Sylvia Whincup was born Sylvia Gladys Bosselmann, to Roland Bosselmann, a dentist, and Rita (nee Ziebell) at Kerang on 11 March 1921. She had a younger sister, Margarita Sophie Bosselmann, born in 1927.
Sylvia attended Kerang High School and gained a place at Melbourne University after taking the school leaver's examinations in 1938. In 1942 she earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Geology and Chemistry. She was awarded a Kernot Research Scholarship and went on to complete a Masters of Science program in 1943, publishing her results in the Proceedings of the Royal Society of Victoria in 1944.
Shortly after finishing her Bachelor degree she became engaged to Charles Reginald Whinchup, a fellow geology student at Melbourne University. They married in the University of Melbourne's Trinity College Chapel on 3 April 1943. Sadly, her husband, then a flight officer in the Royal Australian Air Force, was killed during the Second World War. Their son, Peter Reginald Whincup, was born in Kerang on 4 September 1944.
In 1946 Sylvia was appointed Mineralogist at the National Museum of Victoria, the first person appointed to the post. During her time in the role Sylvia greatly expanded the collection. She collected many geological specimens for the collection and also participated in other of the museum's expeditions. Most notable of these was the 1947 expedition up the Snowy River Gorge with Charles Brazenor (Curator of Mammals), Hope Macpherson (Curator of Molluscs) and Robert Boswell (Preparator) which showed that the Brush-tailed Rock-wallaby was not, as had been though, extinct. She was keen to encourage people to visit the collections and learn about them and was instrumental in setting up the museum's first gem displays. She was particularly interested in gemmology, training members of the Gemmological Association in gem identification as part of a two year certification process, and giving regular weekly lectures to the members.
Sylvia left the Museum in 1950 when she married Bob Whitehead, another geologist, and moved to South Australia. She and Bob had two sons, Richard and Brian. In 1958 she started work at BHP as a petrologist and in 1965 both she and her husband joined Anaconda Australia Inc. In 1968, following the death of her second husband, she began work with the Australian Mineral Development Laboratories (AMDEL) as a petrologist. She retired in 1981.
Sylvia died on 12 November 2012. She was survived by two sons, Peter Whincup and Richard Whitehead.