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Ernest Clayton Andrews (1870–1948)

by G. P. Walsh

This article was published:

Ernest Clayton Andrews (1870-1948), geologist, was born on 18 October 1870 at Balmain, Sydney, second child of Fearleigh Leonard Montague, artist, and his wife Alice Maud, née Smith. At 3 he and his sister were unofficially adopted by John Andrews and his wife Mary Ann, née Bennett. He spent his boyhood in the St George district of Sydney, where his dour and puritanical stepfather kept a Wesleyan denominational school in which Andrews at 7 was set to teach younger pupils. The precocious and sensitive boy's upbringing was strict and practical. Largely self-taught, he spent only six months at a public primary school. Enforced reading of the Bible and secret perusal of English and classical authors were early and enduring influences: he learned much of the Bible and T. B. Macaulay's poetry by heart. At 16 he became a pupil-teacher at Hurstville, qualified to enter the Teachers' College, Sydney, and graduated from the University of Sydney (B.A., 1894) with second-class honours in mathematics. He then taught for four years at Bathurst, where he developed an interest in natural history.  

At the university he had fallen under the spell of (Sir) Edgeworth David and in 1898 presented his first geological paper, on an area near Bathurst, to the Sydney meeting of the Australasian Association for the Advancement of Science. Chosen by David, he spent June to December in Fiji and Tonga collecting coral reef material and data for Professor Agassiz of the Harvard University Museum of Comparative Zoology. This experience opened up vistas of further geological research. He attended university classes in geology and chemistry and in July 1899 joined the Geological Survey Branch of the New South Wales Department of Mines and Agriculture at a salary of £300. In 1901 with Charles Hedley he examined the Queensland coast and Barrier Reef; in 1902-03 and again in 1904 he visited New Zealand and attracted overseas interest by indicating the importance of glacial corrasion. He published a somewhat exacting school textbook, An Introduction to the Physical Geography of New South Wales, in Sydney in 1905.

In 1908, invited by the eminent geologist G. K. Gilbert, Andrews went to the United States of America, where he examined the Californian Sierras and made the first ascent of Mt Darwin. He also visited Canada, England and Europe and met such other noted geologists and physiographers as A. Penck, T. C. Chamberlain and Professor W. M. Davis of Harvard University. On 30 October 1909 at Mosman, Sydney, Andrews married Florence Anne Winn Byron (d.1923).

He made detailed examinations of the Forbes-Parkes, Cobar, Canbelego and other mining fields in 1909-12, and wrote three important papers on the theory of erosion, including 'Corrasion by gravity streams', read in draft by Davis. Taught field botany by his friends R. H. Cambage, J. H. Maiden and Hedley, he published notable papers in 1913-16 on the development and distribution of the orders Myrtaceae and Leguminosae and on the 'Geological history of the Australian flowering plants'. He stressed the geological importance of plant distribution and used his knowledge of flora to map boundaries of rock types in heavily timbered country. In 1914 he made confidential valuations of mines, including Great Cobar and Mt Lyell, for Commonwealth tax purposes; in 1917 with Davis he examined the coral reefs of New Caledonia and the New Hebrides and began work on the Broken Hill lode. On 1 March 1920 he was appointed government geologist of New South Wales at £750 a year. His term of office was marked by revision and extension of certain coalfield surveys, investigations of artesian water resources, and publication of his epic Broken Hill District (1922) and Mineral Industry of New South Wales (1928).

Andrews was also active in the administration of Australian science. He was a councillor of the Royal Society of New South Wales (president 1921), and the Linnean Society of New South Wales (president 1937); honorary general secretary (1922-26), acting president (1928-30) and president (1930-32) of the Australasian Association for the Advancement of Science (A.N.Z.A.A.S.); Australian delegate to the second Empire Mining and Metallurgical Congress (1927); chairman of the Australian branch of the International Oceanographic Committee of the Pacific; president of the Australasian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy (1929); a foundation and executive committee-member (1922-42) of the Australian National Research Council; and a trustee of the Australian Museum for twenty-four years. He led the Australian delegation to the Pacific Science Congress in 1929, 1933 and 1939.

Desiring to prepare 'some helpful note on the powers that exist in man for his own advancement and happiness' and a concise scientific statement on the origins of mountains, Andrews retired in 1930. His last publications included two small books embodying his personal philosophy, The Increasing Purpose (1939) and The Eternal Goodness (1948) and several papers; an unpublished manuscript 'The plan of the earth' was sent to the Geological Society of America in 1944. He received many honours and distinctions including the David Syme prize and medal of the University of Melbourne for scientific research (1915); the (W. B.) Clarke medal of the Royal Society of New South Wales (1928); the Lyell medal of the Geological Society, London (1931), and the Mueller medal of the Australian and New Zealand Association for the Advancement of Science (1946). Andrews was an honorary member of the Washington Academy of Sciences, honorary fellow of the Royal Society of New Zealand and of the Geological societies of London and America. He was Australian associate-editor of Economic Geology and a corresponding member of the American Museum of Natural History. In 1927 he gave the Silliman lectures at Yale University and in 1942 the Clarke Memorial Lecture to the Royal Society of New South Wales.

Andrews had a sound grasp of a wide variety of geological subjects and showed keen powers of observation and marked originality of treatment. He made basic contributions to geomorphology, especially to the Tertiary history of the New England plateau, and may be regarded as the founder in Australia, of structural economic geology as applied to ore bodies. He followed in the best traditions of David, Gilbert, Davis and the early explorer-geologists in what he called 'the heroic period' of Australian geology.

Slightly built, with a sensitive and gentle expression, Andrews was beloved for his modesty, self-effacement and guilelessness. He never lost his youthful and schoolmasterly habits: in his papers, often prolix, he used apt classical allusions, once felicitously likening the geologist to 'Antaeus of old, who must draw strength from continual contact with the Earth'; in speech he was wont to be a little didactic. In lectures and talks he made frequent use of simple explanation and homely analogy. His memory, mental energy and powers of concentration were remarkable. He had indifferent health for much of his life and kept to a rigid and frugal diet, yet his physical energy was exceptional; most of his field-work whether in the snow country or the desert was done on foot. Music was one of his great loves.

Andrews died of arteriosclerosis on 1 July 1948 at his residence at Bondi and was cremated with Methodist rites. Childless, he was survived by his second wife Mabel Agnes, née Smith, whom he had married on 16 July 1929. His estate was valued for probate at £3638.

Select Bibliography

  • Royal Society of New South Wales, Proceedings, 83 (1949)
  • Geological Society of America, Proceedings, Apr 1949
  • Linnean Society of New South Wales, Proceedings, 72 (1952)
  • E. C. Andrews papers (Australian Academy of Science Library).

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

G. P. Walsh, 'Andrews, Ernest Clayton (1870–1948)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1979, accessed online 14 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 7, (Melbourne University Press), 1979

View the front pages for Volume 7

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Ernest Andrews, n.d

Ernest Andrews, n.d

National Library of Australia, nla.pic-an22763797

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Montague, Ernest Clayton

18 October, 1870
Balmain, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia


1 July, 1948 (aged 77)
Bondi, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Religious Influence

Includes the religion in which subjects were raised, have chosen themselves, attendance at religious schools and/or religious funeral rites; Atheism and Agnosticism have been included.