Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Godwin-Austen, Robert Alfred Cloyne

GODWIN-AUSTEN, ROBERT ALFRED CLOYNE (1808–1884), geologist, eldest son of Sir Henry Edmund Austen of Shalford House, Guildford, Surrey, who died 1 Dec. 1871, by Anne Amelia, only daughter of Robert Spearman Bate of the H.E.I. Co.'s service, was born at Shalford House on 17 March 1808, and sent to a school at Midhurst in Sussex, whence he was removed to a semi-military college in France. He matriculated from Oriel College, Oxford, 8 June 1826; in 1830 graduated B.A. and was elected fellow of Oriel. At Oxford he was, like Lyell, a pupil of Buckland, and from him imbibed a passion for geological study. In 1830 he became a student of Lincoln's Inn.

At this time he met Lyell, Leonard Horner, and Murchison, and, introduced by these three friends, was admitted a fellow of the Geological Society 19 March 1830. On 23 July 1833 he married Maria Elizabeth, only child, and afterwards heiress, of Major-general Sir Henry Thomas Godwin [q. v.] On the death of this gentleman, in October 1853, Austen, by royal license, took the additional surname of Godwin. In the year after his marriage he went to reside at Ogwell House, near Newton Abbot, Devonshire, where he made a study of the fossiliferous Devonian limestones, the outliers of cretaceous strata, and the tertiary deposits of Bovey Tracey. De la Beche entrusted to him the construction of portions of the Devonshire map, and Phillips found in the collection at Ogwell House many of the specimens figured in his ‘Palæozoic Fossils.’ Between 1834 and 1840 Austen read before the Geological Society a number of papers dealing with the district in which he resided. Returning to his native county in 1838, after a brief residence at Shalford House, he went to live at Gosden House, and subsequently at Merrow House, both situated near Guildford. At a later date, 1846, he removed to Chilworth Manor in the same county. Between 1841 and 1876 he was frequently a member of the council of the Geological Society, in 1843–4 and again in 1853–4 he was secretary, and between 1865 and 1867 he acted as foreign secretary of the society. On 7 June 1849 he was elected a fellow of the Royal Society. He next commenced a series of researches on the geology of the south-east of England, the results of which were laid before the Geological Society, 1843–53, and did much to extend the knowledge of the wealden, the neocomian, and the cretaceous systems. During this decade he spent much time in yachting, and made observations on the valley of the English Channel and the drifts of its shores, on the geology of the Channel Islands, the Bourbonnais, and other parts of France. On the death of his friend Edward Forbes [q. v.], on 18 Nov. 1854, Godwin-Austen, acting as his literary executor, completed his two unfinished works, ‘The Tertiary-Fluvio-Marine formation of the Isle of Wight,’ 1856, and ‘Outlines of the Natural History of Europe, the Natural History of the European Seas,’ 1859. He also completed Forbes's ‘Essay on the Distribution of Marine Forms of Life.’ In 1840 he read a paper on the zoological position of the extinct forms of cephalopoda, and also threw out the suggestion that the old red sandstone and the poikilitic strata are of lacustrine origin. His essays on the occurrence of blocks of granite and coal embedded in the midst of the chalk exhibit the same prevailing tendency of his speculations. By his famous essay in 1854 ‘On the Possible Extension of the Coal-measures beneath the South-Eastern part of England,’ it was manifest that geology was now entitled to take its place in the family of sciences. In the following year a deep boring at Kentish Town demonstrated the accuracy of his reasonings and established the truth of his conclusions. During his later years, although in ill-health, his devotion to science was unabated. Almost every season he accompanied geological friends on some continental tour, and several of these excursions gave rise to thoughtful essays. In 1862 he received from the Geological Society the Wollaston medal. He completed the revision of the south-eastern portion of the ‘Greenough Geological Map of England and Wales’ for the second edition, which was published in 1865. In 1868 at Norwich he filled the chair at the geological section of the British Association, dealing in a characteristic address with the geological history of the basin of the North Sea. At the Brighton meeting in 1872 he occupied a similar position, and discoursed upon the history and relations of the wealden deposits. In 1872, after the death of his father, he went to reside at Shalford House. In spite of his infirmity he took part in the preparation of the report of the coal commission, and in the movement which resulted in the experimental sub-wealden boring at Battle. An extensive collection of palæozoic fossils which he had made in Cornwall he presented to the Jermyn Street museum, London. He was the writer of very numerous papers in the scientific journals. A list of upwards of forty of them will be found in the ‘Geological Magazine’ for January 1885, pp. 1–10, with a biographical notice written by Horace B. Woodward. Godwin-Austen died at Shalford House on 25 Nov. 1884. His eldest son, Lieut.-col. Henry Haversham Godwin-Austen, F.R.S., is well known by his writings on the geology and zoology of India.

[Proceedings Royal Soc. of London (1885), xxxviii. pp. ix–xiii; Quart. Journ. Geol. Soc. of London (1885), xli. 37–9; Cat. of Scientific Papers (1867), i. 122–3.]

G. C. B.