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Magnus Sinclair Garson, 1928-2002

Magnus Garson joined the Nyasaland Protectorate Geological Survey in September 1949 after graduation (St Andrews), where he undertook all the tasks normally expected in regional geological mapping, and investigations of water, rock, and mineral resources. World events, however, were to present him with a totally new opportunity to demonstrate his talents.

In the 1950s, there was a world shortage of niobium (needed for jet engine steels) which made carbonatites (containing a niobate called pyrochlore) a prime exploration target. The first carbonatites in Africa had been discovered in Nyasaland in 1935, and Magnus was assigned to make the first detailed maps and assess their economic potential. As a result, their classic status was extended by his meticulous field and petrographic studies, published as Memoirs 1, 2, and 3 of the Nyasaland Geological Survey (1958;1962;1965).

In his initial investigation of the Chilwa Island carbonatite (Memoir 1), Magnus collaborated with Campbell Smith (who had been a key figure in the 1935 discovery). In his Presidential Address to the Society (1956), when carbonate magmatism was still highly controversial, Campbell Smith makes it clear that his prescience is informed by their collaboration, which is most dramatically illustrated by his emphasis on the crucial significance of carbonatite cone sheets. Magnus had seen their importance when visiting Alno (Sweden) with Harry von Eckerman. Even today this evidence is critical, and yet still the only comprehensive, detailed study in Africa is that of Magnus Garson.

Memoirs 1, 2, and 3 are benchmarks in carbonatite science, in which the scope and depth of the geological coverage will not be surpassed until the primacy of field relations finds a renaissance in Earth Sciences.

His PhD, on the Tundulu carbonatite complex (1961, University of Leeds) was completed while on leave from Nyasaland. In 1962 he was appointed Senior Geologist, and 1965, Principal Geologist (with a period as Acting Commissioner). Awarded Malawi Independence Medal in1966, the year he retired from Overseas Civil Service.

Magnus then joined the Institute of Geological Sciences (1967, London) with exploration and advisory missions overseas (Thailand, Burma, Finland, Egypt). He spent 65 days with the United Nations on unpaid leave in 1977 to examine a carbonatite volcano in Afghanistan (a characteristically brave undertaking, requiring full military protection). From 1977 he became a United Nations roving adviser on economic mineralisation in many developing countries.

After 1988, having ostensibly retired, his enthusiasm continued to flourish as a consultant to the Dupont Chemical Company, where there was a need for his worldwide experience in mineralisation. This developed into a global investigation of titanium mineral resources, in which many large titanium reserves were identified. Dupont also especially valued his skills as an ambassador in many cultures. His unquenchable, scientific curiosity was still afire to the end.

We first met in Nyasaland in 1954, where he introduced me to his work on the carbonatites. In more recent years, he lived in Spain, and during one visit to England, over a beer, he opined that the young volcanic province in central Spain (Calatrava) ought to contain some carbonatite. Fortunately, a chance came for us to look together. Fieldwork in Magnus’s company was a stimulating experience, made doubly enjoyable by his gentle wit along the way. Confirmation of his geological perception was the added bonus (the first recorded carbonate volcanism in Spain: reported at Eurocarb Workshop, 2003), by which he can be remembered further by all who are concerned with mantle carbon.

He pre-deceased his dear wife Jean by three months: 2003 was the golden anniversary year of their wedding. They are survived by their son, Stewart.

Ken Bailey, with help from Felicity Lloyd, Roger McLimans, Steve Morel, James Orr, (IGS) and Clare Gordon, (University of Leeds)