Dr Harry Vine 1916-2004

Originally published in the July 2005 edition of the Membership Newsletter (No.47) 

Dr Harry Vine 1916-2004

On the passing of Dr Harry Vine, my father.

Harry Vine was best known in soil science in Nigeria and in Trinidad and Tobago.  He came to Trinidad (Imperial College of Tropical Agriculture, ICTA) in approximately 1938 with a PhD in chemistry.  In Trinidad he studied soil science under Professor Hardy.  In 1940 he was sent under the war effort to Nigeria, initially to look for alternatives to the malaria medicine quinine, of which supplies from South-East Asia had been cut off.

He moved on to investigating, identifying, and mapping soil of Nigeria.  A paper quoted frequently up to today was published in 1953, in which he analysed results of a long-term (1922-1950) experiment:  ‘Experiments on the maintenance of soil fertility at Ibadan, Nigeria’.

There followed what he regarded as his greatest piece of work –leading the soil survey of the cocoa belt of Western Nigeria.  The idea was, he said, that every agricultural officer in the region would constantly refer to the survey report for pertinent information.

Harry Vine then worked as a Reader in Soil Science at ICTA in Trinidad, 1956-1961; and as a Lecturer – rising to Associate Professor – in the Department of Agricultural Chemistry and Soil Science at the University of Ibadan in Nigeria, 1961-1965.  He supervised the first PhD in Agriculture of the University of Ibadan.  During this time he wrote the Tropical Soils chapter for the Webster and Wilson’s textbook, Agriculture in the Tropics.

The rest of his career until retirement was at the Department of Geography, University of Leicester, UK.  However, after retirement he went on to publish on a topic which had intrigued him for decades: whether high amounts of clay in top soils of southern Nigeria could be attributed to fine dust blown from the Sahara over the previous 6 million years.  The evidence, from soil profiles he had sampled over his career and analysed ager retirement, was rather convincing.  Two of his grandsons (now resident in Trinidad) will long remember driving around Nigeria in 1980 with him, observing and collecting more samples.  In 1997 he was still making scanning electron micrographs of Nigerian samples in furtherance of theories if soil formation—work which is still to be published.

Harry Vine was an example of thoroughness in science—some might say he was over-cautious in coming to conclusions.  He admitted to an unusual knack for analysing landforms in the field.  He was scientifically sharp right up to the last moment, 11 April 2004.

Harry Vine, 87, no doubt influenced lots of people—colleagues, students, agricultural scientists, family, and friends, in several parts of the world.  As a son, I know his advice was excellent and well thought out.

Harry Vine had a strong social conscience.  Suffice it to say that he ensured the African National Congress song, Nkosi Sikelele Africa, was played at his wife’s (my mother’s) memorial ceremony to recognize her joy, and his, at the release of Nelson Mandela from prison.  The song was also played at Harry Vine’s memorial ceremony in England, on 17th April 2004.

Harry Vine.  Born 11 September 1916.  Died 11 April 2004.  Survived by children, grandchildren, and a great grandchild.

Provided by Peter Vine, Trinidad