Songs of the Survey - Appendix to Down to earth

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From: Wilson, H.E. Down to earth - one hundred and fifty years of the British Geological Survey. Edinburgh:Scottish Academic Press, 1985.
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Appendix: Songs of the Survey[edit]

These typical songs and recitations were presented at Geologists' Dinners in Edinburgh over the years.

James Geikie, four years younger than his more notorious brother Archibald, was on the Edinburgh staff from 1861, under Archie, till he succeeded the latter as Professor of Geology in Edinburgh University in 1882 — Archie had held both Survey and University offices. James accompanied Ramsay on his visit to Gibraltar in 1876 and is said to have resented Archie's dictatorial style of direction as much as everyone else. When he wrote his monumental book on 'The Great Ice Age', published in 1874, he reputedly did not tell his brother about it till he was able to place the published volume on his desk.

These heart-felt verses on the difficulty of geological mapping in the glaciated areas of north Britain will strike a chord with his successors.

Song by Mr James Geikie[edit]

An Ice Ballad about the elder Miss B----- C----

and her respected Mama

(To the tune of Barbara Allen)


O this sanguinary Drift, this sanguinary Drift,

It puts a man to his very last shift!

With his last shift on, how the deuce can he stand

The murrains ruts and scratches that are rife in the land?


Go where you may this blessed Boulder Clay

Will haunt you by night and dog you by day:-

Don't think to escape. If you could, close at hand

You'd be seized by the morbus, — the gravel and sand

Yet would you have a friend, as Advertisers say,

Where could you meet a better than the Boulder Clay

'Tis firm and tenacious, as all friends should be

And doesn't want for polish, as any man may see.


Murray Macgregor, known as The Wee Macgregor' from his stature and the lower-case spelling of his surname, was Assistant Director in Scotland from 1925 to 1945. During his whole career he commuted daily from Glasgow and much of his poetic inspiration came during his time with the London and Northeastern Railway, between Waverley and Queen Street. The first poem, almost certainly by Murray, refers to John Pringle, who started as a fossil collector in 1901 and became Palaeontologist to the Survey in 1934.

The Aged Palaeontologist LSA361.2.113[edit]

A hitherto unpublished poem by Lewis Carroll


Quite recently, one evening, as it was getting late

I met an aged man, a-sitting by a gate.

'Pray tell me what,' I asked of him,

'You do here all alone?'

He said, 'I hunt for scraps of shells and bits of fossil bone.'


'I search for Acidaspis spines and Calymene tails,

For bryozoa, crinoid cups and Cephalaspis scales.

I know their habits and their haunts; I call them all by name.'

'It sounds, my friend,' I said to him, 'a most peculiar game.'


'But what I'd like to know,' I said, 'is what you really do.'

He said, 'I search for Lingula and Streptorhynchus too.

I hunt for Tylonautilus through all the Border dales,

And follow Diplograptus o'er the mountain tops of Wales.'


'That's very brave of you,' I said, 'but tell me this, I pray.

What is the occupation that you follow day by day?'

'Oh well,' he said, 'I follow in the tracks of ancient life,

and hunt for giant molluscs on the rocky coasts of Fife.'


'My poor old friend,' I said to him, 'forgive me if I ask,

That you state in language clear what is your daily task.

I cannot comprehend at all the nature of your work.'

'Oh well,' he said, 'I haunt the shores where Rhynchonellas lurk.'


I gazed on him in sadness and I said in accents mild,

'Pray try to bring to mind the days when you were yet a child.

Did no-one teach you any trade, profession or employ?'

'Oh yes,' he said, 'I gathered graps when I was still a boy.'


'But when you came to manhood, Sir, did you not wish to be

A dentist or a grocer or a sailor on the sea,

A lawyer or a carpenter?' 'Oh no,' he said, 'my wish

Has always been to spend my days in catching fossil fish.'


'But please,' I said, 'I'd like to know the things that you have done.'

'There's hardly time for that,' he said, 'but here at least is one.

I've shown there's no Llandeilo and, deny it if you can,

The Glenkiln Shales, from base to top, are Caradocian.'


'You speak in language strange,' I said, 'I would not dare to doubt,

But even yet I am not sure what it is all about.

Have you done nothing else?' He frowned, 'I'd have you understand

That once I played a leading part in Skipsey's Marine Band.'


'Perhaps,' I asked, 'you played the flute?' He answered,'oh, no, no.

I merely mention it at all because I wish to show

How I've hunted Listracanthus and Pterinopecten too

From Rumbling Bridge to Sanquhar, and from Sanquhar down to Crewe.'


You puzzle me, my friend,' I said, 'but let us try once more.

Can you not say in simple words what you have done of yore?'

'Oh yes' he said 'with pleasure; I'm very glad to state

That I found an Exogyra in a piece of Stonesfield Slate.'


'Dear me,' I said, 'how very odd, but is that really all?'

'Oh no,' he said, 'for maybe you'll allow me to recall

By far the proudest moment since the day that I was born

When I found an Artic Fauna in the Zone of Capricorn.'


