ESHG Biographies

Dorothy Hill - image courtesy John Jell. Portrait by Lola McCausland (1967), collection of The University of Queensland - reproduced with permission.

Henry Yorke Lyell Brown
Canadian-born Henry Yorke Lyell Brown (1844-1928) studied at the Royal School of Mines in London before joining Selwyn's Geological Survey of Victoria, in 1865. Here he worked mainly in the north of the colony till the survey was disbanded at the end of 1868.

A period as Goldfields Surveyor in New Zealand was followed by appointment as Government Geologist of Western Australia in 1870-1872, but some members of the Legislature felt Brown did little but ride around the country putting meaningless marks on maps, and bringing back loads of rocks, and the survey was closed.

Brown went back into the mining fields of Victoria and New Zealand for two years. In 1874 he returned to Canada, where Selwyn was happy to employ him again. But the cold weather got to him and he resigned to return to Australia, this time working in particular on the Geological Survey of New South Wales.

Brown was appointed Government Geologist of South Australia in December 1882 and apart from two brief periods was essentially the sole geologist of the Survey to 1911.

Henry Yorke Lyell Brown - image courtesy the State Library of South Australia PRG 280/1/4/516/14.

He had to cover the present South Australia and Northern Territory, a combined area of 2.3 million sq. km. In his 28 years Brown covered almost all of this enormous region, a feat probably unparalleled in the geological profession. He was dogged by political and bureaucratic orders to investigate every optimistically advertised mineral show and every request for underground water, so there was little chance to instigate a consistent program of geological mapping. In addition to his geological responsibilities Brown also acted as Inspector of Mines for some years.

Despite these heavy demands on his time Brown was remarkably astute in gathering and synthesising geological data and as early as December 1883 he produced a basic geological map of South Australia (1 inch=16 miles). In 1898 he produced a map of the Northern Territory (1 inch=20 miles).

His reports are notable for their terse prose and factual statements. He was always cautious in his reports of mineral prospects, and criticised the public for indulging in speculation on the stock exchange before mines were "fully examined, prospected and scientifically proven". "..the present age demands a more intelligent class of mine captains, engineers and miners, and the establishment of schools of mines becomes every year more necessary and the time has passed for mines to be managed by rule of thumb". Thanks largely to Brown's efforts a School of Mines was established in Adelaide in 1889. He resigned in 1912, but continued to advise the Department of Mines until his death in 1928.

Written by David Branagan