University Of Edinburgh Geosciences

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University Of Edinburgh Geosciences

The story of Geosciences in the University of Edinburgh.

Natural History, 1770 to 1871

GeoScience was first taught in Edinburgh under the title of Natural History. Robert Ramsay was the first appointment to the Chair of that discipline in 1770. He was succeeded by John Walker, a Presbyterian minister, in 1779. Amongst Walker’s pupils were Robert Jameson, John Playfair and James Hall. In 1804, Walker’s former pupil, the well-known mineralogist Jameson was appointed to the Chair and held it for fifty years. After Jameson’s death, the post was held by Edward Forbes, the paleontologist and oceanographer, for one brief year before he was succeeded by Allman in 1855.

Geology, 1871-1989

In the University College minutes for 1870, there is a record of a letter written by Sir Roderick Murchison, Director of the Geological Survey of the United Kingdom. Murchison observed that as Allman was retiring, it was time for the Chair of Natural History to be divided, in order to create a separate Chair of Geology. To this end he offered to provide an endowment of £6,000. The next day, the University received a further letter from Murchison, in which he added that the endowment was conditional on him being the person to nominate the new Chair of Geology. The University then wrote to the Treasury asking for a grant of £200 per annum to make the Chair viable. The Treasury replied that they were prepared to provide this sum on condition that Murchison’s clause regarding nomination be deleted.

In March 1871, Archibald Geikie presented his commission to the Senatus Academicus, as the holder of the first Regius Chair of Geology. At that time Archibald Geikie was the President of the Edinburgh Geological Society and, coincidentally, Sir Roderick Murchison was its patron. Undoubtedly, whatever the Treasury said, Murchison got his own way. Sir Archibald Geikie was succeeded by his younger brother James Geikie in 1882.