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

From Earthwise
Jump to navigation Jump to search
From: Bailey, Sir Edward. Geological Survey of Great Britain. London: Thomas Murby, 1952.
The text is derived from an 'orphan' work. BGS are committed to respecting the intellectual property rights of others. After extensive effort we are unable to trace the copyright holder of this work. Despite this, we would like to make this very important work on the history of BGS, written by a former Director of the Survey, available for researchers. If you are a rights holder and are concerned that you have found this work for which you have not granted permission please contact us with proof you are the rights holder.
Figure 1 Section of Coal Mines, Somerset. Strachey, 1719


Stirrings of geological consciousness have left several traces in the writings of antiquity. We read how from time to time some rare spirit realised that many rocks are consolidated waterborne detritus, or that fossils are remains of bygone organisms, or that certain hills and valleys have been shaped by erosion ; but for the most part early geological speculation amounted to little more than mental exer. cise in astrology and alchemy, confined within limits set by guardians of divine revelation. Our spiritual advisers, it must be remembered, recognised need for control of scientific research long before anyone contemplated disintegration of atoms.

Supplementary, unwritten evidence of at any rate empirical geological knowledge, dispersed among practical men of past ages, is afforded by various notable achievements in civil engineering, including quarrying and mining, where success often depended upon recognition of succession and structure within rock masses, or of the potentialities of weather, rivers and sea. That such empirical knowledge was sometimes combined with deep understanding has been revealed, for instance, through posthumous publication of notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci, who lived from 1452 to 1519. Da Vinci was brought face to face with Nature in the field as an engineer, and formed correct ideas on several topics of the type indicated above.

Miners, though not necessarily sharing da Vinci's insight into geological processes, have always had to think in three dimensions. This is well exemplified in a Short History of Coal by George Sinclair, which appeared in 1672 as part of a work entitled The Hydrostaticks. Sinclair for 20 years occupied the chair of Philosophy and Mathematics at Glasgow University, though with an interval of enforced retirement due to political difficulties. -He found employment during his academic respite as a mining engineer practising in the Lothians; and it is to this circumstance that we owe his Short History of Coal, and of all the Common, and Proper Accidents thereof; a Subject never Treated of Before. It will convince anyone of the continuity of geological thought from the seventeenth century onwards to find Sinclair using our current words: crop, dip, rise and strike. Faults and igneous dykes he grouped together, as Scots miners still are wont to do, under the terms gae, dyke or trouble. He understood thoroughly the geometry of an ordinary faulted coal basin. As regard gaes, he cited the experience of the coal hewers that a coal seam will be found ' down ' on the side to which a gae inclines. As regards dip, he agreed with those who contend that dip, unless interrupted by a gae, continues to a centre, where the coal, or whatever it may be, ' takes a contrary course' which brings it up again to the ' grass.' This proposition he applied to the Mid Lothian coalfield, boldly accepting a hypothesis which carried him in imagination 3,000 ft. below the depth reached by contemporary mining. It appealed to him very strongly that he could follow the outcrop of the Great Seam fairly satisfactorily right round the landward margin of what he correctly interpreted as a basin-shaped structure.

That English coal miners had also by this time comprehended a great deal of the geometry of their fields is revealed in The Natural History of Staffordshire, 1686, written by Robert Plot, Keeper of the Ashmolean Museum and Professor of Chemistry in the University of Oxford ; and also in a paper on the Coal District of Somerset, which John Strachey contributed, 1719, to the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society. In this last Strachey drew a section which shows seven named veynes' (or seams) of coal dipping somewhat steeply and affected by a ' ridge [fault] which breaks off the veynes and makes them trap [step] down or trap up from their regular course.' The dipping veynes and vertical ridge are drawn as truncated above by a horizontal succession which from below upwards consists of (t) ' Yellowish Spungey Earth' (New Red Sandstone), (2) Marie' and (3) Lyas or Limestone' (both (2) and (3) are now included as Lias). The section further shows two pits sunk to coal veynes, one starting in a valley bottom on exposed Coal Measures, the other on a hill top on Liassic limestone cover. In fact, to this day, it conveys as clear a picture as could be desired of a semi-concealed coalfield.

