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Jameson, Robert, 1774-1854 (geologist and professor of natural history, University of Edinburgh)



  • Existence: 11 July 1774 - 19 April 1854

Biographical Note:

Robert Jameson was professor of Natural History at the University of Edinburgh for fifty years, and the first eminent scholar of the Wernerian geological system.

Early life and education:

"The late Professor Jameson was the third son of Thomas Jameson, Esq., and was born at Leith on the 11th July, 1774. In his early years he showed a strong desire to become acquainted with natural objects, the study of which he evidently preferred to that of books and letters. His first attempts were made in stuffing birds, and in collecting animals and plants on the beach of Leith and its vicinity. A strong desire to travel was the result of his favourite pursuits, and his father ultimately yielded to his often-repeated wish to enter on the profession of a mariner ; but his friends interposed, and suggested that by adopting the study of medicine, he might equally be enabled to study the works of nature. He yielded in his turn, and was appointed assistant to the late John Cheque Esq., surgeon in Leith. He commenced his study of natural history in 1792, under Dr. Walker, then Professor of Natural History in the College of Edinburgh, and soon became a favourite pupil. In 1 793 he visited London, and became acquainted with the principal scientific men of the metropolis, and ever after spoke of the pleasure and benefit he had derived from his intercourse with Sir Joseph Banks, Mr. Dryander, Dr. Shaw, and other leading members of the Linnsean Society. With the exception of comparative anatomy, he now abandoned all idea of pursuing his medical studies. His attention was directed to that of ornithology and entomology, then of chemistry, and subsequently of mineralogy and geology, including a thorough knowledge of analytical chemistry."

Eminent Geologist:

"In 1797 Prof. Jameson paid his first visit to the island of Arran,and in the following year he published his work on the ' Mineralogy of the Island of Arran and the Shetland Islands, with Dissertations on Peat and Kelp.' It was the first good geological account of these places and formations, and soon acquired a well-merited celebrity. He subsequently visited other portions of Scotland, and in 1800 published his ' Mineralogy of the Scottish Isles,* in two vols. Illustrated with maps and plates. This work contained the first sketch of the geology of the Hebrides and the Orkneys. But the real period of Jameson's celebrity as a mineralogist and a geologist dates from the year 1800, when he left his native country for Freyburg, where he remained nearly two years studying mineralogy and geology under the famous Werner. Jameson fully acknowledged that it was from him he first derived clear and distinct views of the structure and classification of rocks. This opinion is confirmed by Conybeare, who says, "We are chiefly indebted to the reports of Werner's pupils, especially to those of Jameson, for our knowledge of Werner's general views, so fully developed in his lectures, and there only." Jameson also observed, in a passage which is too important not to be quoted on this occasion, pointing as it does to the very fundamental principle of all our modern geological investigations, that "Werner taught that mineralogical and geological characters, and characters derived from organic remains, were to be employed in determining formations, and that probably the same general geological arrangements would be found to prevail throughout the earth. But," he added, " the truth or falsity of this view in regard to the similarity of formations, can only be determined by the united labours of geologists continued for a long series of years." In 1804 Jameson returned to England in consequence of the state of his father's health. Shortly afterwards, on the death of Dr. Walker in the same year, Jameson was appointed Professor of Natural History ; and from that period, by his admirable lectures, founded in a great measure on the sound mineralogical and geological views of his friend and master the Professor of Freyburg, he raised the Edinburgh school of Natural History [...] In the same year, he published the first part of the first volume of his 'Mineralogical Description of Scotland ;' his other labours, however, prevented the completion of the work. In 1808 he founded at Edinburgh the Wernerian Natural History Society, of which he was elected perpetual President. In 1809 he published the 'Elements of Geognosy,' a work which contributed more to introduce the doctrines of the Wernerian school into England than any other publication ; and from this time may be dated the antagonism between the Wernerian and the Huttonian doctrines, as advocated by the northern geologists. Nor was the spirit of partisanship thus engendered altogether useless, inasmuch as its final effect was to call attention to the study of, and to diffuse a more general taste for geology. Independently of this, the modification of the Neptunian theory as adopted by Werner, and in which form Prof. Jameson introduced it to the notice of his countrymen, has been proved by the test of modern science to be more consistent with the phaenomena of Nature than the Plutonian view^s of its adversaries. It has served to introduce a more methodical study of the different formations of the earth's crust, in harmony with the numerous organic remains which they contain, and which never could have been reconciled with the doctrines of the Huttonian theory.In 1813, at the suggestion of Professor Jameson, a translation of Leopold von Buch's 'Travels through Norway and Lapland in 1806, 1807, and 1808,' was published by Mr. Black, — Jameson himself adding to the interest of the work by an account of the author, and by various notes illustrative of the natural history of Norway. In 1816, another edition of the ' System of Mineralogy ' made its appearance in three volumes ; and at the same time a new edition of his ' Characters of Minerals' was called for. Other editions of both works followed. In 1819, he commenced the 'Edinburgh Philosophical Journal.' For the first six years he conducted it with Sir David Brewster, but since that period he was the sole editor. It extends to seventy volumes, and is one of the most valuable repositories of scientific information in Britain. It will ever form one of the most durable monuments of his talents and industry. But while Jameson was thus exerting himself in Edinburgh to propagate sound and correct views respecting the geological phenomena of the earth's crust, another distinguished naturalist was labouring in another capital to bring about the same results by the help of comparative anatomy. During this period he also contributed many articles to the Encyclopaedia Britannica' and to the ' Edinburgh Encyclopsedia ;' and on the return of Captain Parry from his Polar Expedition he drew up, from the specimens brought home, a sketch of the geology of the different coasts discovered and touched at by that enterprising navigator."


