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Elizabeth Alexander, FGS (1908-1958): creator of the first detailed geological map of Singapore

Pulau Sekudu
Elizabeth Alexander at Pulau Sekudu, Singapore, c.1948-1949. (LDGSL/38).

The physicist and geologist Elizabeth Alexander produced the first detailed geological map of Singapore in 1950.

Frances Elizabeth Somerville Caldwell was born in Merton, Surrey. Excelling at physics at school, she entered Newnham College, Cambridge, to study Natural Sciences in 1928, where she graduated in 1931.

Turning her focus to geology, she gained her PhD for her work on the Aymestry Limestone in 1935. That same year she married the New Zealand physicist Norman Alexander (1907-1997) and, following her husband’s appointment as Professor of Physics at Raffles College, moved to Singapore in 1936.

Despite Alexander having no formal geological role on the island, she began immediately investigating, and conducting experiments on the effects of tropical weathering on the landscape. From 1939, Alexander also undertook intelligence work for the Royal Navy at the Singapore Naval Base, providing statistical information and calibrating its Radio Direction Finding equipment.

In January 1942, with the imminent threat of invasion by the Japanese Army, Alexander was ordered by the Navy to evacuate her three children to New Zealand, and return with urgently needed equipment being manufactured in Australia. However, Singapore fell the next month, and Alexander found herself stranded in New Zealand with neither husband nor income.

Click on the links to find out more:

Alexander WW2
  Alexander 200dpi
  Alexander Singapore
War work   Geological map of Singapore    Weathering experiments

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