ESHG Biographies


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

Reverend William Branwhite Clarke
The Reverend William Branwhite Clarke (1798 –– 1878) was a graduate of Cambridge, becoming interested in geology through the lectures of Rev. Adam Sedgwick. Clarke arrived in Sydney in 1839 and after a short period as Headmaster of Kings School, Parramatta, and ministries at Campelltown and Dural, became Rector at North Sydney in 1846 until retirement in 1871. Having established a reputation for good geological work in England he began his Australian work soon after his arrival by examining the area around Parramatta, gradually extending in a widening arc within the Sydney Basin. Clarke maintained his links with England, sending rock and fossils samples to Sedgwick and publishing in English journals, although he also supported the Tasmanian Journal of Natural Science, established in 1842.

Clarke was unsuccessful in his attempt to be appointed official Mineral Surveyor for New South Wales in 1850, but following the gold discoveries in central New South Wales, in September 1851 he was contracted by the Government to examine the southern portion of the colony. Clarke covered much of the country between Marulan and Omeo and east to Twofold Bay. He later examined the region between the Hunter Valley and the Darling Downs (until July 1853). The results of this work, 28 reports, were published in parliamentary papers, and in Clarke's Researches in the Southern Gold Fields of New South Wales.


Reverend William Branwhite Clark - image courtesy State Library of NSW.

In 1856 Clarke carried out geological work in Tasmania on behalf of the government, but refused an offer of a longterm official appointment there, because of his clerical obligations, which had also caused him to refuse a position at the University of Sydney when it was established.

His most important work was in the Sydney Basin, and particularly in the coal measures. He was involved in a long-running argument with Frederick McCoy of Melbourne University about the age of these coal measures, Clarke relying largely on his field work, while McCoy depended essentially on his laboratory examination of the fossils.

Clarke had wide scientific interests, carrying out researches in meteorology and seismology, and maintaining extensive correspondence with colleagues throughout the world. He also acted as a publicist for science, and specially geology, through a vast array of articles in the press. He made the Royal Society of New South Wales an active and effective body, and that society commemorates him through its Clarke Medal and Memorial lecture.

Clarke's maps formed the basis of the first complete geological map of New South Wales published by the NSW Department of Mines in 1880.

Written by David Branagan.
Click below to download the biography of Reverend William Branwhite Clarke in PDF form:
(note: image courtesy the 
Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales, Sydney - call number: MIN 416)