Australian Prospectors and Miners Hall of Fame Historical Profile – Henry James Evans

Henry James Evans (1912-1990) was a leading exploration geologist and the discoverer of the world-class Weipa bauxite deposits in Queensland, Australia.

Henry James Evans was born on 7 November 1912 in Greymouth, centre of a mining region on the south island of New Zealand. He was educated at the Reefton High School and Reefton School of Mines where he studied geology. Initially he gained experience evaluating gold dredging areas on the west coast and later worked for Austral Malay Tin, Alluvial Tin and Consolidated Goldfields. In 1938 he joined New Zealand Petroleum as a senior geologist and spent six years supervising oil drilling, logging and mapping. He spent most of 1945 with the NZ Geological Survey assessing the resources of the Greymouth Coal Basin.

Evans moved to Australia in 1946 to join the Zinc Corporation (now Rio Tinto) and was appointed Chief Geologist with Frome Broken Hill, looking for oil and gas in various parts of Australia, but also did some work on potash in UK and uranium at Rum Jungle.

In 1955, when Evans was asked to lead a group of American oil explorers to Cape York Peninsula, Sir Maurice Mawby suggested he should keep his eye out for other minerals such as phosphate or bauxite. The party quickly concluded the peninsula was not prospective for oil, but Evans did take samples of the reddish-brown pebbles that they passed over on their way to the Weipa Mission Station, suspecting they might be bauxitic. When at Weipa he could see the red cliffs at Hey Point across the Emberly River, but without a boat he could not reach them.

Evans dispatched six samples of the bauxite to the Group’s aluminium smelter at Bell Bay for assay, which confirmed they were bauxite. The discovery created great interest and Evans returned to Weipa in October, equipped with a dinghy and outboard motor. Over a period of some days he examined 84 kilometres of the coastline south of Weipa which, unknown to Evans, had been described by Captain Matthew Flinders during his voyage along the coast of the Gulf of Carpentaria in 1802, as ‘reddish cliffs’.

When he returned to Melbourne and reported to Sir Maurice Mawby that he estimated the reserves to be 250 million tonnes, Sir Maurice suggested caution saying, “I think we might have to knock a nought off that figure.” Subsequent exploration proved the reserves to be many times Evans’ initial estimate.

The work Evans did in recognising the significance of those red cliffs was of immense economic importance to Australia. It led to the formation of the Commonwealth Aluminium Corporation of Australia (COMALCO) in December 1956 and the subsequent development of what is now Comalco’s fully integrated business with bauxite mining at Weipa, alumina refining and aluminium smelting at Gladstone in Queensland, and aluminium smelting at Bell Bay in Tasmania and Bluff in New Zealand.

Evans was seconded to Comalco and took charge of exploration work at Weipa. In 1964 he returned to CRA Exploration as Chief Geologist. He was loaned to RTZ and was responsible for another important bauxite deposit in the Paragominas region of Brazil and later returned to his former role at CRAE. He was for a time a director of Consolidated Zinc and Australian Mining and Smelting. He retired in 1974 after 29 years with the Group and remained in Melbourne.

In 1965 Evans was awarded an OBE for his persistence and skill in exploration and in 1988 he received the President’s Medal from the AusIMM, for his contribution to early oil and gas exploration in all areas of Australasia, as well as his recognition of the significance of the Weipa bauxite deposits.

Harry Evans died in Melbourne on 9 November 1990. In an address at his funeral service CRA Group Executive, Mark Rayner, said, “When the economic history of Australia in the second half of this century is written, Harry will have a notable place in it.”

of President’s Medal to H J Evans’, Bulletin, vol 293, 8. (AusIMM, Melbourne, 1988); Extracts, CRA Gazette. (Rio Tinto, Melbourne); H.G.Raggatt, Mountains of Ore. (Melbourne, 1965); Notable Australians – The Pictorial Who’s Who. (WA, 1978)

Gilbert M.Ralph

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