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Ruminations by Dr. David Branagan, Harold White Fellow, on the life and times of an eminent Geologist, National Library, Canberra, 1999
[This is an edited version of the lecture, which in its original form was tied to a large number of illustrations (photographs, maps cartoons) shown as slides and overheads]
I’ve titled this talk ‘In Great Haste’, and it was very typical of Edgeworth David to write in great haste. You’ll find this at the end of very many of his letters, and I, too, will have to be in great haste if I’m going to get through this mountain of stuff that I have here.
But we start with a slightly slower episode, on 30 August 1934, with the funeral of Edgeworth David in Sydney. It was a funeral which stopped that city; even all the hotels along the route were closed. It was unique certainly at that time also because, as far as I’m aware, Edgeworth David was the first non-parliamentarian to have his death mentioned in both the Federal Senate and also in the New South Wales State Parliament. In the Senate, Dr Earl Page said about his old teacher and personal friend: ‘I venture to say that he and his wonderful wife, exerted in Australia an influence for good that has not been equalled by any other couple in the history of this nation’. The linking of David and his wife was very appropriate. The funeral became a military one nearing the Northern Suburbs Crematorium, when the flag of the Australian Tunnellers was draped over the coffin, commemorating David’s time with the Tunnellers, a very important part of his life.
I will also discuss his professorship of Geology at the University of Sydney, which I think is important, because he shouldn’t ever have got it. In the present state of university bureaucracies, David would never have got that Chair. He was one of 24 applicants for the position, and in those days, as was only right and proper, the decisions on Chairs of any sort in colonial universities were usually made in London. They appointed a very prestigious committee in London, looked at the 24 applicants and then sent a notice out to Sydney saying ‘you shall appoint William J. Sollas, aged 42. He has a very good publication record, is an F.R.S. and he’s your man’. The university senate disagreed and had the temerity to say that they had decided to appoint Edgeworth David. There were several reasons for this: firstly he had been examining for the past several years, he’d taken over and lectured when the previous professor had died and, this was the key I think, David had given the first term lectures in 1891 and they’d apparently been quite sensational. He also of course, had a good knowledge of Australian geology, as he’d been working here for eight or nine years in the Geological Survey. So the Senate sent a notice saying they couldn’t accept the London decision, and the London people were quite rightly incensed, and wrote back and said ‘your decision will cause an unpleasant feeling and it will prevent eminent men ever acting on a selection committee here’. Anyway, David got the job.
What of David’s geology? Having gained an interest in geology at Oxford University, and following a brief period of study at the Royal School of Mines, he began his first fieldwork in south Wales, and there he mapped the position of some 60 erratics in the area around his home at St Fagan’s. The mapping was followed up by two papers to the Cardiff Naturalists Society, the second a field trip up into the central part of Wales, where he gave a lecture on the spot, something like the famous ones that were given by Sedgwick and others in the heroic period of geology. Only two of the erratics remain in situ today; one is in a thicket of brambles and blackberry. Radnor and Fairwater in the area are important sites for the David family, and David maintained links with the broad David family through his life.
David came to New South Wales and joined the Geological Survey of New South Wales in 1882, and he took every opportunity to get to know the local geology. One spot, which has become a very famous, classical site near Sydney, is at North Bondi. David either went out by boat or sketched it from down at the base of the cliff—dramatic sandstone, lots of interesting features, it’s become quite a classical site. He worked in two major areas in New South Wales with the Survey. The first was in New England, mainly on the tin deposits there, which he described very simply and well in letters, often with cross sections, to relatives. The final results of that work became the first memoir published by the Geological Survey of New South Wales which became, and has remained, a classic.
David then moved on to look at the coal in the Hunter Valley, and this really became one of his major loves—the Hunter Valley as such, and particularly the coal work. He began by studying the wonderful section of the coal measures exposed on the coast south of Newcastle and then he moved west to Maitland and did some quite classic mapping there, uncovering in this area further extensions of the famous Greta Seam that became one of the major sources of steaming coal for Australia over many years.
Now we can’t leave David in isolation, we need to look at some of his relationships, particularly the family. He fell in love with Cara Mallett on their journey aboard a ship to Sydney in 1882, but it was a few years before they married. There were three children: the first, Margaret (Madge), born at Maitland, spent the early months of her life in a tent while fieldwork went on, and David and Cara spent their rare leisure hours translating an important French volume on Australian palaeontology. Mary (Molly) came next, followed several years later by Willie (later known as Twed because of his initials), all with Edgeworth as a second name. David’s mother never quite approved of Cara, coming as she did from a not-so social background, but she was popular with the rest of the David clan.
