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The Sir Archibald Geikie Archive at Haslemere Educational Museum

John Betterton*, Museum Geologist, Haslemere Educational Museum, needs your help to identify the subjects in the Geikie Archive.


jkhjkSir Archibald Geikie was a famous Scottish geologist, born in Edinburgh on 28th December 1835. He was educated at the University of Edinburgh. He was Professor of Geology at Edinburgh, from 1871-1882. In 1867, he became Director of the Geological Survey of Scotland until 1901. Geikie became Director General of the Geological Survey of Great Britain in 1882, and remained Director until his retirement in 1901.

The Sir Archibald Geikie Archive:

The extensive Geikie Archive at Haslemere Educational Museum in the county of Surrey consists of letter books, artwork, field notebooks, geological specimens, letters, personal items, manuscripts and photographs. The archive was in part donated by Geikie himself and then subsequently by members of the family including his daughters Gabrielle Jeanne and Lucy Isabella Webb, and his grandson Mr Derick Behrens.


The scientific and social historical value of this archive is immense and is of international importance. The most significant aspects of this Archive are the broad series of watercolours, drawings and sketches that have survived, including an album relating to his tour of the Rockies in 1879 and another containing material from his European travels.

Geikie’s artwork consists of 726 beautiful watercolours, pencil, ink drawings and numerous photographs of places he visited (within the British Isles and abroad) and studied throughout his long career. They include subjects like landscapes, geological and geographical themes, architecture, people and anecdotal scenes. They illustrate Geikie’s scientific and artistic imagination. In addition, they captured locations in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, many of which have changed over the intervening time. Numerous examples of his artwork can be found within his publications that illustrated his thoughts, ideas and developing geological hypotheses. A number of original sketches and paintings were used for the purpose of illustrating his publications, which now forms a part of our collection. The Archive also contains some prints that are obviously proof copies of diagrams used in Geikie’s publications.

Artwork can be classified by type with some examples illustrated: type of landscape seascapes, cliffs, coastal outcrops, inland outcrops, mountains, hills, moorland, rivers, lakes/lochs, islands, exposures, waterfalls, valleys, canyons, quarries, castles, bridges, people, villages, ruins, towers, rocks sections etc.
Countries visited include France, Germany, Norway, Ireland and the United States of America.

Other components of the Archive consist of the following.

Outgoing correspondence


Consists of 36 copying letter books, covering from 1869 to 1917, containing general administrative notes, as well as geological and personal information. There are a total of over 17,000 pages in the letter-books relating to an approximate total of 11,500 individual letters. These letters represent the single most important source of data in the entire archive. A few such famous names include John Horne, Sir Roderick Murchison, Benjamin Peach, Charles Lapworth, Sir Charles Lyell, Professor Zirkel, the Macmillan family, Charles Darwin, Matthew Heddle, Professor James Dana, Professor Thomas Bonney, Henry Cadell, Grove Gilbert, Professor.Cappellini and Sir Ernest Shackleton.

jkhjkField notebooks

This collection is made up of 43 notebooks and an index book that span the years 1860 to 1901. They contain geological field observations, sections, drawings and watercolours, tour accounts, collected anecdotes, expense lists, tomb sketches and excerpts of Scottish history.


They consist of black and white photographs with some family images and a hardback album of mainly British locations.


This collection includes a large gilt framed parchment decorated with illuminated border commemorating Geikie’s retirement from the Geological Survey, dated 1st March 1901, signed by many famous geologists of the period.


There is also an ornate presentation casket presented to Geikie upon his retirement from the Murchison Chair in Geology and Mineralogy (Edinburgh University) by his students.

A geological hammer and leather case was given by the geologist J.B. Jukes in 1865 and used by Geikie during his fieldwork. There are also a number of medals and awards amassed during his productive career.

Incoming correspondence

These consist of loose letters and three hardback albums. The bound volumes relate to the awarding of the Order of Merit, the Knight Commander of the Bath, and the Knighthood. They include telegrams, visiting cards, letters and postcards of congratulations, and press cuttings. A further box of envelopes contains 762 letters received by Geikie. These include Grace Prestwich, Lyon Playfair, Henry Nicholson, Sir Charles Lyell, Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman (British Prime Minister) and Charles Lapworth.

hjkThe Archive contains about 13 manuscripts, consisting of unpublished material. Many of them date from very early in Geikie’s in his life and as such are important for understanding his intellectual development.Geological specimens

His collection of fossils and minerals are mainly British with a few foreign examples. There are also a small number of rock specimens. The original storage material has been preserved in the form of small hand made card boxes housing the specimens. There is also a set of specimens that Geikie used for teaching purposes, of which there are only a few left in existence. This set was commercially made to accompany one of Geikie’s textbooks in geology.

Aims of the Project

  • To curate the Archive and undertake conservation work to ensure it is preserved in perpetuity for future generations
  • To fully utilise the historical, scientific and artistic value of the collection, whilst developing additional access through education, display and publication.

How you can help

As part of the wider Geikie Project, The Sir Archibald Art Collection Website ( would like to enlist the help of Geological Society members to identify the many geographical locations that Geikie visited during his geological research activities (some images do carry information, but many are hard to read).


Also of extreme value would be to create a concise geological description of what the artwork is depicting.

The site has 726 examples of his artwork online for examination, of which a sample have been used in this article. The artwork can be searched by main feature: general landscape, coastal, lake, mountains, seascape, outcrop and architectural etc. It can also be searched by date: 1850s, 1860s, 1870s, 1880s, 1890s and unknown date. A reply e-mail address will be given on each image along with its unique catalogue number as the subject.

Financial donationsjkjk

Financial donations received from Shell UK Ltd, Curry Fund of the Geological Society of London and Statoil Ltd have allowed us to complete some of the above aims.

In April 2012, an international conference devoted to Sir Archibald Geikie was held in conjunction with The Geological Society’s History of Geology Group at the Museum. The programme included many prestigious speakers in the field, including Professor John Dewey (Oxford University), Professor John Mather (Royal Holloway, University of London) and Dr Mike Romano (University Of Sheffield). This successful conference certainly elevated the profile of the Geikie Archive.

You can also email us at [email protected].