George Augustine Taylor

George Augustine Taylor
Military mapmaker, wartime patriot, peacetime pacifist
13 October 2014

Whilst researching the National Library of Australia’s collection for forthcoming exhibition Keepsakes, I came across a humble mapping instrument that led me to the story of a not-so-ordinary Australian, George Augustine Taylor (1872-1928).

The small (150x60cm) box-wood service protractor is identified as a 'scale with artillery range tables' in the Library's catalogue.


Scale with artillery range tables (ie. service protractor), Maps Collection. Above images by Denis Shephard.

Although it doesn't bear a maker's brand, the object is very similar to the 'Exactly A11' service protractor made by G. Rowney & Co. for the British Army. A multipurpose field tool, it conveniently combines a number of functions, including measuring distances on maps of various scales, reading angles and calculating slopes on contour plans. This eliminates the need to carry many different tools into the field. The protractor is stamped 'G. A. Taylor A.I. Corps', indicating that it once belonged to George Augustine Taylor.

Portrait of George A. Taylor

Portrait of George A. Taylor, Pictures Collection,

Taylor served as a surveyor-draftsman with the Australian Intelligence Corps from December 1909 to mid-1914, when the Corps was disbanded. He had risen in rank from Honorary Lieutenant to Captain. The A.I.C. preceded the Army Survey Corps as Australia's strategic military map-makers.

There is at least one example of Taylor's survey work in the Library's map collection, Reconnaissance map of the district east of Glen Innes, drawn by Warrant Officer G.E. Constable in January 1912 from field-work and sketches by Taylor.

Reconnaissance map of the district east of Glen Innes, Maps Collection.

Taylor was elected a Fellow in the Royal Geographical Society for his mapping work. A journalist and publisher of journals including Building (from 1907), Soldier (1916-24) and Australian Home (1923-28), Taylor wrote and lectured widely on the military applications of aviation and wireless telegraphy both before and during the First World War.

Taylor also wrote science fiction works looking at aspects of warfare. There are several examples of Taylor's work in the Library’s collection, many of which have been digitised. These include Wanted at Once. An aerial Defence for Australia (1911?) and The Sequel: what the Great War will mean for Australia (1915).

An ardent patriot during the war, Taylor gave support to returning servicemen in the immediate post-war years. He later turned to pacifism and was a strong supporter of the League of Nations. A World of Peace, published in 1922, outlines his ideas about the League.

Taylor died at his Sydney home in January 1928. The committee formed to honour his memory included Charles Bean and Mary Booth, both of whom are also included in the Keepsakes exhibition. His life is neatly summed up in the words of his biographer, Michael Roe:

Taylor had bridged arts and science, craft and technology, war and peace, radicalism and fascism, earth and infinity.

I have had published an article about Taylor and the military wireless experiments at Heathcote NSW in March 1910 in the magazine Radio Waves Oct 2012 of the Historical Radio Society of Australia. Taylor wrote an account of this in a pamphlet "By wireless - how we got the message through" available either through the NLA or SLNSW. Also he gave a lecture at the United Services Institute in July 1910 on the "Air Age and its military significance" also available from either of those institutions. A report of his lecture was published in his magazine Building or Construction in Aug of that year. A picture of Alexander Graham Bell who toured Australia in that year is shown, this is available from the SLNSW. Taylor also founded the Wireless Institute of Australia in 1910. Giles wrote a biography of Taylor in the magazine still published by his wife in the 50's. however some aspects of his wireless inventiveness were embellished with fiction rather than fact. This is available through the NLA or SLNSW.