David was a mean horseman. There was one occasion when he—as I mentioned the Hunter Valley—was very easily stirred by geology and he was actually dressed in full top hat and the whole gear at a reception at Government House in Sydney, when he got word of some interesting exposure that had been made near Maitland. So he took off that same night straight away, with nothing else, in all his gear, for the Hunter, stayed in a hotel, hired a horse the next day and went out to look at this exposure near the Hunter which happened to be flooded. He was riding along on the horse, looking for somewhere to cross and one of the local gentlemen saw him, and obviously mistook him for a clergyman and said ‘oh you can’t get over there, Father, you’ll have to cross up higher’. He certainly loved to ride—he was apparently one of the few visiting geologists who survived a rather wild ride uninjured in 1906 at the Mexico International Geological Congress.
Not long after David got his professorship at Sydney University, he took to wearing a brown hat, and he stuck with variants of it through the following years. It became famous amongst his students. He was certainly an equal opportunity person. He got into trouble with the university’s Registrar, because until not so long ago, students were either named at the university with an initial if they were male, or if the woman’s name was Ethel that would be added. He managed to get a competent woman appointed a demonstrator by just sending her name with an initial, and he was hauled over the coals for doing this.
David wasn’t work-safety conscious. He used to have his students clambering down ropes in quarries, and on one occasion he was rather lucky that a fairly burly rugby union player, who later became professor of botany (Lancelot Harrison), saved a girl who panicked coming down a quarry face at Dundas.
One of David’s best known students was Douglas Mawson. Although they were great friends, over the years there were times when the relationship was somewhat strained. David’s was almost hyperactive and was sometimes affected by Mawson’s poor sense of humour.
We move on now to the expedition which really made David’s name in the geological world. This was the expedition to Funafuti that he led in 1897. Briefly the idea was to try and solve the problem of how coral atolls were formed, and it was decided to do this by taking an expedition to the Funafuti atoll north of Fiji. We can’t go into the reasons why this was selected at the time, but it’s quite a large atoll—something in the order of 17 or 18km north-south, consisting of a number of separate islands, and the main island, where they attempted to drill. W.J. Sollas, who didn’t get the chair in Sydney, pushed the idea of testing Darwin’s hypothesis of how atolls formed by drilling down to a supposed basement of volcanic rock at maybe 500 or 600 feet. He pushed the idea hard in London, and he got the job of leading the first expedition that the Royal Society of London funded in 1896, with considerable support, including drills and drillers from Sydney. Sadly it was a disaster. There were two bores put down, the deeper to just over 100 ft with almost no core recovery. There were several reasons for this: the equipment was a problem, but the other problem, I think, was in Sollas’s leadership. Although he did some quite good fieldwork, he didn’t really have any experience of drilling, and he certainly didn’t have a great way of getting on with people like drillers. In fact, the superintendent of drills in Sydney, W.H. Slee, was very angry with the chief driller and sent a letter to say ‘why haven’t I heard from you? Professor David has had letters, other people have had letters’. When he came back to Sydney the driller explained he’d written his report for Slee, taken it on board the ship that was taking the mail off, and Sollas was there and said, in various terms, ‘how dare you try to communicate with anybody. All communication is through the Royal Society and I am the Royal Society representative here’, and he made the driller tear up the report. Slee accepted the excuse.
The New South Wales organising group, led by David, felt that the failure of the first expedition reflected badly on the colony, so they set about organising a second expedition in 1897, led by David and essentially funded from Sydney. There was a follow-up excursion the next year in which, extraordinarily, he got a young student, who had in fact failed about three or four times in many subjects, E. Finckh, to take over, and he did this quite well. Finckh had passed in some subjects and was actually demonstrating at the Sydney Technical College. He later went back to university and became a medico, a highly respected one, in Sydney. So David seemed to have the knack of at least picking many of the right people.
The first practicality for the Sydney organisers was to raise money to fund any further exploration. This seemed to be a perennial problem with anything David was involved in—he spent half his time raising money rather than getting on with the geology. But luckily Edith Walker of Yaralla was one who came good with, firstly a £500 donation and later £200 or £300 extra as a loan, which finally became a gift as well, when she realised she would never get it back. David, of course, had great contact with people like the Under-Secretary of Mines and Slee, the drill superintendent, who was quite a fascinating person in his own right. The drilling is a whole story on its own and far too long to deal with now, but David would probably have killed himself if his wife hadn’t gone on the expedition, fed him and made him at least get some sleep. He had a lot of experience with drills and knew a lot about drilling, was interested in the technicalities, and was often up all night getting the equipment ready.
