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TW Edgeworth David and Vilhjalmur Stefansson
, 1924

by May Moore

gelatin silver photograph (mount: 27.3 cm x 16.6 cm, image: 19.9 cm x 14.5 cm)

Sir Tannatt William Edgeworth David KBE (1858–1934) was an eminent geologist. Welsh-born, he studied classics at Oxford but in his early twenties decided to focus on geology, an interest that had been sparked by his father, an amateur palaeontologist. While a student at the Royal College of Science, he was appointed to the position of Assistant Geological Surveyor to the New South Wales government. He arrived in Sydney in late 1882 and over the next several years completed important surveys, particularly relating to coal deposits in the Hunter Valley. In the midst of this, he married teacher Caroline Mallett and the first of their three children was born. He was appointed Professor of Geology at University of Sydney in 1891 although he continued to devote much of his time to fieldwork. He was awarded the Bigsby Medal by the Royal Society in 1904 for his work on coral atolls; and by 1906 was also a recognised authority on glaciation. Consequently, he was invited by Ernest Shackleton to join the British Antarctic Expedition, conducted between 1907 and 1909, during the course of which he led the first successful ascent of Mount Erebus and also a four-month, 1,250 kilometre sled journey to the Magnetic South Pole. He was accompanied in this feat by his former student, Douglas Mawson, who had been appointed physicist to the expedition at Edgeworth David’s instigation. During World War I, Edgeworth David served as a major in the AIF, advising on ground water and the design and siting of trenches and tunnels on the Western Front. He was awarded the Distinguished Service Order in 1918 and promoted to lieutenant-colonel. He was knighted in 1920, and thereafter devoted himself to the writing of a comprehensive account of the geology of Australia, which was published two years before his death.

Edgeworth David is depicted in this work with the Canadian-born Arctic explorer and anthropologist Vilhjalmur Stefansson (1879–1962), who was an associate of Edgeworth David, Douglas Mawson, Hubert Wilkins, Thomas Griffith Taylor and other Australian scientists and explorers. Stefansson was invited to Australia to present a series of lectures in 1924, and this portrait is a souvenir of the occasion.

Collection: National Portrait Gallery
Purchased 2010
Accession number: 2010.105