Publication Details

This conference paper was originally published as Organ, MK, Clarke, Coal, and Controversy: the traumas of Reverend W.B. Clarke in his defence of Australian geology during the nineteenth century, in Hutton, AC (ed), Papers and Proceedings of the Southern and Western Coalfields Geological Conference, University of Wollongong, February 1990, 1-10


[Extract] Though readily given the title Father of Australian geology , the Reverend W.B. Clarke remains something of a mysterious figure to Australian geologists. When asked what his major achievements were, few would be able to offer an answer. Yet such disregard is commonly the fate of many pioneers in the field of science, for once a discovery is made, or theory proven, the profession moves on to new and more challenging fields, with scant regard for the foundations upon which current work is based.... William Branwhite Clarke (1798-1878) was a pioneer in the field of Australian science who, though he preferred to work singularly and pursue his priestly duties, was nevertheless occasionally embroiled in controversy with his fellow workers, including amongst them Sir Roderick Murchison, the famous pioneering British geologist, and Frederick McCoy, head of the Geological Survey of Victoria. He clashed with Murchison in regards to the discovery of gold in Australia, and with McCoy over the age and structure of the Australian coalfields.