1936 Interregnum - Geological Survey of Great Britain (by E.B. Bailey)

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From: Bailey, Sir Edward. Geological Survey of Great Britain. London: Thomas Murby, 1952.
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1936 Interregnum[edit]

IN October, 1936, I was asked to attend a meeting in London to discuss the situation arising out of Smith's sudden death. I do not feel at liberty to disclose with whom the discussion occurred, but the following letter, dated 22nd October, 1936, sufficiently indicates its scope

Dear —

In our conversation last Tuesday you asked me to put in writing the reply that I should make if I were offered the Directorship of the Geological Survey.

'I am prepared to accept such an offer supposing it is made on the clear understanding that I regard it as a duty for the Director to strive to continue in the ranks of active Research. I should accept as an obligation of honour what you spoke of as the " allotted task," but I am not prepared to subscribe to the defeatist proposition that this blocks the way to Research. In University life, Teaching and Research are accepted as twin ideals. For myself I see that the Teaching side of our Department [at Glasgow University] is secure, before I turn to the Research side. I think you understand that my wishes in regard to the Geological Survey are impersonal. If Director, I should wish to share to the full any opportunity for Research which seemed right and proper. If I found a man working loyally and wholeheartedly at the " allotted task," I should like to reward him with opportunities for additional work in directions where he had a voice in the choice of subject. There is, as you well know, no sharp line between the " allotted task " and Research, especially for the junior ranks, who do the bulk of the Survey's work.

The last Director who insisted upon freedom of research for himself was Sir Archibald Geikie. My younger and more fruitful days in the Survey were lived under the influence of his tradition. I joined in 1902, shortly after Geikie's retirement, and found myself starting with ,‘120 a year as a member of a wonderful band of enthusiasts. The staff numbered about 32 (not counting the Irish), and yet included seven Fellows of the Royal Society. I admit that Geikie. …At the same time we should be careful not to lose sight of the good that he did… .

You asked me how the administrative side of the work would appeal to me. I have no aptitude for business or finance, but I think that this need not be too frightening. In regard to the running of the Survey I have very definite opinions. I should wish to encourage each in his own station to plan and work for the good of the whole. I should let the officers in charge of Scotland, and England and Wales, and the Museum, understand that it would give me much greater pleasure to support and adapt their schemes than to present them with my own. I should let the District Surveyors understand that each of them was virtually king in his own territory, trusted to carry out his " allotted task " with very considerable discretion. I should not for a moment resuscitate the system by which men were sent to the Highlands and Islands in the Summer, and returned to their English branch-offices for the Winter. As District Surveyor I never personally suffered from this mistake, but I sympathised to the full with my colleagues in nominal charge of these birds of passage.

Lastly, I know that there are difficulties in any course: that, if I were successful in reawakening the individualistic pride and enthusiasm of the past, the men might forget that they were paid Servants of the State with very definite objects to fulfil. At the same time I think that they would respond to the call for team work. Also I have a great belief in outside publication as a help in administration. I should advocate it especially:

  1. to call attention to matters of general interest that are dealt with fully in official reports;
  2. to present certain particulars in greater detail than is advisable in a carefully planned and balanced report.

'If after reading this lengthly statement, you tell me that it has been decided not to offer me the post I shall not be in the least offended. I enjoyed our conversation very much, and shall always feel a little proud that I have been consulted.

Yours sincerely,

E. B. BAILEY.'

My letter remained unanswered for a considerable time. Then an offer came and was accepted, on my own terms. It was decided that I should take over my new duties on the 1st of April.