Greetings from iainthepict. This blog of mine is meant to be like a 'Book of Days' or a kind of 'Scottish Year Book' if you will. The idea was to present an event for each day of the year. Somewhere in here, you can find out what happened, affecting Scotland and the Scots, on any given day of the year. Your comments and observations are very welcome.
The photograph is by Sam Perkins (check him out on Facebook at Sam Perkins Photography) and was taken near Oban.

Thursday, 21 October 2010

Sir Roderick Impey Murchison

Sir Roderick Impey Murchison, 1st Baronet, KCB, DCL, FRS, FRSE, FLS, PRGS, PBA, and MRIA, pause for breath; the geologist and geographer who established the Silurian and Devonian systems, and predicted the discovery of gold in Australia, died on the 22nd of October, 1871.

Roderick Impey Murchison was saved from a life of idle debauchery, and the butchery of foxes, by an interest in geology he got through the encouragement of Sir Humphrey Davy and the eccentric William Buckland. After helping Wellington win the Peninsular War, Murchison turned to hunting and killing foxes instead of Frenchmen. He was exceedingly capable at both these pursuits, but the novelty kinda wore off and, thankfully for the advancement of science, he thereafter devoted the rest of his life to geology. In keeping with his earlier exploits, Murchison didn’t hang about and after investigating sedimentary rocks in Scotland, the Welsh Borderland and South Wales, he made geological tours “at a furious pace” to continental Europe. He famously visited the Ural Mountains in Russia, where he got the nickname ‘Count Siluria’, and the Alps, where he studied the geological formations. He was the first to penetrate the mysteries of the Permian frost, but before that, he became the first to identify and classify the Silurian and Devonian eras and put a period to the Cambrian and the Ordovician.

His important contributions included ‘The Silurian System’ in 1839 and ‘Geology of Russia in Europe and the Ural Mountains’, which he co-wrote with the French palaeontologist, Edouard de Verneuil, and the German geologist, Count Alexander von Keyserling. Obviously, the Peninsular War was long forgotten. In 1839, Murchison’s work on the Devonian with Adam Sedgwick, the Professor of Geology at Cambridge, identified the ‘Old Red Sandstone’ system that a certain Hugh Miller made famous in his book of the same name. Murchison was never shy of publicity and was always in the public eye, but to the layman, he represented the ‘official’ voice of geology and was anything but idle in the cause of the advancement of science. Apart from Hugh Miller, he encouraged the Minister from Newburgh, John Anderson, when he discovered extensive sandstone deposits of ‘ganoid’ fossilised fish in Dura Den, in Fife. Murchison became the top man in British geology when he was made Director-General of the Geological Survey and as many as twenty-three geographic features on six continents have been named in his honour. His personal tally of topographical features includes Mount Murchison in New Zealand, Murchison Falls (he didn’t) in Uganda, the Murchison River in Australia, and Murchison Island off the west coast of Canada. And, there is a 58km wide crater on the Moon that has been given his name.

Roderick Impey Murchison was born in Tarradale House on the north shore of the Beauly Firth, not far from Muir of Ord, on the 22nd of February, 1792. Funnily enough, that’s not a million miles from where Hugh Miller was born and reared. At the tender age of seven, Roddie was sent away to Durham School and then spent his early teenage years at the Military College in Great Marlow. Then, at the age of fifteen, Roderick joined the army, where he was commissioned and in 1808, landed in Spain with the ‘Duke to be’ of Wellington. He served his country for eight years before Napoleon’s defeat in 1815 ended both men’s military ambitions. He returned to England, studied arts and antiquities, and took up fox hunting before, at the age of thirty-two, he had his epiphany moment.

Encouraged by his wife, who collected fossils, Murchison began to attend lectures at the Royal Institution and became fascinated by the young science of geology. He joined the Geological Society of London, where he gave his first paper in 1825, and thereafter embarked on his travels in geology. His highly acclaimed book, ‘The Silurian System’, resulted from his extensive research into the fossils contained within the ‘greywacke rocks’ – a layer of sandstone in Wales. That work established the Silurian geological time period of 443-417 million years ago and not satisfied with that, he followed it up a year later by identifying the Devonian period of 417-354 million years ago, along with Alan Sedgwick. Spurred on by his success, he took off for Russia and the Urals, where incidentally, a Murchison memorial has now been erected by the ‘Ural-Scottish Society’ in Yekaterinburg. The stone and cast-iron plaque features the tooth whorl of a Permian shark called the ‘Helicoprion’. The chairman of the Ural-Scottish Society, Alexander Zyrianov, said at the time, “We [Russians and Scots] have a lot in common – nature, climate and mountains… We are highlanders and that speaks volumes.”