Jean Étienne Guettard[edit]

Going back a little we find in a paper by Martin Lister, delivered to the Royal Society in 1683, a desire expressed for a ` soile or mineral map.' Sixty years later, I743, Christopher Packe produced such a map, A New Philosophico-chorographical Chart of East Kent, in which, as a result of close investigation, chalk districts, stone hills, clay-hills, etc., were distinguished. Shortly afterwards, in 1746, Jean Etienne Guettard communicated to the Academy of Sciences in Paris two additional examples of primitive geological maps of more ambitious scope. One covered much of France and England. The other, on a smaller scale, western Europe, including Iceland. It is worth while quoting from Sir Archibald Geikie's Founders of Geology the first sentences of Guettard's remarkable M6noire et Carte Mineralogique: ' If nothing can contribute more towards the formation of a physical and general theory of the earth than the multiplication of observations among the different kinds of rocks and the fossils which they contain, assuredly nothing can make us more sensible of the utility of such a research than to bring together into one view those various observations by the construction of mineralogical maps. I have travelled with the view of gaining instruction on the first of these two points, and following the recommendation of the Academy, which wished to have my work expressed on a map, I have prepared such a map, which contains, a summary of all my observations.'

Guettard was an indefatigable worker and he supplemented his own wide field observations by diligent reading, which enabled him to extend his mapping to districts far beyond those he had himself visited. At the same time he tended to adopt a somewhat superficial outlook. His first approach was as a botanist, interested in plant associations. These he soon a found to be in large measure guided by mineral associations; and in the distribution of the latter he detected a methodical pattern capable of presentation on a map. His wide excursions led him clearly to recognise the roles of subaerial and marine erosion, and to correlate these activities with resultant deposition of sediment. They further rewarded him with the exciting discovery of extinct volcanoes in the Auvergne district of central France. Fossils he collected and described in great numbers, as a naturalist; but apparently he did not realise that they could be arranged in tell-tale vertical time-sequence from below upwards.

Guettard's map of France was brought into final form by Monnet, to appear in 1780, in sixteen sheets, under their joint names as an official publication, entrepris par ordre du Roi.' Among its other uses it provided a valuable statement of the distribution of mineral industries and possibilities.

Abraham Gottlob Werner[edit]

Geological research was by this time receiving quite exceptional impetus from developments in the metalliferous fields of Central Europe. Already during past centuries the region had functioned as a dispersal centre for mining technique and tradition—as is evidenced, for instance, by the quaint name of toadstone still attached to Carboniferous lavas in Derbyshire, where early German miners had apparently found such rocks tot, or dead, from the point of view of mineralisation. Now, in 1767, a great step forward was taken through the establishment of a Mining Academy at Freiberg in Saxony ; and this was consummated in 1775 by an invitation extended to young Abraham Gottlob Werner to come to the Academy as Inspector and Teacher of Mining and Mineralogy.

Werner was born and bred to the appointment. His ancestors had a long association with the iron industry ; while he himself, when scarce able to speak, could find amusement in breaking down pieces of sandstone and marl ; and a little later could be bribed to good behaviour by a promise of a peep at his father's collection of minerals. What brought him more especially to the notice of the authorities at the Academy was a short treatise on the external characters of minerals, which he published in 1774 while still a student at Leipzig University. This book enabled readers, without recourse to the infant science of chemistry, to recognise individual minerals, and at the same time furnished them with information regarding economic applications. Werner's stipend at Freiberg was to be 300 thalers, which reminds us that the almighty dollar took its name from Joachimsthal in Bohemia in days when this centre was a rich producer of silver.

Werner's personality soon came to be a dominant factor. He saw that scenery, industry, population, civilisation, architecture, sculpture, agriculture, commerce and war were all regulated by mineral distribution ; and he had the gift of being able to communicate this truth to others. Cuvier has recorded how: ' At the little Academy of Freiberg, founded for the purpose of training mining engineers and mine captains for the mines of Saxony, there was renewed the spectacle presented by the universities of the Middle Ages, for students flocked thither from every civilised country. One saw men from the most remote countries, already well advanced in years, men of education holding important positions, engaged with all diligence in the study of the German language, that they might fit themselves to sit at the feet of this " Great oracle of the sciences of the earth." '

To this Cuvier adds, after recording the brilliant array of investigators who started from Werner's school to explore the face of the earth: We may say of him, what was never truthfully said before, save of Linn us, that Nature everwhere found herself interrogated in his name.'

