who grew up in Hobart in the 1950s, I ‘knew all about Errol Flynn’. Not Flynn the famous film-star but Hobart’s most famous schoolboy. When a student at Hobart High I had been shown the desk where he carved his initials before he was expelled. One of my teachers, Nancy Collis, had been in his class at the school; in fact I had been a pupil at three of the four Hobart Schools which Errol had attended. I used to pass one of the houses where he lived on my way to Friends School and much later lived next door to the house in Davey Street where he said he lost his virginity.

During Errol’s early childhood it seems likely that his mother was restless, probably lonely and miserable in Hobart. Theo Flynn found Errol a handful from an early age. He escaped from a nursemaid when he was little, and was sent home from a party at the Bishop’s residence for pushing girls into the fountain.[Australian Women’s Weekly (AWW) (1)] He ran away from home after being heavily chastised by his mother when caught exploring his own sexuality, and that of the girl who lived next door in Davey Street. His father found him three days later at a dairy farm in the foothills of Mount Wellington.

Punishment by his mother in no way deterred him, for it seems his first experience of sexual intercourse took place with the Flynn’s maid a year later. Contrary to his mother’s intention Errol embarked on a career devoted to exploring female sexuality from then until his untimely death in 1959. Although he was very intelligent and even precocious as a child he was not going to follow his father’s career. He liked dressing up and acting just as much as reading his father’s books and tagging along on trips to collect animals to be studied. He wrote well and earned a living as a journalist but adventure and the stage won the battle for his attention. In 1962 Theo said –
There was never any chance of his following my footsteps in an academic career – school to him was a place to let off his high spirits, not a place where knowledge could be gained.
We had no particular theories about bringing up children. I suppose we were not stern enough with him.
When he was small he used long words and loved dressing up and play-acting.[Saturday Evening Mercury (SEM) 21 April 1962 p. 6]

The relationship between the famous son and his parents has been the subject of much printers ink. Errol Flynn’s biographers have constructed some colourful theories and numerous myths. Readers will find an assessment of them in Kerry Edwards recent article entitled Errol Flynn: A Case Study in Historiography.[THRA. Vol 53 no 2, June 2006.] To what extent Errol’s rebelliousness and ‘adventurous spirit’ was due to neglect by his parents is a matter of conjecture. ]

Errol was only 15 when expelled from Hobart High so his education had to continue elsewhere. A boarding school would be best, and Theo turned to a friend in Sydney. The headmaster of North Shore Church of England Grammar, LC Robson agreed to give the ‘Tasmanian Devil’ another chance.[Norman p 52.] Errol became a boarder in the same house as John Gorton, later Prime Minister of Australia. His father’s discovery of the fossil whale received some coverage in Sydney and for a short time Errol basked in the reflected glory. He was very successful in sport, but study was a foreign land. The lad set about practicing his developing skills in seduction. Theo was still in England when Errol’s schooldays ended with another expulsion, for sexual dalliance with one of the school’s domestics. He may have been too ashamed to admit his expulsion to his grandmother but he had a number of other relatives to call on for help. Without consulting his father Errol now fended for himself. Handsome, clever and self-assured he felt quite able to live independently. He borrowed money from an uncle and left Australia for Rabaul, New Guinea on 1 October 1927.

By now Theo had returned from his European venture. Henceforth he was to be a free agent in Hobart, spending most of his time at the University before taking the short walk to his new lodging at Pressland House in Melville Street with the occasional diversion for a quick drink at Heathorn’s Hotel. His father had died in Sydney the previous October having apparently parted from Mrs Carter and apparently married again.[Armstrong op.cit]
5.5-Pressland-House5.6-Heathorn's-Hotel

Pressland House where Flynn later boarded and the nearby Heathorn’s Hotel.