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Rose to the occasion

DavidArchivist Caroline Lam on a dramatic re-staging of Lt Col Tannatt Edgeworth David’s lecture ‘Geology at the Western Front’

In the year which the world is marking the centenary of the start of the First World War, the Library is restaging the lecture given by Lt Col Tannatt Edgeworth David (pictured right) on 26 February 1919, before his return to Australia to be officially demobilised. Until recently the contents of the lecture, ‘Geology at the Western Front’, were unknown. Only the title appears in the ‘Proceedings’, and it was thought that the War Office had denied permission for it to be published. However a few months ago, the handwritten notes to David’s lecture were rediscovered tucked into a box in the Library.


The troopship on which the extraordinary Tannatt William Edgeworth David (1858-1934) was to set sail in had been delayed and seizing the opportunity, he was persuaded by the Society’s officers to give an impromptu account of his experiences of the ‘application of geological knowledge to the War on the Western Front’.

David's career had already seen him studying under John Ruskin and Joseph Prestwich in the 1870s, setting up the new School of Mines at the University of Sydney in the 1890s and accompanying Ernest Shackleton to the magnetic South Pole as part of the British Antarctic Expedition of 1907-1909.  Four years previously, he had convinced the Australian government to establish a corps of geologists and miners for military use in the First World War, and at the mature age of 57, he enlisted as a commissioned major to the new mining battalion in October 1915. Travelling to France and the Western Front in February 1916 he provided invaluable advice to troops on ground water and the positioning and design of trenches and tunnels.


Despite seriously injuring himself falling 24 metres down a well in October 1916, David continued his war service as geologist to the British Expeditionary Force, collaborating with his British counterpart William Bernard Robinson King (later President of the Society 1953-1955).

The re-staged lecture will be delivered by Colonel Edward P F Rose, this year’s Sue Tyler Friedman medallist, in the Upper Library on Thursday 10 July 2014 at 1830. As was the custom for Ordinary Meetings during the First World War, tea and non-anachronistic biscuits will be served at 1800.