December 2018

The Somerville Collection – a unique insight into Australia’s geological history

  • By Ryan Leaver

AusIMM is a founding member of the Somerville Collection company and continues to support the collection to this day, helping preserve Australia’s geological past

The Somerville Collection, located within the Australian Fossil and Minerals Museum in Bathurst, News South Wales, is one of the largest and most internationally renowned mineral collections in the world.

The collection is that of Professor Warren Somerville AM, a lifetime collector and trader of minerals from across Australia and the world. Somerville donated the majority of his personal collection to be publically displayed in NSW after receiving offers from overseas, most notably to take it to Japan.

But Warren was steadfast on wanting to give the collection to the people of Australia, which eventually saw it moved to its current location. Somerville has spent a lot of time in Bathurst, so when the opportunity arose to take his collection there, it was an easy decision.

Opened in 2004, the museum is located in the 1876 public school buildings, right in the centre of Bathurst. Listed by Lonely Planet as the number one attraction in the region, the museum has won multiple tourism, educational and cultural awards.

As of 2018, the museum held over half of Warren’s once private collection with the rest being stored in a secure location.

Fossil of aquatic reptile.

Warren Somerville – from hobbyist to international collector

Warren first grew an interest in collecting and studying minerals as a young boy in the 1940s. What started off as a couple of boxes full in his room, soon became a fully-fledged collection.

Warren’s life work begun as a hobby when he was collecting rocks while his parents played social tennis near the town of Orange in central NSW, where he grew up. As his collection begun to grow, so did his passion, but his mother didn’t see the piles of rocks in his bedroom in the same light that Warren did.

One day, Australian Museum expert Oliver Chalmers was visiting Orange when Warren’s mother asked him to come and view the collection, as Warren says it, ‘in the hope she could identify them as rubbish, so she could throw them away.’

But instead, Chalmers informed them that some of the rocks Warren had found were 400 million years old, and from then on, he never looked back in his pursuits.

Years later, while studying geology, Warren met renowned Australian minerals collector Albert Chapman. Upon seeing his collection, Chapman encouraged Warren to start a museum on his orchard property. This museum fast gained a reputation, as did Warren himself.

Both locally and internationally, Warren became known as having a wide-ranging and extremely detailed knowledge of mines, minerals, mineral crystals, fossil sites and fossils from all over the world and all time periods.

Alongside his lifetime work in collecting and trading minerals and fossils, Warren has earned eight degrees and been a university lecturer, a TAFE lecturer and a successful horticulturalist.

For his tireless work in promoting natural history, and his service to the community, Warren was inducted into the General Division of the Order of Australia (AM) in 2007. In June 2018, Somerville was awarded with an Honorary Citizenship of Bathurst for his continual work in the city. Warren recently retired as curator of the collection.

Ammonite fossil.

Importance to Australia’s mineral heritage

Since its opening, the museum has played host to countless school trips, educational groups and tourists alike. With thousands of fossils and minerals throughout, and a T-Rex skeleton as the centrepiece, the museum plays a great role in displaying Australia’s minerals and fossils history to all those who visit.

Connection to AusIMM’s 125th anniversary

AusIMM is a founding supporter of the Somerville Collection and continues to support its preservation to this day. AusIMM President Colin Moorhead is currently on the Board of the Somerville Collection, with Angus M Robinson – representing the AusIMM Heritage Committee – being his nominated alternate. As the Director of the former NSW Geological and Mining Museum (redeveloped as The Earth Exchange in the late 1980s), with the supplementary financial support of the three major Broken Hill mining companies, Angus was instrumental in acquiring the Albert Chapman Mineral Collection for the NSW Government.

Thanks to Warren’s extensive work, spanning across decades, many different minerals and fossils have been found in Australia. Warren has travelled the world for his work, discovering and trading minerals in numerous countries, but more notably he has used over 100 different mine sites in Australia when looking to add to his collection.

As AusIMM celebrates our 125th year as an organisation, it is important to highlight the importance of landmarks such as the Somerville Collection and more so, the commitment and contributions of eminent Australian collectors such as Warren Somerville AM.

AusIMM strongly encourages members to visit and support the museum and this world-class collection. Warren’s work on our shores, along with his decision to keep the famed collection in Bathurst, have been vital for promoting the earth sciences and increasing our understanding of Australia’s geological heritage.

Supporting the Somerville Collection and the Australian Fossil and Minerals Museum

The museum is supported by a range of other stakeholder members (principally Bathurst Regional Council, the Australian Museum and Charles Sturt University), Arts NSW, private benefactors, corporate sponsors as well as small business and individuals. The museum appreciates assistance and contributions to continue its work, whether financial or in-kind support. Members of the local AusIMM Lachlan Branch have already established an association with the museum.

Further information about the Somerville Collection, and how to support the Australian Fossil and Minerals Museum, is available online at

Feature image: Warren Somerville, pictured in 2016 with a fossil from his collection. Photo courtesy Western Advocate/Chris Seabrook.


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