ESHG Biographies

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

Henry William Beamish Talbot 
Henry William Beamish Talbot (1874 – 1957) was born in Cork, Ireland, receiving his early education in New Zealand before moving to Western Australia when he was 18 or 19 years old. During the late 1890s Talbot worked at the Government camel farm in Coolgardie. He was first employed by the Geological Survey of Western Australia in 1899 as a temporary assistant at Greenbushes, then later as a full-time assistant.  He evidently obtained skills in surveying, so that he was listed as a ‘topographic surveyor’ in the Survey’s Annual Report for 1908.  

Although he never acquired any formal qualifications as a geologist, he picked up a good working knowledge of the science while working with qualified geologists, especially the Government Geologist Andrew Gibb Maitland. As a result Talbot was often called on to act as a geologist and in 1911 was given the title of ‘Assistant Field Geologist’, rising to ‘Field Geologist’ in 1914.

Henry William Beamish Talbot - image courtesy 
School of Earth & Geographical Sciences, UWA

Most of Talbot's work with the Geological Survey was in remote areas beyond the limits of European settlement.  He used camels for transport and spent long periods in the field, most notably a spell of 14 months in 1908 – 1909 when examining the geology of the Canning Stock Route.  The seven bulletins that he wrote in whole or part during this time all dealt with the State's remoter regions or goldfields.  On one trip to the South Australian border with  Edward de Courcy Clarke, he and an assistant were speared by Aborigines.  Talbot recovered, but the assistant died of his wounds. 

World War I saw Talbot enlist in the army, but as he was assessed as being unfit for overseas service because of a heart complaint, he was employed as an army censor, with the rank of Captain, before returning to his previous post in the Geological Survey in March 1916.  The heart complaint eventually forced his retirement from Government service in 1920, but did not end his geological career.  After a year as a pastoral inspector, he joined the Freney Kimberley oil company, which was then exploring for oil in the Canning Basin. During the next nine years he worked with Dr Arthur Wade on this venture, which proved to be very interesting, if ultimately unsuccessful. 

In 1931 he took part in an expedition to the border region of WA, SA and the NT to try to re-locate “Lasseter's reef, and in 1932 he ventured eastward again to search for a reputed gold find south of the Warburton Range.  Neither venture found any trace of gold. In 1933, at the age of 59, Talbot joined the newly formed Western Mining Corporation, as its first senior geologist, retiring from that company in 1947. 

H.W.B. Talbot will always be remembered as a pioneering geologist and explorer during the heroic early days of the Geological Survey of Western Australia, and as a pioneer economic geologist in the State’s mining and petroleum industries. In November 2007, the WA Division of the GSA, with support from Talbot's descendants and Western Mining Corporation (now BHP-Billiton), erected a memorial in his honour at Nannup in the South West of WA.  The University of Western Australia presents the Talbot Medal to the student who writes the best field-related thesis for the B.Sc. Degree with Honours. 

Further information on H.W.B Talbot can be found in articles by Phil Playford and Len Talbot in the December 2007 – January 2008 issue of the Western Australian Geologist; in a biography by his grandson, Len Talbot, titled Exploring the Golden West – H.W.B. Talbot (Hesperian Press, 1908); and in The Forgotten Explorers: Pioneer Geologists of Western Australia by John Glover and Jenny Bevan (Hesperian Press, 2010, pp. 95-97). 

John Blockley (with acknowledgement to the above-mentioned sources)