ETHERIDGE, Robert, Jun. (1847-1920)


ETHERIDGE, Robert, Jun. (1847-1920)
palaeontologist
only son of the distinguished palaeontologist, Robert Etheridge, F.R.S. (1819-1903), was born at Cheltenham, Gloucester, in 1847. He was educated at the royal school of mines, London, and during the 1860s came to Australia. He worked under A. R. C. Selwyn (q.v.) on the Victorian geological survey until it was terminated in 1869, and returned to England in 1871. Two years later he was appointed palaeontologist to the geological survey of Scotland, and in 1874 obtained a position in the geology department in the natural history museum at South Kensington. While there in co-operation with P. H. Carpenter he compiled a valuable Catalogue of the Blastoidea. He returned to Australia in 1887 and was given a dual position as palaeontologist to the geological survey of New South Wales and the Australian museum at Sydney. While in England he had had much correspondence with his friend Dr R Logan Jack (q.v.) who had sent him many Queensland fossils. From 1881 they worked together and in 1892 appeared The Geology and Palaeontology of Queensland and New Guinea, by Robert L. Jack and Robert Etheridge, Junior, an elaborate work with many plates and maps. Etheridge founded The Records of the Geological Survey, and published many papers on the fossils of the older strata. On 1 January 1895 he was appointed curator of the Australian museum, and in his hands the collection was much enriched and better displayed, and he initiated the Records of the Australian Museum. As he grew older he enlarged his interests to include ethnology. He wrote much on the manners and customs of the aborigines and gathered together a remarkable collection of native work for his museum. He also extended the usefulness of the museum by having popular science lectures and demonstrations for visitors. He died still in harness and working hard to the end on 4 January 1920. His wife predeceased him and he was survived by two sons. He wrote a large number of scientific papers of which about 350 were published. A list of his papers will be found in the Records of the Australian Museum, vol. XV, pp. 5 to 27. He was awarded the Wollaston Fund by the Geological Society of London in 1877, the Clarke medal by the Royal Society of New South Wales in 1895, and the von Mueller medal by the Australasian Association for the Advancement of Science in 1911. Numerous species of animals, both fossil and recent, were named in his honour, and his name was also given to a goldfield in Queensland, a peak in the Kosciusko plateau, and a glacier in Antarctica.
Etheridge was of a retiring disposition averse from advertisement or publicity, content to live for his work. Hardly known at all to the man in the streets of Sydney, he had a high reputation in the world of science for his valuable work in the classification and correlation of the artesian waterbasins, coalfields, goldfields, and other mineral deposits of Australia. He was a great curator, thoroughly painstaking in the collection of facts but less interested in speculative work. His industry was remarkable and, in spite of failing health towards the end of his life, he never spared himself.
T. W. Edgeworth David and C. Hedley, The Daily Telegraph, Sydney, 9 January 1920; W. S. Dun, Records of the Australian Museum, vol. XV, pp. 1 to 5; The Geological Magazine, vol. LVII, p. 239; E. W. Skeats, Some Founders of Australian Geology, David Lecture, 1933.

Dictionary of Australian Biography by PERCIVAL SERLE. . 1949.

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