William Harper Twelvetrees  

William Harper Twelvetrees [1848-1919] was born at Dunstable, in Bedforshire, England in 1848. He commenced his education at the Madras Grammar School, London. He furthered his studies at the Johanneum Institute in Hamburg, becoming fluent in French, German and Russian, before attending the University of Bonn, where he studied ore-dressing and surveying. After leaving university, Twelvetrees began working at the Voskrensensky Copper Mine and Smelting Works in Eastern Russia. During his nine years there (1871-1880) he studied the copper-bearing sandstones on the south-west-flanks of the Ural Mountains.

In 1882, he went to the Lidjezsi silver-lead mines in Asia-Minor, and after two years, was appointed resident general manager. He remained in the position until 1891, when he emigrated to Tasmania.

After working in Launceston for eight years, in 1899 Twelvetrees secured the position of Government Geologist and Chief Inspector of Mines with the Tasmania Mines Department at the age of 41. In 1914, he relinquished his position of Chief Inspector of Mines, but continued with his duties as Government Geologist until his death in 1919.


   William Harper Twelvetrees - photo courtesy MRT Archives
In that time, Twelvetrees contributed twenty years of outstanding service to Tasmanian geology and the Mines Department. He was a prolific writer, producing 177 reports on Tasmanian geology alone. In addition, he published works in Russian and German scientific journals on a wide variety of geological subjects. His contributions were based in outstanding geological research, often requiring long periods in the field, where much of the country was unexplored, wild and inhospitable. In 1908, he led a party into virtually unknown territory in search of a route for the proposed Great Western Railway.

Twelvetrees also initiated important developments in the function of the Mines Department. He was responsible for the geological training of junior geologists, often in the field, including his eventual successor, Loftus-Hills.

He established the Geological Survey library and expanded the scope and role of the Government Geologist from that of inspection of individual mines to the systematic study of whole mineral fields. In doing so, he organised the Geological Survey to adopt a long term plan of systematic studies of Tasmania's mineral deposits. These studies included the important goldfields of Mangana, Mathinna and Lisle, the North Dundas tinfield, and the mining districts of Zeehan, Scamander, Mt Balfour, Mt Farrell, Mt Claude and Gunns Plains. Published as Geological Survey Bulletins, they provide immeasurable information which is still used extensively today. As a result, the twenty year period under the guidance of Twelvetrees was an extremely productive interval in the history of the Geological Survey of Tasmania.

At the retirement age of 70, Twelvetrees was asked to remain in employment for a further 12 months, to catalogue the rock collection housed in the Queen Victoria Museum (Launceston). This collection, and the physical extensions to the Museum to house it, was initiated by Twelvetrees to provide a permanent archive for the Geological Survey’s rock, mineral and fossil collections. He was still working on this collection at the time of his death.

Twelvetrees work brought high recognition: he became a Fellow of the Royal Geological Society, London, and of the Royal Society of Tasmania. He was also awarded the Royal Society of N.S.W. Clarke Memorial Medal for research into Natural Science. More generally, he is regarded as Tasmania's eminent geologist.

William Harper Twelvetrees died of pneumonia and influenza at Launceston on 7 November 1919, aged 71.