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Mr Joseph Edmund Carne (1855–1922)

by T. G. Vallance

This article was published:

Joseph Edmund Carne (1855-1922), geologist, was born on 12 February 1855 probably at Nowranie station near Urana, New South Wales, second son of Joseph William Carne (1822-1894), pastoralist, and his wife Emma, née Woodhouse. His Cornish grandfather Lieutenant Thomas Carne (1787-1829) had come to Sydney in 1814 with the 46th Regiment. The noted geologist Joseph Carne, F.R.S., was a relation.

Brought up mainly at Appin, Carne attended a private school at Campbelltown. Soon after his mother died in 1871 the family returned to the Riverina. Unsuccessful at the Gulgong diggings, Carne worked as a station-hand in outback New South Wales and Queensland, gaining a mastery of bushcraft. While droving for his uncle T. B. Carne he was practically blinded by sandy-blight. After bush care for some weeks, spent mainly away from sunlight in a dry well, Carne travelled back to Sydney for medical treatment. There he met C. S. Wilkinson, who urged him to study geology. As his sight improved Carne in due course attended classes at the Sydney Technical College.

Early in 1879 he joined the Geological Survey of New South Wales as temporary assistant to Wilkinson. On 9 September 1882 at Burwood he married Louisa McArthur (d.1892), but the destruction by fire on 22 September of the Garden Palace which housed the Mining and Geological Museum brought him from his honeymoon to begin salvage. He became curator in 1883 and thanks largely to his efforts the museum, in new premises and with new collections, was again open by 1886. Meanwhile, he had organized material for the Colonial and Indian Exhibition, London (1886), and for the exhibitions in Adelaide (1887-88), Melbourne (1888-89) and Dunedin, New Zealand (1889). In May 1890 he accompanied Wilkinson to London to arrange the colony's display for the International Exhibition of Mining and Metallurgy at the Crystal Palace and to report on various museums, mines and metallurgical works in the United Kingdom. He did some preparatory work for the World's Columbian Exposition, Chicago (1893), but in March 1892 transferred to the field staff as a geological surveyor and in 1894 became a member of the Prospecting Board.

Thereafter Carne was increasingly concerned with field geology and compiling reports on the mineral resources of New South Wales. His major works, The Kerosene Shale Deposits of New South Wales (1903), Geology and Mineral Resources of the Western Coal Field (1908) and, with L. J. Jones, the classic Limestone Deposits of New South Wales (1919), like all Carne's writings, combined clarity with meticulous scholarship.

Carne became assistant government geologist in 1902 and in January 1916 succeeded E. F. Pittman as government geologist. He retired from active duty in December 1919. For some time his health had been affected by malaria, contracted while seconded to the Commonwealth government to report on coal deposits in the Purari River district of Papua in 1911-12. The coal proved disappointing but he found promising signs of petroleum; drilling was delayed by the outbreak of World War I. The Carne River in Papua was named in his honour.

A fellow of the Geological Society, London, from 1889, Carne was a councillor of the Linnean and Royal societies of New South Wales; he was awarded the (W. B.) Clarke Medal in 1920. He died of disseminated sclerosis at his Strathfield home on 23 July 1922 and was buried in the Anglican section of Rookwood cemetery. Carne was survived by three sons and a daughter of his first marriage and by his second wife Clara Grace Hudson, whom he had married at St Andrew's Cathedral on 1 July 1895, and by their daughter and two sons.

His second son Walter Mervyn (1885-1952), agricultural botanist, was born on 16 September 1885 at Croydon, Sydney, and was educated at Fort Street Public School, Sydney Boys' High School and Sydney Technical College. In 1906-11 he was a laboratory assistant at Hawkesbury Agricultural College. As a scientific cadet with the Department of Agriculture he studied at the University of Sydney in 1912 and next year at the University of California. On his return he became an assistant agrostologist with the department.

In August 1915 Walter enlisted as a private in the Australian Imperial Force, and on 27 November married Blanche Nellie Gertrude Hudson, his stepmother's sister. He served with the 2nd Light Horse Field Ambulance in the Middle East, was mentioned in dispatches in 1916, and awarded the Serbian Silver Medal. Commissioned in 1919, he was appointed to the Education Service; he managed to collect scientific specimens in Palestine and Jordan.

Carne was science master at Hawkesbury Agricultural College for two years, before joining the Western Australian Department of Agriculture in 1923 as economic botanist and plant pathologist. From 1929 he was stationed in Perth as senior plant pathologist for the Commonwealth Council for Scientific and Industrial Research and worked on non-parasitic disorders in apples. Invited by the Empire Marketing Board, he visited England in 1931 to examine Australian apples and pears on arrival.

In 1932-35 Carne was in Tasmania, and in London as fruit officer at Australia House in 1936-37. Now a principal research officer at C.S.I.R., he was seconded in 1938-41 to the Department of Commerce and Agriculture in Melbourne as supervisor of fresh fruit and vegetable exports. Carne joined the staff of the department in 1941, remaining there until his retirement nine years later. During World War II he was attached to food control as technical supervisor of vegetable dehydration. He was a pioneer of plant pathology and fruit storage in Australia.

Carne published many articles and was a fellow of the Linnean Society of London. He was president of the Royal Society of Western Australia in 1927-29 and in 1933 was awarded its gold medal. Survived by his wife and son, he died of coronary occlusion on 20 November 1952 at Chatswood, Sydney, and was cremated.

Select Bibliography

  • Linnean Society of New South Wales, Proceedings, 48 (1923), 78 (1953)
  • Royal Society of New South Wales, Journal, 57 (1923)
  • Royal Society of Western Australia, Jourrnal, 19 (1932-33)
  • Australian Journal of Science, Feb 1953
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 24, 25 July 1922
  • J. E. Carne diary (State Library of New South Wales), and letters (MS1652, National Library of Australia)
  • Hunt Institute biographies (Australian Academy of Science Library)
  • private information.

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Citation details

T. G. Vallance, 'Carne, Mr Joseph Edmund (1855–1922)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1979, accessed online 13 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

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