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Adolph Carl von de Heyde Süssmilch (1875–1946)

by G. P. Walsh

This article was published:

Adolph Carl von de Heyde Süssmilch (1875-1946), geologist and educationist, was born on 12 February 1875 in Sydney, third son of Christian Bernhard Süssmilch, a music teacher from Hamburg, and his German wife Anna Emilie, née Merkle. Educated at William Street Public School, he became an indent clerk in a warehouse and attended science classes at Sydney Technical College in his spare time.

Joining the Department of Public Instruction in 1899, Süssmilch next year became an assistant at Sydney Technical College. He studied at Fort Street Training School and, as an unmatriculated student, attended lectures in the faculty of engineering at the University of Sydney in 1901-03. He taught geology, mineralogy and mining at the college from 1903, and visited the United States of America in 1912 to study methods of technical education.

Appointed principal of the Newcastle branch Technical College in 1914, Süssmilch was president of the Newcastle division of the Institution of Engineers, Australia, in 1920. In an address to the local chamber of commerce in 1922, he publicly criticized unscientific mining methods on the northern coalfields and the great waste in the south coast coke industry; he also called for scientific research to be carried out to enable the recovery of more coal and better use of the industry's by-products. In 1927 he was president of the Rotary Club of Newcastle. That year he was appointed assistant superintendent and principal of East Sydney Technical College. After a world tour, in August 1935 he praised the New South Wales education system, but pointed out that its technical branch urgently required more buildings and equipment. From 1934 until he retired in June 1936, he was acting superintendent of technical education.

A painstaking teacher, Süssmilch took elocution lessons to perfect his presentation. His friend and colleague E. C. Andrews wrote that 'he sought to inspire his students and the public with a love for geology and a robust spirit of comradeship and citizenship', and that his lectures were models of lucidity, delivered with conviction. Süssmilch's popular, annual field-excursions (meticulously organized with railway timetable precision) attracted numerous special visitors as well as the students. With receding hair and rimless spectacles, he had a round face and 'beaming smile'; his chief enjoyment was music, in which he was well-versed.

Chairman of directors of the New South Wales Society for Crippled Children, Süssmilch sat on its educational and vocational guidance committee from April 1931 until February 1940 when he became honorary secretary. His interest in the young, his knowledge of educational facilities and his experience in the manual arts helped him to make a significant contribution to the rehabilitation of physically handicapped children. He retired from the society through ill health in September 1943.

While better known to the public for his work with crippled children and for his pioneering efforts in technical education, Süssmilch was predominantly a scientist. In 1905 his first scientific paper—on basic plutonic rocks near Kiama—appeared in the journal of the Royal Society of New South Wales; in 1911 he published An Introduction to the Geology of New South Wales (new editions 1914 and 1922) which was widely used as a textbook. Between 1905 and 1941 he published nineteen papers, some with H. I. Jensen, H. S. Jevons and T. G. Taylor, on various aspects of geology and the State's physical geography, especially the mountains and tablelands; they mainly appeared in the Technical Gazette of New South Wales and in the proceedings of the local Royal and Linnean societies. His later papers, largely in the fields of geomorphology and palaeozoic stratigraphy, included two with (Sir) Edgeworth David in 1919 and 1931 on the vexed question of the plane of separation between the Permian and Carboniferous periods in Australia.

Having attended the Pan Pacific Scientific Conference in Honolulu in 1920, Süssmilch went to subsequent Pan Pacific congresses in the 1920s and 1930s, firmly believing that they were a force for tolerance without which there could be no real peace. To visiting scientists, he was a generous host and friend. He was a councillor of the Royal (1910-38; president, 1922) and Linnean (1933-46; president, 1936-37) societies; chairman of section C (geology) in 1935 and a trustee and fellow of the Australian and New Zealand Association for the Advancement of Science; a member of the Australian National Research Council and a trustee of the Australian Museum, Sydney, (1943-46); and he also promoted the Science House project which opened in Sydney in 1931.

A fellow of Sydney Technical College (1914) and of the Geological societies of London (1905) and America, he was honoured by the local Royal Society's (W. B.) Clarke medal in 1939 and was its Clarke memorial lecturer in 1941. He belonged to the University Club, Sydney. Süssmilch died at his Burwood home on 6 December 1946 and was cremated with Anglican rites. He was unmarried.

Select Bibliography

  • Geological Society of London, Quarterly Journal, 103 (1947), p 61
  • Royal Society of New South Wales, Journal, 81 (1947), p 4
  • Linnean Society of New South Wales, Proceedings, 73 (1948), p 242
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 4 May 1922, 17, 30 Aug, 26 Oct 1923, 26 Feb 1929, 10 Aug 1933, 9 Aug 1935, 24 Sept 1941, 10 Dec 1946.

Citation details

G. P. Walsh, 'Süssmilch, Adolph Carl von de Heyde (1875–1946)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1990, accessed online 14 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 12, (Melbourne University Press), 1990

View the front pages for Volume 12

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Sussmilch, Adolph Carl von de Heyde

12 February, 1875
Sydney, New South Wales, Australia


6 December, 1946 (aged 71)
Burwood, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Cultural Heritage

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