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The Life and Work of Professor J. W. Gregory FRS (1864-1932): Geologist, Writer and Explorer

Product Code: M0034
Series: GSL Memoirs - print copy
Author/Editor: by B E Leake
Publication Date: 28 July 2011
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Memoir 34

Gregory’s remarkable career and his scientific work are detailed and critically assessed. Accounts of his heroic 1893 expedition to the Rift Valley (a term he coined) in Kenya (now the Gregory Rift), his first crossing of Spitzbergen, and his resignation as Leader of the first British Antarctic Expedition of 1901, when racing to the Pole under Scott became the priority, draw on unpublished letters. While in Melbourne he published on mining geology and a series of geography textbooks. His 1901 Lake Eyre expedition in Central Australia initiated the phrase ‘The Dead Heart of Australia’ and controversy over the source of artesian water. In the Chair of Geology in Glasgow from 1904, he built up the largest first-year geology class in the UK, over 400 students. He worked in every field of geology and every continent except Antarctica. He was also involved with the search for a ‘homeland’ for the Jews in Libya and Angola. He shrewdly realized that Wegener’s Continental Drift Theory erroneously supposed that the Pacific Ocean was wider than now before the Atlantic opened. This led to his influential rejection of Continental Drift. He drowned in Peru traversing the Andes having published over 30 books and nearly 400 articles.

Type: Book
Ten Digit ISBN: 1-86239-323-0
Thirteen Digit ISBN: 978-1-86239-323-3
Publisher: GSL
Binding: Hardback
Pages: 232
Weight: 1.85 kg


Chapter 1 Early life; family background and influences
Chapter 2 Becoming a geologist; burning the candle at both ends
Chapter 3 Assistant at the British Museum (Natural History) from 1887; early years
Chapter 4 The abortive 1892–3 Villiers ‘Great Lake Rudolf Expedition’ to East Africa
Chapter 5 Gregory’s 1893 Lake Baringo & Mount Kenya Expedition: ‘The Great Rift Valley’
Chapter 6 Home after the African expedition
Chapter 7 Marriage, publishing & journalism
Chapter 8 The 1896 Conway Spitzbergen (Svalbard) Expedition and related polar work
Chapter 9 1896–9: Frustrations, further travel and publications
Chapter 10 The move to Melbourne University
Chapter 11 The National Antarctic Expedition of 1901: a fiasco avoided
Chapter 12 The ultimate accolade: election to FRS
Chapter 13 The Australian years: Professor of Geology and Mineralogy at Melbourne 1900–1904
Chapter 14 Appointment as Professor of Geology at the University of Glasgow
Chapter 15 Early publications (1905–10) and research activity while in Glasgow
Chapter 16 Domestic, family and social activities and a social history intrusion
Chapter 17 Activities between 1910 and 1917
Chapter 18 1916–1919: work for the Government
Chapter 19 1919-29: return to Glasgow and subsequent activities
Chapter 20 Opposition to continental drift and the GSL presidential addresses on the origin of the Atlantic and Pacific oceans
Chapter 21 ‘Retirement’ with continued output
Chapter 22 The final fatal expedition to Peru
Chapter 23 Some of Gregory’s students
Chapter 24 Overall assessment and summary
Appendix 1 Published works of J. W. Gregory
Appendix 2 List of books published by Professor J. W. Gregory


Thomas A. Darragh, Museum Victoria

This is an important account of one of the most prolific geologists of the 19th and 20th centuries. Leake had access to family correspondence and papers, so the biography is exhaustive both in terms of Gregory’s private and public lives. Leake analyses Gregory’s published ideas and conclusions in considerable detail and provides present day views and interpretations of them, so as to place them in modern context.

Review featured in Historical Records of Australian Science, Vol 23 No 2

Richard J. Howarth, University College London.

......the book is a fascinating and engaging read - a study of the life of a most remarkable man in which, in addition to all aspects of his professional career, his personality and home life are also illuminated, and it is evidently the product of a great amount of painstaking biographical research. The author is to be congratulated on a fine piece of work.

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