Thomas Griffith Taylor



Julie D. Breshears
University of Missouri-Columbia


Michael Herman
Valparaiso University

One might say that T. Griffith Taylor was born with geography in his blood, or acquired it a short time after his birth. Born to James Taylor (1849-1927)1, a chemist and metallurgist, and Lily Agnes Griffiths on the first of December in 1880, before he had even reached his first birthday the family moved to Serbia when the elder Taylor was hired as the manager of a copper mine there. Three years later the family, now numbering four with the birth of Taylor's sister Dorothy, returned to Britain where the eldest Taylor became the director of analytical chemistry for a major steelworks operation. In 1893 the family moved to New South Wales, Australia when Taylor's father became an official government metallurgist.2

It was in Sydney that he was placed in elitist private schools. Upon his graduation from King's School in Parramatta 3 he entered Sydney University in 1899. It was there that Taylor came under the influence of Professor Edgeworth David, and decided to read in science and mining engineering 4 (no doubt this decision was reached with some influence from his father.) During these years Taylor frequently accompanied David as a field assistant helping with his work on Australian physiography. During th is period Taylor also became interested in paleontology. He was particularly interested in the Archaeo-cyanthinae limestone fossils of the Flinders Ranges of Southern Australia, this would become the main area of study at Cambridge from 1907-1910. Taylo r took the material that he had collected about these fossils with him to Cambridge were he soon became the authority on there characteristics and distribution. It was the distribution of these rocks that led to his interest in Antarctica. 5

It was also during these formative Cambridge years that Taylor came under the influence of the eminent geologists J.A. Marr and Archibald Geikie. During these years at Cambridge Taylor comes under the influence of geologists J.A. Marr and Archibald G eikie. 6 During this time Taylor also collaborated with Herbertson and Howarth on their Australasia book. This led to Taylor becoming an important contributor to later works of standard reference like The Oxford Survey of the British Empire, Encycloped ia Britannica, Encyclopedia Italiana, Die regionale Geologie der Erde, Australian Encyclopaedia, Handbuch der Klimatologie, and countless others. 7

Upon his return to Australia Taylor was offered a position with the Commonwealth Weather Service, a position that David had secured for him, but Taylor was also invited to join Scott on his Terra Nova expedition. Taylor thought long and hard about th e decision that he was to make, yet it never came to him for the decision to be made. It was decided that Taylor would accompany Scott as the Weather Services representative to the region at full pay. 8 It was during these ten years with the weather ser vice that Taylor published a series of papers that would lay the groundwork for the scientific study of geographical environment of Australia. 9

In 1920 Taylor was invited by Isaiah Bowman to join the American Geographical Society's research program in Latin America. At the same time David was pressing Sydney University to hire Taylor for the geography department that they were thinking of st arting. David used the offer by the Americans to strengthen Taylor's case, and in 1921 Taylor became the founding head of the Sydney University Department of Geography. Taylor would be highly successful at this post and use it to keep geography and hims elf in the public eye. This post would serve him well throughout the years. In 1923 he received the Livingstone Centenary Medal of the American Geographical Society at their Pan-Pacific Science Congress meeting in Sydney. 10

It was also during this time that Taylor became an outspoken critic of the Australian Governments immigration practices. Taylor was of the view, one that would later prove correct, that the country could hold only so many people. This was very unpop ular at the time as it was thought that the country had endless resources and could hold vast amounts of people. Although he founded the The Geographical Society of New South Wales, and published their first journal the Australian Geographer during this time, he was also experiencing some setbacks. It was during this time that educational authorities in Western Australia banned his textbook Australia, Physiographic and Economic for its ideas on the population capacity of Australia. So, when Taylor was offered a post at University of Chicago in 1929, he decided to make the move to a place where he could work under conditions that were far less limiting than those he was presently facing in Australia. 11

