Merrillees – The Camellia & The Man


Dr. Chrichton Raoul Merrillees









ANZCRS., 1957, Camellia Annual, No.4, p.8, Reg. No.29: Large, white, informal double seedling of Great Eastern, raised by E.G. Waterhouse, Gordon, N.SW, Australia. Very large outer petals, ruffled, with a low centre of twisted petaloids. Leaves very serrate. Blooms mid-season.

This article is from Camellia News No. 28 December, 1967 and can be found on CA’s website

In 1959 the Australian Camellia Research Society lost one of its most popular, energetic and enthusiastic camellias researchers in the person of Dr. Chrichton Raoul Merrillees. He was born in 1884 and educated at the Melbourne Church of England Grammar School, where he took an active part in school life, particularly in athletics and rifle shooting and earned a commission in the school cadet corps. In 1902 Raoul commenced his medical course at the University of Melbourne, winning a scholarship to Trinity College. Successfully completing three years of his course at Melbourne, he went to Edinburgh where he graduated L.R.C.P. and L.R.C.S. in 1907. Returning to Australia he engaged in general practice at Pyramid Hill in Victoria.

On the outbreak of World War 1 he joined the A.I.F. with the rank of Captain. He went overseas in 1916 and served in France util the end of the war. He was wounded on the Somme early in 1918 and again in Amiens in August 1918 and was promoted to Major.

Before returning to Australia he obtained the Fellowship of the Royal College of Surgeons of Glasgow.

In 1920 he was appointed to the medical staff of the Victorian Department of Health as a Health Officer, and in 1927 was District Health Officer of the Metropolitan Area. In 1945 he was appointed to the new post of Senior Health Officer and in 1946 to Chief Health Officer, which he held until his retirement in 1949.

During his term of office he re-organised the Department of Health, and introduced to schools throughout the Melbourne and Metropolitan Area immunization against diphtheria, reducing this disease from 400 cases per 100,000 of population in 1932 to only 19 in 1947. His intense interest in epidemiology lead to his major feat in this field, his elucidation of the cause and method of spread of Melbourne’s last typhoid epidemic at Moorabbin in 1943. His report on this was considered a medical masterpiece and the high standard of administration and level of public health in Victoria are the outcome of the devotion and skilled ability of such men.

Raoul was not only a leader in his chosen profession but also a keen naturalist and horticulturalist. He was an active member of a number of horticultural societies, with camellias as his main love. His knowledge and reputation as an expert on these plants became worldwide, and overseas camellia societies were always pleased to have his articles. Research into camellia problems was one of his hobbies, and in 1952, together with Professor Waterhouse, Walter Hazlewood and Alex Jessep. He founded the Australian Camellia Research Society (now Camellias Australia).

He was Chairman of the Victorian Branch from its formation in 1954 until his death. His services as a judge of camellias were eagerly sought, and these as well as lectures he gave willingly. His most interesting garden was always open to camellia fanciers, and no real camellia lover was ever refused a scion if available. He was a keen supporter of charitable institutions, and over the years propagated hundreds of camellia plants and donated the proceeds to the Mission of St James and St John.

Suring this time he issued the “Shere” catalogues which included the first releases of Australian varieties such as ‘Beatrice Burns’, ‘Teringa’. ‘Henry Turnbull’. He produced several new varieties such as ‘Erica McMinn’. In 1957 a seedling of ‘Great Eastern’ – one of his favourite varieties – was named in his honour ‘Merrillees’ by Gordon Waterhouse.

In 1955 he visited Japan for the purpose of studding camellias, in particular sasanquas, a species of which he was very fond. During the latter period of his life he worked hard for the Society, and members who knew him well miss his cheerful smile and friendly manner at our meetings. After his death in 1959 his close friend and fellow member Alfred Stewart, with the approval of the Society, organized the production of a fine medal known as “The Merrillees Award”, which is now controlled by the R.H.S. of Victoria, and awarded for meritorious camellia seedlings, a field in which he was deeply interested.

His many friends including those in the camellia world, respected his wide knowledge and great understanding of human nature and are the better for having known this kindly, knowledgeable gentleman.

“Tom Savige in a letter to Beth Bortolin in 1992 wrote “The Doc loved to play the devil’s advocate, so no matter what your opinion was, you could always get an argument. He entertained us most of the drive to Sydney with his stutter and occasional clack of loose dentures! Nothing phased him, he loved to talk.”

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