On Sunday September 9th Google’s banner headline in Australia celebrated the 111th birthday of a palaeontologist – the late Dorothy Hill (1907-1997). Australian born and bred, Dorothy Hill came to Cambridge to do a PhD at Newnham College in 1930, studying Palaeozoic corals with Dr Gertrude Elles.
The 24 year-old Dorothy Hill arrived in Cambridge on a University of Queensland Foundation Travelling Scholarship. During her seven years in Cambridge, Hill published important papers on the systematics and terminology of the extinct rugose corals, whilst also establishing their distinctive morphology and structure. From this research she donated some 500 fossil specimens, mostly corals, to the Sedgwick Museum.
On return to Australia, Hill’s Cambridge research laid the foundation for her pioneering studies on the vast tracts of Palaeozoic limestones, which outcrop across the continent. Her detailed understanding of the coral faunas allowed Hill to establish their relative age and stratigraphy. And, this work helped establish a worldwide standard for coral biostratigraphy in the same way as the graptolite research of her Cambridge mentor Gertrude Elles had done for older Palaeozoic strata. Hill’s work was recognized internationally and she became an author of the coelenterate volumes of the Treatise on Invertebrate Paleontology.
In the University of Queensland Dorothy Hill rose through the academic ranks to become a full professor in 1960. Whilst working in the Sedgwick Museum and Department of Geology she had come to appreciate the value of an excellent departmental library. As a result she developed a geology department library in the University of Queensland, which now bears her name, whilst her extensive collections of rocks, fossils and thin sections were donated to the University’s Geology Museum. She was described as the “most outstanding graduate in the first 75 years of the University” and was the first Australian woman to be elected a Fellow of the Royal Society. Her encouragement of women in science was recognized in 2002 when the Australian Academy of Science initiated a Dorothy Hill Award for female researchers in earth sciences.
Thanks to Douglas Palmer, Sidgwick Museum