Robert Logan Jack (1845 – 1921), Irvine-born Geologist who worked extensively in Australia

On the 16th of September, 1845 the geologist and explorer Robert Logan Jack was born in Glasgow Vennel, Irvine. He was the youngest child of Robert Jack and Margaret Logan and had 3 older siblings – William, Margaret and Thomas. 

His father had a joinery and cabinet-making business and was an elder in the Irvine Parish Church (at the time of his death he was the second-most senior elder of the Church of Scotland.) He was also a Baillie in Irvine and was the 1868 president of the Irvine Burns Club, becoming an honorary member in 1871. 

Robert Logan Jack attended Irvine Academy from 1853-1860 and by the time he graduated he was able to speak French and German fluently, understand Latin fairly well and had an appreciation for literature. He went on to work as a clerk in a lawyer’s office before attending the University of Edinburgh to study law. During his second year in 1867 he dropped out to start a career in Geology. He joined the Geological Survey of Scotland and was involved in mapping various districts throughout Scotland and writing articles and reviews about Geology.  

In 1876 he accepted a position as Geological Surveyor for Northern Queensland, Australia. He was made a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society the next year and married Janet Love in Glasgow.  Robert and his new wife immigrated to Australia via the “Normanby” ship, arriving in Townsville, Queensland on the 11th of July. 

During his early years in Australia Robert set up his headquarters in Brisbane with the family home being in Townsville.  He had his first expedition towards the end of 1877 in which he travelled through and mapped out the Fredericks Peaks, Star Mine, Charters Towers and Ravenswood. He created maps of the areas between places like Charters Towers and Ravenswood.  

His second expedition was to the unmapped Bowen River Coalfield in 1878 in which he created a report which predicted the Coalfield could be one of the richest in Australia. In 1879 the government tasked him with mapping out and recording the potential coalmines around Cooktown to help improve the economic condition of the area. One of his most important expeditions was in the mostly unexplored Cape York which lasted from 1879-1880. During these expeditions he discovered more gold and coal mineral deposits and named several notable geographical places. He named some granite mountains Janet Range after his wife and named a creek Irvine Creek after his hometown.  

He was involved in many more expeditions throughout his life – discovering artesian water containing a fresh water supply which would prove to be essential to the development of Australia’s agricultural industry and travelling through unchartered mountain country in Burma due to the Boxer Rebellion in China. 

He was elected a fellow of the Geological Society in 1870 and received an honorary degree of LL.D. from Glasgow University. He was also awarded the Clarke Memorial Medal by the Royal Society of New South Wales. 

In 1901 Jack returned to London, and took up private practice as a consultant mining geologist, returning to Australia in 1904 as a consulting engineer for the Government of Western Australia.  

Robert Logan Jack’s geological work for Queensland is outstanding in both its quality and quantity and remarkable for its accurate and detailed observation.  His recognition of the basinal structure of western Queensland and its potential for artesian water led to the first government bore in the Great Artesian Basin being sunk at Barcaldine in 1887. 

Robert Logan Jack died at Sydney on 06 November 1921 survived by his wife Janet and their son Robert Lockhart Jack who was also a successful geologist. 

Robert’s great granddaughter Felicity Jack has written a book about him called “Putting Queensland on the Map, the Life of Robert Logan Jack Geologist and Explorer” – the book is available for perusal at the Townhouse in Irvine and the Heritage Centre in Saltcoats where it is also available for purchase.