Editing Antecedents, first hundred years of the Geological Survey of Great Britain

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The inevitable reaction ensued, and a return to common sense and reasonable speculation followed in due time.
 
The inevitable reaction ensued, and a return to common sense and reasonable speculation followed in due time.
  
Its herald was James Hutton, a Scottish gentleman and manufacturer with a taste for experimental farming and metaphysical philosophy. From this strange parentage was produced a treatise on the Theory of the Earth, which was at once supremely original and perfectly conclusive. Hutton argued that all the phenomena exhibited in the rocks of the earth’s crust might be explained by causes operating at the present day. What was essentially necessary was a sufficiency of time. The rocks might be classified as being of igneous or of sedimentary origin. The sedimentary rocks were built up of the fragments of still older rocks, decomposed, disintegrated, transported and deposited in the same manner as at the present day. For all sedimentary rocks there must have been still older rocks from which they were derived. The process had gone on since the earliest geological times. There was no sign of a beginning or of an end. As it is now, it had been since the dawn of time.
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Its herald was James Hutton, a Scottish gentleman and manufacturer with a taste for experimental farming and metaphysical philosophy. From this strange parentage was produced a treatise on the Theory of the Earth, which was at once supremely original and perfectly conclusive. Hutton argued that all the phenomena exhibited in the rocks of the earth’s cruet might be explained by causes operating at the present day. What was essentially necessary was a sufficiency of time. The rocks might be classified as being of igneous or of sedimentary origin. The sedimentary rocks were built up of the fragments of still older rocks, decomposed, disintegrated, transported and deposited in the same manner as at the present day. For all sedimentary rocks there must have been still older rocks from which they were derived. The process had gone on since the earliest geological times. There was no sign of a beginning or of an end. As it is now, it had been since the dawn of time.
  
 
The igneous rocks were ascribed to the action of the earth’s internal heat. Some were of volcanic origin; others, such as granite, were molten masses which by their heat altered and crystallized the rocks which they invaded. Hutton was supported by his friend Sir James Hall, who proved by a long series of experiments that it was quite reasonable to believe that the rocks known as basalt, greenstone and whinstone in the neighbourhood of Edinburgh were ultimately of volcanic origin.
 
The igneous rocks were ascribed to the action of the earth’s internal heat. Some were of volcanic origin; others, such as granite, were molten masses which by their heat altered and crystallized the rocks which they invaded. Hutton was supported by his friend Sir James Hall, who proved by a long series of experiments that it was quite reasonable to believe that the rocks known as basalt, greenstone and whinstone in the neighbourhood of Edinburgh were ultimately of volcanic origin.
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During the decade 1830 to 1840 which saw the initiation of the Geological Survey of Great Britain, the Geological Society of London had on its list of members probably the most brilliant assemblage of distinguished geologists that has ever participated in its activities. The Presidents included Murchison, Sedgwick, Lyell, Greenough, Whewell and Buckland. Among the Secretaries were De la Beche and Darwin. The members of the Society included many whose names are still held in reverence among British geologists. The Society’s ‘Transactions,’ which were the chief vehicle for the issue of important geological papers, showed that great activity characterized this epoch and many classical researches were being carried on. The Secondary rocks of England were already classified and named, largely through the labours of William Smith, Fitton, Mantell, Godwin-Austen, Conybeare and Phillips. In the Tertiary rocks investigation was being carried on by Edward Forbes, Lyell, Prestwich and many others. Sedgwick was busy on the Cambrian and Murchison on the Silurian. With Lonsdale, these two were about to solve the mystery of the Devonian. Macculloch had already explored the geology of the Western Highlands of Scotland and De la Beche was at work on Cornwall, Devon and Somerset. Poulett Scrope and Darwin had contributed descriptions of regions of active vulcanicity and, finally, a great amount of useful work had been done in describing and cataloguing the fossils characteristic of the various geological formations in England.
 
During the decade 1830 to 1840 which saw the initiation of the Geological Survey of Great Britain, the Geological Society of London had on its list of members probably the most brilliant assemblage of distinguished geologists that has ever participated in its activities. The Presidents included Murchison, Sedgwick, Lyell, Greenough, Whewell and Buckland. Among the Secretaries were De la Beche and Darwin. The members of the Society included many whose names are still held in reverence among British geologists. The Society’s ‘Transactions,’ which were the chief vehicle for the issue of important geological papers, showed that great activity characterized this epoch and many classical researches were being carried on. The Secondary rocks of England were already classified and named, largely through the labours of William Smith, Fitton, Mantell, Godwin-Austen, Conybeare and Phillips. In the Tertiary rocks investigation was being carried on by Edward Forbes, Lyell, Prestwich and many others. Sedgwick was busy on the Cambrian and Murchison on the Silurian. With Lonsdale, these two were about to solve the mystery of the Devonian. Macculloch had already explored the geology of the Western Highlands of Scotland and De la Beche was at work on Cornwall, Devon and Somerset. Poulett Scrope and Darwin had contributed descriptions of regions of active vulcanicity and, finally, a great amount of useful work had been done in describing and cataloguing the fossils characteristic of the various geological formations in England.
  
