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Biographical entry Selwyn, Alfred Richard Cecil (1824 - 1902)


28 July 1824
Kilmington, Somerset, England
18 October 1902
Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada


Alfred Selwyn was appointed Victorian Government Geologist in 1852, taking up his position in early 1853. With the establishment of the Geological Survey in 1855 he was in addition appointed Director of the Survey. His work was to survey the geological resources of Victoria, particularly gold and coal, and, in setting up the Survey, to train geologists and surveyors on his staff. The results of his work included numerous reports and over 60 geological maps printed in colour by highly skilled lithographic printers. He was dogged persistently by the instability generated by frequent changes of government and inadequate resources. Selwyn was one of the casualties of the Victorian Government's retrenchments in 1869, as was the Geological Survey. He lost his job and the Survey was abolished. Selwyn went to Canada and enjoyed a highly distinguished career as Director of the Canadian Geological Survey from 1869 to 1894. A number of the geologists and surveyors on his staff in Victoria themselves went on to distinguished careers in other colonies. The Selwyn Range in the Canadian Rocky Mountains is named in his honour.



Career event - Joined the Geological Survey of Great Britain
1852 - 1855
Career position - Government Geologist, Victorian Chief Secretary's Department
1854 - 1855
Career position - Member of Council, Victorian Institute for the Advancement of Science
1854 - 1855
Career position - Member of Council, Philosophical Society of Victoria
1855 - 1859
Career position - Member, Philosophical Institute of Victoria
1855 - 1860
Career position - Government Geologist, Victorian Surveyor General's Department
1855 - 1869
Career position - Director, Geological Survey of Victoria
1856 - 1857
Career position - Vice-President, Philosophical Institute of Victoria
1858 - 1860
Career position - Member, Board of Science, Colony of Victoria
1859 - 1869
Career position - Member, Royal Society of Victoria
1862 - 1864
Career position - Member of Council, Acclimatisation Society of Victoria
Career position - Government Geologist, Victorian Department of Crown Lands and Survey
1869 - 1894
Career position - Director, Geological Survey of Canada
1871 - 1902
Award - Fellow, Geological Society, London
1874 - 1902
Award - Fellow, Royal Society, London
Award - Murchison Medal, Geological Society, London
Award - Knight of the Legion of Honour
Award - Elected to the Deutsche Akademie der Naturforscher Leopoldina
1882 - 1902
Award - Member, American Academy of Arts and Sciences
Award - Clarke Medal, Royal Society of New South Wales
Award - Commander of the Order of St Michael and St George (CMG)
Life event - Retired

Related Awards

Related Events

Published resources

Book Sections

  • Branagan, D. F.; Townley, K. A., 'Selwyn, Alfred Richard Cecil (1824-1902), geologist' in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Bede Nairn, ed., vol. 6 (Melbourne: Melbourne University Press, 1976), pp. 102-103. Details
  • Zeller, Suzanne, 'Alfred Richard Cecil Selwyn,1824-1902' in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004). Details

Conference Proceedings

  • The History of Geology in the Second Half of the Nineteenth Century: the Story in Australia, and in Victoria, from Selwyn and McCoy to Gregory 1853 to 1903 edited by Pierson, Roger (Melbourne: Earth Sciences History Group, Geological Society of Australia, 2007), 69 pp. Details

Journal Articles

  • Alcock, F. J., 'A Century in the History of the Geological Survey of Canada', Canadian Mining Journal, 68 (1947). Details
  • Ami, H. M., 'Memorial or Sketch of the Life of the Late Dr. A. R. C. Selwyn', Transactions of the Royal Society of Canada, 10 (1904). Details
  • Branagan, D. F., 'Alfred Selwyn - 19th century trans-Atlantic connections via Australia', Earth sciences history, 9 (2) (1990), 143-57. Details
  • Darragh, Thomas A., 'The Geological Survey of Victoria Under Alfred Selwyn, 1852-1868', Historical Records of Australian Science, 7 (1) (1987), 1-25. Details
  • Lapworth, C., 'Obituary - Alfred Charles Selwyn, C.M.G., LL.D., F.R.S. [In Anniversary Address.]', Proceedings of the Geological Society in Quarterly Journal of the Geological Society, 59 (1903), lxi-lxiii. Details
  • Woodward, H., 'Eminent Living Geologists', Geological Magazine, 6 (1899). Details
  • Zeller, Susanne and Branagan, David, 'Australian-Canadian Links in a Geological Chain: Sir William Logan, Dr Alfred Selwyn and Henry Y. L. Brown', Special edition of Scientia Canadensis, 17 (1&2) (1994), 71-102. Details


See also

  • Science and the making of Victoria, with Royal Society of Victoria, 2001, Details
  • Enever, Jim, 'A story of human endeavour: the Cape Paterson coal field, Victoria', Journal of Australasian Mining History, 15 (2017), 21-46. Details
  • Johns, R.K. ed., History and role of government geological surveys in Australia (Adelaide: South Australian Government Printer, 1976), 111 pp. Details

McCarthy, G.J. and Helen Cohn