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Walkom, Arthur Bache (1889–1976)

by Jan Brazier

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 16, (MUP), 2002

Arthur Bache Walkom (1889-1976), palaeobotanist and museum director, was born on 8 February 1889 at Grafton, New South Wales, son of Archibald John Walkom, a native-born telegraph operator, and his wife Annie Elizabeth, née Bache, who came from England. Following the family's move to Sydney, Arthur attended Petersham Public and Fort Street Model schools. His father (who was interested in shells and fossils) took him to meetings of the Field Naturalists' Club.

Walkom graduated from the University of Sydney (B.Sc., 1910; D.Sc., 1918) with first-class honours in geology and shared the university medal with W. R. Browne. He worked under Professor (Sir) Edgeworth David as a junior demonstrator. Appointed Linnean Macleay fellow in geology in April 1912, he studied the stratigraphical relations of the permo-carboniferous (now permian) area of Australia, starting in the Maitland-Singleton district. His early research involved investigating the volcanic rocks of the Pokolbin area with Browne and reporting on the pyroxene granulites collected by David on (Sir) Ernest Shackleton's Antarctic expedition of 1907-09.

At St Andrew's Presbyterian Church, Chatswood, on 8 February 1913 Walkom married Constance Mary McLean (d.1975), a former fellow student. They were to have a son and a daughter, and to live at Killara for many years. In March 1913 he became assistant-lecturer in geology at the University of Queensland, under H. C. Richards. Walkom was honorary palaeobotanist (1915-17) at the Queensland Museum, as well as honorary secretary (1916-18) and president (1918-19) of the Royal Society of Queensland, and editor (1914-18) of its Proceedings. He researched the Mesozoic and upper Palaeozoic fossil floras of Eastern Australia and received his doctorate from the University of Sydney in 1918 for his work on the geology of the lower Mesozoic rocks of Queensland.

Back in Sydney, in 1919 Walkom succeeded J. J. Fletcher as secretary of the Linnean Society of New South Wales and held the post until 1940. His duties involved general administration and editing the society's Proceedings. In addition to some fifty scientific articles, he wrote the society's Jubilee History (1925) and compiled an index to the first fifty years of the Proceedings (1929). In 1926, on a Rockefeller Foundation scholarship, Walkom studied for a year at Cambridge under an eminent palaeobotanist, Professor (Sir) Albert Seward. While travelling on the Continent, Walkom visited the home of Linnaeus at Uppsala, Sweden. He attended meetings of the International Geological Congress in South Africa in 1929 and in Washington in 1933.

Elected a trustee of the Australian Museum in April 1939, Walkom resigned when he was appointed director in November 1940, following the retirement of Dr Charles Anderson. The museum's trustees saw Walkom as a capable administrator, although staff found him formal, conservative and aloof. As director, he brought little change or innovation. He served (1947-54) on the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization's Australian committee for museums, and on its Australian national advisory committee. In 1948 he attended the third General Conference of U.N.E.S.C.O. in Beirut; he was a delegate at science congresses in New Zealand (1949) and at Bangalore, India (1951).

Walkom retired from the museum in November 1954. He had continued his long association with the Linnean Society, as editor (1919-66) of the Proceedings, president (1941-42), treasurer (1942-70) and joint honorary secretary with Browne (1952-66). Resigning from the council in 1972, after fifty-three years of continuous service, Walkom was made councillor emeritus. As his honorary work for scientific societies grew, his own scientific writings virtually ceased from the late 1940s. Walkom was general secretary (1926-47), president (1949-51) and life member (1955) of the Australasian (Australian and New Zealand) Association for the Advancement of Science; his presidential address was on 'Gondwanaland: a problem in palaeogeography'. He edited (1922-29) the Australian National Research Council's Australian Science Abstracts, and served as its secretary (1937-40). Having joined the Royal Society of New South Wales in 1911, he was a life-member from 1919 and president in 1943. He was awarded the society's (W. B.) Clarke medal in 1948 for his researches in palaeobotany and its bronze medal in 1953 for his contribution to the organization of Australian science; he received the A.N.Z.A.A.S. medal in 1970.

As a young man Walkom had enjoyed playing tennis; he was a member of Killara Lawn Tennis Club and the council (1924-35) of the New South Wales Lawn Tennis Association. Later he took up bowls and keenly followed televised cricket Tests. He belonged to the University Club. Survived by his daughter, he died on 2 July 1976 at Hornsby and was cremated. A fossil conifer genus, Walkomiella, was named after him.

Select Bibliography

  • R. Strahan et el (eds), Rare and Curious Specimens (Syd, 1979)
  • Australian Museum Magazine, June 1948, p 234, Dec 1954, p 241
  • Royal Society of New South Wales, Journal and Proceedings, 1978, p 59
  • Linnean Society of New South Wales, Proceedings, 102, 1978, p 148
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 6 Aug, 7 Oct 1929, 4 Oct 1940, 17 Apr 1954, 16 Sept 1970
  • Linnean Society of New South Wales records (State Library of New South Wales).

Citation details

Jan Brazier, 'Walkom, Arthur Bache (1889–1976)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/walkom-arthur-bache-11941/text21399, published first in hardcopy 2002, accessed online 20 December 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 16, (MUP), 2002

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