Werner in his enthusiasm developed certain generalisations which have proved to be exaggerations. Thus he claimed not only some rocks, but all, with the exception of products of modern volcanoes, to have been deposited from water, for the most part in the sea. They might be detrital as sandstone, or organic as Shelly limestone, or chemical as rock-salt and, according to him, basalt and granite. Again, impressed by the persistent succession of various definable lithological formations in Saxony, Werner thought that there was a universal, or near-universal, succession of formations, starting with granite and ending with superficial gravels; and he considered that this succession was controlled by successive changes in the composition and extent of the ocean. He was not confident as to what had led to the present low-water level of the ocean, but imagined that much of its substance might have escaped into surrounding space. He certainly did not accept steep dips as an indication of earth movement ; for he recognised that sedimentation, if accompanied by cementation, might occur at any angle, as can be seen, for instance, on the roof and walls of a cave.

Not unnaturally Werner's followers came to be spoken of as Neptunists, for they referred almost every geological phenomenon to the operation of sea power. Werner taught the non-volcanic origin of basalt as early as 1776, after an examination of a Saxon exposure. He seems to have known at the time that 'Desmarest in 1774, as a result of researches extending back to 1763 among Guettard's volcanoes of the Auvergne, had already claimed a volcanic origin for basalt, not only locally but generally. Still he himself ' found not a trace of volcanic action, nor the smallest proof of volcanic origin.'

James Hutton[edit]

Those who agreed with Desmarest were called Vulcanists, and among them was a particularly stalwart band, the Plutonists, led by James Hutton of Edinburgh, who interpreted not only basalt, but also granite, as igneous, and deduced from the attitudes and compositions of various sedimentary rocks a story of repeated upheaval, erosion, subsidence and sedimentation, just as we do today.

Hutton had qualified as a doctor of medicine, but subsequently trained and practised as a farmer before devoting himself wholly to philosophic pursuits. It was as a farmer that he learnt to look below turf and soil and to puzzle out for himself the story recorded in underlying rocks. After completing more than 30 years of study Hutton produced his celebrated Theory of the Earth in volume i, 1788, of the Transactions of the newly founded Royal Society of Edinburgh. Later, in 1795, in response to criticisms, he brought his Theory up to date with considerable additions and issued it in book form. Hutton's main difference from Werner is epitomised in his proposition that land power must be accorded an important role along with sea power in the shaping of world destiny. For him igneous action was of old standing and highly significant. The earth could be regarded as a machine, actuated by deep-seated heat and safeguarded by volcanoes. The Neptunists treated volcanoes merely as a modern accident due to spontaneous combustion of coal seams ignited near the surface.

Hutton made mistakes, some of them serious, but he so frequently referred back to Nature for guidance in developing his theory that most of his conclusions hold good to this day. It is therefore interesting to note that the very foundation upon which he built would not be considered acceptable in any modern court of scientific inquiry. The earth, he contended, is a machine of peculiar construction, divinely adapted for use by plants and animals. This machine, from the beginning, must have followed the same laws of action as control it today—otherwise one would have to admit some flaw in the original design. Strange to say, on this insecure postulate he erected a discipline that has proved trustworthy: anyone who would trace the working of the earth should in the first place study such operations as are carried on before his eyes in accessible regions; and, in the second place, critically examine the products of that other great group of activities which are not themselves open to his scrutiny.

It has been said above that Hutton was leader of the Plutonists, but his dogma that geological agencies have acted in the past with the same general intensity as in the present had to stand or fall quite apart from any interpretation of igneous rocks. Thus he was leader not only of the Plutonists, but also of those who later came to be known as Uniformitarians. In actual fact most of Hutton's Plutonist followers set aside their master's Uniformitarian doctrine.

