Richard Daintree

Richard Daintree

Richard Daintree (13 December, 1831 – 20 June, 1878) was a pioneering Australian geologist and photographer. In particular, Daintree was the first Government geologist for North Queensland discovering gold fields and coal seams for future exploitation. Daintree was a pioneer in the use of photography during field trips and his photographs formed the basis of Queensland's contribution to the Exhibition of Arts and Industry in 1871. Following the success of the display, he was appointed as Queensland's Agent-General in London in 1872 but was forced to resign in 1876 due to ill-health and malpractice by some of his staff although not Daintree himself. A number of features in North Queensland have been named after Daintree including the town of Daintree, Queensland, the Daintree National Park, the Daintree River, the Daintree Rainforest which has been nominated for the World Heritage List and the Daintree Reef.

Early Career to 1864

Richard Daintree was born in Hemingford Abbots, Huntingdonshire in England the son of Richard Daintree, a farmer and his wife Elizabeth. He started a degree at Christ's College Cambridge University but left after a year due to ill health. Migrating to Australia for a warmer climate, he was briefly a prospector in the Victorian gold rush in 1852.

In 1854, Daintree accepted an appointment as assistant geologist to Alfred Selwyn in the Victorian Geological Survey. Daintree returned to London to study assaying and metallurgy at the Royal School of Mines Laboratory. During his studies in 1857, Daintree became interested in photography.

Daintree rejoined the Geological Survey Office in January 1859 and pioneered the use of photography in geological field work. His photographs of the Victorian goldfields were exhibited at the 1862 International Exhibition in London. He may have also collaborated with Antoine Fauchery in a volume of photographic works called "Australia" published in 1857.

Richard Daintree married Lettice Agnes Foot, the daughter of surveyor Henry Foot on 1 December 1857. They would go on to have a family of two sons and six daughters.

Queensland work

Daintree left the Geological Survey Office to become a resident partner with William Hann in pastoral properties on the Burdekin River in 1864. This enabled him to pursue his interests in prospecting and photography.He made a number of discoveries over the next few years including several goldfields at Cape River in 1867, Gilbert in 1869 and Etheridge in 1869-70. Daintree was the first person to systematically examine the coal seams near the Bowen River at Collinsville in Queensland and discovered a copper deposit on the Einasleigh River.

During his time in Queensland, Daintree advocated a government geological survey office and his lobbying bore fruit when it was established in 1868. He was named as the geologist in charge of north Queensland between 1868 and 1870. During that time, he carried out a geological survey of North Queensland and his photographs of the Cape River goldfields are a valuable record of life on the Queensland goldfields. He was succeeded as government geologist by Robert Logan Jack.

Richard Daintree was also collecting botanical specimens in his travels. Queensland herbarium records show that he collected botanical specimens from Rockhampton, Queensland and the ranges of Central Queensland. He discovered a new species of acacia "Acacia Daintreeana".

The goldfields discovered by Daintree played an important part in tiding North Queensland over the collapse of the pastoral boom in the late 1860s although only the Etheridge deposit proved viable in the longer term. However, his work proved crucial to attracting prospectors to North Queensland which led to other discoveries and the early development of the area's gold resources.

Return to England

Richard Daintree was appointed as commissioner in charge of Queensland's display at the Exhibition of Art and Industry in London. His collections of photographs and geological specimens formed the basis of Queensland's stand at the Exhibition despite the fact that much of his work was lost when the ship carrying Daintree, his family and the display was wrecked in South Africa.

Despite this significant setback, the display made a favourable impression due to his photographs. The Australian colonies were all keen to make a good impression as the Exhibitions were well attended by both potential investors and prospective migrants. Daintree soon established himself as an effective representative of Queensland at the Exhibition.

The success of the display led to Richard Daintree being appointed as Queensland's Agent-General in early 1872 replacing Archibald Archer in that position. In this position, Daintree was asked to organise participation in another six exhibitions. As Agent-General, Daintree worked with great energy stimulating assisted immigration to Queensland, travelling widely to give speeches on the colony and producing attractive handbooks featuring his photography.

However, Queensland premier Arthur Macalister was disturbed about the quality of some of the new immigrants and evidence of inefficiency and possibly worse in the office. Eventually, Macalister's concerns prompted him to travel to London personally in 1875-76 to investigate the office. Daintree was found to be personally honest and hardworking. However, the clerks responsible for routine administration were found to have conducted various malpractices, leading to their dismissal. Daintree's health had deteriorated as well contributing to his resignation from the position.

He spent two winters in the south of France trying to recover from his illnesses. However, he died of tuberculosis in Beckenham then in Kent on 20 June 1878.


Geoffrey Bolton, "Australian Dictionary of Biography", page 1.

External references

* [ Australian National Botanical Gardens biography]

* [ SBS Television page on Daintree's contribution to the development of Australia's goldfields]

* [ University of Melbourne article on Richard Daintree]

* [ Australian Science Festival 1997 biography of Richard Daintree]

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