Dr Trevor Pearcey

Dr Trevor PearceyDr Trevor Pearcey

Dr Trevor Pearcey (5 March 1919 – 27 January 1998) was an outstanding Australian ICT Pioneer. Most notably, he led the project team that built one of the world's earliest digital computers, the CSIR Mark 1, later known as CSIRAC.

  • CSIRAC was built between 1947 and 1949. It is believed to be the fourth operational stored program electronic computer ever constructed. Only the US and the UK beat Australia into the computer age.
  • CSIRAC is the oldest surviving stored program electronic computer in the world. It is currently on show at the Melbourne Museum.

In addition, Trevor Pearcey was a visionary. In February 1948, Dr Pearcey wrote:

It is not inconceivable that an automatic encyclopaedic service operated through the national teleprinter or telephone system, will one day exist.

People today call this the World Wide Web!

Dr. Trevor Pearcey Obituary

Written by Professor Peter Thorne of the University of Melbourne (February 1998)

Trevor Pearcey in the late 1940sTrevor Pearcey in the late 1940s

"Dr Trevor Pearcey, who died on Tuesday 27 January, pioneered computing in Australia. Born in the United Kingdom, he graduated in 1940 from Imperial College with first class honours in physics and mathematics. He terminated his Ph.D. studies because of the war and joined the Air Defence Research Development Establishment.

Late in 1945, Pearcey came to Australia to work at the Radiophysics Division of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR).

In 1948 he, with Maston Beard, commenced the design of a stored program electronic computer. This machine, the CSIR Mark I, was developed largely independently of work then underway in Britain and the US.

The Mark I ran its first program in November 1949. It was almost certainly the fourth stored-program electronic computer in the world and the first outside Britain and the US (see history). The MkI was transferred to the University of Melbourne in 1955 and renamed CSIRAC.

Trevor Pearcey in front of CSIR Mk1 in Sydney 1952Trevor Pearcey in front of CSIR Mk1 in Sydney 1952

CSIRAC was the first computer in an Australian University and the first in Victoria. It provided a computing service to scientists, engineers and the Melbourne business community until 1964. CSIRAC still exists intact, making it the oldest surviving electronic computer in the world.

It was a matter of regret to Pearcey that Australia did not capitalise on these early successes. However, CSIRAC played a major role as a training ground for many of the men and women who were to lead the computer revolution in Australia.

Pearcey participated in the design of several other notable Australian-designed and constructed computers. He was the original architect of the CSIRO computing facility of the 1960's, leading to the establishment of the CSIRO Division of Computing Research and the nationwide CSIRONET system.

After a brief period with Control Data Corporation, Dr Pearcey became the first Dean of Computing at Caulfield Institute of Technology (later Chisholm Institute and now a campus of Monash University).

Dr Trevor Pearcey, Dean of Computing and Information Systems, Monash University 1985Dr Trevor Pearcey, Dean of Computing and Information Systems, Monash University 1985

Apart from his pioneering work with computers, Trevor Pearcey was a prodigious publisher of scholarly papers. His interests included work in radio propagation, physical optics, scheduling of air traffic, crystallography, viscous flow and classes of non-linear systems that exhibit what is now referred to as chaos. His collected works for the D.Sc. awarded to him by the University of Melbourne in 1971, comprise three volumes of telephone-book thickness, totaling almost 1800 pages.

Among these papers is an article, published in the Australian Journal of Science in February 1948, which may be considered prescient. Pearcey wrote;

"In the non-mathematical field there is wide scope for the use of the techniques in such things as filing systems. It is not inconceivable that an automatic encyclopaedic service operated through the national teleprinter or telephone system, will one day exist."

This was written long before the CSIR MkI, databases, the Internet and the World Wide Web.

In recent years Dr Pearcey lived on the Mornington Peninsula south of Melbourne. He has kept in touch by Email with colleagues and friends (particularly those who are documenting Australia's early achievements in computing). It is fitting that he has been able to do this by means of the technology that he pioneered."