New eBook Release! Expedition to the Great Barrier Reef

What do you get when you cross a collection of 1600 books about marine science with a cracking yarn about a motley crew of scientists stuck on an island in the Queensland tropics for a year? 

You get a new eBook from JCU Library’s Special Collections team! And it’s totally free to read online or download as part of JCU’s ever-growing suite of Open Access eBooks! 

Promotional flyer for the new eBook. Image details: Frederick Stratten Russell b. 1897 - d. 1984. Low Isles, from memory 8/7/31 (1931). Watercolour and pencil on paper, 23cm x 29.4cm. Yonge Ephemera Album, Sir Charles Maurice Yonge Collection. James Cook University Library Special Collections. Copyright Cleo Paskal, 2023.

The new book, Expedition to the Great Barrier Reef: the story of a ground-breaking scientific mission to Low Isles, Queensland in 1928-1929, and an overview of its legacies, has been written by historian and Special Collections staffer Trisha Fielding, with contributions from Special Collections volunteers Suzie Davies and Liz Downes. 

Book summary:
In 1928, a group of highly-talented young British scientists arrived on a small island off the coast of far north Queensland on a mission to conduct a year-long study of the largest coral reef in the world — the Great Barrier Reef. Through rigorous scientific investigation into the biological and geological complexities of the reef, they hoped to uncover precisely what coral reefs were, and in doing so, to better understand the life cycles of the animal and plant life on the reef and in the surrounding sea. None of them had ever seen a coral reef before. This is the story of their year on the Great Barrier Reef, and of the ongoing legacies of this ground-breaking expedition. 
Mrs Anne Stephenson, described in C.M. Yonge’s listing of expedition personnel as “Honorary Zoologist”. Photographer unknown. Russell Album 4, Sir Charles Maurice Yonge Collection, James Cook University Library Special Collections. Copyright expired.

The material for this eBook has been arranged into two parts. Part One, entitled Anatomy of an Expedition
  • looks at the events that led to the formation of the Great Barrier Reef Committees in Australia and England and the funding and subsequent launch of the Great Barrier Reef Expedition (led by Sir Charles Maurice Yonge); 
  • describes the research party’s journey from England to Low Isles in far north Queensland; 
  • explains just who was who on this island adventure; 
  • explores the significant contribution of women to the success of the expedition; and 
  • gives a summary of the mission’s scientific output. 
Part Two, entitled Discovering the Sir Charles Maurice Yonge Collection, focuses on this story’s connection to James Cook University Library. It charts the course of how Sir Maurice Yonge’s private scientific library – collected throughout his long and distinguished career – found its way to James Cook University; a world away from Edinburgh, Scotland, where Sir Maurice lived until his death in 1986. This section also delves into a curated selection of exquisitely beautiful and fascinating rare books from the Collection; and encourages the reader to explore the photographic record of the 1928-1929 Expedition, as well as a series of images of Sir Maurice Yonge at Low Isles that were taken 50 years after his first visit.
Dr (later Sir) Maurice Yonge, seated at a bench inside the Low Isles laboratory, which also doubled as a dining room, 1928. Photographer unknown. Russell Album 2, Sir Charles Maurice Yonge Collection, James Cook University Library Special Collections. Copyright expired.

Manager of Special Collections, Bronwyn McBurnie, said the eBook began its life as a series of blog posts that were written in 2018 to provide interpretive context and background information on an important new collection at JCU Library’s Special Collections. 
“When the Sir Charles Maurice Yonge Collection was launched in October 2018, it was a fairly new addition to the Library’s Special Collections, and we wanted to highlight the importance of this collection, since the man who had spent a lifetime collecting these books about life in and on our oceans had also been the leader of a ground-breaking scientific expedition right here in Queensland,” Ms McBurnie said. 
“That blog series proved to be very popular, so in 2022, Library Director, Helen Hooper, set the Special Collections team the task of taking those original blogs and transforming them into an eBook. Our Lead Author, Trisha Fielding, first set about revising her original material, and then began working on writing up new information that fleshed out the story more fully,” she said. 
“We also decided to bring two of our Special Collections volunteers on board for this project. Suzie Davies and Liz Downes have contributed chapters to the new eBook that explore a selection of stunning rare books from the Sir Charles Maurice Yonge Collection. We’re thrilled that Suzie and Liz agreed to be a part of our eBook,” she said. 

L-R: Liz Downes, Trisha Fielding, Suzie Davies, 29 June 2023. Photo: Amber Swayn.

Lead Author on the eBook, Trisha Fielding, said she found the story surrounding the Great Barrier Reef Expedition to Low Isles in 1928-1929 to be quite fascinating. 
“Here was a group of young, mostly early-career scientists who had never seen a coral reef up close before, who trekked halfway across the world to study the Reef while living on a tiny island in climatic conditions that would have been quite alien to them,” Ms Fielding said. 
“At that time, there was still a lot to learn about coral reefs, and the task for these scientists was to spend 13 months gathering as much scientific data as possible about the formation, growth and natural resources of a section of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef,” she said. 
“Together with a number of visiting Australian scientists, what they collectively achieved, in terms of scientific output, turned out to be extremely valuable ecological and geomorphological benchmarks for modern marine science,” she said.