They thought that the record of the rocks necessitated appeal to catastrophes, much more vigorous and widespread than the floods, earthquakes and eruptions that afflict us today.

Extraordinary bitterness of feeling was manifested in the controversies between Neptunists and Plutonists, Catastrophists and Uniformitarians. Lyell has suggested that allowance should be made for the political excitement engendered by the French Revolution; but it must be admitted that a similar vituperative outburst occurred among geologists in politically peaceful times a hundred years later, provoked by a radical reinterpretation of the structure of the Alps. Anyhow, it is interesting to recall that the inherent tranquillity of Hutton's uniformitarianism proved one of the prime causes of the ensuing uproar. Hutton connected landscape with commonplace erosion in strikingly modern fashion, and to make this possible he lifted all restriction from geological time; whereas Bishop Ussher, it will be remembered, had dated the creation of the world no further back than the year 4004 B.C. My own opinion is that Hutton's chief sin in the eyes of many of his contemporaries was his confident interpretation of God's purpose through thoughtful observation of Nature without accepting guidance from revelation.

William Smith[edit]

While this wordy warfare proceeded, William Smith, a plain practical man, a civil and mineral engineer, particularly concerned at first with surveying routes for canals, made a momentous observation on a subject, which, more than anything else, has come to distinguish geology from other sciences. He discovered that each stratum, (one would be more inclined now to say each formation) could be identified by its contained fossils. He fully realised not only the scientific but also the practical value of his discovery, which again and again might help in the identification of geological formations concerned in problems of agriculture, mining, transport, drainage and water supply. Smith's list of formations from the Coal up to the Chalk, with a selection of characteristic fossils, was taken down from his dictation in 1799, two years after Hutton's death, and obtained wide publicity. His first geologically coloured map seems to have been of the Bath district, and is also dated 1799. His masterpiece, a geological map of England, Wales and part of Scotland, on the scale of 5 miles to the inch, was published with explanatory memoir in 1815. The map carries a dedication by permission to Sir Joseph Banks, President of the Royal Society, and a prospectus refers to support fro'm the Board of Agriculture, the Royal Institution and the Society of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce. A list of about 400 subscribers is given in the memoir.

Magnificent as was Smith's achievement, we must not forget that his idea of a fossil succession had already been suggested by a few others, though usually without further development even by the authors concerned. This last qualification does not apply to the work of the Abbe GiraudSoulavie, who between 1780 and 1784 produced a seven-volume Natural History of Southern, France, in which he divided the local rocks into successive formations characterised by successive fossil faunas. We find him summing up as follows: ' The difference between the shells in the rocks rests on difference of their relative antiquity, and not on mere local causes. If an earthquake were to submerge the ammonite-bearing rocks of the Vivarais beneath the Mediterranean, the sea returning to its old site would not bring back its old shells.'

Though the Abbé Giraud-Soulavie made and recorded enough observations to establish his point, his results seem to have attracted as little attention among geologists of his day as those of the Abbé Mendel among biologists some 80 years later. The reason that has been given for neglect of Giraud-Soulavie's writings is that their poor literary standard blinded readers to their scientific merit. Hutton, too, wrote badly, but fortunately, five years after his death, there appeared in 1802 one of the most attractive books ever penned, Illustrations of the Huttonian Theory, written by his friend John Playfair, Professor of Mathematics at Edinburgh University.

Neglect of Giraud-Soulavie did not retard matters very long. Smith's progress we have already indicated. Following closely in date,-Georges Cuvier and Alexander Brongniart established, as an independent discovery, a fossil succession in the Paris basin. Cuvier was founder of comparative anatomy and gave much attention to land vertebrates, the modern representatives of which could be regarded as fairly completely listed even in his day. It is interesting to note that some of his earlier findings, and those of fellow naturalists, reached Edinburgh, in spite of war conditions, in time for Playfair to discuss them in his 1802 Illustrations. Playfair therein enumerated five genera or species of extinct mammals as definitely demonstrated, and also admitted that shells, corals and plants of the geological past had been shown to differ substantially from their present day representatives. In keeping with this he sagaciously protested against current interpretations of a frozen rhinoceros carcase found in Siberia. He could not admit either far transport of the corpse from some southern haunt or instantaneous change of the local climate. He advanced instead the more reasonable suggestion that these extinct monsters were of a kind that roamed Siberia under much the same climatic conditions as have continued ever since.

