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Henry James (Harry) Evans (1912–1990)

by D. A. Berkman and G. W. Patterson

This article was published:

Henry James (Harry) Evans (1912-1990), exploration geologist, was born on 7 November 1912 at Greymouth, New Zealand, third of six children of New Zealand-born parents Henry David Evans, carpenter, and his wife Eva Lillian, née Lawn. When Harry was a boy, his father drowned while attempting to rescue people from a rip off the west coast. His mother subsequently married James William Patterson, who encouraged Harry’s interest in ore deposit geology by taking him to prospect for gold in the Reefton district. Harry attended the Waitahu and Reefton District High schools, and at 16 began work at the nearby Alexander gold mine. After severely damaging his left arm in a shotgun accident, he went back to school, obtained the New Zealand Public Service entrance certificate, and gained employment as an assistant-assayer at the Reefton School of Mines. His duties included assaying ore samples for gold, and standing in for lecturers who were temporarily absent. He completed his qualifications as an assayer about 1934.

In 1936 Evans took employment with the Geological Survey Branch, Department of Scientific and Industrial Research, mainly exploring for gold in South Westland. On 27 March 1937 at Knox Presbyterian Church, Reefton, he married Helen McLean Watson, a shop assistant. Next year he joined New Zealand Petroleum Co. Ltd, which was searching for oil and gas, particularly in the Taranaki area.

In 1946 Evans moved to Melbourne to work for Zinc Corporation Ltd, under (Sir) Maurice Mawby, then director of exploration and research. Seconded to the Frome-Broken Hill Co. Pty Ltd oil exploration consortium, he travelled widely in Queensland and the Northern Territory. In 1949-50 he was sent to Britain to investigate potash deposits in Yorkshire. He joined the Australasian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy as an associate-member in 1953 and was also a member of the Geological Society of Australia.

While exploring for oil on Cape York Peninsula in 1955, Evans came across the extensive bauxite deposits at Weipa, assumed since their discovery in 1902 to be low grade. He recognised their potential; simple and inexpensive screening to remove the matrix improved the alumina content to ore grade and triggered the development of the deposits. Evans worked in the aluminium industry until 1968, as field superintendent (1956-60) with Commonwealth Aluminium Corporation Ltd during the Weipa construction years, and as chief geologist (1960-67) with Comalco Industries Pty Ltd. He was appointed OBE in 1965. Chief research geologist with the exploration section of Conzinc Rio Tinto of Australia Ltd from 1968, he later became chief geologist. Evans was a director of the Australian Mining & Smelting Co. Ltd in 1962-72. He retired in 1975, staying on at Brighton, Melbourne, where he had lived for some years.

Quiet, slim and unassuming, with a ready smile, Evans was known for his practical bushcraft skills and for his enthusiasm for all areas of natural science. In 1988 he received the president’s award of the AusIMM. Survived by his wife and their daughter and son, he died on 9 November 1990 in South Melbourne and was buried in New Cheltenham cemetery.

Select Bibliography

  • AusIMM Bulletin and Proceedings, Dec 1988, p 13
  • private information and personal knowledge.

Citation details

D. A. Berkman and G. W. Patterson, 'Evans, Henry James (Harry) (1912–1990)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2007, accessed online 23 February 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 17, (Melbourne University Press), 2007

View the front pages for Volume 17

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


7 November, 1912
Greymouth, New Zealand


9 November, 1990 (aged 78)
South Melbourne, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

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