The growth of geological knowledge during the years immediately preceding 1835 had been so rapid that the subject had taken on an entirely modern aspect and the remaining convulsionists and diluvialists were already regarded as survivals of a bygone epoch. All the principal geological formations from the Cambrian to the Tertiary had already been established and their boundaries defined, though not in all cases as yet with finality and precision. The dispute between Sedgwick and Murchison on the boundary of the Cambrian had not yet developed; the Permian was after only a few years to be given a local habitation and a name by Murchison. Lyell had still to create a classification of the Tertiary rocks. But from the volumes of the ‘Transactions’ of the Geological Society and still better from such books as ‘The Outlines of the Geology of England and Wales,’ by Conybeare and Phillips, it can be seen that an immense amount of work had been done in deciphering the geological record and in ascertaining the distribution of the principal rock-formations in Great Britain. De la Beche’s work, ‘The Geological Observer,’ published in 1830, shows that the methods of investigation in the field and the study of the structure of rock-masses had reached a high stage of development. Sowerby, the author of the ‘Mineral Conchology of Great Britain,’ had done and was doing great work in the description of British fossils. The study of minerals actually preceded the investigation of organic remains and of rocks, or was at any rate more clearly established on a scientific basis about the beginning of the nineteenth century. The great event, however, of the period we are considering was the appearance of the first volume of Lyell’s ‘Principles of Geology’ in 1830. It was in a real sense ‘epoch-making’ and, though subject to much revision in subsequent years, it has maintained its position as a fundamental achievement. Geology, as we understand it today, was now on a firm basis and its principles had been established and expounded in the clearest possible manner.
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The growth of geological knowledge during the years immediately preceding 1835 had been so rapid that the subject had taken on an entirely modern aspect and the remaining convulsionists and diluvialists were already regarded as survivals of a bygone epoch. All the principal geological formations from the Cambrian to the Tertiary had already been established and their boundaries defined, though not in all cases as yet with finality and precision. The dispute between Sedgwick and Murchison on the boundary of the Cambrian had not yet developed; the Permian was after only a few years to be given a local habitation and a name by Murchison. Lyell had still to create a classification of the Tertiary rocks. But from the volumes of the ‘Transactions’ of the Geological Society and still better from such books as ‘The Outlines of the Geology of England and Wales,’ by Conybeare and Phillips, it can be seen that an immense amount of work had been done in deciphering the geological record and in ascertaining the distribution of the principal rock-formations in Great Britain. Dc la Beche’s work, ‘The Geological Observer,’ published in 1830, shows that the methods of investigation in the field and the study of the structure of rock-masses had reached a high stage of development. Sowerby, the author of the ‘Mineral Conchology of Great Britain,’ had done and was doing great work in the description of British fossils. The study of minerals actually preceded the investigation of organic remains and of rocks, or was at any rate more clearly established on a scientific basis about the beginning of the nineteenth century. The great event, however, of the period we are considering was the appearance of the first volume of Lyell’s ‘Principles of Geology’ in 1830. It was in a real sense ‘epoch-making’ and, though subject to much revision in subsequent years, it has maintained its position as a fundamental achievement. Geology, as we understand it today, was now on a firm basis and its principles had been established and expounded in the clearest possible manner.
  
 
== Geological cartography ==
 
== Geological cartography ==
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In 1834 in his Presidential Address Greenough informed the Geological Society that  
 
In 1834 in his Presidential Address Greenough informed the Geological Society that  
  
:Mr. De la Beche, one of our Vice-Presidents, acting under the Direction of the Board of Ordnance, has produced a geological map of the county of Devon, which, for extent and minuteness of information and beauty of execution, has a very high claim to regard. Let us rejoice in the complete success which has attended this first attempt of that honourable Board to exalt the character of English topography by rendering it at once more scientific and very much more useful to the country at large.
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Mr. De la Beche, one of our Vice-Presidents, acting under the Direction of the Board of Ordnance, has produced a geological map of the county of Devon, which, for extent and minuteness of information and beauty of execution, has a very high claim to regard. Let us rejoice in the complete success which has attended this first attempt of that honourable Board to exalt the character of English topography by rendering it at once more scientific and very much more useful to the country at large.
  
 
In 1835 Greenough was again President of the Geological Society and in his Presidential Address made the following announcement.
 
In 1835 Greenough was again President of the Geological Society and in his Presidential Address made the following announcement.
  
:The researches of your Vice-President (De la Beche) in the counties of Devon and Somerset have been carried on this year with increased energy. Of the eight Sheets of the Ordnance Map upon which he has been engaged, four were published last spring, three others are complete, the eighth is nearly complete, and an explanatory memoir with sheets of sections applying to the whole are to be published before our next anniversary. Let us hope that the work so admirably begun may not be suffered to terminate here.
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The researches of your Vice-President (De la Beche) in the counties of Devon and Somerset have been carried on this year with increased energy. Of the eight Sheets of the Ordnance Map upon which he has been engaged, four were published last spring, three others are complete, the eighth is nearly complete, and an explanatory memoir with sheets of sections applying to the whole are to be published before our next anniversary. Let us hope that the work so admirably begun may not be suffered to terminate here.
 
 
[[Category:History of the British Geological Survey]]
 

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