James Gilbert (Jim) Scroggie

By March 25th, 2011


James Gilbert (Jim) Scroggie was born in Melbourne on 26 March 1932 to James Prentice Scroggie (a hairdresser) and Lillian Alice Scroggie (nee Charlesworth). His early education was at Camberwell State School in Camberwell Road followed by Hampton State School and Melbourne High School, where he won a scholarship to the University of Melbourne. As Jim recalled:

My time at Camberwell only lasted for a short time and I left the school because of the polio (infantile paralysis as it was then known) epidemic which was rife in the mid- to late-1950s in this country. Children were taken out of school to avoid the risk of contracting polio which was a terrifying prospect in those days, and which remained so for many years until successful vaccines (Salk and Sabin) were developed to virtually eliminate this threat. I remember when we moved to Hampton that a hospital was set up on Beach Road just to cater for polio sufferers.

My first venture into chemistry was when my parents bought me my first chemistry set and I was fascinated to make things like gun powder. I used to make regular visits to Selbys in Swanston Street in the city to buy new chemicals and glassware. No doubt this early interest and my later experience with Alf Richards, the wonderful chemistry teacher at Melbourne High School, eventually led to me changing from my earliest ambitions to be a farmer (following my paternal grandfather) and later a doctor (following my aunt Edna who was a nurse like her mother). Aunt Edna worked for Dr Hattam – a fairly well-known abortionist in the days when it was totally illegal. I especially remember the Fortunes in Formulas book which my parents gave me, containing recipes for all manner of things including cosmetics.

At Melbourne High Alf Richards frightened many students but proved to be a great inspiration to me and set me on the road to a career as a research chemist.

He obtained his BSC from the University of Melbourne in 1952 with an Exhibition and First-Class Honours in Chemistry III and 2nd Class Honours in Chemistry IV topping the year and winning the Fred Walker Scholarship. He obtained his MSc from the University of Melbourne in 1954 with Honours in Organic Chemistry for his thesis: ‘Oxidation of Aromatic Amines’.

He was awarded an ICIANZ Research Fellowship and undertook postgraduate research in the Chemistry Department of the University of Melbourne under the supervision of the late Dr Kenneth Henry Pausacker, receiving his PhD in 1958 for his thesis: ‘Some Reactions of the Nitroarylamines’. Seven papers resulted from this research.

Forensic science activities

Breath tests for alcohol

In December 1956, Dr Scroggie joined the newly-formed Forensic Science Laboratory established initially in the Pathology Department of the University of Melbourne and was Deputy Director from that time until mid-1965 (the Director being Dr Norman McCallum). During that time, while gradually extending the range of interests and activities of the Laboratory, much of his early work was focused on the use and acceptance of voluntary blood tests for alcohol in drink-driving cases. This was followed by extensive investigation of the similar use of breath tests for alcohol, in particular their effectiveness, specificity and reliability. This subsequently led to the use of breath tests routinely in such cases in Victoria (gradually replacing the blood test), first on a voluntary basis but later on a ‘compulsory’ basis with a fixed upper legal permissible limit of 0.05 per cent alcohol in the blood.

This revolutionised this whole area of law enforcement and, as the result of the pioneering work done in this laboratory, the breath-testing technique became accepted practice around the world. Training programs were developed for police operators of the breath-testing equipment, resulting in a specialised new unit (initially the Breathalyser Squad) being formed within the Police Department. During these years, the laboratory worked closely with the newly-appointed Police Surgeon, Dr John Birrell, who was very active in promoting road safety.

In 1962, Dr Scroggie attended the Third International Conference on Alcohol and Road Traffic held in London as an Australian delegate and presented a paper on breath alcohol testing which attracted great interest.

Other forensic activities

The laboratory was initially set up within the University grounds but then expanded to Police Headquarters (first in Russell Street, Melbourne and then in the old Dental College, Melbourne) as additional staff from the Police Department itself became part of the scientific team. These Police Officers were trained in various aspects of forensic science practice and eventually led to introduction of a wide range of specialist sections within the Laboratory (such as drug identification, firearms identification, handwriting examination, photographic section, etc). In particular, members were trained in the procedures for attendance at crime scenes where scientific evidence might be involved and lecture courses were run at the Detective Training College to familiarise crime investigators with such procedures and with the various possibilities for scientific investigation. He also established an extensive ‘Tablet and Capsule Identification Index’ which was extremely useful for the rapid identification of pharmaceutical products.

During 1965, it was decided that the civilian members of the laboratory should be transferred from University of Melbourne employment to employment under the State Public Service, with accompanying closure of the University Laboratory. Dr Scroggie opposed this move on the grounds that there were substantial advantages in retaining a direct connection with the University. He was offered the Directorship of the newly-forming State Laboratory but declined and took up employment with the (also newly-forming) Leather Research Group within CSIRO. Within time, the State Forensic Science Laboratory expanded greatly and is currently housed at McLeod with a staff list many times the original size.

Expert witness and consulting

Although advocating the use of scientific evidence such as breath and blood tests for alcohol, he was always conscious of their limitations. This was particularly evidenced by the fact that, after leaving the Forensic Laboratory, he was regularly consulted and called to give expert evidence in Court especially, but not exclusively, in cases involving breath tests. In one important case, he was instrumental in bringing pressure on the authorities to concede that there was at least one medical condition (gastric reflux) where falsely high blood alcohol readings could be obtained by breath testing.

