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Andrew Gibb Maitland (1864–1951)

by T. G. Vallance

This article was published:

Andrew Gibb Maitland (1864-1951), geologist, was born on 30 November 1864 at Birkby, near Huddersfield, Yorkshire, England, son of George Maitland, bookkeeper, and his wife Margaret, née Gibb, both of Scottish ancestry. He qualified as a civil engineer at the Yorkshire College of Science, Leeds, where he was influenced by A. H. Green, professor of geology. From Green, pre-eminently a field geologist, Maitland derived his lasting enthusiasm for geological survey work.

He was appointed second assistant geologist to the Geological Survey of Queensland and on 17 December 1888 reported at Townsville to R. Logan Jack who set him to survey rough country in the Mackay district. Maitland's maps and reports, published as parliamentary papers for 1889, satisfied Jack that his latest recruit was a capable geologist who had mastered quickly the ways of the bush. Assignments in remote mineral fields added to Maitland's reputation. In 1891 Sir William MacGregor engaged him on secondment, to undertake a geological examination of British New Guinea. His reports and maps are among the first accounts of the geology of Papua. Maitland resumed his varied survey work in Queensland but became increasingly involved with study of the intake beds of the Great Artesian Basin.

When H. P. Woodward (1858-1917) resigned as government geologist of Western Australia to join the mining rush, Maitland accepted the offer to succeed him in July 1896. He completed field-work in the gulf country before leaving Queensland in October, reaching Perth to find he had been gazetted government geologist from 1 November. He had no professional staff but received a ministerial direction from (Sir) Edward Wittenoom to prepare a plan for a geological survey. Maitland's report of 15 May 1897 envisaged a largely self-sufficient system capable of producing topographical maps for the geologists who, in turn, would have the support of a chemist/assayer and office staff. These services, as well as a mining record office and a public museum of geology, were to be under the government geologist, answering directly to the minister. By the time an under secretary came between him and his minister, Maitland had set a lasting style for the Geological Survey of Western Australia.

He saw his survey's role in terms of systematic field-mapping, necessarily related to particular social and industrial needs, and publication. While leading the survey from the field, by example, he did not neglect office work. His still-useful Bibliography of the Geology of Western Australia (1898) was the first of ninety-one survey bulletins issued under his direction. An acknowledged authority on underground water, Maitland had early successes in the West such as locating bores between Geraldton and North West Cape that still supply water. His predictions of artesian water resources, for instance beneath the Nullarbor Plain, likewise proved valuable. Water and gold were then crucial to prosperity in the West and Maitland and his staff inevitably devoted much attention to the goldfields. He himself spent several long and arduous seasons from 1903 in the Pilbara region, mapping a vast area and seeking geological order among its ancient rocks. In 1901 he had worked in unknown parts of the Kimberley division as geologist to an expedition led by F. S. Drake-Brockman. Maitland's extensive knowledge of the State was epitomized in his Summary of the Geology of Western Australia (1919). E. C. Andrews regarded him as 'the last of the pioneer geologists of Australia', much of whose work in the West 'partook of the nature of exploration'. By November 1926 when Maitland retired about half the State had been geologically mapped, at least in reconnaissance. Behind the achievement lay extraordinary efforts and feats of endurance by men, horses and camels, hardly credible to a modern geologist.

Maitland was an original member of the Mueller Botanic Society of Western Australia, forerunner of the Royal Society of Western Australia which he practically founded; and of which he was twice president (1915, 1925) and recipient of its Kelvin memorial medal (1937). Maitland served for many years as local secretary of the Australasian Association for the Advancement of Science and was awarded its Mueller memorial medal in 1924. He was an honorary member (1915) of the Royal Society of New South Wales which awarded him its (W.B.) Clarke memorial medal (1927).

On 20 March 1895 at Sandgate, near Brisbane, Maitland had married Alice Maud Brumfitt with Anglican rites. He died on 27 January 1951 at Subiaco, Perth, and was buried in the Anglican section of Karrakatta cemetery. Two sons and two daughters survived him. His elder son Brigadier George Brumfitt Gibb had a distinguished medical career. Gibb River and Maitland Range, in the Kimberley division, commemorate Maitland and recall that he was generally known as Gibb Maitland. Several species of invertebrate fossils have been named in his honour; the mineral called maitlandite by E. S. Simpson in 1930 is now known to be thorogummite.

Select Bibliography

  • R. K. Johns (ed), History and Role of Government Geological Surveys in Australia (Adel, 1976)
  • Department of Mines (Queensland), Annual Report, 1888-96
  • Geological Survey (Western Australia), Annual Progress Report, 1897-1926
  • Australian Mining Standard, 14 Oct 1897, p 2307
  • Royal Society of New South Wales, Journal and Proceedings, 76 (1942), p 109, 113, and 86 (1952), p xv
  • Royal Society of Western Australia, Proceedings, 36 (1952), p 111
  • Town and Country Journal, 22 Aug 1896
  • West Australian, 1 Feb 1951.

Citation details

T. G. Vallance, 'Maitland, Andrew Gibb (1864–1951)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1986, accessed online 23 April 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 10, (Melbourne University Press), 1986

View the front pages for Volume 10

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


30 November, 1864
Birkby, Yorkshire, England


27 January, 1951 (aged 86)
Subiaco, Perth, Western Australia, Australia

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