Cuvier was an inveterate catastrophist, who again and again in restoration of past times cleared the decks of existent life-forms by some violent revolution. He combated the views of his contemporary, Lamarck, regarding specific variation. For him specific features were constant ; and his great influence long retarded the growth of evolutionary speculation. Still, if we feel inclined to criticise, it is well to remember that most of the extinct mammals which Cuvier described have left no descendants in the world today.

Since writing the above I have been delighted to find, in an unpublished manuscript, Hutton's own views in regard to evolution. In reading them one must remember that Hutton died eleven years before Charles Darwin was born. His manuscript, which was intended for publication, discusses possible diversification of species, not on Lamarckian lines, but through `continued propagation' of that form within ` the infinite variation of the breed,' which is ' best adapted to the exercise of those instinctive arts by which the species is to live.' Thus, for example,' it continues, ' where dogs are to live by the swiftness of their feet and the sharpness of their sight, the best adapted to that end will be the most certain of remaining, while those forms that are least adapted to this manner of chase will be the first to perish.' According to ` this beautiful system of animal life (which is also applicable to vegetables)' . . . ' the economy of this animal [the surviving variety] would always appear to be in perfect wisdom,' in other words to be in perfect adjustment to environmental needs. This historical revelation is treated more fully in a Hutton commemorative volume of the Proceedings of Royal Society of Edinburgh, 1950.

Returning from our interesting digression, we may note that fortunately much of the value of fossils to stratigraphical geology depends upon the mere fact that there is a determinable fossil succession preserved in the rocks, a fact that is independent of any theory of the origin or extinction of species. Smith expresses the position excellently in the Preface of his 1815 memoir, when he speaks of having discovered a definite arrangement of organic remains, which holds good in very distant parts of the island; ' which arrangement,' he continues, ' must readily convince every scientific or discerning person that the earth is formed as well as governed, like the other works of its great Creator, according to regular and immutable laws, which are discoverable by human industry and observation, and which form a legitimate and most important object of science.'

Smith transferred his business quarters to London in 1804 ; and in 1807 the Geological Society of the same great city was instituted, the first of its kind in the world. The two events approach one another somewhat closely in date, but in little else. One can hardly imagine that a 15s. dinner would appeal to Smith as a necessary prelude to a monthly geological discussion. Admittedly the Society started as a geological dining club. Its thirteen founder members, including Humphry Davy, Secretary of the Royal Society, were well-to-do men, keenly interested in scientific questions with a general bias towards chemistry and mineralogy. One of them, however, James Parkinson, was a medical man who published three volumes on the Organic Remains of a Former World, 1804-181i. He at any rate appreciated the fact that Smith had given a geological interest to fossils, as we find acknowledged in a paper from his pen on the geology of the London district printed in the first volume of the Society's transactions, 1811.

The original members of the Geological Society seem to have grown impatiertt of the hostile camps and far-flung war cries that had come to be associated with the name of geology. At their second meeting they elected as Honorary Members Robert Jameson and John Playfair, both of them professors of Edinburgh University; the former was.archWernerian in the northern capital ; the latter, as we have seen, was Hutton's gifted interpreter. The young. Society, starting anew, planned to replace controversy by agreement reached through amicable discussion. It has indeed achieved much in this direction, but it soon had to abolish Article 3 of its first code of rules, which reads as follows: All questions on which a difference of opinion may arise shall be determined by ballot at the next ordinary meeting.'

For one year, 1808-9, Sir Joseph Banks, who was President of the Royal Society 1778-1820, was an ordinary member of the Geological Society; but he resigned. Apparently he thought that activities of the new society might cause dissipation of scientific energy. This step led to a special meeting of the Geological Society in 1809 to consider the advisability of consolidating with the Royal Society as an Assistant Society. Instead it was agreed: ' That any proposition tending to render this Society dependent upon, or subservient to, any other Society, does not correspond with the conception this meeting entertains of the original principles upon which the Geological Society was founded.'

