ESHG Biographies

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

Irene Crespin
Irene Crespin (1896-1980) geologist and micropalaeontologist. Irene received a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Melbourne in 1919, during which time she had studied to become a teacher. Her decision to read geology brought her under the influence of Frederick Chapman, palaeontologist at the National Museum of Victoria and a lecturer at the university.

Crespin undertook further studies after graduating and worked for the Geological Survey of Victoria. In 1927 she became Chapman's assistant. He had been appointed Commonwealth palaeontologist in the Department of Home and Territories, then based in Melbourne, as part of the Federal government's effort to discover oil and minerals. Crespin conducted palaeontological studies, made fieldtrips to east Gippsland, and made contact with visiting scientists who were also engaged in the search for oil.

In 1936 Irene succeeded Chapman as Palaeontologist, now in the Department of the Interior. Visiting Java and Sumatra in 1939, she consulted with micropalaeontologists and petroleum geologists regarding the problems of Tertiary correlation in the Indo-Pacific region. In 1941, she moved to Canberra as Commonwealth Palaeontologist at the Mineral Resources Survey in Canberra (forerunner of the Bureau of Mineral Resources), working with government advisors W.G. Woolnough and Harald Raggatt. Because she was female, her salary was fixed at about half that previously paid to Chapman. She travelled widely throughout Australia to collect fossils and to visit the location of the sediments she examined. In 1946 her position was transferred to the newly formed Bureau of Mineral Resources.

In 1953, Irene received the Queen Elizabeth II Coronation Medal, and in 1957 received the Royal Society of New South Wales Clarke Medal. she was then awarded a D.Sc. from the University of Melbourne (1960), the Award of Merit from the Commonwealth Professional Officers’ Association (1962), the award of Officer of the Order of the British Empire (1969) and was made an Honorary member of the Australian and New Zealand Association for the Advancement of Science (1973). She was a foundation member of the Geological Society of Australia. Throughout her career, Irene Crespin published over 90 sole-author papers, and co-authored more than 20 papers. These publications include notable research on foraminifera, and she was the first to announce the discovery of economic oil resources in the Cape Range, Western Australia in 1953. The Irene Crespin Prize for Palaeontology is awarded at the ANU for excellence in undergraduate palaeontology.


Bartlett, M.E., 'Crespin, Irene (1896–1980)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1993, accessed online 4 November 2019

Turner, S., 'Invincible but mostly Invisible: Australian Women's Contribution to Geology and Palaeontology', Geological Society Special Publication, vol. 281, 2007, pp. 165-202.

Ian Withnall and Sue Turner

Biography of Irene Crespin
(Adobe PDF File)