Irene Crespin


D. J. Belford
Viera Scheibnerová

Irene Crespin died suddenly in Canberra on January 2, 1980 at the age of 83 after a short systemic illness.

Irene was born in Melbourne on November 11, 1896. She graduated in geology at the University of Melbourne and made paleontology and micropaleontology her life-long interest, career and fascination.

Her long and distinguished career began in December, 1927 with her appointment as Assistant Palaeontologist to the late Frederick Chapman of the National Museum in Melbourne, whom she succeeded as Commonwealth Palaeontologist in January, 1935. She transferred from Melbourne to Canberra A.C.T. and gradually focused her main attention on micropaleontology, including foraminifera, ostracoda, conodonts and diatoms. For some years she was the only professional micropaleontologist on the Australian mainland. The Tertiary foraminifera, especially larger foraminifera, which were at that time used by the Dutch micropaleontologists for stratigraphic purposes in the Indo- Pacific region, became her great interest. However, she also built a fundamental knowledge of Permian and Cretaceous foraminifera, due to the then current interest in the search for oil, coal, and water in Australia.

Irene contributed significantly to the taxonomy and paleogeography of larger foraminifera of Papua-New Guinea, Western Australia and Victoria. She described the first conodont and the first Devonian foraminifera from Australia and established the taxonomy of Lower Cretaceous foraminifera of the Great Australian Basin and of Permian foraminifera of Australia.

We should appreciate the relatively primitive conditions under which Irene and her co-workers have done much of their research. In the early thirties she and the late Frederick Chapman inherited, so to speak, their first binocular microscope when the Anglo- Persian Oil Company in Port Moresby decided that the item was obsolescent and no longer required by them. A modern instrument was not available to Irene Crespin until 1946. Despite these handicaps she studied thousands of samples and published over 70 publications in her own name, and 23 additional items in cooperation with other authors, chiefly Frederick Chapman.

In the period between 1927 and 1935 a lot of basic paleontological investigation was carried out in unsatisfactory premises with poor equipment. Irene reminisces in her "Ramblings of a Micropaleontologist": "To wash friable samples it was necessary to go down two flights of stairs to the basement or take the risk of using the first hydraulic lift." Despite this difficulty, Irene's small office in the National Museum in Melbourne became a mecca for many geologists and paleontologists from all parts of Australia and overseas, mostly associated with the search for oil.

Irene's "Canberra era" (1935-1975) was marked with successes despite the two disastrous fires in which she lost thousands of slides and a valuable, only just completed manuscript of a Catalogue of part of Chapman's Library of Foraminifera for publication in America, together with part of Chapman's historic slides and belongings of historic and sentimental value.

During these years Irene became involved in scientific activities in Canberra. She joined the Royal Society of Australia, later named the Royal Society of Canberra, of which she was elected President in 1957.

In 1953 Irene received the Coronation Medal and in 1957 was awarded the Clarke Medal by the Royal Society of New South Wales for her geological and paleontological investigations in Australia and its Territories.

When the Geological Society of Australia was founded in 1954, Irene was Honorary Secretary for the Territories branch in Canberra for one year and was elected Chairman of the Canberra Branch in 1957. In 1964 she was named an Honorary Member of the Geological Society of Australia.

In 1955 Irene joined the Soroptimist Club of Canberra and was President of the Canberra Club in 1957. She was given Honorary Membership in recognition of the Golden Jubilee Year of Soroptimism in 1971.

In 1960 she was awarded Honorary Fellowship of the Royal Microscopic Society of London. In the same year the University of Melbourne conferred on her the Degree of Doctor of Science honoris causa.
In 1961 the Commonwealth Public Officers Association presented Irene with the Award of Merit.

The friends and colleagues of Irene prepared The Crespin Volume: Essays in honor of Irene Crespin, edited by D. J. Belford and Viera Scheibnerová, presented to her on her 80th Birthday.

The greatest honor Irene received during her long career as Paleaontologist to the Commonwealth Government was the Order of the British Empire (O.B.E.) conferred on her by her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.

Irene Crespin's brief autobiography "Ramblings of a Micropaleontologist" is witty and highly descriptive of the relatively difficult beginnings of micropaleontology in Australia. What she does not emphasize are her many contributions toward a better state of affairs and the fact that her long career was that of a tireless worker, dedicated innovator and dependable colleague.

D.J. Belford
Viera Scheibnerová


Reproduced From: Micropaleontology, Vol. 27, No. 1 (1981), pp. 94-98.
Publisher by: The Micropaleontology Project, Inc.
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