Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Kenneth Washington Gray (1899–1962)

by Frank K. Rickwood

This article was published:

Kenneth Washington Gray (1899-1962), oil geologist, was born on 24 October 1899 at Hornsey, Middlesex, England, son of George Washington Gray, woollen commission merchant, and his wife Emily, née Pearson. Educated at the Leys School, Cambridge, in 1918 he served as an artillery cadet and was commissioned in the Royal Field Artillery.

Next year Gray entered Jesus College, Cambridge (B.A., 1921; M.A., 1925), where he graduated with third-class honours in the natural science tripos. He joined the geological staff of the Anglo-Persian Oil Co. Pty Ltd in 1922. During his first seven years with the firm he took part in a number of surveys in the Middle East, mostly in Persia (Iran). His mapping of the Haft Kel and Haft-i-Safid structures contributed to the discovery of these oilfields. With G. M. Lees, in 1925-26 he made the first major reconnaissance survey of Oman and South-East Arabia. After visiting Albania, Gray studied at the University of Vienna (Ph.D., 1930) and wrote his thesis on geological aspects of Central and Eastern Persia. Between 1930 and 1935 he carried out field-surveys in Persia, Albania and Yugoslavia. At the parish church of St Mary Magdalene, Addiscombe, England, on 28 June 1933 he married Doris May Fairweather.

Gray came to Australia in 1935 to make a general appraisal of the country's oil prospects for Commonwealth Oil Refineries Ltd. Three years later he was appointed chief geologist of the Australasian Petroleum Co. Pty Ltd and Island Exploration Co. Pty Ltd to work in Papua and the mandated Territory of New Guinea. When the Japanese invaded Papua in 1942, he was transferred to Ahwaz, Persia, as area superintendent. In 1946 he returned to Papua and walked over the Kokoda Track to undertake a geological reconnaissance.

In 1949 Gray returned to the Melbourne head office of the Australian operations of Anglo-Iranian Oil Co. Ltd where he was appointed managing director of C.O.R. and a representative of Anglo-Iranian Oil. He retired in 1953, but continued doing consulting work for the British Petroleum Co. of Australia Ltd and serving as Anglo-Iranian representative on the boards of the Papuan exploration companies. He edited 'Geological Results of Petroleum Exploration in Western Papua', published in the Journal of the Geological Society of Australia (1961).

Widely read and cultured, Gray was a member of the Geological Society of Australia (vice-president 1954-55), the Royal Society of Victoria (honorary secretary 1954-55), the Royal Central Asian Society and the American Association of Petroleum Geologists. He died of a hypertensive cerebrovascular accident on 29 November 1962 at St Georges, Adelaide, and was cremated; his wife, son and daughter survived him. His geological reports are mostly unpublished, but his work in Persia had made a significant contribution to recording the geology of that country.

Select Bibliography

  • R. Ferrier, History of the British Petroleum Company, vol I, 1901-32 (Cambridge, 1982)
  • Commonwealth Oil Refineries Ltd, Accelerator, no 139, Oct 1949, no 161, June 1953
  • Royal Society Victoria, Annual Report, 1962, and Proceedings, 76, 1963
  • BP Shield, Feb 1963
  • Herald (Melbourne), 4 May 1935, 12 Oct 1949
  • Argus (Melbourne), 15 Oct 1949.

Citation details

Frank K. Rickwood, 'Gray, Kenneth Washington (1899–1962)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1996, accessed online 17 July 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (Melbourne University Press), 1996

View the front pages for Volume 14

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


24 October, 1899
London, Middlesex, England


29 November, 1962 (aged 63)
St Georges, Adelaide, South Australia, Australia

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