Julian Tenison Woods – Bush Scientist: Geologist

Paper presented as part of a symposium on the life of Julian Tenison Woods, priest and scientist, during celebrations of the centenary in Brisbane, of his death in 1889.

1        Introduction

Naturalists were early attracted to Australia’s unique plant and animal life, the majority of it long extinct in other parts of the world but preserved because of Australia’s isolation from other land masses. The Australian continent separated from South America and Antarctica some 60 million years ago. Australia contains the most primitive mammals occurring on earth, the platypus and the Echidna (ant eater). Like reptiles, they lay eggs, but suckle their young as mammals do. They retain in their structure and mode of reproduction some of the features that are characteristic of the oldest known fossil mammals. Early naturalists collected, classified and described native marsupials such as kangaroos, koalas, possums and wombats, the hundreds of different species of native parrots and cockatoos and many of the 1100 species of eucalyptus and wattles. Geology was another colonial interest, because of the rich mineral deposits and also because of an extensive debate on the age of the continent.

1.1       The Heroic Age of Geology

During the period 1790-1820 the fundamental principles of geology were discovered. Geology developed into a science during the Industrial Revolution stimulated by prospecting for coal and metal ores and also as part of the Romantic Movement. This movement greatly influenced art and music and saw divinity in nature. It pictured nature as creative, spontaneous, and growing, permeated by beauty and an underlying spiritual reality.

Thus, the first European visitors to Australia included men with geological knowledge. Most of our early explorers made observations on the landform, rocks and minerals and recorded their observations. Australia was also in the unique position of being the only continent to be explored since the growth of the new science of geology.

1.2       Early Geologists

The two famous British explorers in 1830s and 1840s, Sir Thomas Mitchell and Charles Sturt, were keen, competent geological observers. Sturt made geological observations and, in his journal of the expedition to the centre of Australia (1844‑1846)., listed rocks and minerals collected along the way.

1.2.1    The Clerical Involvement

Ministers of religion were notable among the educated group of 19th century Australians and it was proper for educated people to be well read in what was called natural history. Also, at that time a closer relationship was perceived between science and religion than would be understood today. Then there was a search for harmony in all that is. Science was part of the understanding of creation (a term used here not in any fundamentalist sense); the development of science was all part of missionary work. This zeal may not be unrelated to the early 19th century Romantic Movement noted above.

Rev. Adam Sedgewick, an Anglican minister, spent more than fifty years as Professor of Geology at Cambridge and during that period worked hard to establish the subject on a sound scientific basis. One of his students who was also a minister of religion, the 41‑year‑old Rev. W.B. Clarke (1798‑1878) arrived in Sydney in 1839, having applied for a position as chaplain. Almost immediately after settling into his ministry Clarke started on geological work. Initially he studied the coal measures and associated sediments both of freshwater and marine origin in the Sydney Basin. He collected fossils wherever possible and sent them to Sedgewick at Cambridge where they were described by the young Frederick McCoy who was later to become Professor of Geology at the University of Melbourne. Clarke is known as the father of Australian geology and was an esteemed colleague of Woods, the subject of this paper.

Peter K. Anderson   28-10-1989

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