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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Kitson, Sir Albert Ernest (1868–1937)

by Lyndsay Farrall

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 9, (MUP), 1983

Sir Albert Ernest Kitson (1868-1937), geologist, was born on 21 March 1868 at Manchester, England, son of John Kitson, schoolmaster, and his wife Margaret Wishart, née Neil. Albert received his early education in India where his father ran a school. The family migrated to Victoria probably in 1878; both parents took up teaching posts at Enoch's Point State School and transferred to Winton North State School near Benalla next year. After John Kitson's death in 1879 Margaret succeeded him as head-teacher; her own children were among her pupils. Albert in 1886 entered the clerical division of the Victorian Public Service by examination.

Initially a clerk with the Postmaster-General's Department at a yearly salary of £80, in 1889 Kitson transferred to the Department of Lands and Survey where he was responsible for keeping rent-roll registers. A further transfer in 1896 took him to the Department of Mines and Water Supply. He undertook part-time studies in geology, mining, and surveying at the Working Men's College and the University of Melbourne. Kitson's success in these studies together with his scientific competence and enthusiasm attracted the attention of the geological survey branch of his department. While still employed as a clerk at £200 a year he carried out geological field work from 1899 until September 1904 when he was appointed senior field geologist at £300.

A member of both the Royal Society and the Field Naturalists' Club of Victoria and of the Australasian Institute of Mining Engineers, Kitson participated in all the meetings of the Australasian Association for the Advancement of Science between 1898 and 1907. In 1897 he was elected fellow of the Geological Society of London. As well as the many reports he prepared for the Victorian Geological Survey he published scientific papers in various Australian journals on geology and natural history. His work included a survey of Victorian coal deposits and inspection of gold and coal mining. In 1900 he surveyed the Buchan Caves in East Gippsland and recommended the creation of a reserve; one of the caves now bears his name. He was a keen collector of natural history specimens, sending many to Victorian and overseas institutions. He compiled a catalogue of the Tertiary fossils of Australia and had a fossil mollusc, a fossil eucalypt and a living eucalypt named after him.

In 1906-11 Kitson was principal of the Mineral Survey of Southern Nigeria and in 1913 was appointed director of the Gold Coast Geological Survey. Upon retirement to England in 1930 he acted as a geological adviser to the Colonial Office and joined the boards of several mining companies. The author of numerous reports and papers on geology, mining, water power, and geography, Kitson is credited with the discovery of economically important deposits of coal in Southern Nigeria and manganese, diamonds, and bauxite in the Gold Coast. The Geological Society, London, awarded him the Wollaston fund in 1918 and the Lyell medal in 1927. He was president of Section C (Geology) of the British Association for the Advancement of Science in 1929 and of the Geologists' Association in 1934-36. Appointed C.B.E. in 1918 and C.M.G. in 1922, he was knighted in 1927.

Kitson ('Kittie' to his friends), a 'serious' man, religious and an abstainer, clearly enjoyed the field work involved in geology; he was an energetic worker and a strict disciplinarian. A facility in handling snakes, acquired in the Australian bush, earned him a reputation on the Gold Coast as a fetish doctor.

In 1910 Kitson married Margaret Legge, née Walker, who died in 1920. In 1927 he married Elinore Almond Ramage. He died of respiratory disease at Beaconsfield, Buckinghamshire, England, on 8 March 1937, survived by his second wife, their two sons and a stepson of his first marriage.

Select Bibliography

  • Nature (London), 139, 3 Apr 1937, p 576
  • Victorian Naturalist, 54 (1937-38), p 9
  • Mineralogical Magazine, 25 (1938-40), p 294
  • Times (London), 9 Mar 1937.

Citation details

Lyndsay Farrall, 'Kitson, Sir Albert Ernest (1868–1937)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1983, accessed online 25 October 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 9, (MUP), 1983

View the front pages for Volume 9

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