- For the colonial administrator, see Edgeworth Beresford David.
Sir Tannatt William "Edgeworth" David, KBE, CMG, DSO, FRS, (28 January 1858 – 28 August 1934) was a Welsh Australian geologist and Antarctic explorer. A household name in his lifetime, David's most significant achievements were discovering the major Hunter Valley coalfield in New South Wales and leading the first expedition to reach the South Magnetic Pole. He also served with distinction in World War I.
David was born in St. Fagans near Cardiff, Wales, the eldest son of the Rev. William David, a fellow of Jesus College, Oxford, a classical scholar and naturalist and his wife Margaret Harriette (née Thomson). His mother's cousin, William A. E. Ussher of the Geological Survey, first interested David in what was to be his life work.
At the age of 12, David went to Magdalen College School, Oxford in 1870. In 1876 he gained a classical scholarship to New College, Oxford. While there he was lectured by the famous John Ruskin and William Spooner. In 1878 he suffered a health breakdown and travelled to Canada and Australia to recuperate. Returning to Oxford, he attended lectures on geology by Sir Joseph Prestwich which stimulated his interest in the subject. After graduating as a Bachelor of Arts without honours in 1880, he spent the following two years in field study of the geology of Wales. In November 1881 he read his first paper, Evidences of Glacial Action in the Neighbourhood of Cardiff before the Cardiff Naturalists' Society. In the following year he briefly studied at the Royal School of Mines, London, under Professor J.W. Judd before accepting the position of Assistant Geological Surveyor to the Government of New South Wales, Australia.
Career in Australia
David took up his post in November 1882. In 1884 his report on the tin deposits in the New England district was published, and three years later it was expanded into the Geology of the Vegetable Creek Tin Mining Field, New England District. Apart from its scientific interest this was valuable in connection with the mining operations on this field, from which some £10,000,000 worth of tin was won. On 30 July 1885 he married to Caroline (Cara) Mallett, principal of the Hurlstone Training College for Teachers, who had travelled to Australia in the same vessel with him.
In April 1886 he began surveying the Hunter Valley coalfields and in August discovered the Greta coal seam, which yielded over £50,000,000 worth of coal up to 1949. Much of his time during the next four years was spent near Maitland where he was still tracing and mapping the coal measures and reporting to the government on other matters of commercial value. David's assistant in 1890 was William Sutherland Dun.
In 1891 David was appointed Professor of Geology at the University of Sydney, a position he held till 1924.
David was not only a good scientist but very cultured, with a sense of humour, great enthusiasm, sympathy, and courtesy, and he quickly fitted into his new position. His department was housed in a small cottage, its equipment was poor, and he had no lecturers or demonstrators; but he gradually got better facilities and built up his department. In 1892 he was president of the geological section of the Australasian Association for the Advancement of Science at the Hobart meeting, and held the same position at Brisbane in 1895.
In 1896 David went to the Pacific atoll of Funafuti as part of an expedition under Professor William Sollas of Oxford in order to take borings which it was hoped would settle the question of the formation of coral atolls. There were defects in the boring machinery and the bore penetrated only slightly more than 100 feet (approx. 31 m). In 1897 David led a second expedition (that included George Sweet as second-in-command, and Walter George Woolnough) which succeeded in reaching a depth of 557 feet (170 m) after which he had to return to Sydney. He then organised a third expedition in 1898 which, under the leadership of Dr. Alfred Edmund Finckh, was successful in carrying the bore to 1114 feet (340 m). The results provided support for Charles Darwin's theory of subsidence, and the expeditions made David's name as a geologist. Cara accompanied him on the second expedition and published a well-received account called Funafuti, or Three Months on a Coral Island.
David's reputation was growing in Europe, and in 1899 he was awarded the Bigsby medal of the Geological Society of London, and in 1900 he was elected Fellow of the Royal Society. From 1900 to 1907 he conducted field studies of glaciation in the Kosciusko plateau and Precambrian glaciation in South Australia
In 1904 David was elected president of the Australasian Association for the Advancement of Science which met in Dunedin, and in 1906 he attended the International Geological Congress held in Mexico. On his way back to Australia he was able to see the Grand Canyon of Colorado and to study the effect of the San Francisco earthquake.
In mid-1907 David was invited to join Shackleton's Nimrod Expedition to the Antarctic and in December won Australian Government funding for the expedition. The same month he left for New Zealand with Leo Cotton and Douglas Mawson, two of his former students. David was nearly 50 years of age and it was intended that he would stay only until April 1908, but en route to Antarctica on the Nimrod he altered his plans and decided to stay for the whole expedition.
From 5 to 11 March 1908, David led the first ascent of Mount Erebus, the only active volcano in Antarctica. David led the summit party consisting of Mawson, Dr Alistair Mackay and himself, and there was a supporting party of three which it was afterwards decided should also attempt to reach the summit. In this they were successful in spite of a blizzard which barred their progress for a day and night. One member of the party had his feet badly frostbitten, and had to be left in camp before the final dash, but David and four others reached the summit and the whole party returned to the base.
On 5 October 1908, David led Mawson and Mackay on an attempt to reach the Magnetic South Pole. For ten weeks the men followed the coast north supplementing their stores with a diet of seals and penguins. They then crossed the Drygalski Ice Tongue and turned inland. They still faced a 700 km return journey and established a depot to enable them to transfer their load to one overladen sled and to remove the need to relay. On 16 January 1909 they finally arrived at the South Magnetic Pole and took possession of the region for the British Crown.
