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Sir Henry Thomas De la Beche and the founding of the British Geological Survey

Bate, David G.. 2010 Sir Henry Thomas De la Beche and the founding of the British Geological Survey. Mercian Geologist, 17 (3). 149-165.

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Abstract/Summary

The founding of the Geological Survey by Henry De la Beche in 1835 is a key event in the history of British geology. Yet the Survey’s initiation actually began three years earlier when De la Beche secured financial assistance from the Board of Ordnance to map the geology of Devon at a scale of one inch to the mile. The British Geological Survey has thus been in existence for at least 175 years and can justly claim to be the world’s oldest continuously functioning geological survey organisation. There were early government-funded geological surveys also in France, the United States, Ireland and Scotland. De la Beche’s notable success both in launching and sustaining the Geological Survey demanded a good deal of diplomacy, determination and deviousness! Even so, the Survey was nearly brought to an untimely end in 1837 when De la Beche was publicly criticised for his interpretation, based on lithology and field relations, of the difficult Culm strata of north Devon. The resolution of the ‘Devonian Controversy’ led to a fundamental change in geological practice, in which the value of fossils as stratigraphic markers, founded on an acceptance of organic change over time, was established beyond question. Fortunately the Survey survived its early trauma and De la Beche went on to extend his influence with the expansion of the Museum of Economic Geology (also formed in 1835), and the establishment of the Mining Record Office and the School of Mines.

Item Type: Publication - Article
Programmes: BGS Programmes 2010 > Geology and Landscape (England)
Additional Keywords: Geological Surveys
NORA Subject Terms: General > History of Science
Date made live: 27 Sep 2010 09:08
URI: http://nora.nerc.ac.uk/id/eprint/11264

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