The above exchange of opinions probably explains in part why Smith's map, though dedicated, as we have seen, to Sir Joseph Banks, and approved by the Board of Agriculture, the Royal Institution and the Society of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce, carried no indication of assistance from the Geological Society. Fortunately the coolness did not last indefinitely ; in 1828 the Geological Society through the mediation of the President and Council of the Royal Society received an invitation from the Lords Commissioners of His Majesty's Treasury to take up quarters in Somerset House, where the Royal Society, the Royal Academy and the Society of Antiquaries had been long in residence; and three years later, in 1831, William Smith was awarded the first medal ever bestowed by the Geological Society—the Wollaston Medal which has since come to be regarded as the premier distinction that can be won in the international field of geological science.

Professor Adam Sedgwick of Cambridge had the congenial task of announcing the prize. He rose to the occasion in characteristic style demanding ' whether we were not compelled, by every motive by which the judgement can approve, and the heart sanction, to perform this act of filial duty, before we thought of the claims of any other man, and to place our first honour on the brow of the Father of English Geology.'

Charles Lyell and Charles Darwin[edit]

After speaking of William Smith's achievements, Sedgwick passed on in the course of his Anniversary Address to review many other subjects of geological interest. Here we may single out his comments on volume i of Charles Lyell's Principles of Geology, published the previous year. This first volume may be regarded as the natural successor to Playfair's Illustrations, enriched with a wealth of new observations. Sedgwick acknowledged very warmly the instruction which he had derived from perusal of Lyell's treatise on ' geological dynamics,' as he styled it ; but he inveighed against the author's defence of the Huttonian hypothesis,' expressed in the secondary title of the work, which reads: An Attempt to Explain the Earth's Surface, by Reference to Causes now in Operation. All know how Charles Darwin, who happened at this time to have imbibed a share of catas trophism from Sedgwick, received a copy of Lyell's volume i in time to take it with him on his five-year voyage in the Beagle starting from Devonport, December, 1831. All also know how Lyell's insistence in this volume i upon the efficacy of natural causes, to use a colloquial expression, in the realm of dynamical geology influenced Darwin in his eventual adoption of natural causes to account for the origin of species. Lyell himself remained, until after the appearance of his friend's epoch-making book on the subject in 1859, a strong advocate of fixity of species, and accounted for the life succession recorded in the rocks by invoking special creations distributed through time and space.

G. B. Greenough[edit]

From this digression let us return to the Geological Society and William Smith. So far from helping Smith with his 1815 map of England and Wales, the Society had actually sponsored a rival map of the same region on the scale of six miles to the inch, prepared by G. B. Greenough, their first Chairman and President, 1807-13 (President again, 1818-20, 1833-35). Greenough has explained that he was aware of Smith's project at any rate as early as 1804, but shared with others, then and later, the view that completion, and still more publication, were hopeless. He himself took up the work of map drawing in 1808 ' in obedience to a recommendation circulated by the Geological Society on its first establishment' ; and with much exertion on his own part and assistance from others presented a map in manuscript to the Society in 1812, which was published amended in 1820. No wonder when Smith received a presentation copy the iron entered his soul. ' This copy seemed like the ghost of my old map intruding on my business and retirement, and mocking me in the disappointments of a science with which I could scarcely be in temper. It was put out of sight.' No wonder, too, that further sale of Smith's 1815 map completely faded out. His receipt of a pension of Ztoo per annum from William IV in 1832 seems to have been somewhat of a delayed-action recognition in this direction.

Greenough has been blamed in some quarters for unfair, or at least ungenerous, behaviour ; and such a view seems to have been accepted by the Society in 1865 when, long after both Smith and Greenough had passed away, they produced a third edition of the latter's map, for they entitled it: ' A Physical and Geological Map of England and Wales, by the late G. B. Greenough, Esq., F.R.S., F.G.S., on the basis of the original Map of William Smith, 1815.', All the same there may be more to say in Greenough's jutification than leaps to the eye. He probably sincerely thought in the earlier stages that support to Smith would lead to procrastination without tangible result.