Upon his arrival to University of Chicago, Taylor was appointed the rank of full professor, a status that was repeatedly denied him in Australia. Taylor continued to lecture at Chicago while also conducting guest lectures at the University of Toronto and at Clark University. During this time he continued to be the authority on the Antarctic and Australia and moved closer to the norm of the geographical thinking of the time. 12

Having always seen as 'to British' to call Chicago his home, Taylor moved to a position at the University of Toronto in 1936, founding the geography department there. Under the help of Donald Putman and George Tatham, the department experiences a rap id growth that results in the graduation of the first MA student, Andrew Clark, who will himself make significant strides for geography, in 1938. It is also during these years at Toronto that Taylor is elected first as the vice-president of the Associati on of American Geographers in 1939, and then as the president in 1940, marking the first time a non-American is elected to this distinguished post. 13

During his years at Toronto Taylor enjoys an increasing notoriety that extends beyond those in the geography academic circles. He continues to publish many articles and books on both Canada and on other aspects of the discipline. In 1948 Taylor is i nvited to tour the campuses of Australian Universities as part of his position of advisor to the Interim Council of Australian National University. He is quite pleased by the pleasant reception he receives and the attitudes of those he encounters. In 19 50 he is invited to conduct a lecture tour of British Universities where he is also receive with much warmth. In 1951, Taylor retires from the University of Toronto with the rank of Emeritus Professor. Before his return to Sydney he is named Honorary Pr esident of the newly formed Canadian Association of Geographers. 14

His retirement from the University does not signal his retirement from the discipline. He continues to be a prolific publisher and relieves many distinctions at home. In 1954 he is elected to the Australian Academy of Science, the only geographer to receive this distinction, and is also elected president of Section P of the Australian and New Zealand Association for the Advancement of Science. 15

Taylor still doesn't quit. In 1958 he publishes his autobiography Journeyman Taylor, and in 1959 is named the first President of the Institute of Australian Geographers. In 1961 he relieves a medal from the Royal Society of New South Wales, and an h onorary Doctorate of Literature from Sydney University. The Griffith Taylor School of Geography is also opened at the University of New England, Armidale the same year. 16

In 1963 the last of Taylor's papers are published. One on the "Probable disintegration of Antarctica" is published in the Geography Journal, and another "Geographers and world peace: a plea for geopacifics" in the Australian Geographical Studies. Th ese were to be the last of Griffith Taylor's works published. Thomas Griffith Taylor died November 5, 1963 just twenty-five days from what would have been his 83 birthday. 17

Although Taylor spent much of his life outside of Australia he always regarded it as home. Even when his ideas were frowned upon and he was ridiculed he kept on in his beliefs. His influence on geography was tremendous, not just in Australia but wor ld-wide. He put geography in the public eye at home and abroad. He was the founder of two separate departments of geography on two different continents, and helped in the founding of several geography societies that continue to grow and blossom today. His lasting legacy to geography is not only these departments and societies, but also the vast publications and the numerous students that he brought to the discipline.

A Brief Timeline

This short timeline of Taylor's life is by no means comprehensive. It is meant to touch upon the highlights of Taylor's life. If it were to be comprehensive it would have to include all of the exploits, travels and publications of this man. This wou ld necessitate a list of much greater magnitude and length. Always the prolific publisher and traveler, Taylor spent most of his life engaged in these functions. The resources available to this writer make a comprehensive list impossible. The informati on presented in this timeline is taken from all of the sources listed below in the references section.

