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John Milne (Michael) Curran (1859–1928)

by C. J. Duffy

This article was published:

John Milne (Michael) Curran (1859-1928), priest and geologist, was born in Clonmel, Ireland. He was living at Callan when he responded to an appeal to migrate to New South Wales and form part of the nucleus of a seminary at Bathurst, dedicated to St Charles Borromeo, for training Irish and Australian priests of the diocesan clergy. While studying there from 1875 until his ordination in 1881, he came under the influence of Rev. Julian Tenison-Woods who during his active pastoral life became an outstanding geologist. Following his example Curran studied privately with similar success in scientific fields.

In 1881 Curran was posted to Dubbo and appointed inspector of schools for the Bathurst diocese. He also continued his geological studies and surveys, which bore their first fruits in 1884 when his paper, 'On Fossil plants from Dubbo', was published in Sydney in the Proceedings of the Linnean Society. Next year the society printed his papers on the geology of Dubbo and on inland water supply. In 1885 Curran had the good fortune to be given charge of the mining district of Cobar, whence his report, 'A Leucite-basalt from Central New South Wales', was contributed to the society's Proceedings in 1887. After his return to Dubbo his paper on carboniferous and Silurian fossils was published by the society in 1888. In 1891 the Linnean Society printed his 'Geology and Petrology of Bathurst', and his 'Contribution to the microscopic structure of some Australian rocks' appeared in the Proceedings of the Royal Society of New South Wales, winning him a medal, a prize of £25 and a travelling lectureship in the Department of Public Instruction. His next studies were on the structure of a basalt found at Bondi and a natural mineral spring at Bungonia in 1894, and the Royal Society published his paper on precious stones in New South Wales and the deposits in which they occurred. In 1897 his report, 'On the evidence, so-called, of glacier action on Mount Kosciusko plateau', appeared in the Linnean Society's Proceedings and, with the permission of Bishop Joseph Byrne, he accepted appointment as lecturer in geology and mineralogy at the Sydney Technical College. There he worked on weekdays, exercised his ministry in the Bathurst diocese each weekend, and grasped every opportunity to pursue his field work. Among his later publications was The Geology of Sydney and the Blue Mountains (Sydney, 1899), a standard work which ran to two editions. He remained on the college staff until 1902 and was then appointed government geologist. At Bathurst in 1899 Bishop Byrne made him editor of the Record, of which he made a great success for six months, but the printery was completely destroyed by fire, together with his collection of specimens. He then returned to Sydney.

His relations with Cardinal Patrick Moran were not cordial and in 1894 he defeated the cardinal's nominee for election to the council of St John's College. When the cardinal took umbrage Curran quickly resigned, being a man of peace. After the death of Bishop Byrne Moran suggested to Bishop John Dunne that Curran should return to pastoral work in the Bathurst diocese, but received the dubious reply that after so many years of scientific activity he would have difficulty in adapting himself to parish duties.

To the end of his days Curran took an intense interest in mineral and artesian deposits and travelled throughout New South Wales surveying and advising the mining fraternity. He held a theory that the alluvial deposits in the Turon came from a rich reef somewhere in the mountains. He also encouraged investment in mining ventures and so remained poor. He died at 68 on 29 June 1928 in Moore Park Road, Centennial Park, and was buried at Rookwood, where his friends erected a monument.

Among his writings was a valuable monograph on his mentor, Tenison-Woods, in the Centennial Magazine in 1889-90.

Select Bibliography

  • Roman Catholic Archives (Sydney, Bathurst)
  • printed sources catalogue under J. M. Curran (State Library of New South Wales).

Citation details

C. J. Duffy, 'Curran, John Milne (Michael) (1859–1928)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1969, accessed online 23 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 3, (Melbourne University Press), 1969

View the front pages for Volume 3

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


Clonmel, Cork, Ireland


29 June, 1928 (aged ~ 69)
Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

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