: This Wonderful Strange Country: Rev. W.B. Clarke, Colonial Scien-
tist. Thirroul, NSW: Robert Young Publishing, 2015; pp. 178.
Robert Young’s self-published biography of the Reverend William Branwhite Clarke
(1798–1878) gives an absorbing insight into how European settlers came to under-
stand the landscape of Australia, particularly New South Wales, in the nineteenth cen-
tury. Clarke was an Anglican priest with a wide range of scientiﬁc interests who
emigrated to Sydney in 1839 and claimed to have discovered the ﬁrst evidence of
gold in New South Wales, despite a counterclaim by Edward Hargraves. Clarke
became fascinated by the physical environment of Australia and related his observa-
tions to contemporary scientiﬁc theories such as the theory of evolution. His interest
in evolution has to be balanced by his vocation as a priest. Therefore, Young dis-
cusses how Clarke comes to understand the theory of evolution and its relationship to
the creation story in Genesis.
Young has reconstructed Clarke’s life, predominantly through his scientiﬁc interests,
from other biographies and the extensive Clarke Papers held in the Mitchell Library in
Sydney. However, Clarke is initially introduced by examining how he reacted to his
times. This introductory chapter is framed around three portraits of Clarke that demon-
strate how the changing ideas of creation and the dispute over who ﬁrst discovered gold
in New South Wales affected Clarke physically. His life in New South Wales is mapped
physically from the young and hopeful priest and scientist, to a ravaged middle-aged
man surrounded by controversy, and ﬁnally to the elderly statesman painted as a
“Renaissance man” (Fig. 3) by Giulio Anivitti three years before his death in 1875.
These images introduce readers to the trajectory of Clarke’slife.
The biography then proceeds by discussing each of Clarke’s interests in chapter-
length studies. This begins with Clarke’s education as a classical scholar and poet,
and his own natural ability as a draughtsman. This places the young Clarke as a man
of his times. He is a Romantic and interested in studying the natural world closely as
he searches for the poetic sublime. However, his acute observation skills as a
draughtsman turned his attention to the natural sciences as he attempts to understand
the landscape of New South Wales. As Young says, Clarke’s “early training in the
Classics and poetry, together with his efforts in sketching inﬂuenced his intellectual
approach and the technical skills he brought to his scientiﬁc work” (p. 33). It helped
Clarke understand the difference between an “observable fact and a philosophical
interpretation” (p. 33).
A further discussion of Clarke’s theological training and his clerical work explains
how he came to his scientiﬁc conclusions. Following the precepts of Hooker, Clarke
questioned a literal interpretation of the Bible, which enabled him to accept contem-
porary scientiﬁc thought that questioned the veracity of events such as the Flood.
Thus, as a geologist, he could turn to his observations of the natural world to seek
answers about how the landscape in New South Wales was formed. He came to
understand that the geological timescale of Australia was much older than ever imag-
ined, and later in life he supported the idea of continental drift and the former super-
continent of Gondwana.
Young also discusses the two disputes Clarke became embroiled in during the
1850s. These were the disputes over the age of coal and the discovery of gold. Both
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