Vickery, Joyce

Joyce Winifred Vickery D Sc MBE [1] was born on 15 December 1908 at Strathfield as the youngest of four children of George Begg Vickery and his wife Elizabeth Alice Adeline (nee Rossbach). Her grandfather was Ebenezer Vickery a leading merchant, manufacturer and philanthropist of nineteenth century Sydney. A staunch Methodist Ebenezer Vickery was a generous supporter of the church. 

Vickery attended the Methodist Ladies College Burwood and Sydney University where she obtained her doctorate in 1959 and had been a staff member from 1931.

Following completion of her Master of Science in 1933 she was appointed in 1934 as President of the University of Sydney Biology Society. Then in 1936 she was offered the position of assistant botanist at the National Herbarium of NSW but refused the position unless she was paid according to her qualifications. Thereafter she had long battles with the Public Service Board over equal pay.

In 1931 she and a close friend, Lillian Ross Fraser, explored the upper Williams River and Barrington Tops. They published a series of pioneering ecological papers. In 1937-38 she spent a year (largely self funded) at the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew, London, England. This encouraged her in leading a revival in taxonomic research. She became the inaugural editor of a journal of the National Herbarium. Her major research concerned the Australian grass species, the Gramineae. Her expertise was such that she was sometimes called upon to assist with forensic work, most noticeably in identifying plant fragments in the suspects car of the kidnap and murder of the child Graeme Thorn in 1961.

She supported John Tipper’s Muogamarra Sanctuary, was a trustee of the Elouera Bushland Reserve (now Berowra Valley National Park) and campaigned for the preservation of the ecology of Kosciusko State Park during the 1960s. This support included the purchase of land adjoining the Elouera Bushland Reserve for inclusion in it.

Vickery was awarded a Member of the British Empire in 1962.

She edited a new Flora of New South Wales (1971-84), received the W B Clarke Medal of the NSW Royal Society in 1964 and became Senior Botanist at the National Herbarium also in 1964. She retired in 1968 but continued her research. Between 1973 and 1979 she was the Honorary Research Fellow at the National Herbarium of NSW  South Wales.

Vickery was reserved and formal in her personal style and conservative in values. She abandoned religious belief early in her career but maintained her family’s ethics of self-discipline, loyalty and public service. She was very generous to students and other scholars. Declaring when still young that ‘she didn’t want any man handing on her coat tails’ she did not marry but sustained a few deep friendships. She remained a friend of Lillian Fraser for the rest of their respective lives, and Miss Fraser’s garden around her home is now the Lillian Fraser garden in Pennant Hills. Miss Fraser was also awarded the Clarke Medal by the Royal Society of NSW, but in 1976. [2]

She died at her home in The Promenade, Cheltenham, on 29 May 1979 and the Linnean Society benefitted significantly by annual donations in the years leading to her death and then the sum of $34,000 from her estate. From the proceeds of her donation the Linnean Society established the Joyce W Vickery Scientific Research Fund. [3]

[1]        The information in this biography derives largely from the Australian Dictionary of Biography (Melbourne University Press, Melbourne, 2002) Vol 16. Also see: A Holland ‘Joyce Vickery (1908-1979) botanist in H Radi (ed) 200 Australian Women: A redress Anthology (Women’s Redress Press, Sydney, 1988); C Hooker ‘Joyce Winifred Vickery: Taxonomic Botanist’ (2000) Australasian Scientist vol 21 part 7 p 46; A Lee ‘Joyce Winifred Vickery 1908-1979)’ (1980) Telopea Vol 2 part 1.

[2]        Lillian Ross Fraser (1908-1987) was a botanist working primarily identifying fungi and viruses especially in the citrus industry. She obtained her Bachelor in Science from University of Sydney in 1930 and her doctorate in 1937. In 1938 she studied at the Imperial Mycological Institute and Imperial College of Science and Technology University of London. In 1940 she was employed as an assistant plant pathologist at the NSW Department of Agriculture. She was the first woman accepted into the Fellowship of the Australian Institute of Agricultural Science. In 1960 she was appointed the Senior Biologist becoming the Chief Biologist in 1968. She retired in 1973 and died 5 October 1987. Also see P Barkley ‘Lillian Ross Fraser 1909-1987’ (1987) Australasian Plant Pathology Vol 16 part 4 p96

[3]    Link   Joyce W Vickery Scientific Research Fund