Four of the Founding Fathers of the Geological Society, Arthur Aikin, Richard Knight, William Hasledine Pepys and Humphry Davy, were chemists, coming to geology through mineralogy. The nature and status of chemistry in 1807 helps us to see why, and we note that chemists were down to earth and empirical minded in contrast to the speculative geologists of the eighteenth century. These four, a closely linked and coherent group, made various and important contributions to the scientific world in London generally, and to the Geological Society in particular. Nevertheless, Davy had very different expectations of the Society from the others: he wanted a dining club under the aegis of the Royal Society (of which he was Secretary), but they (successfully) sought a formal and separate body in which papers would be read and published. By the time of Davy’s death in 1829, the Society was chartered and flourishing; and the rise of palaeontology had made chemistry much less central to 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 Two previously unpublished works from this period, essential to understanding the founding of the Society, are reproduced here for the first time.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.