Wilfrid Russell Grimwade was born in 1879, knighted in 1950 and died in 1955. He led a remarkable and diverse life by any measure. He was a chemist, botanist, industrialist and philanthropist. He also had a passion for science, appreciation of art and sense of obligation to the community.
An early motoring enthusiast he was the first to drive from Melbourne to Adelaide
Russell studied chemistry at the University of Melbourne and in 1907 became a partner of his family’s multi-faceted and successful chemical firm.
The company was instrumental in establishing the Britannia Creek Wood distillation plant near Warburton in 1907.
Russell was also a keen botanist, especially of the eucalypts, and was official botanical adviser to the Army during World War II.
Before the War, he foresaw a shortage of certain essential drugs and in 1939 he cabled an English firm for a pound each of five drug seed varieties. Plants such a digitalis, heroin, hyoscine, opium, and other deadly, but lifesaving drugs were produced on his country home “Westerfield” near Baxter on the Mornington Peninsula.
While in his workshop he developed cabinet-making skills of a very high order using native timbers. In 1939 the workshop became a crutch factory, Russell and his friends producing 3000 pairs by 1941.
In 1920 he published “An Anthography of the Eucalypts”, which was illustrated with his own photographs.
He supported the opening of the Australian Forestry School, at Canberra in 1927 under his friend Charles Lane Poole.
In 1929 he made an endowment of £5000 to the then Commonwealth Forestry and Timber Bureau to create the Russell Grimwade Prize for forestry. The award was for a post-graduate course at the Imperial Forestry Institute at Oxford, but this was subsequently amended to widen its scope. The funding was bolstered with a further £15,000 in 1954. Forest & Wood Products Australia (FWPA) now administers the prize which is awarded every three years.
Some notable Victorian recipients of the Grimwade Award include Alf Lawrence (1933), later Chairman of the Forests Commission, Bob Orr (1965), Senior lecturer at VSF, Arthur Webb (1968) Chief Forest Assessor, Peter Langley (1973), NRE Director of Regional Management and Dr Tony Bartlett (1984), now at the Australian National University.
As a gift to the people of Melbourne to celebrate the centenary of European settlement in Victoria in 1934 he donated Captain Cook’s cottage. The building was moved, brick by brick from Great Ayrton in England to the Fitzroy Gardens, shipped in 253 crates and 40 barrels complete with an ivy cutting which had grown on the original house. Today the cottage is covered by the ivy.
Prominent in such bodies as the National Museum, the Royal Botanic Gardens Melbourne, The Felton Bequest Committee, the Australian and New Zealand Association for the Advancement of Science and the University of Melbourne, Sir Russell Grimwade left a remarkable legacy.