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January 01, 2007


Sir Charles Lewis Giesecke (1761–1833) was the Professor of Mineralogy at the Royal Dublin Society between the years 1814 and 1833. He was born in Augsburg, Germany, and over his lifetime pursued two careers. The first career was in the German theatre of the late eighteenth century, where, as well as acting and singing, his stage activities entailed travelling through Germany, Austria, and other parts of central Europe, together with the writing of original plays and operas for the theatre. Additionally, during his theatrical career he was engaged not only in stage management but also in the adaptation and translation of many varied works for the theatre especially in the genres of comedy, parody and travesty. At intervals he also worked as a journalist or critic, covering theatrical performances in various cities. Most importantly, for twelve years or so he was a senior member of, and official playwright to, the famous Freihaus Theatre company in Vienna, a company run by the impresario Emanuel Schikaneder, who together with the composer Mozart, conceived and staged the celebrated and seminal opera ‘The Magic Flute’ in 1791. Giesecke played the role of the First Slave in this opera and was stage manager for many of its performances. Later in his life, while visiting Vienna in 1818, and during his professorial appointment to the Dublin Society, Giesecke was reported to have claimed authorship of important parts of the opera's famous libretto.

In 1794, Giesecke began to revive an earlier interest in mineralogy that he had first developed while at university in Göttingen. In 1800, he obtained a mineral dealer's licence in Vienna and undertook a remarkable series of journeys which covered much of German-speaking Europe and Scandinavia. After visiting Berlin in 1801 and acquiring the title of Bergrat or Mining Advisor to the Prussian Court, he travelled to Freiberg to meet the famous German mineralogist Abraham Gottlob Werner. Immediately after this visit Giesecke travelled to the Erzgebirge region probably specifically to examine the well-known columnar basalt locality of Scheibenberg which Werner had recently reclassified in his ‘Kurze Klassification’ and which became increasingly important in the emerging discipline of stratigraphical geology. After his northern European travels, Giesecke then went to the Faeroe Islands and eventually to Greenland where he spent seven years, marooned, mainly as a result of the Napoleonic wars. Despite great hardship, Giesecke traversed and studied much of the west coast of Greenland, observing and recording the mineralogy and geology. Unluckily, his specimens together with the rest of his belongings were destroyed in the British bombardment of Copenhagen in 1807. However, some of his mineral collections were taken as booty and eventually offered for sale in Edinburgh, where they came to the notice of Thomas Allan who bought the material. On his return to Europe in 1813, Giesecke called in on Allan and their meeting soon resulted in Giesecke applying for, and being appointed to, the recently-advertised professorship in Dublin. Giesecke's geological work in Greenland launched an extremely successful scientific career and provided European geologists with essential information on the geology and mineral resources of this formerly barely-known territory. In addition to contributing significantly to scientific research, some of it with considerable economic potential, his first hand knowledge of Greenland proved to be of great practical use in the search for the elusive North West Passage, which European naval authorities were keen to explore.

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Geological Society, London, Special Publications

Four Centuries of Geological Travel: The Search for Knowledge on Foot, Bicycle, Sledge and Camel

P. N. Wyse Jackson
P. N. Wyse Jackson
Trinity College, Dublin, Ireland
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Geological Society of London
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Publication date:
January 01, 2007




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