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Antarctic explorer and discoverer of coal fields

In the northern Sydney suburb of Hornsby is a road called Edgeworth David Avenue. It is named after the Welsh geologist and Antarctic explorer Tannatt William Edgeworth David.

Born on 28 January, 1858 at the rectory in St Fagans, Glamorganshire, Wales, he was the eldest child of Reverend William David and Margaret Harriette, nee Thomson.

He was an excellent scholar, having gone to Oxford and in 1878 he gained a first class in classics. His health broke down before he was able to read for final honours.

Tannatt William Edgeworth David in 1898. By JH Newman.

To regain his health he travelled to Canada and Melbourne. Back in Oxford he attended the lectures of Professor Joseph Prestwich, which got him interested in geology. Through his studies he landed a job in NSW and arrived in Sydney on 27 November, 1882. By the end of the year he had prepared a geological sketch map of the Yass district and examined mining reserves in the New England region. He settled down to a detailed study of the Emmaville district that kept him in the field until August 1884.

He published his first monograph in 1887, as Memoirs, No.1, of the Geological Survey of New South Wales. Meanwhile, he travelled widely in the colony, reporting on various mineral and water resources.

He had met Caroline 'Cara' Mallett on the trip out to Australia and they married on 30 July 1885 at St Paul's Church of England, Canterbury. She had travelled out to take up her appointment as principal of Hurlstone Training College for female teachers.

The early years of their marriage were spent in the geological field camps, with two of their children being born in Maitland.

In 1886 Edgeworth David was working in the Hunter Valley region when he and his assistant G.A. Stonier discovered a seam of coal, creating a whole new coalfield in South Maitland.

In May 1891, David became professor of geology at the University of Sydney and with a mining boom, came world-wide repute for his work on Fanafuti, an atoll in the Ellice Islands. It was here, after deep drilling, the remains of shallow-water marine organisms brought from the bottom of the hole, seemed to support Charles Darwin's theory that coral atolls had grown progressively on slowly sinking platforms.

His work was recognised by the award of the Bigsby medal by the Geological Society, London, in 1899 and in the following year the Royal Society, London, admitted him as a fellow.

In the Antartic. Courtesy Australia Antarctic Program

David had an interest in glaciation and was invited by Antarctic explorer Ernest Shackleton to travel to New Zealand, returning at the end of summer. He recruited two of his former students, geologists Douglas Mawson and Leo Cotton. On the expedition, David led the first climbing party to the summit of Mount Erebus, an active volcano and where he celebrated his 50th birthday. The following year, David also led the party, which included Mawson, on the epic four-month journey to the South Magnetic Pole covering 1250 km by dragging sledges piled high with their belongings.

Several places in Antarctica are named in his honour: David Glacier, David Island, and David Range.

From June 1917, as chief geologist, he was attached to the inspector of mines at General Headquarters, British Expeditionary Force. Three times mentioned in dispatches, he was awarded the Distinguished Service Order in 1918 and was promoted lieutenant-colonel. His son served with the British army as regimental medical officer with the 6th Cameron Highlanders, winning the Military Cross, and his daughter Mary served as a motor driver with the Women's Army Auxiliary Corps and Women's Legion.

In 1920 he bought Coringah, a cottage in Hornsby and where he took up his long-cherished project to write his work, The Geology of the Commonwealth of Australia. He died in 1934 without being able to complete this work and was given a state funeral and later cremated.


  • D. F. Branagan and T. G. Vallance, 'David, Sir Tannatt William Edgeworth (1858–1934)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1981, accessed online 30 July 2022.

  • 'Tannatt William Edgeworth David', Australian Antarctic Program, accessed 31st July, 2022,

  • 'Edgeworth David', Wikipedia, accessed 31st July, 2022,

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1 comentariu

Cheryl Hill
Cheryl Hill
03 aug. 2022

Thank you for this story. Living locally, it spurred me to find more about where Edgeworth David lived in Hornsby. I must take the time to visit the park named after him.

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