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Keble, Alexander Robert (1884–1963)

by Thomas A. Darragh

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

Alexander Robert Keble (1884-1963), geologist and palaeontologist, was born on 19 March 1884 at Hawthorn, Melbourne, third of seven children of George Samuel Keable, a clerk from London, and his Victorian-born wife Janet, née Falconer. Educated at Camberwell State School, Robert entered the law firm of Blake & Riggall as a clerk, but soon left to study classics with a view to entering the Church. At this time he changed his surname by deed poll to Keble after the Oxford divine and poet, John Keble. He took an active part in the life of St John's Church, Camberwell, becoming honorary secretary of its naturalists' club, founded in 1905 under the leadership of the vicar, Rev. A. W. Cresswell.

On Cresswell's recommendation, Keble joined the Department of Mines on 1 December 1910 as a temporary junior clerk in the geological survey branch; he helped Frederick Chapman in working up the faunas of the Sorrento and Mallee bores and Thomas Hall in his research on graptolites. At St Alban's Anglican Church, Armadale, on 27 February 1915 Keble married Daisy Julia Major. Appointed permanently as assistant field geologist on 16 April, he undertook graptolite determinations following Hall's death that year. His initial major undertaking continued Hall's zoning of the Bendigo goldfield, the first such attempt at using graptolites for structural purposes. Structural maps containing Keble's zonation were issued and he was to incorporate elements of this work in major papers (published in 1920 and 1932). Returning from Bendigo, Keble carried out minor investigations in central Victoria and set about determining graptolites for other goldfield surveys. In 1919 he worked in the Geological Survey Museum. He was sent to survey the Mornington Peninsula in 1921, a project which occupied him through the 1920s with occasional work in other places.

In 1927 Keble was transferred to the Glenelg River area to conduct geological surveys for oil exploration. Later that year, when Chapman was negotiating to commence palaeontological work for the Federal government, he suggested that Keble be appointed to replace him as palaeontologist at the National Museum of Victoria. Keble agreed, subject to his being able to continue to undertake field-work. The appointment was delayed by William Baragwanath, the director of geological survey, who, like the oil exploration syndicates, wanted Keble to be retained in the Department of Mines, and by museum authorities who were unwilling to have him as a part-time officer. When representations were made by Prime Minister Stanley Melbourne (Viscount) Bruce, Keble's appointment was confirmed on 5 March 1928, with the right to one month field-work per year.

During his time at the museum Keble embarked on very little curatorial work or specimen collecting. On leave without pay, he conducted field-work for Oil Search Ltd in Queensland in January 1929 and in the Mount Gambier district of South Australia in July 1930, and undertook palaeontological work for Bendigo Mines Ltd for six months in 1934.

In 1931 Keble had joined Professor W. N. Benson's expedition to the south-west of the South Island of New Zealand to ascertain the extent of the Ordovician rocks. This survey, together with material sent to him from other areas, enabled him to publish the second of two papers with Benson (1929 and 1935) establishing a zonation for the New Zealand Ordovician and correlating it with the Victorian sequence. He was elected a vice-president of the geology section of the Australian and New Zealand Association for the Advancement of Science's meeting at Auckland, New Zealand, in 1937.

Building on Hall's work—first with William Harris and later with David Thomas—Keble established the zonation of the Ordovician and Silurian rocks of central Victoria. His work on graptolites finished in 1939 with a major bibliography co-authored with Benson; thereafter his research centred on quaternary studies, of which he was an early pioneer. On 19 April 1948 Keble transferred to the Department of Mines and was promoted to senior field geologist. He completed his unfinished work on the Mornington Peninsula survey and a monograph on Victorian clay and shale deposits which were published in 1950 and 1952 respectively.

A kindly man with a love of music, particularly that of Gilbert and Sullivan, Keble was also a keen golfer. Following his retirement in 1949, he moved to Walwa and continued his interest in physiography by studying the drainage slopes of the Upper Murray area, the subject of his last paper published in 1954. He died on 18 December 1963 at East Malvern and was cremated; his wife and daughter survived him.

Select Bibliography

  • St John's Quarterly, 8, no 3, July 1903, 10, no 3, July 1905-12, no 2, Apr 1908
  • Mining and Geological Journal, 6, no 5, 1965, p 29
  • Dept of Mines (Victoria), Annual Report, 1911-22
  • Public Library, Museums and National Gallery of Victoria, Annual Report, 1928-48
  • Age (Melbourne), 19 Dec 1963
  • Keble papers (Museum Victoria, Natural History Division).

Citation details

Thomas A. Darragh, 'Keble, Alexander Robert (1884–1963)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/keble-alexander-robert-10666/text18957, published in hardcopy 1996, accessed online 26 October 2014.

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

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