Doctoring geology:: the medical origins of the Geological Society
Four of the Geological Society’s 13 founders were medical men: William Babington, James Parkinson, James Franck and James Laird, the Society’s first Secretary. All were physicians and mineralogists except Parkinson, an apothecary surgeon and fossilist. At least 20 percent of the Society’s early members were also medical practitioners whose prime interest was mineralogy. The subject was taught as part of medical training, required as it was in the fabrication of medicines, thus medical men were drawn into mineralogy and on into geology. In 1805 a number of medical practitioners broke away from the constraints of their parent body, the Medical Society of London, to form the Medical and Chirurgical Society, which became a role model for the young Geological Society when challenged by its parent body, the Royal Society. Driven by wealthy mineral collectors and patrons of science like Charles Greville, one reason – perhaps the reason – for founding the Society was to map the mineralogical history of Britain. Towards this endeavour, Babington’s expertise in mineralogy brought people together, Laird organized them and Parkinson was invited because he was not a mineralogist. Franck was unable to participate significantly, being away at war for much of the time. The contribution made to the founding of the Geological Society by each of the medical founders is examined, and a biographical sketch of each man reveals the close relationship between medicine and the emergence of this new science of geology.
Figures & Tables
The Making of the Geological Society of London
Founded in 1807, the Geological Society of London became the world’s first learned society devoted to the Earth sciences. In celebration of the Society’s 200-year history, this book commemorates the lives of the Society’s 13 founders and sets geology in its national and European context at the turn of the nineteenth century. In Britain, geology was emerging as a subject in its own right from three closely related disciplines — chemistry, mineralogy and medicine — disciplines that reflect the principal professions and interests of the founders. The tremendous energy and cooperation of these 13 men, about whom little was previously known, quickly mobilized like-minded men around the country and fuelled the nation’s passion for geology; an enthusiasm that soon spread to America and Australia. Two previously unpublished works from this period, essential to understanding the founding of the Society, are reproduced here for the first time. The book closes with a review of the Society’s 2007 Bicentenary celebrations.