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Edwards, Austin Burton (1909–1960)

by T. G. Vallance

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (MUP), 1996

Austin Burton Edwards (1909-1960), geologist, was born on 15 August 1909 at Caulfield, Melbourne, third son of William Burton Edwards, public service inspector, and his second wife Mabel, née Mueller, both Australian born. Austin was educated at Caulfield Grammar School where he was dux and captain. At the University of Melbourne (B.Sc., 1930; D.Sc., 1942) he graduated with first-class honours in geology. A scholarship then enabled him to study the geology and petrology of the Healesville and Warburton districts: his account of the work was published in 1932. In that year he won an 1851 Exhibition scholarship to the Royal College of Science, University of London (Ph.D., 1934), where he wrote his thesis on the tertiary volcanic rocks of Victoria.

On 22 April 1935 in the chapel of the Collegiate School of St Peter, Adelaide, Edwards married with Anglican rites Eileen Mary McDonnell, a psychologist. Six months earlier he had joined F. L. Stillwell in the mineragraphic section of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, Melbourne. There Edwards learned the techniques of ore microscopy and mineralogy from Australia's leading expert. When Stillwell retired in 1953, Edwards succeeded him as officer-in-charge of what had become a section of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization. He was a councillor (1953-60) of the Australasian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy.

A major paper (1936) on the mineragraphy of the iron ores of the Middleback Ranges, South Australia, had reported Edwards's first research for the C.S.I.R. It was followed by other detailed studies, for instance on the iron ores of Yampi Sound, Western Australia, and the copper deposits of Mount Lyell, Tasmania. Few Australian ore deposits escaped his attention. His own contributions to Geology of Australian Ore Deposits—the volume he edited for the Fifth Empire Mining and Metallurgical Congress (1953)—no more than hint at the range of his experience.

Like Stillwell, Edwards sought to understand the significance of textural relations between mineral phases in ore deposits, a subject of practical value in the treatment of ores but more particularly important in elucidating the genesis of ore assemblages. Textures of the Ore Minerals and their Significance (1947) revealed not only Edwards's mastery of mineragraphy but also his grasp of structural crystallography and experimental phase chemistry. In 1952 he delivered the (W. B.) Clarke lecture to the Royal Society of New South Wales and in 1960 was awarded its Clarke medal for outstanding work in geology.

Edwards undertook research covering geological inquiries outside mineragraphy and ore deposits. Some, like the detailed study of coal made for the State Electricity Commission of Victoria, had economic interest. Many others simply added to knowledge in fields as diverse as the development of landforms, the nature of meteorites and various aspects of petrology, his first scientific love. He published several useful papers on both sedimentary and metamorphic petrology, but igneous rocks dominated his petrological interest. His numerous contributions on the nature of basalts and basaltic differentiation, in particular, won him an international reputation. He was a fellow of the Mineralogical Society of America, a corresponding fellow of the Edinburgh Geological Society and an honorary member of the Mineralogical Society of India.

A talented teacher, Edwards never allowed himself to be isolated in his research position. In 1941-55 he lectured part time in geology at the University of Melbourne and occasionally offered postgraduate lectures. Although at times impatient with those he thought undeserving of his interest, he supported his staff and they in turn gave him impressive loyalty. Authorship of many of his papers he shared with colleagues. As a student, Edwards had excelled at sport, winning a half-Blue for football at Melbourne and colours for athletics at Imperial College. Latterly, he coached the university third XVIII football team. Among other outside interests, he served on the council of his old school. He travelled widely, in Australia and abroad.

While on a working visit to Europe, Edwards collapsed and died on 8 October 1960 in Rome; he was buried in the Protestant cemetery of that city. His wife, son and three daughters survived him.

Select Bibliography

  • Dictionary of Scientific Biography, vol 17, supplement 2 (NY, 1990)
  • Australasian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy, Proceedings, no 196, 1960
  • Australian Journal of Science, 23, 1961, p 260
  • American Mineralogist, 45, Mar-Apr 1961, p 488 and for bibliography
  • private information.

Citation details

T. G. Vallance, 'Edwards, Austin Burton (1909–1960)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/edwards-austin-burton-10101/text17829, published in hardcopy 1996, accessed online 18 April 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (MUP), 1996

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