On top of the drilling, David and his associates (George Sweet and two students, W.G. Woolnough and W. Poole) were mapping the various islands. If you look at any of the Funafuti publications, you will see that anybody who did any mapping on a particular island gets a mention. David was always meticulous about acknowledging the work of other people.
There were two problems at the end. David (and his wife) had to come back to Sydney for the third term to give lectures, leaving Sweet to continue overseeing the drilling, which had got down to about 200 metres. Unfortunately a ship arrived with some grog. The drillers (of which there were two groups) got stuck into the grog. There was an almighty brawl between the groups so when the expedition returned to Sydney, Slee sacked half the drillers. The story’s a bit more complicated, but we’ll leave it at that.
The other problem was that when David was writing his final report around 1900, suddenly an accountant dealing with the public works in New South Wales decided to check through all the finances of the Mines Department, and right out of the blue David was landed with a bill of about £1 500 for the expeditions. David, Anderson Stuart and others, hummed and haahed and said ‘we have to write to London about this’—not ‘ London’ had anything to do with it, but it was a stalling technique, which David was sometimes fairly good at. Eventually David and Stuart went to see the Premier, Henry Parkes, who said ‘it’s OK, we’ll sort it out’. There’s a nice little note on one of the public service accounts ‘Should we write a letter about this?’ And the note from, I think, the Under-Secretary says, ‘Better not. It might get in the papers. We’ll just write it off!’ David’s work on the Funafuti expedition, which drilled down about 350 metres through coral but did not reach the basalt basement (it’s at about 1400 metres) earned him the much-coveted Fellowship of the Royal Society of London. Although it did not prove of Darwin’s thesis, the results strongly supported Darwin’s idea.
We move on to the next of David’s key interests —glaciation—which led to his trip to the Antarctic, among other things. In the 1890s the Australasian Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) set up a committee to record evidence of glaciation in Australasia. David was associated with this committee virtually until he died. David modified a form the British Association had prepared whereby people from anywhere around the country could make observations, record them and send in the information. As with virtually all David’s work, in a sense, he picked the good ideas and took them up and ran with them. I think this was his special ability. He wasn’t in a sense an original thinker in geology — anybody who reads his work would agree with that. But his particular genius was that he saw where things led, and from that he developed ideas, and he certainly did this in terms of the glacial story. He became enamoured with the glaciated Kosciuszko region, and spent numbers of excursions there with other scientists, geologists and botanists. On some days, he and his students would walk 25 miles looking at the geology in that area.
We come to other glacial aspects—which will be familiar to the geology people in the audience—of the older glaciations, which were perhaps first hinted at in Australia in the 1860s. David had visited sites in the Hunter Valley in 1885 with R.D. Oldham from India, who recognised evidence of glaciation in Late Palaeozoic rocks. David was to make this aspect of geology his own special study. He co-operated with Ralph Tate in studying this glaciation at Hallett’s Cove in South Australia in the 1890s, although they weren’t too sure at first quite how old it was. Certainly, evidence of the similar glaciation turned up in New South Wales, particularly on an excursion in 1914, during the British Association for the Advancement of Science meeting.
Around 1900, Walter Howchin in Adelaide recognised that there had also been glaciation in what he thought were Cambrian rocks near the city—we now know that they’re Precambrian. Again, David picked up this idea of these very ancient rocks, something like 500 million years old, although in those days they weren’t sure of the actual age.
David lectured in England and Mexico in 1906 about both these ancient glaciations and certainly on those occasions, his own lecturing, complete with large rock specimens, made many of the sceptics in England accept that these were fair-dinkum glacial events, and that they were quite important events in earth history. David had written papers earlier (published in England) about these events, but had not convinced the British cognoscenti.
We go now on to the Antarctic story. David was accepted by Shackleton to join him on the voyage south, as many of you know (David, in fact, had essentially invited himself). He helped to raise a considerable amount of money for Shackleton in Australia and he organised for Mawson to be appointed as physicist. It seemed that if you wanted somebody, you just named a position and appointed him, and hopefully he would learn something about the position. Mawson had engineering and science degrees. Leo Cotton also went for the voyage. David seized the chance and went down on the ship. He was supposed to come back straight away, but I think he had already made up his mind before he left that he would stay. He did stay and certainly his wife was, I believe, very badly hurt by that year when David was away. I think he couldn’t resist the adventure.
