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Henry Tasman Lovell (1878–1958)

by Anne Sanders

Born in the northern New South Wales town of Kempsey in 1878, Henry Tasman Lovell followed his schoolteacher father into the teaching profession. He was awarded a scholarship to undertake one-year teacher training at Fort Street Training School in Sydney; and in 1900 he was appointed to Fort Street Model School where he taught for six years. In 1902 he enrolled in evening classes in order to prepare for university matriculation to study arts at the University of Sydney. By 1906 he had completed a BA with first class honours in logic, mental philosophy and French, gaining the University Medal for Philosophy. He later commenced teaching at the newly established teacher training college (The Teachers’ College, later Sydney Teachers’ College) under the directorship of Alexander Mackie.

In 1907, while undertaking his MA, he was awarded the Woolley Travelling Scholarship, which he used in securing a place at the University of Jena, Germany, where he completed a doctoral thesis, in German, on Herbert Spencer’s utilitarian theory of education. At Jena, Lovell encountered Sigmund Freud’s psychoanalytic theories and Alfred Binet’s mental measurement scale and intelligence analysis. He was awarded a PhD, and in 1910 returned to Australia to teach education, French and German at The Teachers’ College. Lovell had returned at a time of increasing professional interchange between the University of Sydney and the college. In 1910 Alexander Mackie was appointed Professor of Education at the university as well as retaining his title of Principal of the teacher training college, and the University Senate approved a diploma of education taught jointly across both institutions. Whilst still lecturing at the college, Lovell was also appointed as Reader in Psychology within the university’s Department of Philosophy, to give evening lectures part time.

In 1913 Lovell was appointed as full-time assistant to Professor Francis Anderson (Professor of Logic and Mental Philosophy), to give 30 lectures on psychology as part of Philosophy 1. Lovell presented psychology as a ‘positive science…concerned with facts for the sake of knowledge’, and as his successor Professor W. M. O’Neill later observed, he ‘had little patience for seductive theories lacking empirical support, or for masses of facts of little apparent theoretical significance’. By 1916 Lovell had introduced a special course within Philosophy devoted to Sigmund Freud, Carl Jung and the problems of psycho-pathology, possibly drawing on the papers of Freud, Jung and Havelock Ellis delivered at the Australasian Medical Congress held in Sydney in 1911. The teaching of psychology at the University of Sydney emerged out of the university’s departments of Philosophy and Education.

Because of his expertise in French and German, Lovell kept abreast of all recent international developments in English, American, French and German professional journals. He was very much a self-taught critical, empirical psychologist whose teachings incorporated experimental psychology, psychometrics and dynamic psychology. In 1921 he was appointed McCaughey Associate Professor of Psychology within the Department of Philosophy, and in 1923 his major monograph Dreams, which drew upon Freud’s theories, was published (Dreams was an extension of his earlier essay, Springs of Human Action, published by Sydney Teachers’ College in 1914). While he took issue with certain aspects of Freudian psychoanalytic theory, he admired its scientific approach and valued the therapeutic outcomes of dream analysis. It was Freud’s depiction of the self as dynamic and developmental that impressed him. Although Lovell made representation to the University Senate for a full professorship in 1925, it was not until 1929 that he was appointed foundation Professor of Psychology, with his own department, the first of its kind in Australia. Lovell’s distinction was his promotion of psychoanalytic theory in equal measure with experimental and social psychology. He retired from the University of Sydney in 1945.

Lovell was active in various university and non-university organisations involved in social work and promoting the ‘new psychology’: he was Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Fellow of the University Senate from 1937–41, and sat on the University Board of Studies directing the training of social workers. He regularly participated as a lecturer for the Workers Education Association (WEA), gave evening extension classes in psychology and was an active board member on the New South Wales Council of Social Service and the Child Welfare Advisory Council. Lovell was the first president of the Australian Branch of the British Psychological Society and regularly published papers in scholarly journals, including an article ‘Psycho-analysis and art’ in Art in Australia in 1923, as well as contributing as editor of the Australasian Journal of Psychology and Philosophy from 1927–34.

He played a formative role in the establishment of the Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER)—funded by the Carnegie Corporation—as an executive member from 1930–48 and serving as vice-president, then president. In 1937 ACER hosted the New Education Fellowship International Conference in Australia and New Zealand—with a record participation in the Australian capitals of 8,000 attendees. As part of the Australian organising committee, Lovell would have been involved in the invitations extended to leading protagonists of progressive education, such as Susan Isaacs, an educational psychologist and psychoanalyst, head of the Child Development Department at the Institute of Education, University of London, and member of the British Psychoanalytical Society.

In 1941 Lovell commissioned a portrait medallion of himself from Hungarian émigré sculptor Andor Mészáros; and in 1969 the H. Tasman Lovell Memorial Prize Fund was established at the Department of Psychology, University of Sydney—an annual award in which a copy of the medallion is presented to the candidate who submits the best doctoral thesis in psychology.

His first wife Alice Eleanor died in 1953 and in 1954 he married widow, Alice Wood Johnston. H. Tasman Lovell died in 1958 and was survived by his second wife and his three sons from his first marriage; Bruce, Nigel and Guy.

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Citation details

Anne Sanders, 'Lovell, Henry Tasman (1878–1958)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 17 July 2024.

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