Heritage Guide to The Geelong College

Search the Guide

To find information in this Guide please select one of the green coloured options.

To Select a Page Group when displayed, right click and select 'Open'.

Copyright Conditions Apply.

HONEYCOMBE, Robert William Kerr (1921-2007)

HONEYCOMBE, Professor Sir Robert William Kerr (1921-2007)

Robert Honeycombe, 1958.

Robert Honeycombe, 1958.

Prof. Sir R Honeycombe

Sir R Honeycombe

Distinguished scientist and metallurgist, Professor Sir Robert Honeycombe was born in Melbourne and, after his family moved to Geelong, attended Swanston St State School. His parents, William Honeycombe and Rachel Annie Kerr enrolled him at Geelong College in 1932. He completed his secondary education at College in 1937.

After leaving School, he undertook a science course at the University of Melbourne, with Metallurgy as a major subject, and qualified for the degrees of Bachelor in 1941 and of Master in 1942. He was an exhibitioner and the only 1st Class Honours student in his field of Metallurgy in 1941. From 1942 to 1947 he was a research officer of the Lubricants and Bearings Section of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO). His work included studies of the manufacture and metallurgical evaluation of bearings, and the mechanism and effects of plastic deformation in metals and alloys particularly under thermal cycling. He was associated in this work with Dr. Boas. He accepted an ICI Fellowship in 1947 and joined the Metal Physics Group at the renowned Cavendish Laboratory, Cambridge, to work on non-uniformities of plastic distortion in metallic materials. In 1949, he gained a Doctorate of Philosophy of the University of Cambridge. The award of a Royal Society Armourers' and Braziers’ Research Fellowship in 1949 enabled him to continue his research into plastic distortion of metals.

During 1951, he took up a Senior Lectureship in Physical Metallurgy at the University of Sheffield, and in 1955 was appointed to a Chair in the same discipline. Professor Honeycombe's responsibilities were largely in the post-graduate field. In 1960, the University of Melbourne conferred on him the degree of Doctor of Science in recognition of his published papers on the deformation of metallic materials. For most of the academic year in 1962 he was a Visiting Professor of Physical Metallurgy at the University of Melbourne, under a scheme which was funded by a group of Australian mining and metal companies. This provided a great stimulus to the Metallurgy Department's research and advanced studies, and especially to its work on the structure and properties of steels. In 1966, he relinquished his Chair at Sheffield to accept an invitation to the Goldsmiths' Chair of Metallurgy at the University of Cambridge and Head of department - a position he held until 1984. He also became president of Clare Hall, Cambridge from 1973 to 1980 after which he became a Professorial Fellow at the College, and after retiring from his university post an Emeritus Fellow and Honorary Fellow. In the year 2000 the new Clare Hall graduate wing was named the Robert Honeycombe Building. In 1975 the University of Melbourne honoured him with the award of an Honorary Doctorate of Applied Science.

The Melbourne University citation of 1975 included: ‘Professor Honeycombe published many research papers covering both the basic science of metals and its applications to engineering developments. He is also well-known for his book entitled "The Plastic Deformation of Metals" which was published in 1968. He was awarded the Rosenhain Medal of the Institute of Metals, London, in 1959 and the Sir George Beilby Medal and Premium, presented by a small group of British learned societies in 1963. He was generous in affording opportunities to many graduates of the University of Melbourne to work in association with him, as candidates for higher degrees and as temporary research associates. All of these people, and many other Australians, owe a debt of gratitude to this very distinguished man, one of the most highly regarded graduates in Metallurgy from the University of Melbourne.’

Professor Honeycombe was knighted in 1990 for his services to materials science. Elected a Fellow of the Royal Society and of the Royal Academy of Engineering, his distinction was also recognised by the award of honorary degrees from, Sheffield and Leoben. He was Treasurer and Vice-President of the Royal Society from 1986 to 1992, and his other prominent posts included periods as President of the Institution of Metallurgists, President of the Metals Society, and Prime Warden of the Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths.

Sir Robert Honeycombe was inducted into the Old Geelong Collegians' Association Notables Gallery at Geelong College in 2011.

Sources: Ad Astra March 1975; Ad Astra June 1982; Ad Astra June 1982; University of Melbourne. Citation for award of Honorary Doctorate, 1975; Clare Hall Review No 7 Autumn 2008, p13.
© The Geelong College. Unless otherwise attributed, The Geelong College asserts its creative and commercial rights over all images and text used in this publication. No images or text material may be copied, reproduced or published without the written authorisation of The College.