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Bruce Yardley appointed Chief Geologist

Bruce Yardley (Leeds University) has been appointed Chief Geologist by The Radioactive Waste Management Directorate (RWMD) of the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA).

Chartership news

Chartership Officer Bill Gaskarth reports on a projected new logo for use by CGeols, advice on applications and company training schemes

Climate Change Statement Addendum

The Society has published an addendum to 'Climate Change: Evidence from the Geological Record' (November 2010) taking account of new research

Cracking up in Lincolnshire

Oliver Pritchard, Stephen Hallett, and Timothy Farewell consider the role of soil science in maintaining the British 'evolved road'

Critical metals

Kathryn Goodenough* on a Society-sponsored hunt for the rare metals that underpin new technologies

Déja vu all over again

As Nina Morgan Discovers, the debate over HS2 is nothing new...

Done proud

Ted Nield hails the new refurbished Council Room as evidence that the Society is growing up

Earth Science Week 2014

Fellows - renew, vote for Council, and volunteer for Earth Science Week 2014!  Also - who is honoured in the Society's Awards and Medals 2014.

Fookes celebrated

Peter Fookes (Imperial College, London) celebrated at Society event in honour of Engineering Group Working Parties and their reports

Geology - poor relation?

When are University Earth Science departments going to shed their outmoded obsession with maths, physics and chemistry?

Nancy Tupholme

Nancy Tupholme, Librarian of the Society and the Royal Society, has died, reports Wendy Cawthorne.

Power, splendour and high camp

Ted Nield reviews the refurbishment of the Council Room, Burlington House

The Sir Archibald Geikie Archive at Haslemere Educational Museum

You can help the Haslemere Educational Museum to identify subjects in Sir Archibald Geikie's amazing field notebook sketches, writes John Betterton.

Top bananas

Who are the top 100 UK practising scientists?  The Science Council knows...

Love on the Rocks

Murchison by Stephen Pearceresized.jpg

With St Valentine’s Day in mind, geologist and science writer Nina Morgan*, contemplates how true love changed the course of geological history.

Geoscientist 22.01 February 2012

Antony and Cleopatra, Napoleon and Josephine, Paris and Helen of Troy. These are just a few of the passionate love affairs that have literally, it seems, changed the course of history. But what about the influence of true love on the development of geology? The pivotal role played in the 19th Century by intelligent and loving sisters and wives in assisting the researches of their brothers and husbands is now increasingly recognised and acknowledged. But important though these contributions are, one could argue that they essentially filled in details related to the understanding of geology – albeit often very important ones. But in one case, at least, the love of a good woman did have a profound effect on the course of geological history.

According to his biographer, Archibald Giekie, Roderick Murchison (Pictured, by Stephen Pearce) “had entered the [military] service with high hopes of distinction, but by a series of unfortunate circumstances and through no fault of his own, he had been grievously disappointed”. The end of Napoleonic Wars dashed Murchison’s hopes of distinguishing himself in active service, and when he returned to England from France in 1815, Murchison was at a very loose end.

But in early summer of that year, things began to look up. Murchison was introduced to Charlotte Hugonin, described by the mathematician, Mary Somerville, as “an amiable and accomplished woman, with solid acquirements which few ladies at that time possessed [and] had taken to the study of geology”. After what must have been a whirlwind romance, the pair were married at the end of August.

Marriage marked a real turning-point in Murchison’s life. “From this time he came under the influence of a thoughtful, cultivated, and affectionate woman” Geikie records. “Quietly and imperceptibly that influence grew, leading him with true womanly tact into a sphere of exertion where his uncommon powers might find full scope”. According to Somerville, it was soon after his marriage that Murchison “began that career which has rendered him the first geologist of our country”

One of Murchison’s greatest achievements was his delineation and definition of the Silurian system in Wales. But when it became obvious that some of the strata defined by Murchison as lower Silurian were equivalent to strata defined by the Reverend Adam Sedgwick as Upper Cambrian, geological warfare erupted. The result was a protracted dispute which was only solved after several decades by the adoption of a new system – the Ordovician. It's pure speculation, of course – but if Murchison had never met Charlotte, would the Ordovician ever have come into existence?


Sources for this vignette include the DNB entry for Roderick Murchison; the DNB entry for Charlotte Murchison; Life of Sir Roderick I. Murchison Based on his Journals and Letters by Archibald Geikie, John Murray, 1875; and Personal Recollections from Early Life to Old Age of Mary Somerville with selections from her Correspondence by her daughter, Martha Somerville, John Murray, 1874.

  • If the past is the key to your present interests, why not join the History of Geology Group (HOGG)? For more information and to read the latest HOGG newsletter, visit:, where the programme and abstracts from the Conference on Geological Collectors and Collecting are available as a pdf file free to download.

* Nina Morgan is based near Oxford.