GREGORY, John Walter (1864-1932)

GREGORY, John Walter (1864-1932)
geologist and traveller
was born at Bermondsey, England, on 27 January 1864, the son of a wool merchant. He was educated at Stepney grammar school and at 15 years of age entered a business house. He studied for a London university degree in his evenings, and in 1887 was appointed an assistant in the geological department of the natural history museum, London. He remained in this position until 1900 and was responsible for a Catalogue of the Fossil Bryozoa in three volumes (1896, 1899 and 1909), and a monograph on the Jurassic Corals of Cutch (1900). He obtained leave at various times to travel in Europe, the West Indies, North America, and East Africa. The Great Rift Valley (1896), is an interesting account of a journey to Mount Kenya and Lake Baringo made in 1892-3. In 1896 he did excellent work as naturalist to Sir Marten Conway's expedition across Spitsbergen. His well-known memoir on glacial geology written in collaboration with E. J. Garwood belongs to this period. On 11 December 1899 he was appointed professor of geology at the university of Melbourne, and began his duties in the following February.
Gregory was less than five years in Australia but his influence lasted for many years after he left. He succeeded in doing an amazing amount of work, his teaching was most successful, and he was personally popular. But he came to the university when it was in great financial trouble, there was no laboratory worthy of the name, and the council could not promise any immediate improvement. In 1904 he accepted the chair of geology at Glasgow, and he was back in Great Britain in October of that year. Besides carrying out his professional work he had many other activities during his stay in Australia. In 1900-1 he was director of the civilian scientific staff of an Antarctic expedition, and during the summer of 1901-2 he spent his vacation in Central Australia and made a journey around Lake Eyre. An account of this, The Dead Heart of Australia, was published in 1906, dedicated to the geologists of Australia. He also published a popular book on The Foundation of British East Africa (1901), The Austral Geography (1902 and 1903), for school use, and The Geography of Victoria (1903). Another volume, The Climate of Australasia (1904), was expanded from his presidential address to the geographical section of the Australasian Association for the Advancement of Science which met at Dunedin in January 1904. The Mount Lyell Mining Field, Tasmania, was published in 1905. This does not give a complete impression of Gregory's activities in Australia, for he was director of the geological survey of Victoria from 1901, in which year he was elected a fellow of the Royal Society, London, and he was able also to find time for university extension lecturing.
Gregory occupied his chair at Glasgow for 25 years and obtained a great reputation both as a teacher and as an administrator. He made several expeditions including one to Cyrenaica in North Africa in 1908, where he showed the same interest in archaeology as in his own subjects; another was to southern Angola in 1912. His journey to Tibet with his son is recorded in To the Alps of Chinese Tibet by J. W. and C. J. Gregory (1923). Other books published during this period include Geography: Structural Physical and Compartitive (1908), Geology (Scientific Primers Series) (1910), The Making of the Earth (1912), The Nature and Origin of Fiords (1913), Geology of To-Day (1915), Australia (1916), in the Cambridge manuals of science and literature, and the Rift Valleys and Geology of East Africa (1921), a continuation of the studies contained in his volume published in 1896. Two other volumes which followed, largely sociological in character, were The Menace of Colour (1925), and Human Migration and the Future (1928). Another interesting volume was The Story of the Road (1931). Books on geology included The Elements of Economic Geology (1928), General Stratigraphy (in collaboration with B. H. Barrett) (1931), and Dalradian Geology (1931). In January 1932 Gregory went on an expedition to South America to explore and study the volcanic and earthquake centres of the Andes. His boat upset and he was drowned in the Urubamba River in northern Peru on 2 June 1932. He married Audrey, daughter of the Rev. Ayrton Chaplin, and had a son and a daughter. He was president of the Geological Society from 1928 to 1930, and was awarded many scientific honours including the Bigsby medal in 1905. Most of his books have been mentioned, and in addition he wrote about 300 papers on geological geographical, and sociological subjects.
Gregory was one of the most modest of men, simple and sincere, charming of manner, interested in every subject, and bringing to every subject an original point of view. A rapid thinker who did an extraordinary amount of work, it is possible that as a geologist he sometimes generalized from insufficient data; his last work Dalradian Geology was adversely reviewed in the Geological Magazine. Nevertheless he was one of the most prominent geologists of his period, widely recognized outside his own country. Most of his books could be read with interest by both men of science and the general public, and as scientist, teacher, traveller, and man of letters, he had much influence on the knowledge of his time.
G. W. Tyrrell, The Quarterly Journal of the Geological Society, vol. 89, p. XCI; The Times, 14 and 18 June 1932; Sir Ernest Scott, A History of the University of Melbourne.

Dictionary of Australian Biography by PERCIVAL SERLE. . 1949.

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