It did not seem the slightest use. I gave it up at last.

'It's very nice to have,' I said, 'these glimpses of your past.

But now that you are drawing towards the evening of your days,

Do you not think it's time for you to try and mend your ways?'


'For now that you have reached,' I said, 'such a distressing age,

Do you not think you ought to rest?' 'Oh no,' replied the Sage.

'What you propose is quite absurd. I've many things to do

And if you'll pardon me I'd like to mention just a few.


I mean to prove the Highland nappes are not as Bailey states

By finding Mesograptus in the Ballachulish Slates.

I mean to show where Jehu erred and Campbell went astray

In all their work from Aberfoyle to far Craigeven Bay.


I mean to prove that Ledi Grits are early Eocene,

The Lias is fresh-water and the Bunter is marine.

That Richey's Moines are Trias; and when encrinites are found

In Craig's old paragneisses I'll be sure to be around.


There's Weir and Leitch from Glasgow too, I wonder what they'll say

When I rename all their mussels in a scientific way.

I don't like compromising or doing things by half

So I mean to deal with Trueman in a lengthy monograph.


There's a Begg from lone Balclatchie, there's Wright from Inverteil.

When I redescribe their fossils, well I wonder how they'll feel.

And if you will allow me, Sir, before we part tonight,

I'd like to demonstrate to you that Begg is never Wright!'


'Oh, not tonight, my friend,' I said, 'I could not stand the strain,

Perhaps some other evening we will meet and talk again.'

A thought has just occurred to me. He may be here tonight.

So if you come across him, friends, please try to be polite.

The following verses by F.W. Anderson refer to Archie MacGregor — 6 ft and a capital G — who divided his time between the Field and the role of part-time petrographer in Scotland, and John Simpson, the Pickwickian and much loved botanist-turned-geologist whose love of angling was finally consummated in his death, after retirement, on the bank of the Nairn with his rod in the water and three trout in his creel.

Parody 1

with apologies to Longfellow

Macpherson[edit]

Took a microscope of metal

Made of glass and shining metal

Tilted it upon its axis

Just 10° and not one more

Carefully took the first objective

One it was of medium power

Just as in the book it said so

Placed it in the clip provided

Placed a slide upon the staging

Carefully he turned and moved it

Set a lamp to shine before it

Set to shine upon a mirror

But first he read the regulations

Displayed in boldest type before him

The ignorant, it said, may never use it

May not turn the knobs and switches

For then the element would burn and dwindle

Fuse and melt into a vapour

But Macpherson boldly twiddled

Turned the knobs and pressed the switches

And the light grew light and lighter

Just as he had expected

For after all he wrote the orders.

Then by all the rules of physics

By the rigid laws of optics

By refraction of the prisms

By convergence of the lenses

By all the colours of the rainbow

By the laws of Medes and Persians

Should the mineral have glowed and sparkled

Shone with brightest irridescence

Should have yielded up its secrets

Told him what it was and wherefore

All its history before and after

But alas his hopes were shattered

Against the wall his head he battered

Dread and fearful oaths he muttered

Curses deep and dark he muttered

But let us leave this painful topic

For the mineral — was isotropic.

Sampson[edit]

with apologies to Wordsworth

He loved peculiar plants and rare

For any plant he did not care

That he had seen before

Primroses by the river brim

Dicotyledons were to him

And they were nothing more


The mighty cliffs we bade him scan

He scorned them for Laurentian

With sad dejected mien.

'Than all this bleak Azoic rock'

He said, 'I'd rather have a block

Ah, me! of Pleistocene'


His eyes were bent upon the sand

He agreed the scenery was grand

In a reproachful voice.

But if a pollen grain he found

He'd fall before it on the ground

Treasure it and rejoice.


Yes, all that has been or may be

Moraines and eskers, changing seas

All these pale beside his wish

For leisured days amongst the hills

With creel and rod where streamlets spill

To case his line for speckled fish

'Wee trouts', to him.

The last poem was written in 1950 when the controversy over the origin of granite was at its height. Archie MacGregor dissented from the views put forward by Arthur Holmes — himself a Survey man before he went to the Chair at Durham — and partly supported by Read, Professor at Imperial College and also an ex-member of the Highland Unit.

Scots Wha Hae[edit]

Scots wha hae wi' Bailey sped,

Over Etive's watershed

Keep the cauldron glowing red:


Death to fantasy!

Now's the day and now's the hour,

See the Front of ions lour,

See approach proud Arthur's power,

Wha will be a broken Read?

Wha will pay the slightest heed?

We know well we do not need

Neo-chemistry


Wha, by Hutton's ancient Law

Magmas forth will strongly draw,

Out of Vulcan's flaming maw,

Make true granite bree.


By our Bowens racked with pains,

By our Daly stoping strains,

We will keep our granite veins,

Igneous and free.


Mobilise, and forward go

To the front and shout Glencoe,

Sanity's in every blow,

Let us do or die!