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Fossils and fish

Geologist and science writer Nina Morgan discovers the lesser known talents of Benjamin Peach

jkhBest known for his work on the complex stratigraphy and tectonics of the Southern Uplands and the Northwest Highlands of Scotland, Benjamin Peach [1842 – 1926 - pictured, on right, with John Horne at Inchnadamph] owed his entry into geology to his father's  talent for finding fossils.  Although born in Cornwall, Benjamin grew up from the age of 7 in Scotland where his father, Charles, a coastguard officer and amateur naturalist and geologist, was posted.  Charles's discovery of important fossils at Durness, caught the attention of Sir Roderick Murchison [1792 – 1871].

Murchison, noticing the ability of the younger Peach, arranged for Benjamin to study in London at the Royal School of Mines.  Benjamin joined the Geological Survey in 1862, where his first task was to assist in the determination of fossils in the London office, before moving to the Scottish branch to map glacial deposits, and where he discovered his great love and talent for field work.

In 1867, Peach was entrusted with the training of a new recruit, John Horne [1848 – 1928], and the rest, as they say, is history.  The pair worked together for nearly 60 years and became known for their legendary work on unravelling the complex Scottish geology and the geological formation of the Highlands.

Song of praise

But along with his talent for field mapping, Peach was also known among his colleagues for his great skill in fishing, a talent recorded in song in the notebook of another young Survey geologist, Henry Cadell [1860 – 1934].

D'ye ken Ben Peach with his shoulders broad

His dimpled cheeks and smiling nod?

D'ye ken Ben Peach with his reel and rod

As he starts for the loch in the morning


Yes I ken Ben Peach and Jock Scott too

The mallard wind and black Tulu [sic]

You should see him at sport in Kylesku

With a whale on his line in the morning


He lived at Durness for many a day

With old Robert Sutherland at Sango Bay

And was once nearly killed in a furious fray

With a Frenchman at one in the morning


He tried camp life near Achamore

But the rain came down in a steady pour

So all he could do was to lie and snore

Till seventeen o'clock in the morning


Then here's to Ben Peach and his sunny smile

As he comes home at night from a day on the kyle

May the fish aye rise in a splendid style

To Peach-flavoured flies in the morning


For the ricket of his reel brought the fish from their bed

And the swish of his line high over his head

They hurried up in shoals to be all struck dead

By a wave of his wand in the morning


When Peach died on 29 January 1926, he was the subject a number of glowing obituaries in the geological press highlighting his amiable personality and mapping and artistic skills.  But surprisingly, there seems to have been no mention of his death in Fishing News, aka 'the voice of the industry since 1913'.


The verses about Peach are quoted in: The Highlands Controversy: Constructing Geological Knowledge through Field Work in Nineteenth Century Britain, by David Oldroyd, Chicago University Press, 1990. Other sources for this vignette include the entry for Benjamin Peach by David Oldroyd in the Dictionary of National Biography, and the obituary of Benjamin Neeve Peach by E B Bailey, which appeared in the Geological Magazine, 1926, pp. 187 – 190.

* Nina Morgan is a geologist and science writer based near Oxford.  Her latest book, The Geology of Oxford Gravestones, is available via