Greenough is sometimes charged with having started with the intention of drawing a Wernerian map (he had been a pupil of Werner at Freiberg), and of having finished with a Smithian map, receiving much assistance on the way from Smith's disciples. In so far as the basis of mapping was lithological, this means that Greenough originally expected to get a useful result by extrapolating the Saxon succession of formations, whereas he soon found it necessary to adopt a British succession—this sort of development one expects in any young progressive science. In so far as the basis of mapping was paleontological, one must realise that geologists in the south and east of England were looking to Paris, rather than Bath or Yorkshire, for guidance. This is well shown in the work of Parkinson in the first volume of the Geological Society in 1811, and of Webster in the second, 1814. Parkinson in relation to the London area stated that geological value can only be got from fossils if their consideration be ` connected with that of the several strata, in which they are found' ; and that ` this mode of conducting our inquiries was long since recommended by Mr. W. Smith, who first noticed that certain fossils are peculiar to and are only found lodged in, particular strata; and who first ascertained the constancy in the order of superposition and the continuity of the strata of this island.' Parkinson then pointed out ` that these observations have lately also occurred to Messrs. Cuvier and Brongniart' in the neighbourhood of Paris, and he instituted a comparison of the London and Parisian successions, finding many agreements with a main difference in the absence of Oligocene (to use a modern term) from the London area—a difference which he thought might perhaps be atttributed to some catastrophe. Webster three years later built largely with Parkinson's assistance, looked for further comparison with Paris, and found Oligocene in the Isle of Wight. Not unnaturally he referred to Cuvier and Brongniart rather than to Smith.

Although the supersession of Smith's map by Greenough's had its poignant aspect, it embodied a great principle. The editors of the first volume of the Society's Transactions, 1811, say in the preface that ` they are persuaded, nothing is more consonant to the wishes of the Society, than that every mineralogist, proposing to visit any part of the kingdom, should have free access to all documents which may happen to be in its possession '—a remark which referred explicitly to ` mineralogical maps, plans, and sections.' There is no doubt that the Society favoured open doors and freedom of research, while Smith to some extent felt that he had won proprietary rights. The Geological Survey of Great Britain, as we shall soon see, is the acknowledged child of the Ordnance Survey and the Geological Society ; and it rejoices that co-operate publication of geological information for the good of all came to it as an established aim before it took over part responsibility for mapping and describing the geology of the country. The ideal cannot of course be applied in every case, since the Survey is often entrusted with confidential material ; but the broad intention holds all the time.

Early governmental geological surveys[edit]

The Geological Survey of Great Britain was formally instituted as a Geological Ordnance Survey in 1835, and is very generally regarded as the oldest among the national geological surveys of the world. At the same time it did not spring into being quite suddenly, nor was it entirely without forerunners.

Let us begin with the British Isles. L. R. Cox, who has studied the subject with special care,- has supplied most of the following facts regarding England. From 1794 onwards for a few years, the Board of Agriculture published a series of county maps of soils and exposed rocks, without any stratigraphical basis. There is no doubt that they proved useful to William Smith.

In 1805 Sir John Sinclair suggested that Smith should be attached to the Ordnance Trigonometrical Survey in a geological capacity, but his proposal came to nothing. Two years later, Smith's pupil, John Farey, was commissioned by the Board of Agriculture, on the advice of Sir Joseph Banks, to survey Derbyshire, so as to combine a report on the strata of that county with information of more direct agricultural significance. Farey's General View of the Agriculture and Minerals of Derbyshire, 3 vols., 1811-1817, ranks as the earliest official geological memoir published in Britain, and is a notable achievement.

Plate 2 Major-General T.F. Colby

In 1826 the Ordnance Trigonometrical Survey was placed under the superintendence of Captain T. F. Colby, who remained in charge until he retired in 1846 with the rank of Major-General. Colby was most anxious not to delay his topographical survey, but he also wanted the latter to serve as a groundwork for historical, antiquarian, natural history, geological and statistical surveys. His influence proved most helpful in regard to geological developments. In the first place he encouraged officers of the Ordnance Survey with sufficient knowledge to draw geological boundaries in areas surveyed under their direction, though not to attempt to make geological maps. In 1831 Murchison renewed Sinclair's suggestion that William Smith should be appointed Geological Colourer of the Ordnance maps; but his candidate was by this time rather old for the post. Instead, in 1832, De la Beche, Secretary of the Geological Society, was authorised to affix geological colours to the Ordnance one inch to the mile maps covering Devon, with adjacent parts of Somerset, Dorset and Cornwall. This appointment matured presently with the definite founding of the Geological Survey in 1835.

