Edwards, Austin Burton

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(b. Melbourne, Australia, 15 August 1909; d. Rome, Italy, 8 October 1960)


Edwards, fifth and youngest child of William Burton Edwards and Mabel Edwards, was born into a comfortable upper-middle-class home, his father having been a senior public servant. Educated at the University of Melbourne (B.Sc. with first-class honors, 1930), Edwards won a scholarship to the Imperial College of Science, London, where in 1934 he received the doctorate with a dissertation on the petrology of the volcanic and dyke rocks of Victoria.

Tall and well built, Edwards maintained his enthusiasm for sport throughout his life, gaining university sporting honors in Australian football at Melbourne and in athletics at Imperial College. In later years he coached football at Melbourne. In 1935, he married Eileen McDonnell; they had three daughters and a son.

Edwards returned to Melbourne and in 1935 joined Frank Leslie Stillwell in the mineragraphic section of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), which in 1929 had been established within and closely identified with the geology department of the University of Melbourne. Edwards and Stillwell worked together on the mineralogy and petrology of Australian ore bodies until Stillwell’s retirement in 1953, when Edwards took charge of the mineragraphic section of the newly constituted Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO).

Supported by funding from the mining industry, Stillwell and Edwards published twelve papers (mainly in the Proceedings of the Australasian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy) on Australian ore bodies and their mineralogy. These covered the whole range of size and composition, from the leadzinc deposits of Broken Hill (New South Wales) and Mount Isa (Queensland) to the uranium deposits of Mount Painter (South Australia) and occurrences of submicroscopic gold. Some of these publications— papers written with, among others, George Baker and Arthur Gaskin— considered the properties of smelter mattes and mill products, as well as those of the mineral deposits.

Edwards’s first major work after joining CSIR was a study of the mineragraphy of the iron ores of the Middleback Ranges of South Australia; it was followed by examination of the iron deposits of Yampi Sound, Western Australia. At the time, the latter were believed to be the major occurrences of very limited Australian iron ore resources. Edwards next studied the mineral composition of the Mount Lyell copper ores of Tasmania.

Edwards (and Stillwell before him) had used Hans Schneiderhöhn and Paul Ramdohr’s Erzmikroskopische Bestimmungstafeln (1931), Rudolf Van der Veen’s Mineragraphy and Ore-Deposition (1925), and Fairbanks’s Laboratory Investigation of Ores (1928) in the original studies of the opaque minerals common in Australian ore bodies, but they became aware that the textures and mutual associations of the Ore Minerals had received inadequate attention, and that these factors were essential to understanding the genesis of the ore bodies and of the behavior of the ores during milling and smelting.

By 1947 Edwards’s grasp of this aspect of mineragraphy enabled him to publish his widely acclaimed Textures of the ore Minerals and Their Significance, which made use of the rapidly advancing knowledge of solid solution phenomena, thanks to the many studies of the atomic structure of minerals that had been undertaken during the 1940’s.

Despite his concentration on ore body mineragraphy, Edwards’s geological interests were catholic, and his intellectual curiosity and capacity led him to investigate many other geological problems. Related to his mineragraphic work were geochemical studies of ore deposits and examination of a number of meteorites (mostly in collaboration with George Baker). Further removed, but of economic importance, was his work on coal, considering both geological and petrographic aspects, carried out at the behest of the Victoria State Electricity Commission.

Next in volume to his mineragraphic publications was Edwards’s petrological work. A few of these writings deal with sedimentary petrology, but the bulk are concerned with igneous and metamorphic petrology. These range from his earliest publications (1932) on the dacitic rocks northeast of Melbourne, through papers on tholeiitic basalt, to those on scapolitizalion and amphibolites. Despite Edwards’s reputation as an outstanding ore microscopist, some colleagues believe his work in igneous petrology is his best. Another of Edwards’s geological loves was the landscape itself, inspired by field excursions in his student days under Ernest Wellington Skeats. Ten papers, all written alone, cover aspects of shoreline development and structural control of landforms. Edwards was able to pass on his expertise and enthusiasm in a wide range of geological topics when he served as part-time lecturer in mining geology at the University of Melbourne between 1941 and 1953. He also gave some postgraduate courses— one of which was the basis for his Textures of the Ore Minerals. His wide knowledge was put to good use when he edited Geology of Australian Ore Deposits for the Fifth Empire Mining and Metallurgical Congress in 1953. This book, containing many contributions from Edwards, has become a classic of Australian geological literature.

Edwards’s approach to geological problems was to find the genesis of the particular matter under consideration: What causes the particular textures observed in an ore body? What does the character of a granodiorite reveal about its origin? How does coal form? All these fundamental theoretical problems received attention even if the project being undertaken was ostensibly practical. Edwards was awarded a D.Sc. by the University of Melbourne in 1942, and became a corresponding fellow of the Edinburgh Geological Society of India. In 1958 he was named observer for the Commission on Geochemistry of the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry and served for three years.

In 1960, at the height of his career, Edwards set out to visit European mining areas and mineragraphic centers, and to attend several conferences. After traveling in Greece and Italy, he collapsed and died in Rome. He is buried in the English (Protestant) cemetery there, close to the grave of the poet John Keats.


I. Original Works. A bibliography of Edwards’s almost 130 works is in the second article by Stillwell listed below. Some of the most significant of his works are “Three Olivine Basalt-Trachyte Associations and Some Theories of Petrogenesis,” in Proceedings of the Royal Society of Victoria, 48 (1935), 13–26; “The Tertiary Volcanic Rocks of Central Victoria,” in Quarterly Journal of the Geological Society of London, 94 (1938), 243–320; “The Formation of Iddingsite,” in American Mineralogist, 23 (1938), 277–281; “Storm Wave Platforms,” in Journal of Geomorphology, 4 (1941), 223–236; “Differentiation of the Dolerites of Tasmania,” in Journal of Geology, 50 (1942), 451–480, 579–610; “The Mineragraphic Investigation of Mill Products of Lead-Zinc Ores,” in Journal of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, Australia, 15 (1942), 161–174, written with Frank L. Stillwell; Textures of the Ore Minerals and Their Significance (Melbourne, 1947; new and enl. ed., 1954; repr., 1960); “Some Occurrences of Supergene Iron Sulphides in Relation to Their Environments of Deposition,” in Journal of Sedimentary Petrology, 21 (1951), 34–36, written with George Baker; ed., Geology of the Australian Ore Deposits. I (Melbourne, 1953); “The Nature of Brown Coal,” in Paul L. Henderson, ed., Brown Coal, Its Mining and Utilisation (Melbourne, 1953), 19–61; and “The Present State of Knowledge and Theories of Ore Genesis,” in Proceedings of the Australasian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy, no, 177 (1956), 69–116.

Internal reports by Edwards are in the archives of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization, Canberra, Australia. Family papers held in Melbourne contain a limited amount of scientific material, including an unpublished manuscript on the nature and origin of ore deposits.

II. Secondary Literature. Obituaries include “Austin Burton Edwards,” in Proceedings of the Australasian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy, no. 196 (1960), 5–8, with portrait; and Frank L. Stillwell, “Austin B. Edwards,” in Australian Journal of science, 23, no. 8 (21 Feb, 1961), 260, and “Memorial of Austin Burton Edwards,” in American Mineralogist, 46 (1961), 488–496, with bibliography and portrait.

David Branagan

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