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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:

Records of the Wernerian Natural History Society

Identifier: Coll-206
Scope and Contents

The records of the Wernerian Natural History Society consist of:

  1. 2 volumes of Minute Books (January 1808-April 1858)
Dates: 1808-1858

Robert Jameson, Esq, 1833

Identifier: Coll-10/1/223
Scope and Contents

Robert Jameson, Esq. Letterpress. 1833. H. Fisher, R. Fisher, and P. Jackson, Publisher.

Published in: William Jerdan, National Portrait Gallery of Illustrious and Eminent Personages of the Nineteenth Century, vol. IV (1833).

Note: 8pp. text accompanying Coll-10/1/224.

Dates: 1833

Robert Jameson, Esq. F.R.S.L. & E., Regius Professor of Natural History in the University of Edinburgh, 1832

Identifier: Coll-10/1/224
Scope and Contents

Robert Jameson, Esq. F.R.S.L. & E., Regius Professor of Natural History in the University of Edinburgh. Stipple engraving. 1832. Macleary, Kenneth, Artist; Jenkins, J., Engraver; Fisher, Son & Co., Publisher.

Publisher statement: Fisher, Son & Co. London.

Published in: William Jerdan, National Portrait Gallery of Illustrious and Eminent Personages of the Nineteenth Century (1831).

Note: With facsimile autograph.

Dates: 1832

Student Notebook, early 19th century

Identifier: Coll-1373/1
Scope and Contents

This volume is a student notebook, in at least one hand (unknown), covering mostly botany and trigonometry.

Dates: early 19th century