In more recent years, he drew the attention of the authorities to the limitations of post-mortem analysis of blood for alcohol in cases of fatal accidents or various criminal proceedings involving death, and highlighted the need for caution in interpreting the results of such tests which, in certain circumstances, may again give falsely high readings – this can lead not only to a miscarriage of justice in specific cases but also can distort the statistics relating to the role of alcohol in fatal accidents.

Leather research at CSIRO (1965-87)

During his employment with CSIRO, Dr Scroggie developed and maintained a close relationship with appropriate research institutes both in Australia and overseas, with the hide, skin and leather industries, and with associated industries such as chemical and machinery supply companies both in Australia and overseas, and was frequently called upon to act as a technical consultant to these industries and other organisations such as Government and semi-Government bodies. Long after retirement from Leather Research activities, he was called as a consultant and appeared as an expert witness in a number of major civil court proceedings.

He was actively involved in formulating the research program of the CSIRO Leather Research Group and in carrying out major projects within that program. Inter alia, this involved the development of new or improved processes suitable for use in the tanning and related industries and the introduction of such processes into commercial practice (involving pilot-scale and full-scale trials). Importantly, the feasibility of recycling in various stages of leather production was established and introduced into commercial tanneries. The work also involved an assessment of the various processing methods and processing materials used in such commercial operations and acting in a technical advisory capacity where members of the industry experienced problems in their production. He assisted in the training and education of technical personnel employed in the industry and was responsible for the leather technicians training course which is still offered to technicians throughout the Australian industry.

He has been involved in many hundreds of investigations into the cause of, and solution to, problems with chemical and other processes in the commercial tanning and associated industries, either through being consulted directly by industry or through the regular routine visits which he made to the industry throughout Australia. He made numerous overseas visits to leather research institutes, commercial tanneries and associated companies, chemical and machinery supply companies and to major trade exhibitions such as the annual ‘Semaine du Cuir’ in Paris. On retirement, he was made an Honorary Life Member of the Leather Guild which he helped to establish.

He published a total 43 papers in the open scientific literature and a further 23 lesser technical reports and publications.

Flute activities

After several years of recorder playing and an almost life-long interest in the flute, Dr Scroggie started flute lessons with Leslie Barklamb in 1966. Les had been a long-standing flute player in the Victorian (and later Melbourne) Symphony Orchestra but had recently been forced to retire due to tendon problems in his hands. Dr Scroggie extended his chamber music playing from recorder groups to groups with flute and various other instruments, eventually becoming part of regularly performing orchestras such as the Concord Light Orchestra. As a result of a request from a family friend and at the instigation of Les Barklamb, he started teaching the flute in 1980 and has continued this teaching of flute, recorder and music theory for over 25 years. Starting with a relatively small number of students, his teaching practice expanded and each year many students were prepared for school examinations and, in particular, AMEB examinations at all levels from Grade 1 to Grade 8 and AMusA Diploma.

Jim was a Foundation committee member of the Victorian Flute Guild set up by Les Barklamb in 1969 and has served continuously on its Committee from then until the present time. He has been Honorary Treasurer of the Guild continuously from 1971 until the present time and has seen the financial resources of the Guild grow from almost nothing to a substantial total which allows the Guild to be involved in a range of musical and educational activities. As Jim recalled:

Having learned the flute from Les Barklamb, I formed a close relationship with him and this led to him realising his dream of a wide-spread flute organisation which was named the Victorian Flute Guild; I was a foundation committee member and remain so, having been Treasurer for well over 30 years. Les was also responsible for me becoming a flute teacher and thus had a profound influence on my life, enabling me to take early retirement from CSIRO in 1987. My teaching became part of my life at least until my health problems in 2007.

Jim acted as Treasurer and was on the Organising Committees for the highly-successful Melbourne Flute Festival held in 1994 and the 11th Australian Flute Convention held in Melbourne in 2002. For many years, he organised group playing for his students, especially around Christmas time, and ran a regular weekly musical evening at his home. He is a long-standing member of the Victorian Flute Guild Ensemble (Victorian Flute Ensemble) in which he usually plays alto flute.

Other interests

Jim was a keen sportsman and a very competitive one. He was a professional cyclist and a member of St Kevin’s old boys athletic association specialising in the steeplechase. He ran in several marathons and cycled well into the 2000s.


1987 Elected an Honorary Life Member of the Leather Guild which he helped to establish
1982 – 87 Chairman of the Organising Committee for the XIX International Congress of the IULTCS, held in Melbourne 2-6 March 1987
1975 – 87 Member of the Committee of the International Union of Leather Technologists and Chemists Societies (IULTCS)
1971 – 83 Member of the International Committee of Leather Research Directors

Positions held

1971 – 82 Leader, Leather Research Program, CSIRO Division of Protein Chemistry
1965 – 87 Senior Research Scientist, Principal Research Scientist, Senior Principal Research Scientist, Leather Research Program, CSIRO Division of Protein Chemistry
1956 – 65 Lecturer in Chemical Pathology, University of Melbourne and Deputy Director of the Forensic Science Laboratory, University of Melbourne


  • Scroggie JG, 2010, Personal communication.