I’ll talk briefly about the ascent of Mount Erebus and the South Magnetic Pole journey.
Erebus is nearly 13 000 ft. It wasn’t technically a very difficult climb, but it was quite hard because none of the six people had much skill or experience in those sorts of conditions. David and Mawson and Mackay, who went on to the South Magnetic Pole, were among the group that went to the top.
The South Magnetic Pole journey (deserving a whole lecture in itself) was an enormous expedition, probably the longest man-haul trip ever undertaken. It was something well over 2000 kilometres of just hauling sledges. They travelled along the Antarctic coast, over the obstacles of a number of glacier tongues, then had to find a way up onto the Antarctic plateau at 8 000 ft elevation, for 260 miles, and return with their sledges. There is a famous picture taken at the South Magnetic Pole that many of you will be familiar with, with David in the middle. The party was lucky to get back, and they were rescued just in time, as their condition, and particularly that of David, was at a low ebb.
There was great optimism in England at the time when Shackleton left. One of the experiments that was tried and didn’t work very well was the use of motor-driven vehicles. One artist depicted his idea of Shackleton’s attempt to reach the South Pole in great comfort, but I’m afraid it didn’t work out that way.
David returned a little earlier than the main party to Sydney, and this in a sense was a tactical advantage if he was after tactics, but certainly there weren’t any wars, or other large news items on at that moment to divert the limelight. So his arrival in Sydney caused immense interest and enthusiasm. The newspapers had a field day with many stories and numerous cartoons featuring his ‘old brown hat’. David came back remarkably well and, it was said, looking younger than he had for years. David said it was the healthy climate, and suggested that we might end up at some stage having sanitaria and health hotels down in the Antarctic.
David was always raising money, as we have seen. Following the Shackleton expedition, he had to raise money for the publication of the scientific results. Raymond Priestley, who had been the other geologist on the expedition, came to Sydney and was helping David write up the Shackleton geology. In 1910 Priestly joined the Scott Expedition. In a drive for funds David, in typical fashion, went on a lecture tour around the country in New South Wales and Queensland, dragging the young Priestley with him. Priestley says that his main function was to keep the mayor’s daughter happy, by talking to her and chatting and being very polite while David gave the illustrated lectures. They had one up in central Queensland and they were very puzzled by this extraordinary sort of heavy rain a number of times during the lecture. When they came out, the sky was perfectly clear and the ground didn’t seem all that wet, and David remarked to the mayor, ‘what’s this peculiar climate you’ve got here, all that rain?’ And the mayor said, ‘Oh no, that’s not rain. When we have a public lecture, the kids like to get on the roof and get a free listen. We don’t mind that, but there’s a number of apertures, so the kids take up pea-shooters and shoot peas at people in the audience that they don’t like too much. So we made an arrangement with the local fire brigade that every quarter of an hour they’d come along with their hoses and hose the roof!’
We move on now to a very interesting event, only remembered in the last 10 years or so, an extraordinary manifestation in relation to Antarctica. This was the first Japanese expedition to Antarctica in 1911, led by Lieutenant N. Shirase. Having got to the ice barrier in terrible weather, they returned for the winter, arriving unannounced in Sydney on 1 May 1911, dead broke, with poor equipment, and hoping to return to the Antarctic the next summer. Initially they weren’t made too welcome, thanks in part to a fair bit of prejudice towards Asians. David took the company in hand and made a lot of effort on their behalf, and by the time the expedition left Sydney to return to Antarctica, the party was farewelled with great warmth. Shirase wrote a letter of thanks to David. But what was forgotten for a long time was that he also gave David a Samurai sword, made in about 1610, in that great classical period. This was put away by the family, and only turned up and was remembered about 15 or 20 years ago. At that stage, people were chasing around, the Japanese wanting to buy back many of the swords that were handed over in World War 2. One of the military people here (Major Brooks) got word of this sword and found out how important it was. One of the chief Japanese restorers took it back to restore it to its original condition, and did it all for nothing. And about five years ago, the Japanese opened a museum in the northern part of Honshu, where Shirase came from, and they now have a very big exhibition about the Antarctic.
We move on to World War 1. At age 58, David should never have got there, but he made it anyway. Some years after the war, according to W.R. Browne, he was probably still wearing half of the army clothes, and his greatcoat had gone green. He hung onto clothes; he wasn’t a snappy dressy as a rule, he liked to use what was around.
