ESHG Biographies


Dorothy Hill - image courtesy John Jell. Portrait by Lola McCausland (1967), collection of The University of Queensland - reproduced with permission.

Alfred Selwyn

Alfred Selwyn (1842 — 1902) was appointed Geological Surveyor for the Colony of Victoria in 1852. He was then a geologist of the Geological Survey of Great Britain, which he joined in 1845. He worked for some years in North Wales and Shropshire with Andrew Ramsay and Joseph Jukes mapping folded rocks of Early Palaeozoic age and studying glaciation. Prior to coming to Australia he worked also on the British coalfields. Selwyn lost little time getting into the field, working first in the area around the goldfields of Castlemaine, mapping more than 3 000km2 in the first and subsequent years. In 1855 Selwyn was named Director of the Geological Survey of Victoria, and, while continuing his own mapping, he proceeded to gather and train a group of young men of considerable ability. They included Richard Daintree, Charles Wilkinson, Henry Brown and Robert Etheridge Jnr.

Selwyn carried out short, but important surveys for the governments of Tasmania and South Australia, and as a member of the Committee for the Victorian Trans-Australia expedition of Bourke and Wills recommended a route from south Australia that would have cut considerable time.

Alfred Selwyn - image public domain.
Up to 1869 the Survey produced high quality maps and reports, some 61 quarter sheets in all, which received high praise in international geological circles. In 1869, pleading lack of funds, the government abruptly terminated the Survey, against a background of disagreement with Selwyn about the functions of the Survey. 

Victoria's loss was Australasia's gain, as the members of the Survey went to various colonies, continuing Selwyn's methods and high standards in the geological surveys that were established over the next few years. 
Selwyn moved to Canada, becoming the second Director of its Geological Survey. In this position he was faced with an enormous challenge as Canada was in the process of expansion, taking in the region to the Pacific coast and to the Arctic. In addition to Geology he was later charged with dealing with Ethnology and collecting for an ever expanding Museum of Natural History.

As in Victoria Selwyn led by example, carrying out field work in remote and difficult terrain. He also again ensured the employment of talented young men, insisting that they had university training in geology, mining or related subjects. Selwyn insisted on accuracy and scientific probity, but occasionally gained enemies by his rather hasty temper especially during official activities. However he was generally respected and held in affection by close colleagues, as can be noted by the number of localities named after him. The Victorian Division of GSA now has a Selwyn Memorial Lecture, commemorating this important figure.

David Branagan
Click below to download the biography of Alfred Selwyn in PDF form:
(note: image courtesy Department of Primary Industries, Victoria
)
Biography of Alfred Selwyn
(Adobe PDF File)