Attention: You are using an outdated browser, device or you do not have the latest version of JavaScript downloaded and so this website may not work as expected. Please download the latest software or switch device to avoid further issues.

News > Docco's Diary > Docco's Diary: Sir Howard Florey

Docco's Diary: Sir Howard Florey

2023 is the 125th anniversary of the birth of our outstanding old scholar Sir Howard Florey in 1898.
Florey at his desk, 1944
Florey at his desk, 1944

Many old scholars who were here in the period 1967-1997 will remember studying Physics and Chemistry in the Florey Building, that was named in Sir Howard Florey’s honour. It was first in use in 1967 and the plaque on it was unveiled on Speech Day 1967.


Images: Official unveiling of the plaque, SPSC School Magazine,1967 and The Florey Building, SPSC School Magazine 1968

Old scholars who left after 1997 will remember a sculpture of Sir Howard Florey’s head that sits in the START (Science, Technology and Art) Building today. The START Building opened in 1997. The Florey Building was incorporated within the START Building.

Old scholars may be interested to know that 2023 is the 125th anniversary of the birth of this remarkable man who was born in 1898 in Malvern, a Southern suburb of Adelaide. He is one our most exceptional old scholars.

Image: SPSC School Magazine, 1963

He shared the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1945 with Ernst Chain and Sir Alexander Fleming for his role in the development of penicillin, a powerful antibiotic that treats infections caused by bacteria. Penicillin is still widely used to treat infections and save lives around the world today.

He is one of three Nobel Prize winners from St Peter’s College, along with William Lawrence Bragg (1915) and Dr Robin Warren (2005). Only six secondary schools in the world have produced more than three Nobel Prize winners.

His discoveries are estimated to have saved over 80 million lives, and he is regarded by the Australian scientific and medical community as one of its greatest figures.

In 1911, he entered St Peter's College, where he excelled in Chemistry, Physics, Mathematics and History. He played in Intercollegiate matches for us in cricket, AFL football, tennis, and track and field athletics as a sprinter and high jumper. The cost of his education was covered by four scholarships. He served in the Senior Cadets. He was head boy in his final year at Saints, and was ranked twelfth in the state in his final examinations. He left in 1916.

Image: SPSC Prefects, 1916 (Howard Florey, Front Left)

The House system at our School did not start until 1920 but the boys were arranged into “Districts” for internal sporting competition. He was in “Souths” District as he lived in the Southern suburbs of Adelaide. He captained “Souths” in a range of sports.

Image: Intercollegiate Cricket, 1915 (Howard Florey, Second Left Rear)

He entered the University of Adelaide in 1917 and was awarded a Rhodes Scholarship to Oxford University in 1920.

He travelled to Oxford in 1922 and had to choose a college. He chose to study at Magdalen College, Oxford, where his Headmaster, Henry Girdlestone, had been a student.

He later studied in the USA, and at Cambridge University, but it was at Oxford that in conjunction with chemist Ernst Chain he began work on penicillin. In 1941, he published his first article about penicillin in the British Medical Journal. The importance of his work was immediately recognised and the manufacture of the drug subsequently developed in America. For this achievement he received numerous awards, including a knighthood in 1944, but the highest of these was undoubtedly the Nobel Prize for Medicine, which he shared with Fleming and Chain in 1945.

The crowning honour of his career came with his election as President of the Royal Society, a position which has been held by such great men as Newton, Lister and Rutherford.

Although Fleming received most of the credit for the discovery of penicillin, it was Florey and his team at Oxford University who made it into a useful and effective drug, ten years after Fleming had abandoned its development. They developed techniques for growing, purifying and manufacturing the drug, and carried out the first clinical trials.

Florey's portrait appeared on the Australian fifty-dollar note for 22 years between 1973 and 1995.

He retained a considerable affection for his old School and visited St Peter’s College in 1963.

As stated in the December 1963 St Peter’s College magazine: “The School may thus be proud to count such a distinguished man as Howard Florey among its old boys”.

Australian Prime Minister Sir Robert Menzies said: "In terms of world well-being, Florey was the most important man ever born in Australia.”



Researched and written by David Docwra

David Docwra retired from St Peter’s College in December 2015 after 37 years’ service and is fondly remembered by many as a dedicated teacher, a committed coach of squash, cricket and soccer, and most especially as a passionate Head of Hawkes House for 21 years. David remains connected to St Peter’s College and regularly provides historical articles for the St Peter’s Old Collegians’ newsletters. In 2023 David was made an Honorary Member of the St Peter’s Old Collegians’ Association.

This website is powered by