Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Robert Thompson Wade (1884–1967)

by G. P. Walsh

This article was published:

Robert Thompson Wade (1884-1967), palaeichthyologist, clergyman and schoolmaster, was born on 8 October 1884 in Dublin, eldest son of Robert Wade, prison governor, and his wife Sarah Anne, née Thompson. In 1890 the family arrived in Australia and settled at Bathurst. Educated at All Saints College, which he represented at cricket and Rugby football, young Robert was head boy and won the J. B. Watt exhibition in 1901. At the University of Sydney (B.A., 1905; M.A., 1924), he came under the influence of (Sir) Edgeworth David and graduated with honours in geology and mathematics. That year he began teaching science at Barker College, Hornsby.

Made deacon by Bishop Camidge on 15 March 1908, Wade married Mary Adderley Kearney on 18 December at St Philip's Church, Sydney. On 6 June 1909 he was priested by Bishop Stone-Wigg and became curate at St Paul's, Wahroonga with Hornsby. Having left Barker briefly in 1910 for a senior curacy at St John's, Darlinghurst, he returned as senior master and in 1917 acted as headmaster. Wade taught physics, chemistry and geology, and organized field excursions.

In 1918 he founded Headfort College, Killara; among his pupils was (Sir) John Gorton, a future prime minister. The strain on Mary's health from running the domestic side of the school obliged Wade to sell his foundation in 1928 to the Congregational Union. In May he was appointed senior science master at The King's School, Parramatta.

Between 1925 and 1929 Wade collected hundreds of fossil fish from the Brookvale brick pits: he sent some to the noted palaeichthyologist Sir Arthur Smith Woodward in England, but worked on others and described them. With a grant from the Australian National Research Council, he entered Clare College, Cambridge (Ph.D., 1931), to continue his studies on vertebrate palaeontology.

Scholarly, energetic and talented, in 1932-35 Wade taught at Chaloner's School, Devon, and Sutton Valence School, Kent. He visited Australia to collect more specimens and sold his collection of Australian Mesozoic fishes to the British Museum (Natural History) which published his memoir, The Triassic Fishes of Brookvale, New South Wales (1935). After a short term as dean of Christ Church Cathedral in the Falkland Islands, he returned with his wife to Sydney in 1936. Wade was a locum tenens at St John's Church, Milsons Point, then headmaster of Broughton School for Boys, Newcastle (1938-40). He came back to King's in January 1941 and retired in May 1949.

Wade published six papers on Triassic and Jurassic fishes in the Journal and Proceedings of the local Royal Society between 1930 and 1953. His valuable descriptive work enlarged on that of Woodward and others, and brought Australian Mesozoic fishes 'into relationship with one another and with the general subject of Palaeicthyology'. In retirement he lived at Manly near his favourite collecting ground. After 1953 Mary's and his own ill health forced him to give up scientific work. Predeceased by his wife, he died without issue on 23 September 1967 at Eastwood and was cremated.

Select Bibliography

  • W. A. Steel, History of All Saints' College, Bathurst, 1873-1934 (Syd, 1936)
  • S. Braga, Barker College, a History (Syd, 1978)
  • Royal Society of New South Wales, Journal, 64 (1930)
  • Nature (London), 20 July 1968, p 311
  • Church of England Historical Society Journal, vol 20, no 1, Mar 1975.

Citation details

G. P. Walsh, 'Wade, Robert Thompson (1884–1967)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1990, accessed online 25 May 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]


8 October, 1884
Dublin, Dublin, Ireland


23 September, 1967 (aged 82)
Eastwood, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

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