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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Hardman, Edward Townley (1845–1887)

by Phillip E. Playford

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 4, (MUP), 1972

Edward Townley Hardman (1845-1887), geologist, was born on 6 April 1845 at Drogheda, Ireland. He was educated at Drogheda and graduated in mining with many prizes as an associate of the Royal College of Science, Dublin. In 1870 he was appointed a geologist in the Geological Survey of Ireland. He was elected a fellow of the Royal Geological Society of Ireland in 1871 and of the Chemical Society of London in 1874.

Hardman was chosen by the Colonial Office for the temporary post of government geologist in Western Australia. He arrived at Perth in March 1883, when colonists were greatly interested in the possibility of finding an economic goldfield. In 1872 the government had offered a reward of £5000 for the discovery of the colony's first workable goldfield, and in November 1882 a prospecting party led by Philip Saunders had reported showings of gold from the headwaters of the Ord River in the East Kimberley. Saunders had expressed the opinion that payable gold would occur in the vicinity, and as a result he had been approached to lead a government expedition to prospect the area thoroughly. However, on Hardman's arrival in Perth it was decided that he would be better qualified than Saunders to investigate the gold prospects. Hardman was therefore sent to the Kimberley as a member of survey parties in 1883 and 1884. His published reports and maps of these expeditions are the first geological accounts of the district.

In the 1884 expedition Hardman found good showings of alluvial gold in several watercourses and concluded that there was a 'great probability of payable gold being obtained in this part of the Kimberley'. His report stimulated great interest, and several prospecting parties set out in 1885. Payable gold was found at Hall's Creek on 14 July 1885 by Charles Hall, John Slattery and their party, in the same general area where Saunders and Hardman had reported finding gold showings.

While in Western Australia Hardman also described the geology of the Bunbury-Nannup area and investigated the prospects of supplying Perth with artesian water. He made a brief visit to the Victorian goldfields in 1885 to compare the rocks there with those of the Kimberley. He had hoped that his appointment would be made permanent, but the Legislative Council demurred at the cost, and in October 1885 he returned to his duties with the Geological Survey of Ireland. The permanent appointment of a government geologist in Western Australia was finally approved in 1887, and it was believed that Hardman would accept the post, but he contracted typhoid fever and died in a Dublin hospital on 30 April 1887 aged 42. He was survived by his wife and two children.

Before leaving Western Australia Hardman had applied for the reward for discovering the Kimberley goldfield, but several others, including Hall's party and Saunders, claimed the find and much bitterness was generated by the conflicting applications. Hardman was a strong personality and most outspoken in pressing his claim. However, doubt was expressed on the propriety of rewarding a government officer for a discovery made in the course of his official duties. In May 1888 the Executive Council finally decided not to pay the reward to any claimant, as the required conditions on the quantity of gold shipped within two years of the discovery had not been fully met. However, £500 was paid as gratuity to Hardman's widow in recognition of his services to the colony, and Hall's party also received £500. Saunders, the first to find gold in the Kimberley, received nothing.

Hardman was the author of many important publications dealing with the geology of Ireland, but is principally remembered for his pioneering work in Western Australia which led to discovery of the colony's first goldfield. It gave the impetus to prospecting which resulted in the much larger finds of the 1890s, but Hardman's early death denied him the opportunity to take part in the great mining developments of those exciting years.

Select Bibliography

  • A.B.W., ‘Obituary. Edward Townley Hardman’, Geological Magazine, July 1887
  • West Australian, 17, 18 June 1887
  • Inquirer (Perth), 22 June 1887
  • file 10560/96 (Western Australia Mines Dept).

Citation details

Phillip E. Playford, 'Hardman, Edward Townley (1845–1887)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1972, accessed online 25 October 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 4, (MUP), 1972

View the front pages for Volume 4

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