"The present Museum of Natural History in Edinburgh is the result of Jameson's unceasing industry and efforts. The collections which existed before his time were almost entirely removed by the Trustees of his predecessor Dr. Walker; and the nucleus of the present magnificent collection was Professor Jameson's private property, when he was called to fill the chair of Natural History. He laboured incessantly to render it worthy of the place; but the means placed at his disposal, both by the Town Council and the Government, were inadequate to the task, and it was not without great private outlay that Professor Jameson raised it to its present state. In fact it may be said that the present Museum was founded, created, arranged, and exposed for public exhibition by the head and the industrious hands of Jameson alone. Professor Jameson died in Edinburgh, at the age of eighty, on the 19th of April, 1854."

Geological Society of London. “The Quarterly Journal of the Geological Society of London.” vol. Vol. 11, 1855, pp. xxxviii–xli. Biodiversity Library. Biodiversity Library

Found in 24 Collections and/or Records:

Mineralogical Notes on Walks, from August to September 1813, 1813

Identifier: Coll-1373/10
Scope and Contents

Volume of 156 pages containing geological observations, with numerous drawings, made on local walks in Scotland.

Dates: 1813

Minutes, 12 January 1808-16 April 1858

Identifier: Coll-206/1
Scope and Contents
  1. details of the constitution of the society
  2. minutes concerning the scientific papers read at society meetings
  3. minutes concerning membership applications and acceptances by the society
  4. minutes concerning business matters of the society
Dates: 12 January 1808-16 April 1858

Minutes volume 1, 12 January 1808 - 01 May 1830

Identifier: Coll-206/1/1
Scope and Contents Bound volume containing 310 numbered pages. The first 23 sessions of the Wernerian Natural History Society are minuted, including: details of the formation of the society, its original members and constitution, the Charter from the Town Council of Edinburgh and details of nominations for and ratifications of membership. Details of titles and abstract content of all papers read to the society are minuted. These include: Observations on the Mineral System of...
Dates: 12 January 1808 - 01 May 1830

Minutes volume 2, 11 December 1830-16 April 1858

Identifier: Coll-206/1/2
Scope and Contents Bound volume containing numbered pages. Sessions 24 to the final session, 44, are minuted including: details of nominations for and ratifications of membership, business matters, plans for a bust of Robert Jameson and final business matters including disbanding the membership and settling affairs. Details of titles and abstract content of all papers read to the society are minuted. These include: a description of Greenockite, and a paper on stratification of primitive rocks by...
Dates: 11 December 1830-16 April 1858

Newspaper cutting from the Scotsman, Verus et Utilis, The British Scientific Association, 8 October 1834

Identifier: Coll-203/3/13
Scope and Contents

Printed article regarding the proceedings of a meeting of the British Scientific Association mentioning a visit by Sir Charles Lyell to Sweden, the publication of a geological map of Scotland, freshwater limestone and Kirkton Quarry, 8 October 1834.

Dates: 8 October 1834

Notebook No.4, May 1827- June 1827

Identifier: Coll-203/A1/4
Scope and Contents This notebook is a mix of geological observations, ruminations, and illustrations, Lyell also writes on law, society, and the church. A light natural leather journal, the cover reads "Index inside C" in ink. The notebook is written in pencil and ink. The following table of contents is Lyell's own words, copied from Lyell's own "Index", found at the beginning and end of the notebook, transcribed from digital surrogates using the platform...
Dates: May 1827- June 1827

Notebook No.150, February 1847- March 1847

 Item — Box Lyell-temp-box 6: Series Coll-203/A1
Identifier: Coll-203/A1/150
Scope and Contents This black leather notebook was written whilst Lyell was in London, at 11 Harley Street and starts with memoranda, then a list of 'scientific visitors'. Written in London in the years between his travels in America, this notebook considers giraffe and bony fossil fish, but in particular focuses on the work of William, Ellery Channing (April 7, 1780 – October 2, 1842), Unitarian preacher, and on race, slavery and religion. Lyell's own index...
Dates: February 1847- March 1847

Notebooks of Robert Jameson

Identifier: Coll-1373
Scope and Contents

Drafts and collect reading material connected to Jameson's literary output, manuscripts submitted for publication in his journal, and travel write-ups and observational notebooks.

Dates: c1790-c1850

Notes from lectures on climate, geology and zoology given by Robert Jameson

Identifier: Coll-1372
Scope and Contents

2 volumes of approximately 180 pages each: a careful transcription, with some diagrams, of lectures in climate, geology and zoology.

Both bear the book plate from the library of the Rev William Dansey, Rector of Donhead St Andrew, Wiltshire, though there is nothing to suggest Dansey had been a student of Jameson's

Dates: early 19th century

Notes on Dumfriesshire and the Alps, 1802

Identifier: Coll-1373/7
Scope and Contents

Volume contains notes on the geology of Dumfriesshire, dated by Professor Sweet to 1802, and an outline of the writeup of the geology of the Alps by 'Saussures', probably Swiss colleague Horace Benedict de Saussure (1740-1799).

Dates: 1802