Australian Dictionary of Biography

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George Davenport Osborne (1899–1955)

by T. G. Vallance

This article was published:

George Davenport Osborne (1899-1955), geologist, was born on 6 August 1899 at Marrickville, Sydney, second son of Odo Lee Osborne, Wollongong-born grocer, and his English wife Alice Clare, née Payne and late Taylor. He grew up nearby at Arncliffe and was educated at public schools including Sydney Boys' High School. He entered the University of Sydney in 1917 intending to become a schoolmaster, but found consuming interest in geology. With the help of Sir Edgeworth David, he published his first geological paper in 1920.

After graduating B.Sc. in 1921 with first-class honours and the University medal in geology, Osborne held various research and junior teaching posts at the university before gaining tenured appointment as lecturer and demonstrator in 1926. He became senior lecturer in 1945 and reader four years later. An enthusiastic worker in the field, Osborne in the 1920s made extensive geological investigation of the Hunter River region. He discovered that Carboniferous and Permian strata in those parts are separated not by an unconformity, as David and others had thought, but by a steep overthrust fault—the 'Hunter overthrust' as he termed it in 1928. Demonstration of this major feature and his mapping of it over some ninety miles (145 km) brought Osborne to notice as a structural geologist. In 1929 he graduated D.Sc. (Sydney) for a work of stratigraphical and structural synthesis on the region.

At Rockdale on 22 February 1930 Osborne married Gwynneth Janet Love. Later that year they went to England, where he worked at the Sedgwick Museum, Cambridge, until December 1931 investigating the mineralogy and petrology of crystalline rocks from South Marulan, New South Wales, and from Ireland. On leave in 1938-39, Osborne, as an advanced student in Emmanuel College, completed a thesis and was awarded a Ph.D. by the University of Cambridge. A Carnegie grant enabled him to visit geological centres in North America on the way home.

Osborne resumed regional geological interests, without setting petrology aside. To his last decade belong such notable works as the monograph, Structural Evolution of the Hunter-Manning-Myall Province (1950), and his presidential address to the local Linnean Society (1948) reviewing knowledge of the Sydney Basin. About 1950 Osborne embarked on collaborative research with industry on serpentinites and other ultramafic associations.

As befitted a disciple of David, Osborne's geological concerns were broad, and broadly effective, in both research and teaching. His lectures may not always have been painstakingly prepared, but on field excursions he shone. University students and those of Sydney Technical College, where from 1933 he taught evening classes, came to know in the field a genial, helpful teacher who, though short and latterly somewhat rotund and deaf, was seemingly tireless.

They could not know how Osborne burdened himself: he was president of the Royal (1944) and Linnean (1947) societies of New South Wales and active on the Australian National Research Council and research committees of the Australian and New Zealand Association for the Advancement of Science. Osborne supported the Student Christian Movement and the Sydney University Union (president, 1933-34). A committed Methodist as well as a talented amateur musician, he was a lay-preacher and served as honorary organist and choirmaster to congregations at Arncliffe and, later, Turramurra. In 1952 a severe illness forced him to adopt a quieter regime. He died at his Turramurra home on 5 October 1955 of cerebral haemorrhage and was cremated. His wife and two sons survived him.

Select Bibliography

  • University of Sydney Union, Union Recorder, 6, 13 Oct 1955
  • Geological Society London, Proceedings, 1541 (1956), p 140
  • Linnean Society of New South Wales, Proceedings, 82 (1957), p 252, and for publications list
  • private information.

Citation details

T. G. Vallance, 'Osborne, George Davenport (1899–1955)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1988, accessed online 24 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 11, (Melbourne University Press), 1988

View the front pages for Volume 11

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


6 August, 1899
Marrickville, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia


5 October, 1955 (aged 56)
Turramurra, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

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