SELWYN, Alfred Richard Cecil (1824-1902)

SELWYN, Alfred Richard Cecil (1824-1902)
was the son of Rev. Townsend Selwyn, canon of Gloucester cathedral, and his wife, Charlotte Sophia, daughter of Lord George Murray, bishop of St David's, and grand-daughter of the fourth Duke of Athol. He was born on 28 July 1824 and was educated by private tutors and afterwards in Switzerland. At the age of 21 he joined the English geological survey under Sir Henry de la Beche and (Sir) A. C. Ramsay. He had invaluable experience in the preparation of geological maps of western England and north Wales, and earned great commendation from Ramsay. In 1852 he was appointed director of the geological survey of Victoria, where he built up an excellent staff including R. Daintree (q.v.), C. D. H. Aplin, C. S. Wilkinson (q.v.), R. A. F. Murray (q.v.), H. Y. L. Brown (q.v.) and R. Etheridge (q.v.), with (Sir) F. McCoy (q.v.) as palaeontologist. He was a strict disciplinarian and from the beginning set up a very high standard of work in his department. During his 17 years as director over 60 geological maps were issued which were among the best of their period; they were models of accuracy which established a tradition of geological mapping in Australia. Selwyn was also responsible for several reports on the geology of Victoria, and added much to the knowledge of gold-bearing rocks. He discovered the Caledonian goldfield near Melbourne in 1854 and in the following year reported on coal seams in Tasmania. In 1869 the geological survey was terminated by the government of Victoria on economical grounds. In the same year, on the recommendation of the retiring director, Sir W. E. Logan, Selwyn was appointed director of the geological survey of Canada.
Selwyn took up his duties on 1 December 1869. There was an immense area to be covered, and though the staff was increased, it was necessarily inadequate.
His period of 25 years as director was full of activity and a large amount of work was done. In 1870 he made a valuable report on the goldfields of Nova Scotia, in the following year he was on the other side of Canada exploring in British Columbia, and in the next year he was working between Lake Superior and Winnipeg. All the time he was keeping in mind that however interesting problems might be from a scientific point of view, a government survey must be able to collect the facts and bring them to bear on questions of public utility. Every year he presented a Summary of the geological investigations made by his staff. He retired from his directorship on 1 December 1894 and died at Vancouver, British Columbia, on 19 October 1902. He married in 1852 Matilda Charlotte, daughter of the Rev. Edward Selwyn and was survived by three sons and a daughter (Dict. Nat. Biog. 2nd Supp). He was elected a fellow of the Geological Society of London in 1871, of the Royal Society of London in 1874, and received the Murchison medal from the Geological Society in 1876, and the Clarke medal from the Royal Society of New South Wales in 1884. He was made chevalier de la légion d'honneur, Paris, in 1878, and C.M.G. in 1886. A list of his publications and maps will be found in the Proceedings and Transactions, Royal Society of Canada, vol. X, section IV, pp. 191-205. A list relating to his work in Australia will be found in Bulletin No. 23 of the geological survey of Victoria.
Selwyn was tall, quick and alert, and somewhat highly-strung. His writings are scholarly and extremely well composed. He had great force of character with a gift for seeing what was really important in any problem, and no care was too great if it led to the solution. He belonged to the highest class of structural geologists and his work was of the greatest value wherever he was employed.
H. W. Ami, Memorial or Sketch of the Life of the late Dr A. R. C. Selwyn, Proceedings and Transactions Royal Society of Canada, sec. IV, 1904; Geological Magazine, vol. VI, 1899; Proceedings of the Royal Society of London, vol. 75; E. J. Dunn, Bulletin No. 23 Geological Survey of Victoria; E. W. Skeats, David Lecture, 1933; Some Founders of Australian Geology.

Dictionary of Australian Biography by PERCIVAL SERLE. . 1949.

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