David is associated with the foundation of the Australian Tunnellers Corps. The idea of the Mining Corps originated from a Lieutenant Thomson, a mining engineer from Western Australia. He suggested it, but did not follow it through. David picked it up and went to see (Sir) George Pearce, who was the Minister for Defence and the Acting Prime Minister in August 1915. They had a meeting with E. Skeats, Professor of Geology at Melbourne University, and Hyman Herman, Government Geologist from Victoria, and after receiving approval from the War Office in London, an Australian Tunnelling Battalion was established. David was given a commission as Major, and he worked in the early period particularly with Stanley Hunter, a Victorian geologist, very good with drilling, and James Pollock, Professor of Physics. In the enlistment lists for the corps, which you can see in the Australian War Museum, Pollock’s profession is listed as a professor of physics, while David is the only one in the whole corps, even among the sappers, who records his profession as teacher, which is perhaps too humble. But everybody knew him and he was responsible for talking many of his students into joining the corps.
It set out, with a number of problems, in 1916. The miners were confined to the ship for a long time. David writes a nice little story about the first time they got to land, which was at Alexandria, though it’s perhaps a little highly coloured, and it was written some years later. ‘On the arrival of our troop ship in Alexandria in April 16, a party of some 120 out of our 1200 miners, with the wanderlust strong upon them, broke loose suddenly from our troop ship as she lay at the wharf, rushed the sentries, and went careering like a lot of released school boys up the main street of Alexandria, making for the heart of the city. Some bad sport, perhaps one should rather say, one sound disciplinarian, telephoned to the military police. And in due course the sappers were met by some charabancs driven by genial gentlemen, who offered them a lift. The offer was of course accepted, and presently the vehicle swung into a courtyard, the gates of which were promptly closed, and the sappers then realised that they were prisoners. One hundred and twenty of them were locked up in a building designed for a maximum of 60. The sappers called it the ‘boob”. The night was very hot and the “boob’ threatened to become a veritable Black Hole of Calcutta. In the early dawn, an agonized SOS came from the military police to our ship to say that the sappers were tunnelling under the walls of the boob, and that it was tottering to its foundations, and would we send up a strong-armed party at once to hold and remove the prisoners.’
When the Tunnellers reached France it was soon clear that changes would be needed. The British could see that an independent Australian body might be hard to control, so the battalion was broken up. This is part of the reason that there’s so little known about the Australian tunnellers in Australian war history. The three Australian Tunnelling Corps were kept intact, but placed under the control of the directors of mines in the British first and second armies, as all the other tunnelling groups (English, Canadian New Zealand, South African) were. While the authorities were able to place other officers, they didn’t know what to do with David. So, for quite a while, he just poked around on his own, as far as one can see, in France and Belgium,among lots of soft, fairly young rocks. He was working essentially in the area around Arras and Vimy, and later up towards the coast.
In September 1916 David had a bad fall down a well near Vimy, when the winding gear failed. When he was being hauled up he said, ‘take it slowly, because I missed the geology on the way down’. He does admit, in one letter, it was a bit of bravado—he was very lucky that he wasn’t killed. Remarkably he was back at the front in six weeks, although he was now ordered by his general not to go within 1000 yards of the front line, an order he found very hard to obey.
When David arrived in France the British Army had only one geologist, a fairly recent graduate W.B.R. King who later became Professor at Cambridge University. David and he got on well, but it was largely David’s influence that managed to persuade the Top Brass that geology had some use for the army, and that you needed to understand the geology particularly in relation to water table changes, if you were going to have dry trenches and safe crossings of difficult ground.
One of the best known operations of the whole First World War, in which David was certainly involved, was the mining and exploding of the tunnels under the German lines along the Messines-to-Wytschaete Ridge. There were 21 tunnels, which were blown up early in the morning on 7 June 1917. It was a major psychological blow as well as a physical blow to the Germans. It’s interesting that two of the 21 charges didn’t go off at the time. One of them exploded in 1955, and we’re still waiting for the final one! I think maybe those explosives aren’t too good by now.
A little diversion. David used to write from France to his grandchildren and tell them stories such as one about the cats who lived in their dugout. He drew the sketches for the story and added text in English, French and German, as he was quite good in both these last languages. In fact, in the spare time en route to the Antarctic he taught German to L.A. Cotton. He did complain when he was going to Mexico in 1906 that his French wasn’t too good, he was battling with it. In fact, he wrote to his daughter saying he was learning American and that was much easier!
