Robert Logan Jack was born near Glasgow, Scotland in September 1845. At age 20, he enrolled at the University of Edinburgh to study law, but dropped out in his second year to study geology. After seven years mapping regional geology in Scotland, he successfully applied for the position of Geological Surveyor of Queensland in 1874.
Initially based in Townsville and later Brisbane, Mr Jack spent 21 years travelling the length and breadth of Queensland, observing and mapping regional geology, prospecting in remote areas and examining and reporting on mineral deposits and mines. On one trip alone he travelled over 3700km, including 1120km by steamer, 1170km by rail and 893km by horseback and coach. During this time he named mountain ranges and rivers, was speared by Aboriginals and broke bones in riding accidents.
Robert Logan Jack personally wrote 79 reports and drew up 145 geological maps, most of them published by the Queensland Government. He also built up a geological museum in which this information could be best presented. He postulated the existence of what eventually became the Great Artesian Basin and took a leading role in its subsequent development. His enthusiasm for educating the general public, as well as those directly employed in developing the colony?s mineral resources, fostered and generated an interest in mining affairs that was beneficial to the Queensland colony and state.
In 1893, Mr Jack was elected vice president of the Royal Society of Queensland before being voted president the following year. In 1895 he published The Handbook of Queensland Geology, and in 1897 he began work on The Mineral Wealth of Queensland for the 1888 Melbourne Centennial International Exhibition. In February 1899, Mr Jack arrived in London to represent Queensland as Commissioner in charge of the Queensland Court at the Greater London Exhibition. Whilst in Britain, he received an honorary doctorate from Glasgow University.
In August 1899, Robert Logan Jack resigned from his government position to take up a private commission that saw him travel thousands of miles through Korea and China before fleeing the Boxer Rebellion to Burma, Singapore and Hong Kong. He continued working as a mining consultant in London before returning to work in Western Australia, Queensland and New South Wales up until the outbreak of the First World War.
Mr Jack spent the wartime period (1914 to 1918) continuing his research and corresponding with friends and colleagues all over the world. He spent increasing time finalising and editing his last book Northmost Australia which was not released until some time after his death. He passed away on 7 November 1921.
Just as he identified the Great Artesian Basin whilst surveying for coal and water for the proposed Transcontinental Railway, Robert Logan Jack geologically surveyed and mapped vast areas of Queensland to the future benefit of a number of industries, including the quarrying industry. Geological maps prepared by Mr Jack are still in use as geological reference material today. His last book was nominated as ?Book of the Year? by the Australian Pasturalist in 1922 and has been reprinted as recently as 1999.
Robert Logan Jack?s great granddaughter Felicity Jack has recently authored a hardcover biography – Putting Queensland on the Map: The Life of Robert Logan Jack, Geologist & Explorer (ISBN 9781921410260) – that is presented in a large and attractive format, is easily read, and includes an assortment of interesting photographs and maps retained in the Jack family?s collection over so many years. It was published by the University of New South Wales in 2008 and is currently available in all good bookshops. The recommended retail price is $89.95 (including ? GST)
By Don Reed