Edgeworth David had been appointed leader of the expedition by Shackleton but by the end of January with all three of the party experiencing severe physical deterioration, David was increasingly unable to contribute. On 31 January with Mawson out of earshot, Mackay exerted his authority as the party's doctor and threatened to declare the Professor insane unless he gave written authority of leadership to Mawson. Mawson reluctantly took command but by 3 February he acknowledged in his diary that "the Prof was now certainly partly demented". That day the party reached the coast line with perfect timing as within 24 hours they were collected by the Nimrod for the return trip to Cape Royds. The trio had covered a distance of 1260 miles which stood as the longest unsupported sled journey until the mid-1980s.
Shackleton's expedition returned to New Zealand on 25 March 1909. When David returned to Sydney he was presented with the Mueller medal by the Australasian Association for the Advancement of Science at a rapturous official welcome.
At Shackleton's request David then went on a lecture tour, and earned enough money to pay the expenses of publication of the two volumes on the geology of the expedition. He also wrote his "Narrative of the Magnetic Pole Journey", which appeared in the second volume of Shackleton's Heart of the Antarctic. In 1910 the honour of Companion of the Order of St Michael and St George was conferred on him, and visiting England in connexion with the scientific results of the Antarctic expedition, Oxford University gave him the honorary degree of Doctor of Science. In 1913 he was elected for the second time president of the Australasian Association for the Advancement of Science.
Australian Mining Corps
When World War I broke out in 1914, David was a strenuous supporter of the war effort, supporting the campaign for conscription and using his advocacy and organisational abilities to set up the Australian Mining Corps (or "Tunnellers") in August 1915.
David enlisted with them as a Major, at the unusually advanced age of 58. In February 1916 they sailed for the Western Front. When there he used his geological expertise to advise on the construction of dugouts, trenches, and tunnels, and to aid in the provision of pure drinking water from underground supplies.
Later that year the Corps was disbanded and its personnel redistributed. David became relatively independent and spent his time in geological investigations. In September 1916 he fell to the bottom of a well he was examining, breaking two ribs and rupturing his urethra. He was invalided to London but returned to the Front in November.
In January 1918 he was awarded the Distinguished Service Order. and in November he was promoted to Lieutenant-Colonel. The war having concluded, he was demobilised in 1919.
In September 1920 David was created a Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire for services during the war.
Returning to Australia, he took up a long-cherished project, the writing of a definitive work, The Geology of the Commonwealth of Australia. In 1921–22 David helped set up the Australian National Research Council and served as its first President. In 1924 he retired as Professor of Geology at the University of Sydney, the chair passing to his student Leo Cotton, a neighbour in Hornsby, New South Wales. In 1928 he discovered what he believed were Precambrian fossils, creating controversy which remained until his death.
In 1931 he published the Geological Map of the Commonwealth and the accompanying Explanatory Notes, designed to be part of his Geology of the Commonwealth of Australia. He died in 1934 without being able to complete this work and was given a state funeral.
David's The Geology of the Commonwealth of Australia was finally completed by his chosen collaborator, Associate Professor William R. Browne in 1950. Of his many papers, over 100 will be found listed in the Geological Magazine for January 1922. A travelling scholarship in his memory was founded at the University of Sydney in 1936.
The Edgeworth David Medal is named in his honour. It is awarded by the Royal Society of New South Wales for distinguished contributions by a young scientist under the age of thirty-five for work done mainly in Australia or its territories. The mineral davidite is named after him, as was the Edgeworth David Building (demolished 2006) at the University of Sydney and Edgeworth David Avenue in Hornsby, New South Wales where he spent his later years. He has been depicted on two Australian postage stamps. The Edgeworth David Building at Tighes Hill TAFE campus in the New South Wales Hunter Valley is named in his honour.
The boreholes on Funafuti, Tuvalu are known as David's Drill.
- Mawson, D. (1935). "Sir Tannatt William Edgeworth David. 1858-1934". Obituary Notices of Fellows of the Royal Society 1 (4): 493. doi:10.1098/rsbm.1935.0012. JSTOR 768979.
- "TO THE EDITOR OF THE HERALD.". The Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842 - 1954) (NSW: National Library of Australia). 11 September 1934. p. 6. Retrieved 20 June 2012.
- "CORAL FORMATION.". The Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 - 1956) (Melbourne, Vic.: National Library of Australia). 10 December 1897. p. 5. Retrieved 19 June 2012.
- Financial Review - News Store
- Branagan, David, T.W. Edgeworth David: A Life: Geologist, Adventurer and "Knight in the Old Brown Hat", National Library of Australia, Canberra, 2005.
- David, Mary Edgeworth, Professor David: The Life of Sir Edgeworth David, KBE DSO FRS MA DSC LLD, London, Edward Arnold, 1937.
- Serle, Percival (1949). "David, Tannatt William Edgeworth". Dictionary of Australian Biography. Sydney: Angus and Robertson.
- Edgeworth David Medal
- Australian Antarctic Profile
- Physics in Australia Profile
- T. G. Vallance, D. F. Branagan, 'David, Sir Tannatt William Edgeworth (1858–1934)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 8, MUP, 1981, pp 218–221.
John Edward Marr
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