Born Thomas Griffith Taylor on December 1 to James Taylor and Lily Agnes Griffiths in Walthamstow, England.
Taylor family moves to Serbia after James Taylor is hired as a manager of a copper mine.
Taylor family moves back to Britain after James Taylor is named director of analytical chemistry for a major steelworks company.
Taylor has several articles published in the Manchester Weekly Times, culminating in the publication of a prize geographical essay before the age of eleven.
Taylor family moves to Sydney after James Taylor is hired as an official government metallurgist. Taylor begins his education in elitist private schools.
Taylor begins school at Sydney University, where he comes under the influence of Edgeworth David who fosters what will become Taylor's lifelong love of fieldwork.
Taylor receives his B.Sc. with honors from Sydney University in physics and geology.
Taylor receives his Bachelor of Engineering from Sydney University, becomes a Demonstrator in Geology at Sydney University, and expands his fieldwork to Victoria, South Australia, and the Great Barrier Reef.
Gives the first formal lectures in geography at Sydney University, travels to England after stopping at New Zealand, Fiji, Hawaii, US and Canada, publishes geological papers, is awarded the 1851 Science Research Scholarship to Cambridge Univ ersity, and begins his correspondence with William Morris Davis.
Conducts fieldwork with Davis in the Alps, and attends the Dublin meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science.
Receives his BA from Cambridge University, conducts fieldwork in New Zealand with F. Debenham and Charles Wright, surveys the site of Canberra with Edgeworth David, studies glaciation of in the Mt. Cook region of New Zealand with Debenham, Wright, and Dorothy Taylor, publishes his paper "Physiography of Canberra", and leaves New Zealand on Scott's Terra Nova expedition as a representative of the Commonwealth Weather Service in the Antarctic.
Returns from the Antarctic, resumes his work as physiographer for the Commonwealth Weather Service, and conducts further fieldwork in Canberra.
Lectures on Antarctica in South Africa, publishes A geography of Australasia, four chapters in Oxford Survey of the British Empire, attends the British Association meeting in Australia, teaches meteorology to air cadets, and marries Doris Pr iestley, sister of fellow Antarctic explorer Raymond Priestley.
Publishes With Scott:the silver lining, The World and Australasia, completes work for, and is awarded, his D.Sc from Sydney University, and is elected advisor to Faculty of Science at Melbourne University.
Begins his correspondence with E. Huntington, is an external lecturer in geography attached to the geology department, and receives the Thomson Gold Medal from the Royal Geographical Society of Australasia for his tropical research.
Publishes The Australian Environment, and Atlas of Contour and Rainfall Maps.
Taylor is appointed to four commissions, one on agriculture and meteorology, another on solar radiation,a third on aerial navigation and a fourth on upper air research for the International Meteorological Congress in Paris, conducts fieldwor k in Tasmania and arid portions of Australia, and publishes the first of several papers in the Geographical Review.
Become Associate Professor of the new geography department at Sydney University, attends the meeting of the Australasian Association for the Advancement of Science in Melbourne, publishes "The evolution and distribution of race, culture and language" in the Geographical Review, has a textbook banned by the education authorities in Western Australia, and becomes the founder member of the Australian National Research Council as a representative of meteorology.
Attends the Pan-Pacific Science Conference in Tokyo, and conducts fieldwork in the Philippines, China, Japan and Korea.
Becomes the first President of the Geographical Society of New South Wales, attends the Honolulu meeting of the Institute of Pacific Affairs, is joint editor of the Australian Geographer, and publishes his Environment and Race.
Conduct fieldwork in Egypt on his way to England after resigning his post at Sydney University.
Becomes a professor of geography at University of Chicago while also conducting guests lectures at Toronto and Clark Universities.
Attends the International Geographical Congress in Paris, conduct fieldwork in Scandinavia, and western and central Europe, is named vice-president of Section E at the British Association for the Advancement of Science London meeting, publis hes papers on Colombia, and publishes Australia, a geography reader.
Publishes Atlas of Environment and Race.
Is the founding Professor of geography at University of Toronto.
Establishes and promotes rapid growth of geography department at Toronto with the help of Donald Putman and George Tatham, and publishes Environment and Nation: geographical factors in the cultural and political history of Europe.
Publishes Environment, Race and migration.
Is president of Section E of the British Association, Cambridge meeting, and graduates Andrew Clark as the first MA student from Toronto.
Is elected vice-president of the Association of American Geographers.
Publishes Australia: a study of warm environments and their effect on British Settlement, introduces honors courses in geography at Toronto and is named the President of the Association of American Geographers, becoming the first non-America n to hold this office.
Publishes Our evolving civilization: an introduction to geopacifics.
Publishes Canada: a study of cool continental environments and their effects on British and French settlement.
Visits the campuses of Australian Universities, and is an advisor to the Interim Council of Australian National University.
Publishes Urban Geography.
Conducts a lecture tour of British universities, and publishes Geography in the twentieth century.
Is name Emeritus Professor of Geography upon his retirement from University of Toronto, is named Honorary President of the then new Canadian Association of Geographers, and returns to Sydney.
Is elected to the Australian Academy of Science, the only geographer to have that distinction, and is elected president of Section P of the Australian and New Zealand Association for the Advancement of Science.
Publishes his autobiography Journeyman Taylor.
Is first president of the Institute of Australian Geographers.
Receives a medal from the Royal Society of New South Wales, receives an honorary Doctorate of Literature from Sydney University, and the Griffith Taylor School of Geography is opened at the University of New England, Armidale.
Publishes his last papers on "Probable disintegration of Antarctica" in the Geography Journal and "Geographers and world peace: a plea for geopacifics" in the Australian Geographical Studies.
Taylor dies in Sydney on November 5th, 1963 shortly before his 83rd birthday.


