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Irene Crespin (1896–1980)

by Margaret E. Bartlett

This article was published:

Irene Crespin (1896-1980), by unknown photographer, 1949

Irene Crespin (1896-1980), by unknown photographer, 1949

National Library of Australia, nla.pic-an24206421 [detail]

Irene Crespin (1896-1980), geologist and micropalaeontologist, was born on 12 November 1896 at Kew, Melbourne, daughter of Godwin George Crespin, auctioneer, and his wife Eliza Jane, née Kitchen, both Victorian born. Educated at Mansfield Agricultural High School where her interest in geological sciences was stimulated by the headmaster Charles Fenner, Irene cherished unfulfilled hopes for a career as a musician. Intending to become a teacher, she enrolled at the University of Melbourne (B.A., 1919). Her decision to read geology brought her under the influence of Frederick Chapman, palaeontologist at the National Museum of Victoria and a lecturer at the university. President of the Students' Representative Council in 1918, Crespin undertook further studies after graduating and worked for the Geological Survey of Victoria.

In December 1927 she became Chapman's assistant. He had been appointed Commonwealth palaeontologist in the Department of Home and Territories as part of the Federal government's effort to discover oil and minerals. Crespin conducted palaeontological investigations in the national museum's inadequate quarters, made field-trips to east Gippsland, and appreciated contact with visiting scientists who were also engaged in the search for oil. On 1 January 1936 she succeeded Chapman as palaeontologist in the Department of the Interior; the appointment entailed her transfer to Canberra to be in contact with the Commonwealth's geological adviser W. G. Woolnough. Because she was female, her salary was fixed at about half that previously paid to Chapman; she again had to make do with inadequate office space and inferior equipment.

Visiting Java and Sumatra in the Netherlands East Indies in 1939, Crespin consulted with micropalaeontologists and petroleum geologists regarding the problems of Tertiary correlation in the Indo-Pacific region. She travelled widely in Australia to collect fossils and to see the location of the sediments she examined. In the 1940s at Lakes Entrance, Victoria, a shaft was dug to a depth where oil-bearing strata should have been found; Crespin descended the 1200-ft (366 m) shaft in a kibble to inspect the sequence of Tertiary rocks. From 1946 her post was attached to the Bureau of Mineral Resources. She went to Roma, Queensland, in 1947-48, and to the Carnarvon Basin, Western Australia, in 1950. A regular participant in national and international scientific conferences, she toured the United States of America in 1951.

Crespin received a blow in 1953 when many of her books and specimens were destroyed as a result of a fire in the Canberra offices of the B.M.R. That year she received Queen Elizabeth II's coronation medal. She chaired (1955) the Canberra branch of the Territories Division of the Geological Society of Australia and was president (1957) of the Royal Society of Canberra; both institutions were to grant her honorary life membership. In 1957 she was awarded the (W. B.) Clarke medal of the Royal Society of New South Wales; in 1960 she was made an honorary fellow of the Royal Microscopical Society, London, and received a D.Sc. from the University of Melbourne in recognition of her publications. During her career she published some ninety papers—including notable work on foraminifera—as sole author and more than twenty in collaboration with other scientists. She retired in 1961. The Commonwealth Professional Officers' Association presented her with its award of merit in 1962 and she became an honorary member (1973) of the Australian and New Zealand Association for the Advancement of Science, but her autobiographical pamphlet, Ramblings of a Micropalaeontologist (Canberra, 1975), showed that she took most pride in her appointment as O.B.E. (1969). The Bureau of Mineral Resources, Geology and Geophysics published its Bulletin, No.192 (1978) in her honour.

With her enthusiasm and drive, wide range of interests, good humour and extensive circle of friends, Crespin led an energetic life outside her scientific endeavours. She delighted in her frequent trips abroad. A charter member and president (1957) of the Soroptimist Club of Canberra, she was granted life membership in 1971. She played tennis and in 1942 had a handicap of fifteen in golf. An avid follower of Test cricket, she presented the Crespin cup to be contested annually by the 'hard-rocks' and 'soft-rocks' teams within the B.M.R.; in her old age she continued to support the 'soft-rocks' side. Miss Crespin died on 2 January 1980 in Royal Canberra Hospital and was cremated with Anglican rites.

Select Bibliography

  • H. Radi (ed), 200 Australian Women (Syd, 1988)
  • Bureau of Mineral Resources, Geology and Geophysics (Canberra), Bulletin, no 192, 1978
  • Canberra Times, 6 Feb 1960, 28 Oct 1964, 28 Nov 1968, 5 Jan 1980
  • Crespin papers (National Library of Australia).

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Margaret E. Bartlett, 'Crespin, Irene (1896–1980)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1993, accessed online 14 July 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, (Melbourne University Press), 1993

View the front pages for Volume 13

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Irene Crespin (1896-1980), by unknown photographer, 1949

Irene Crespin (1896-1980), by unknown photographer, 1949

National Library of Australia, nla.pic-an24206421 [detail]

Life Summary [details]


12 November, 1896
Kew, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia


2 January, 1980 (aged 83)
Canberra, Australian Capital Territory, 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.