Sir Roderick Murchison – A Scottish Pioneer in Geology

On this day, November the 30th, St., Andrews day, the patron saint of Scotland, it is worth remembering the great contribution to science made by Scots.  One person in particular springs to mind – Sir Roderick Murchison (1792 – 1871).

Born into a wealthy Scottish family, at Tarradale House, on the shores of the river Beauly in the region of the Scottish Highlands called Easter Ross, the young Roderick Murchison was destined for a career in the British military.  He attended military college and fought in the Napoleonic wars.  However, when he married he was introduced to the joys of fossil collecting by his wife and his high status in Scottish society led him to be influenced by the many distinguished scientists that he met.  He became an active member of the Geological Society of London, helped to form the British Association for the Advancement of Science and the Geographical Society, becoming this Society’s President.

He is perhaps best remembered for his work on the dating of geological strata.  Working with the Reverend Adam Sedgewick, a professor at the University of Cambridge, Murchison mapped the strata of Wales.  He was truly a pioneer of geology and his study of Palaeozoic rocks helped define our understanding of deep geological time.

He identified rock strata younger than the Cambrian, in his study of Wales and his analysis of fossil arthropods, brachiopods and mollusca enabled him to help develop an understanding of biostratigraphy.  He named the Silurian period in 1835 and together with Adam Sedgewick named the Devonian System of strata in 1839.  He also helped to establish the Permian System in 1841.

He was knighted in 1846 and is regarded today as one of the early pioneers of Earth Sciences.

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