Ann Moyal, 1926-2019

Tributes paid to tireless independent scholar who wrote two outspoken memoirs as well as some classic studies of the history of science

August 29, 2019
Ann Moyal

A maverick researcher who escaped the confines of university life has died, aged 93.

Ann Moyal was born in Northbridge, a suburb of Sydney, Australia, in 1926, named appropriately after H. G. Wells’ rebellious heroine Ann Veronica. She attended a private girls’ school and then the University of Sydney, where she gained a first in history.

Although she won a postgraduate scholarship to the Institute of Historical Research at the University of London and could have pursued a conventional academic career, Ms Moyal decided to become a research assistant at the Royal Institute of International Affairs. From 1954 to 1958, she helped the press baron Lord Beaverbrook write Men and Power, 1917-1918 (1956). She shared the hectic social life at his many mansions and even took responsibility for looking after the ailing Winston Churchill at Beaverbrook’s villa on the French Riviera. When she was eventually sacked, she returned to Australia to edit the Australian Dictionary of Biography.

After a spell in the US, partly as science editor at the University of Chicago Press (1967-70), Ms Moyal again returned to Australia, lectured at the New South Wales Institute of Technology – now the University of Technology Sydney – and was appointed director of the Centre for Science Policy at Griffith University. Unhappy with the environment there, she managed to extricate herself by pouring a cup of coffee over the vice-chancellor’s head.

Freed from university employment, Ms Moyal embraced the status of an independent scholar. Her books included Scientists in Nineteenth Century Australia: A Documentary History (1976), A Bright and Savage Land: Scientists in Colonial Australia (1986) and the award-winning Platypus: The Extraordinary Story of How a Curious Creature Baffled the World (2001). She received the Order of Australia for her “contribution to the history of Australian science” and also wrote two amusingly indiscreet memoirs, Breakfast with Beaverbrook: Memoirs of an Independent Woman (1995) and A Woman of Influence: Science, Men & History (2014).

Stuart Macdonald, currently a visiting professor at the University of Leicester’s School of Management, described Platypus as “the epitome of how serious academic study should be presented to a wide audience”.

“I knew Ann Moyal as friend and colleague for over 40 years,” he went on, “and was frequently put to shame by her energy and determination. Her last email to me, written just three weeks before her death, was typical: ‘I have rboken [sic] my right arm recently, awful copingy [sic] with one’s left but I’ve been productive and just about to start a new book.’”

Ms Moyal died on 21 July.

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