Brouwer, Hendrik Albertus

views updated


(b. Medemblik, Netherlands, 20 September 1886: d. Bloemendaal. Netherlands, 18 September 1973)


Brouwer was the third son of Egbertus Luitzen Brouwer and Hendrika Poutsma; his eldest brother was Luitzen Egbertus Jan Brouwer, a mathematician of world note. Brouwer’s father, a schoolteacher, ended his career as head of a secondary school at Haarlem. In this city, where Brouwer received his secondary education, the sight of the mineral collection at Teyler’s Foundation led him to abandon his plans to become a naval officer. He studied mining engineering at the Technical University at Delft under Gustaaf A. F. Molengraaff (1903–1908). For his doctoral dissertation Brouwer investigated Molengraaff’s collection of South African nepheline syenites, in part guided by Alfred Lacroix of Paris. He obtained his doctorate at Delft in 1910. his dissertation supervised by Molengraaff.

Brouwer was not active in any church but had a profound interest in mystical affairs. For instance, he firmly believed in astrology, and checked the starting date of his 1937 expedition to the Netherlands East Indies. On 2 June 1909 he married Louise Betsy van der Spil; they had three children. His elder son, Luilzen Egbertus Jan. had an education similar to his father’s and became an executive in the Royal Dutch-Shell Group. Brouwer’s first marriage ended in divorce (1930). as did his second marriage, to Olga Marianne Labouchere (1941–1958).

Late in 1910 Brouwer went to the Netherlands East Indies as a government official in the Mining Department. Here his main activities concerned the exploration and detailed description of the geology and petrography of the eastern part of the archipelago. The results of this exploration brought him fame among geologists the world over. One of the points Brouwer stressed was that, in spite of distinct indications of vertical movements, the island arcs mainly moved horizontally. In 1911, he was a member of Molengraaff’s expedition to the island of Timor.

Brouwer returned to the Netherlands in 1916 and was appointed professor of historical geology and paleontology at Delft Technical University in 1918. He started fieldwork with his students in southern Spain and, being strongly influenced by Émile Argand’s ideas, proposed a nappe structure for the Betic Cordilleras in 1924.

In 1922 Brouwer was an exchange professor at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor. While there he delivered the lecture series “The Geology of the Netherlands East Indies” (published as one of the University of Michigan Studies in 1925). Also in 1922 he was appointed member of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Sciences and Letters, an honor he valued highly.

In 1925 Brouwer accepted a subsidiary position teaching tectonics at the State University at Utrecht. He retained this function after leaving Delft in 1928. when he became professor of general and practical geology and petrology at the University of Amsterdam, where the authorities had decided to build a new geological institute. He retired in 1957. Brouwer acquired beautiful and instructive specimens from all over the world for his institute. He started with only a few geology students but their number rose to more than a hundred. Many of his students became university professors.

In 1936 the civil war in Spain made fieldwork there impossible, and Brouwer shifted his European fieldwork from Italy and Spain to Lapland and Corsica. With a number of advanced students, he made an expedition to the Lesser Sunda Islands of the Netherlands East Indies in 1937, visiting his beloved island of Timor again. During World War II he and some of his staff members described the collections made during an expedition led by him on the island of Sulawesi (Celebes) in 1929.

In Brouwer’s life almost everything was subordinate to his professional work. He was an inspiring teacher, unmatched in the communication of his enthusiasm for geology. In tackling geological problems he often turned to his well-developed intuition. His strong sense of scientific responsibility made him averse to speculation and theories.

Brouwer had great personal charm but was a loner, difficult and exacting of himself and of others. He could be militant and aggressive and was involved in many conflicts; yet he was extremely vulnerable to critical remarks.

For many years Brouwer was vice president of the Geologische Vereinigung at Bonn, which awarded him its Gustav Steinmann Medal in 1956. In 1938 he was vice president of the Société Géologique de France, and in 1954 he became an honorary member of the Société Géologique de Belgique. He was also a foreign fellow of the Geological Society of London. In the Netherlands he held many posts, mainly in the Geological and Mining Society, which awarded him its Van Waterschoot van der Gracht Medal of Honor in 1957. From 1923 to 1948 he was associate editor of the Journal of Geology (Chicago).


I. Original Works. Among Brouwer’s works are “On the Geology of the Alkali Rocks in the Transvaal.” in Journal of Geology, 25 (1917), 741–778; “Geologische onderzoekingen in den oostelijken oost-Indischen Archipel, I-V.” in Jaarb. Mijnw. Ned. Oost-Indië, Verh, (1920–1926); Geology of the Netherlands East Indies (Ann Arbor, 1925); Geological Expedition… to the Lesser Sunda Islands… Under Leadership of H. A. Brouwer, 4 vols. (Amsterdam, 1940–1942); and Geological Explorations in the Island of Celebes… Under the Leadership of H. A. Brouwer (Amsterdam, 1947), With Karl Andrée and Walter H. Bucher he edited a new series Regionale Geologie der Erde (Leipzig, 1938–1941).

II. Secondary Litareture. A biography and bibliography are in a memorial volume issued on the occasion of Brouwer’s seventieth birthday. Verhandelingen Kaninkl. Nederl. Geol, Mijinbouwk, Genootschap, 16 (1956). See also Geol. & Mijnbouw., 52 (1972), 253–255.

W. P. de Roever

About this article

Brouwer, Hendrik Albertus

Updated About content Print Article