This Commonwealth of Australia postcard documents one of Australia’s multifaceted heroes, who is described in a 4 page entry in The Australian Dictionary of Biography (A.D.B.) as an Academic, Army officer, Explorer, Geologist, Palaeoentologist and Public servant. The red-brown 1½d KGV Head stamp is cancelled with a roller cancel in which SOUTH AUSTRALIA is legible and neither Adelaide nor the date are visible. The card is addressed to T.E. Powell, Esq., 87 King William Street, Adelaide (Figure 1).
The printed reverse shows that the card was sent from the Commonwealth Club of Adelaide and the date is shown by a purple handstamp 22 JUL 1921. It reads: A Luncheon will be held in the Town Hall, Adelaide on the Friday 29 th July, at 1 p.m. Guest Professor Sir Edgeworth David (Upon His Return From Central Australia). Tickets may be obtained at BISHOP’S CAFE, Rundle Street, up to 5 p.m. on Thursday 28 July. The charge for luncheon will be 2s. 6d, if tickets are purchased before above time. No Tickets Can Be Purchased After That Date.
Autralasia Chambers, King William Street W. Fowler-Brownsworth , Hon. Secretary (Figure 2).
On referring back to the A.D.B. one finds that this particular exploration of the Finke River, Central Australia and the Nullabor Plains, by Sir Edgeworth, gets a scant 1½ lines coverage.
Sir Tannatt William Edgeworth David, geologist, was born on 28 January 1858 in Wales, eldest child of the Rev. William David and his wife Margaret Harriette. At first taught by his father, David entered Magdalen College School, Oxford at 12, where for some six years he excelled at lessons before proceeding to New College in the University as a classical scholar. In 1878 he gained a first class in classics but a breakdown in health prevented him from reading for final honours. While convalescing he travelled to Canada and then on a round trip to Melbourne in the sailing ship Yorkshire. Back at Oxford, David attended lectures on geology before graduating B.A. in 1881 (M.A. 1926).
He was invited to fill the post of assistant geological surveyor in Sydney, and David reached Sydney on 27 November 1882 in the steamship Potosi. By the end of the year he had prepared a geological sketch map of the Yass district and collected fossils there. He published his first monograph in 1887, as Memoirs, No.1, of the Geological Survey of N. S. W. Meanwhile, he travelled widely in the colony, reporting on various mineral and water resources. On 30 July 1885 at St Paul’s Church of England, Canterbury, he married Caroline Martha (Cara) Mallett , whom he had met on the voyage to Sydney in 1882. Much of their early married life was spent in geological field camps and two of their children were born at Maitland. In April 1886 David began a systematic investigation of the lower Hunter River region, that was soon to show publicly the worth of geological surveys.
David decided to apply for the chair of geology and palaeontology at the University of Sydney, vacant in 1890; he was selected by the local committee, and in May 1891, David became professor of geology and lecturer in physical geography, a post he occupied until his resignation in 1924. Despite the grand title, his inheritance was a one-man department, miserably equipped and housed in a small cottage. A mining boom in the 1890s, however, helped him press the case for a school of mines within the university. By 1893 he had a new building with lecture theatre and laboratories and his first academic assistant to help cope with growing enrolments. Nevertheless, the distractions of office seem to have had little effect on the flow of his research publications.
His efforts to obtain samples by deep bore on the coral atoll of Funafuti, received international attention, providing evidence for Darwin’s theory of atoll formation. Inspired by his life-long interest in glaciation, David eagerly joined the Shackleton expedition to Antarctica in 1907. The oldest member of the team, David nonetheless led the successful first ascent of Mt Erebus, and with his former student, Douglas Mawson, undertook a perilous journey to the South Magnetic Pole. David returned to Sydney to wide acclaim – a popular hero. A picture of T.W.E. David (centre), A. Forbes Mackay (left) and Douglas Mawson (right) at the South Magnetic Pole is seen in Figure 3.
In 1915, eager to contribute to the war effort, David organised a corps of miners and engineers to travel to the Western front. David, at 57, joined his ‘tunnellers’ as a Major in the AIF, later serving as chief geologist to the British Expeditionary Force. He was knighted (KBE) in 1920. David spent his final years in an ambitious attempt to produce a comprehensive summary of the geology of Australia, publishing a detailed geological map of the continent in 1932.
He died in 1934 and was accorded a state funeral. David’s daughter Mary published an affectionate and entertaining biography, Professor David (1937). A picture of Edgeworth David and a drawing of him on a 5 cent booklet stamp issued in 1968 are seen in Figures 4 & 5.
Part of the text and Figure 4 are taken from the Australian Dictionary of Biography.