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Peter Wilkinson, 1925 – 2003

Peter Wilkinson was an outstanding scholar and polymath but, with his love of the outdoors, it was perhaps inevitable that he chose a career in geology. He was probably best known internationally for his work on the East African volcanoes Kilimanjaro and Meru.

Born in SE London in 1925, Peter studied geology at the Royal College of Science (Imperial College, London) from which he graduated with first class honours (1946) before beginning research on the metamorphic rocks around Loch Eriboll. While at university Peter had met Eva Popper. They married in July 1946, the same year he joined the Geology Department, Sheffield University, as assistant lecturer. Peter’s arrival increased the staff to five and provided a base for the expansion of the department that began following the appointment of Leslie Moore to the Sorby Chair of Geology two years later. By the mid 1980s Sheffield was one of the largest Earth science departments in the country but, by the time Peter retired in 1989, it was, like many others in UK, experiencing harder times.

In 1953 and 1957 the Department mounted expeditions to East Africa to study Kilimanjaro. These were supported by the Royal Society and the Tanganyika Geological Survey and Peter helped organise them. Many months of arduous field work (mostly above 4000m) and years of study culminated in publication of the special Kilimanjaro Sheet of the Geological Survey of Tanganyika (1965) and a memoir The Geology of Kilimanjaro (Downie & Wilkinson, 1972) - still the definitive works.

During the 1960s Peter developed interests in computing and its geological uses, and in X-ray techniques, becoming a well-known figure in the various geological user groups associated with the Geological and Mineralogical Societies.

The return of Jack Soper to Sheffield (1965) revitalised Peter’s interest in the Loch Eriboll metamorphics and together they published on the Moine Thrust Zone. One of these publications, a seminal work (Wilkinson, Soper & Bell, 1975) on the use of Skolithos pipes as strain markers in mylonites, was arguably Peter’s finest paper.

In the 1970s Peter returned to Tanzania to study the volcano Meru, organising and leading four expeditions (‘74, ’75, ’76 & ‘76/’77) with Peter Cattermole and Charles Downie. These led to publications on the volcanic chronology of the Meru-Kilimanjaro region and the 1:125,000 Geological Map of Tanzania, Sheet 55 – Arusha (1983).

Peter enjoyed sailing, walking, mountaineering and skiing and was known to ‘extend’ geological field trips to go mountaineering. His other great lifelong loves were books and music. His office and several rooms at home resembled overcrowded libraries from which he generously lent material to friends, colleagues and students. His passion for music was shared with Eva and they became almost an institution on the Sheffield music scene. Latterly Peter took up genealogy, tracing many generations of his family and lecturing in family history for over a decade. He died suddenly on 3 July and is survived by Eva, their sons Timothy, Colin and Nicholas and two grandchildren.

Peter was a ‘larger than life’ character who will be remembered with affection by his friends, colleagues and four decades of students who benefited from his enlightening and entertaining lectures. They will forever remember him, silhouetted against the African sky atop a pinnacle on Mawanzi, in an impressive photograph that decorated the corridors of the Sheffield Geology Department for over 30 years.

Fergus Gibb