The World of Joseph W. Mellor (1869-1938): Chemist, Ceramicist & Cartoonist. Online exhibition.

Date Created

9th January 2015


Joseph William Mellor (1869-1938) was an Otago graduate who became a ceramicist, a cartoonist, and, more importantly, a famous chemist. Indeed, his single-handed effort to complete his 16 volume definitive work A Comprehensive Treatise on Inorganic and Theoretical Chemistry (1922-1937), which amounted to over 15,000 pages and 16 million words, has never been equalled. From very humble beginnings and self-initiated study, Mellor obtained a place at the University of Otago, and then won a scholarship to study for a research degree at Owens College, Manchester. He then moved to Stoke-on-Trent, where he became principal of the Technical College (now part of Staffordshire University). During the First World War, Mellor's research was directed towards refractories, high-temperature ceramics relevant to the steel industry and thus the war effort. It was for this work that he was offered a peerage, which he turned down. In 1927 he was elected to the Royal Society for work related to ceramics, the only other being Josiah Wedgwood in the eighteenth century. Mellor retained a boyish sense of humour all his life, and he was dubbed by colleagues the 'Peter Pan of Ceramics'. He was also a skilled cartoonist and his Uncle Joe’s Nonsense (1934) contains a collection of humorous stories illustrated with clever pen sketches. Just before Mellor died in May 1938, he received a C.B.E.

The World of Joseph W. Mellor (1869-1938) Chemist, Ceramicist & Cartoonist is an exhibition that highlights Mellor’s life, work and legacy. It begins with his early years in Kaikorai Valley and first work at Sargood's Boot Factory, and his study at the University of Otago. It then deals with his marriage to Emma Cranwell Bakes, his many publications and relationships with his publishers, his contemporaries and friends such as Bernard Moore, Frank Wedgwood, and Louis Solon, and his involvement in various ceramic societies world-wide. And then there is his legacy, which constitutes today annual memorial lectures associated with the Ceramic Society in England and the Wellington Branch of the New Zealand Institute of Chemistry, a Mellor Professorship at the University of Otago, and a Mellor street and park in the suburb of Kaikorai Valley, Dunedin. His personal archives, ceramics and books are found at Special Collections, University of Otago, the Otago Museum, and the Heritage Collection, Dunedin Public Library.


Various collectors

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