The output of Murchison’s time in Russia was the collaborative ‘Geology of Russia in Europe and the Ural Mountains’ of 1845 in which the Permain period of 290-248 million years ago was first categorised. And it was his study of the deposition of gold in the Urals that contributed to the discovery of gold in Australia. Later, Murchison also produced a collaborative study of the structure of the Alps that would come to be regarded as a classic. Towards the end of his career, he was involved in a wee bit of an argument with another famous Scottish geologist, James Nicol, who held the chair of natural history at the University of Aberdeen from 1853. Murchison and his initially fearsome advocate, the young Archibald Geikie, believed in ‘stratigraphic continuity’, but Nicol proposed that the rock succession was not continuous. That led to the ‘Highlands Controversy’ over Nicol’s theory that the formation had been ‘tectonically’ broken, resulting in the fault zone that runs from Eriboll to Skye and known today as the ‘Moine Thrust’. Murchison’s reputation and Geikie’s support meant that it wasn’t until after Nicol’s death that his theory was accepted, thanks to Geikie, who coined the term ‘thrust’.

Sir Roderick Impey Murchison died in London on the 22nd of October, 1871, and was buried in Brompton Cemetery.

A new book by Arthur Murchison chronicles Sir Roderick's early life and military career; find it on Amazon books.

23 comments:

  1. Have you run across any suggestions that Roderick Impey Murchison may have fathered an illegitimate son? Family lore says my baseborn gg grandfather, John Impey Hosking b 1820 Bolingey, Perranzabuloe, Cornwall, was named after him.

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    1. Arthur E. Murchison26 November 2013 at 15:25

      When Lieutenant Roderick Impey Murchisons, later Sir Roderick, was stationed in Sicily in 1809, he wrote the he made love with an unknown female. He also wrote that was enamored of a Misses Beresford in the north of Ireland between the dates of 1810 and 1814, saying that he did not return to marry her, She was the daughter of John Beresford (1738–1805); Commissioner of Revenue of Ireland (1780–1802). He stated that during that same period he made love to a
      Miss Bennett, the niece of the Bishop of Cloyne, at Harrogate, England. If this information leads to a connection with your John Hosking, please let me know.
      arthurmurchison1210@comcast.net

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    2. Arthur E. Murchison4 October 2014 at 04:48

      Find out more about Lieutenant (later Captain) Roderick Impey Murchison in my recently published biography of him: 'War Before Science: Sir Roderick Impey Murchison's Youth, Army Service and Military Associates During the Napoleonic Wars'.

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    3. Hi Arthur, I'll certainly check out your book. Thanks for letting me know. Best of luck with it. Rgds, IanC

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    4. For anyone else, here's a link to Arthur's book on Amazon: http://www.amazon.co.uk/War-Before-Science-Murchisons-Associates/dp/1936320746/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1412583827&sr=1-1&keywords=War+Before+Science%3A+Sir+Roderick+Impey+Murchison%27s+Youth%2C+Army+Service+and+Military+Associates+During+the+Napoleonic+Wars

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  2. Nope, I've not come across any such suggestion, but it's not beyond the bounds of possibility that Murchison penetrated more than the mysteries of the Permian frost. However, I would've thought your relation would've been called Roderick, rather than Impey, if he was named after his parent. It seems the name 'Impey' was first recorded as a surname, in Essex (what became Essex), well before the Norman conquest. Regards, The Pict.

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  3. Sorry for the delay in responding; I've just now found your reply. I too would have expected the name "Roderick" to appear instead of "Impey". Meanwhile, John was insistent on using his middle name. Each and every one of his 12 children received "Impey" as their middle name, and it appears as John's middle name on every birth record. It also appears on his marriage and death records; he must have been very proud of whoever seduced his mother!

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  4. Another clue...family lore also says that John's father was a politician who seduced a housemaid. Sir Roderick doesn't fit that bill but his godfather and guardian, Sir Elijah Impey, does... Apparently Sir Roderick was named after him.

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    1. Well, there you go; that's a big clue. Sounds like a great story; nice plot line for a historical romance novel, perhaps.

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    2. LOL!!! Will pitch the idea to Harlequin; I'd rather have a historical romance on my family tree than this big question mark. Sir Roderick doesn't look much like my idea of a bodice-rippin', smoldering leading man but I'm sure a talented novelist could spin his image faster than I could order a DNA test!

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    3. Ha! I can just hear it now, "Oh Wodewick, Wodewick, you're so masterful..." ;-)

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    4. If Wodewick was the rapscallion who besmirched my family's Honour, his legacy includes not only his middle name but his nose. A nearly-identical probiscus ginormous graces the faces of legions of Hoskings to this day. I presume the perfidious Count Siluria seduced my ggg grandmama, Honour Hoskin, while hunting in Perranzabuloe in 1820; perhaps she too was a fox. I have absolutely no proof of this. After all, what's in a name? Who nose? Smirk.

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    5. What about the nose on the face of the Impey called Sir Elijah? Now you could pen a song on the lines of the Court of King Caratacus, lol!

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    6. "Now if you want to take some pictures of the Cornwallish noses who put the scintillating poses in the britches of the Impeyish boyses who put the powder on the roses on the faces of the hoses dusting the houses of the court of Kings Eli and Wod..." Heaven forbid I should face off against an established poet but thou didst toss the gauntlet. You're more fun than genealogy any day.

