"For Dr. A.R. Penfold, a large part of his recognition today is due to his research on the volatile oils and in particular, the essential oils of the flora of Australia. He was apparently an ambitious and industrious man."
He was born on August 4, 1890, the oldest of four sons, in Sydney , Australia.
His father was a law clerk who died at the early age of 37 forcing the young Penfold to go to work and leave school. Arthur found a job as an office boy at an English paint company, two years later joining another paint company were he learned bookkeeping.
In 1908 he started night classes, and studied chemistry in order to better understand the nature of the various components of paint, and along the way started to study the volatile oils in plants.
He eventually became a research chemist with a company that produced oils from eucalyptus trees.
In 1919, A.R. Penfold became the assistant to Henry George Smith, at the Technological Museum, Sydney. Smith had in life before being a chemist been a former painter, sign painter, paperhanger, and plumber.
He took night classes and eventually became a well known chemist famous for his work in phytochemistry. Penfold became the museum curator in 1927, and the museum director in 1948. In the years after joining the museum, he studied and wrote papers on the volatile oils and their properties, at least one of which was on tea tree oil. In 1923 he described tea tree oil as being 13 times stronger than carbolic acid, which was a common disinfectant of the day.
Carbolic acid, now known as Phenol, is still used in quite a few applications. The most familiar use to most of us would be as an ingredient in the disinfectant mouth spray “Chloraseptic”
He married his wife in 1915, and they were wed for 42 years before she passed away in 1957. He then married her sister 2 years later. He passed away in 1980, and at 89 years of age, was most certainly a remarkable and able man. This is the end of the Penfold page, click here to return the History page