During his time in France, David prepared some important maps, probably the first real environmental geology maps, in which was indicated by colour the degree of difficulty you’d have in putting in trenches and so on. The brighter the colours the better the conditions, so there was an attempt here to go much beyond straight geological maps into environmental-type maps. These maps were published for the army commanders, as David believed they were more informative and quicker to understand than pages of written text would be.
We move onto the postwar years. When David arrived back in Australia in 1919, he set out to prepare a geological map, and a book, about the geology of Australia. He had written a fairly long paper on the geology of the Commonwealth for the British Association meeting in 1914, and signed a contract about this time, with Edward Arnold and Co., to write a larger book, but it continued to get bigger and bigger, and further and further away from completion as time went on. There were various reasons for the delay. In 1921 he became the first president of the Australian National Research Council, which later essentially became the Australian Academy of Science. He got involved in all sorts of things—trying to get a federal geological survey established, helping to organize the Second Pan-Pacific Congress in Australia in 1923, trying to have his protégés elected to the Royal Society of London, and so on. He went off to England in 1925 to try and complete the book there in peace and quiet, but of course, he kept giving lectures, getting honorary degrees, visiting important geological sites, and a whole host of other things. The sort of rushing around he was doing is quite interesting. This is his schedule one morning in London: left Dulwich, picking up his luggage he had left there, took it to Victoria Station, then got a cab and picked up cloak room luggage somewhere else, took it to the Geology Society’s rooms, picked up letters there, drove to a friend’s house, got some more luggage from there, then cloak-roomed all the luggage before dashing on the Tube to the bank, and onwards to try and see his publisher. I don’t know if he did this deliberately, it might have been an accident, but he met young Henry Dean (from Hunter’s Hill) on the Tube. This was pretty typical of his activities, although he did slow up a little later. David, his wife, and single daughter Molly, returned to Australia in 1927, as a result of illness, with the geology book still unfinished.
There were diversions, small and large. A visit to Tasmania saw him with Professor Theodore Flynn, Errol’s father. Up near Wynyard, Flynn found and named a vertebrate fossil after David. He had such friends in all sorts of places. He had a long friendship with Alex du Toit, the famous South African, and thus became very interested in the idea of continental drift, and was a strong supporter of it, when it wasn’t too popular.
Always observant, David kept an eye on the railway cuttings coming down from Hornsby to central Sydney, noting the elevations and structure, and drawing the geology on a sketch cross-section that he never published or discussed much, but it’s a structure we now call the Roseville warp. He kept in touch with people doing hydrographic work and, using their data, recognised some of the first seamounts off the Queensland coast.
The pinnacle of his work was his Geological Map of the Commonwealth of Australia (it also includes New Guinea) completed in 1931, but I think it didn’t appear until early 1932. It’s a huge work and it’s his attempt to at least get the geology down on paper.
Well, why didn’t he finish the book? I think there were a number of reasons. A key one is that he got involved in what he thought was a major discovery: ‘the only original discovery I ever made’. He became very diverted in the late 1920s by his thoughts that he had discovered some large pre-Cambrian fossils, and spent considerable time in South Australia searching for specimens. He was devastated when later the Royal Society of London rejected his paper. The society obviously felt a bit guilty about it, because, having previously funded his search, they voted another £100 for him to get some more quarrying done. David was describing and reconstructing some features in the rocks he thought were arthropods. His imagination was partly affected I think; I remember W.R. Browne saying he ‘cursed the day that David thought he’d found these fossils’. David went around trying to convince people they were real, and they weren’t too easily impressed, particularly when it got to the stage of setting up a new sub phylum of arthropods, which was probably largely the influence of R. Tillyard, the entomologist, working with David.
Now, we need I think to wind up very briefly. When the map was being published, he knew he was far from finishing the huge book he envisaged. So he sat down and, really in a white heat, he wrote the notes that explained it—some 177 pages. These notes form a masterly statement of Australian Geology of the 1930s.
He wrote a final chapter for this book of ‘Explanatory Notes’, which I think is a magnificent statement, as a time-machine running through the story of the geological life of Australia. It contains the essence of David’s philosophy and shows his ability to write. He was certainly a romantic, influenced by Tennyson, and Wordsworth and Ruskin (the latter having lectured to him). This is why he got on well with Shackleton. There is a little story about when they were having trouble, and having to unmoor the ship and take it offshore at Cape Royds in the Antarctic, Shackleton yelled out to David, ‘it’s all right David, we’ve got the Browning ashore’. He didn’t mean one of those machine guns, it was just a book of Browning’s verse they were both keen to read.