Edgeworth David

DAVID, Tannatt William Edgeworth (1858-1934), professor of geology at the University of Sydney, was ‘well-beloved’ by scientific colleagues and the wider public for his generosity, his vigour, and his restless passion for knowledge.

Born in Wales, David arrived in Sydney in 1882 to begin field work as assistant geological surveyor. His successes included the discovery of the South Maitland coal fields. Appointed to the chair of geology in 1890, David was revealed as an enthusiastic and inspiring teacher. Enlivened by his love of language, David’s lectures were popular with both students and public. Field work was central to David’s wide-ranging research program; ‘Go and see’, he exhorted theory-laden colleagues. His efforts to obtain samples by deep bore on the coral atoll of Funafuti, received international attention, providing evidence for Darwin’s theory of atoll formation.

Inspired by his life-long interest in glaciation, David eagerly joined the Shackleton expedition to Antarctica in 1907. The oldest member of the team, David nonetheless led the successful first ascent of Mt Erebus, and with his former student, Douglas Mawson, undertook a perilous journey to the South Magnetic Pole. David returned to Sydney to wide acclaim – a popular hero.

In 1915, eager to contribute to the war effort, David organised a corps of miners and engineers to travel to the Western front. David, at 57, joined his ‘tunnellers’ as a Major in the AIF, later serving as chief geologist to the British Expeditionary Force. He was knighted in 1920. David spent his final years in an ambitious attempt to produce a comprehensive summary of the geology of Australia, publishing a detailed geological map of the continent in 1932. He died in 1934 and was accorded a state funeral. David’s daughter Mary published an affectionate and entertaining biography, Professor David (1937).

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Tim Sherratt Written by:

I'm a historian and hacker who researches the possibilities and politics of digital cultural collections.

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