1. "Obituary: T. Griffith Taylor, 1880-1963," M Aurousseau, The Australian Geographer, Vol. IX, No. 3 (March 1964) p. 131.

2. "Thomas Griffith Taylor: 1880-1963," J.M. Powell, a section in Geographers Bio-Bibliographical Studies, T.W. Freeman and Philippe Pinchemel ed. Vol. 3, London: Mahsell Publishing (1979) p.141.

3. Griffith Taylor and "Australia Unlimited," J.M. Powell, Queensland: The University of Queensland Press (1993) p.15.

4. "Thomas Griffith Taylor," op. cit. p. 141.

5. "Obituary," op.cit. p. 131.

6. "Thomas Griffith Taylor," op. cit. p. 142.

7. "Obituary," op. cit. p. 131.

8. "Thomas Griffith Taylor," op. cit. p.142.

9. "Griffith Taylor: 1880-1963," John Andrews, Australian Geographical Studies, Vol. II No.1 (April 1964) p. 1.

10. "Thomas Griffith Taylor," op. cit. p.143.

11. "Obituary," op. cit. p. 132.

12. "Thomas Griffith Taylor," op. cit. p.143.

13. Ibid.

14. Ibid.

15. Ibid.

16. Ibid.

17. Ibid.

Annotated Bibliography

Taylor, T. Griffith. Environment and Race: A Study of Evolution, Migration, Settlement and Status of the Races of Man. London: Oxford University Press, 1927.

Taylor focuses on the distribution of races throughout the world, while devoting a special section on Australia. He seeks to identify the controlling factors that have influenced race propensity in one location and not another. From past and pre sent distributions Taylor then suggests probable future settlement patterns by various races given the controlling factors.

Taylor, T. Griffith. Australia: A study of Warm Environments and Their Effect on British Settlement. London: Methuen and Company, 1949.

Taylor discusses the natural environment of Australia and how it came to be as such. Given the natural environment, Taylor refers to how the environment has dictated the economic and settlement patterns of the people.

Taylor, T. Griffith. Canada: A Study of Cool Continental Environments and Their Effects on British and French Settlement. London: Methuen and Company, 1947.

Taylor brings the natural environment to life in this book by talking about Canada from the basis of environment first. He does this by providing a broad overview of the environment; however, he then talks about each region separately. As Taylor focuses on the economic geography of Canada, he shows the close connection between the environment and the economic well-being of the country.

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