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Abstract

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.

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