Dr Ian D MacLeod, retired from the Western Australian Museum on Friday 29 April 2016 after 37.5 years.

Ian started at the museum on his 30th birthday – 16 October 1978, as an ARC research funded electrochemist, looking at copper corrosion on shipwrecks sites.

Over the years Ian has held seven different positions at the Museum. For his final 5 years he was Executive Director, Fremantle Museums & Collections. Before that he was Executive Director at the Collection and Research facility in Welshpool for 8 years, and Relocation Director for 2 years before that; and so his story goes on.

To quote from Ian on one of his significant achievements:

“We now have 15 million items stored in ideal museum storage conditions of dust and debris filtered out to one micron and with temperature controlled at 22C and RH at 50%. This is what I spent a huge amount of time and energy achieving as I knew I could never treat millions of objects so; by placing them in an ideal environment we have prevented accelerated decay on the same.”

The story so far

Ian Donald MacLeodwas Ballarat born and educated at the local high school before a seven year stint at the University of Melbourne from 1967-1974 which saw him with an Honours degree and a PhD in chemistry. In 2007 he was awarded a Doctor of Science from his almer mater for his published works on ‘Chemistry and Conservation of Shipwrecks and Rock Art’.

His first conference with the ACA was in 1984 in Rotorua, New Zealand where he spoke on ‘The effects of concretion on the corrosion of non-ferrous metals’ then inspected the decaying wreck of the Edwin Fox in Picton. His report led the local teams into action that ended up saving this iconic vessel for the people of New Zealand. In 1986 he featured in the ABC Science national television program Quantumon the use of oxygen isotope ratios in barnacles to determination of the seawater temperatures and to track the voyage of a ship in 1811. In the Bicentennial year he conducted in-situ corrosion research on the wreck of HMS Sirius (1790) off Norfolk Island. The following year he featured on the ABC Radio Science Show talking on iron corrosion, phosphorus impurities and their effects on concretion formation. In 1990he became coordinator of the metals working group of the International Council of Museums’ Committee for Conservation.

In 1991 he jumped into the murky water of Port Philip Bay and demonstrated the applicability of corrosion measurements to the management of iron shipwrecks in cool seawater and talked on the corrosion and conservation of ships’ fastenings at the Getty Museum in Los Angeles. Not being content with these challenges he worked with colleague Bill Jeffery from SA Heritage on an in-situ corrosion study of wrecked barges and paddle steamers in the zero-visibility fresh water environment of the River Murray in South Australia. He established a model for prediction of desalination rates for corroded iron cannon and determined how the shipwrecks can be dated from the chloride extraction kinetics. Corrosion on shipwrecks in Lake Huron called him in 1993 to chilly waters to look at decay of metals in alkaline fresh water lakes. This was rewarded with warm salty water dives on the wreck of the USS Arizona in Pearl Harbour, Hawaii. He was a consultant on the conservation of materials recently recovered from the wreck of the RMS Titanic. His penchant for in-situ studies took him to the Cromwellian shipwreck Swan off the Isle of Mull, Scotland and he determined that the corrosion profiles provide data on how the site conditions have changed over the centuries.

1996 MacLeod delivered a plenary address regarding corrosion of the wreck of HMVS Cerberus (1926) at an international corrosion conference in Melbourne. The journey to Western Australia was punctuated by some South Australian shipwreck studies on the Clan Ranald (1909) wreck and the Willyama (1907) in Investigator Strait, South Australia. The following year this work was extended to other wrecks in Gulf St Vincent and Spencer Gulf. He provided expert witness defence for the Malaysian Government regarding the conservation of materials from the wreck of the Diana (1817)and conducted desalination experiments in court. In 1998 he conducted a corrosion assessment of a PBY5A Catalina in Texas which saw the Western Australian Government and WA Museum make a commitment to buy and restore the historic flying boat. His assessment of the impact of pH and stress on copper alloy corrosion opened up new understanding of why corrosion patterns can be so different on the same object. He dived in the wild waters of the Atlantic coast of Portugal to study the decay of silver coins on the 1786 wreck of the San Pedro del Alcantara. Back in Australia he attended as an expert witness during a murder trial in the Supreme Court of NSW and at a case in the Perth Magistrates court. The following year saw him prepare the guided missile destroyer HMAS Perth for corrosion monitoring over the next 100 years.

International travel saw him give lectures in Rome, in Athens and Amsterdam to specialist conservation courses before he was given concrete boots to project manage the relocation of staff and collections from the CBD of Perth to a fitted out warehouse and laboratory complex. This involved moving more than 5 million objects and the $11 million project was completed on time and on budget. This was rewarded by a return to fieldwork in Victoria and workshops on metal conservation in Hong Kong and at the University of Melbourne. He addressed the 50th Anniversary conference of the ACA on the Gold Coast and conducted a review of the conservation of the turret, engine and condenser recovered from the USS Monitor (1862).

Work on the planning for AE2 Submarine expeditions in conjunction with the Submarine Institute of Australia commenced in 2004. He conducted a detailed survey of wrecked aircraft and ships in Chuuk Lagoon, Micronesia. As a member of the WA Fulbright Fellowship Fund Raising committee we raised $1 million within a year. In 2008 he was involved in making movies on corrosion themes in Turkey and in Chuuk Lagoon. The following year he was presented with award for Outstanding Contribution to Research in Materials Conservation by the materials conservation profession.

The 2010highlight was beingPresident of the ACA and hosting the 18th International Corrosion Conference in Perth in 2011 and giving his third PF Thompson memorial lecture. The Victorian shipwreck Clarence (1850) off St Leonard’s, Port Phillip Bay became the focus of his energies for three years with funding from an ARCCooperative Research Centre on Historic Shipwrecks. A grant from the Australian Synchrotron facilitated a study of the de Vlamingh plate (1697) which identified some unique corrosion patterns that showed up the English origins of the tin and lead ores used in making the pewter plate. More recently Ian MacLeod appeared on the ABC TV Catalyst show regarding treating the WWI submarine AE2 submarine in the Sea of Marmara, Turkey with sacrificial anodes. Earlier this year he discovered the direct relationship between sweat in Thai textiles and the microbiological derived acidity and so quantified the impact of high temperature and relative humidity on biological decay.

Ian has been a member of the AICCM for over 37 years and has been awarded Honorary Professional Life Membership for his outstanding service. He has published more than 180 papers in corrosion and materials conservation.