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    7. If you want to put a smile upon the faces of the Impeys say Elijah's little poker put a pudding in the oven of Ms. Hoskin when out hunting for some foxes when he should've sent for Roderick who was stranded down in Devon with a smiling impish glance upon the faces of the ladies in a manner known as courting in the days when little housemaid lost her honour... you'll have to do it yourself ;-)

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  5. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  6. I'm a cataloguer with the RGS in South Australia and currently adding online records for books in the collection that have been uncatalogued for decades. I'm working on a number of books by Scottish authors from the 19th century which has led me here for biographical information re Hugh Miller, author of "The cruise of the Betsey", our copy dated 1858. Another source mentioned that he corresponded with Sir Roderick Impey Murchison, five time President of the RGS, which is an interesting fact for the users of our catalogue. Noted you mention that Miller was born in the same region of Scotland as Murchison. I was sadden that Miller took his own life.
    May I impose on your knowledge of Scottish authors re Reginald Rogers, "A northern voyage", our copy dated 1913. I would like to confirm if this is Reginald A. P. (Reginald Arthur Percy) Rogers, b.1874? Is this the same author of the book of poems "Wildflowers". Also, would you have any dates or information for John Gunn, "The Orkney book", copy dated 1909?

    Best.


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    1. Hi Sandra,
      I found a copy of Northern Voyage on Abe Books here: http://www.abebooks.co.uk/servlet/SearchResults?sts=t&tn=%22A+Northern+Voyage%22&x=46&y=13 which entry states that Rogers was "a British poet, who also wrote a couple of travel narratives."
      'Wildflowers: A Book of Verse' appears to have been published originally in London by John Ouseley Ltd., 1911.
      Abe Books has a copy signed by the author; see: http://www.abebooks.com/servlet/BookDetailsPL?bi=414756696&searchurl=n%3D100200036%26sgnd%3Don%26vci%3D5200582&cmtrack_data=cm_abecat%3D100200036
      There was a Reginald A. P. Rogers who was a Fellow and Tutor of Trinity College, Dublin, who wrote 'A short history of ethics; Greek and modern', but I don't think he'd be your man as he was Irish.
      The California Digital Library lists the author or 'Wildflowers' as Reginald Arthur Percy Rogers, born 1874; see: http://archive.org/details/wildflowersbooko00rogeiala
      Several online sources (including WorldCat Identities; see: http://www.worldcat.org/identities/lccn-n87-804680) list the author of 'Wildflowers' as Reginald Arthur Percy Rogers (in one form or another), but I believe the book carries only the name Reginald Rogers and the Preface is underpinned with "R. R. London", hence there is room for doubt and I wouldn't be surprised if there was an error and the poet and the professor have been mixed up.
      Note that these sources don't list 'Northern Voyage' as one of the works of the RAPR who wrote the book on ethics.
      My instinct says that 'Wildflowers' and 'Northern Voyage' were by the British poet, not the guy from Dublin, but I do not have proof.
      I'm afraid I don't have any information on John Gunn.
      PS; pure coincidence, but I've got an image of the painting by Vermeer on my desk at work :-)
      Kind Regards,
      IanC

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    2. Hello Sandra,

      I agree with Ian Colville. Reginald Rogers and Reginald AP Rogers were two different authors. I offer the following circumstantial confirmatory evidence:

      1. My copy of Reginald Rogers' 'A Northern Voyage' was published by Heath, Cranton & Ousley in 1913. His ' Wild Flowers - a book of verse' was published by John Ousley in 1911 i.e. both the same firm. In contrast RAP Rogers used Macmillan for Ethics and Longmans Green and Co for Geometry.

      2. Literary style - RAP Rogers was a clergyman. If you read 'A Northern Voyage' on Kirkwall cathedral it does not come across as having been written by a minister of religion.

      3. Content - 'A Northern Voyage' is well salted with lines of poetry as one might expect from a published poet.

      Regards,

      Paul Shave

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  7. Hi Ian,
    Many thanks for your time on this.
    There may be two Reginald Rogers but as you say, no definitive proof. In point, the archivist at Orkney Library feels that Rogers may be one and the same but again has no proof.
    This has led to and caused my confusion and the confusion in the records of various catalogues, especially retail catalogues where the author may have been identified incorrectly.
    My feeling now is that Reginald A. P. Rogers may have used only Reginald Rogers for his non-academic works but will continue to search for proof.

    Admire your taste in the Dutch masters :)





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    1. Sandra, hope you've seen the reply from Paul Shave above..? He provides some good information. Kind Regards, IanC

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  8. i've just been reading about RIM in a book called Dinosaur Hunters by Diana Cadbury. What got my attention is that the father of a school chum of mine, surname Murchison, was the son of a man called Roderick Impey Murchison - born about 1920 and died about 1980. He lived near belfast, Northern Ireland at that time. Could he be a relative of the famous man ? I'd love to find out more.

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    1. Well, who knows; stranger things have happened. It's not exactly a common combination of names, I'd have thought, so either the parents were fans or there was some sort of connection, beyond coincidence. Regards, IanC

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