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William Geoffrey Townson (1947 – 2020)

A highly skilled oil geologist, geological communicator and artist

Geoff TownsonGeoff Townson grew-up in Worthing, Sussex. He took a BSc degree in Geology at King’s College, London (1965-68) and a DPhil at the University of Oxford, where he studied the Portland Beds of England and northern France under the supervision of Prof. Tony Hallam [1968-1971].  Whilst at Oxford, Geoff met Jane, a member of the secretarial staff in the Geology department, whom he married in 1971, prior to taking up his career with Shell, in the Netherlands.

Oil geologist

Following training in the Netherlands, Geoff returned to the UK as an oil geologist working on the North Sea—indeed he worked on the second exploration well of the Brent Oil-and-Gas Field where he cut the first cores!  He was also involved in the discovery of the Cormorant and several other oilfields in the Northern and Central North Sea.  

In 1976, appointment as Exploration Geologist at Shell Brunei took Geoff to Borneo, where he carried out onshore fieldwork and offshore interpretation.  Geoff’s next move, in 1980, was to Perth, Western Australia, where he was Chief Geologist at Shell Australia and his tenure contributed to discoveries in the Bass Strait.  

From 1985 onwards, he moved into management and was based in The Hague and London as Shell International Area Geologist, UK Business Development Manager and Business Development Coordinator Oil, as part of the International Senior Management team.


Geoff TownsonAfter retiring from Shell, Geoff and Jane moved to Charmouth, Dorset on the Jurassic Coast, and back to the territory of Geoff’s DPhil research.  In Charmouth, Geoff became something of an institution.  Firstly, he contributed as a volunteer to the Geological Society’s R.H. Worth award-winning Charmouth Heritage Coast Centre geological charity. He began a series of courses for the local University of the Third Age (U3A) that explained geological concepts through the regional geology.  These courses proved to be outstandingly successful and indeed many joined the Heritage Coast U3A just to be able to take Geoff’s course.  Reputation has it that they were far from a ‘light-touch’, but very enjoyable.  

Right, Geoff Townson at Osmington Mills, west Dorset on one of his U3A trips with a sample of oil from the shales!

(Image credit: Ali Ferris)

In Charmouth, Geoff also developed his artistic skills, exhibiting his paintings at local galleries and contributing to local social events. Using his artistic skills, he also contributed a Drawing Tutor course at the U3A and within the community.  His paintings are of geological topics and recognition of his skill in depicting landslides is acknowledged by Professor Dave Petley in his Landslide Blog as an ‘ability to capture the drama of the landscape’.


Over his career, Geoff published a number of papers on the topic of this DPhil research and his research findings whilst in the oil industry.  His final publication was in Geoscientist in 2017. Entitled ‘On seeing the most rocks’, his article reviewed the significance of the Geological Society’s field trips funded by the oil industry.

Geoff Townson died of an untreatable form of cancer and will be greatly missed by his wife Jane, sons and their families, as well as the community in which he contributed so much over his career and retirement.

By James Rose