Now let us turn to Scotland. It is noteworthy that the first appointment of a geologist to the Trigonometrical Survey took place some years before Colby became Superintendent ; and we are indebted to V. A. Eyles for a very careful investigation of the subject. In 181i John Macculloch, ranking as a Chemist in the Board of Ordnance, was dispatched to e northern kingdom to undertake certain geological reconnaissances for geophysical purposes. In 1814 he was appointed Geologist, and by 1832, or possibly a little later, had completed a broad geological survey of the kingdom, a very creditable exploit. His results, illustrated by maps, sections and drawings, mostly appeared in publications of the Geological Society and in his famous Description of the Western Islands of Scotland, 1819. His geological map of the whole country, on the scale of four miles to the inch, was published officially in 1836, largely owing to exertions of the Highland and Agricultural Society of Scotland. Its busy author had died the previous year as a result of a carrriage accident, whilst on his honeymoon at the age of 62.

In Ireland the work of her greatest geological son, Richard John Griffith, is difficult to separate into two compartments, official and unofficial. From 1809 to 1812 Griffith was engaged as an engineer in a public inquiry into the nature and Possibilities of the important peat bogs of his native land. In the latter year he was appointed H.M. Inspector of Mines and also elected Professor of Geology and Mining Engineer to the Royal Dublin Society ; and it was at this juncture that he really started work on his famous geological map of Ireland, first definitely published in 1838, on the scale of ten Wiles to the inch. He undertook the task at the pressing instance of Greenough, which reminds us that Griffith joined the Geological Society of London in 1808, the second year of its existence. From 1822 to 1868 Griffith was continually in official harness in connection with road surveying, boundary fixing or land valuation, subjects which furnished ample scope for geological research directed to the welfare of the nation. In 1835 he exhibited what is sometimes called the second edition of his map to the Geological Section of the British Association at Dublin, over which he presided. Next year the Government ordered it to be reconstructed and engraved under the Board of Ordnance, on the scale of four miles to the inch. The result appeared in 1839, following the smaller-scale 1838 edition mentioned above, and won universal admiration. A revision was engraved by order of the Treasury and published in 1855, a year after the author had received the Wollaston Medal. In 1858 Griffith was rewarded with a baronetcy for his numerous and valuable public services.

Turning back to 1826, when Colby took charge of the Ordnance Trigonometrical Survey, we find J. W. Pringle entrusted with the establishment of a Geological Branch in Ireland. He was followed some six years later by J. E. Portlock, who in 1843 published a capital Report on the Geology of the County of Londonderry, and of parts of Tyrone and Fermanagh. Two years afterwards, in 1845, the Irish Survey became part of the compounded Geological Survey of Great Britain and Ireland, and was transferred from the Ordnance Survey to the First Commissioner of Her Majesty's Woods, Forests, Land Revenues, Works and Buildings.

As regards France, we have already noted that Guettard and Monnet's 1780 map received official publication. Later, as Eyles has pointed out, an official geological survey of the country was carried out by five geologists, including Elie de Beaumont and Dufrenoy, between 1825 and 1835. The resultant map was published in 1841 in six sheets, scale 1: 500,000 ; while descriptive memoirs began to appear in 1830. It is interesting to recall that as a preliminary measure, in 1823, the two main authors of this important map had been sent to England for six months to gather additional geological, mining and metallurgical experience; and that after the successful completion of their task they were, in 1843, jointly awarded the Wollaston Medal of the Geological Society. In 1868 de Beaumont very fittingly became first Director of the newly established Service de la Carte geologique de la France.

In America, North Carolina, 1824-1828, Massachusetts, 1830-33, and Tennessee, 1831-50, all carried out early State geological surveys.

In India a geologist was attached to the Trigonometrical Survey from 1818 to 1823.