On this Day 11th February 1814

Royal Geological Society of Cornwall

Royal Cornwall Gazette, 19 February 1814 reported that a meeting was held on Friday 11th February to look into the formation of a geological society for Cornwall. The meeting was held in the Union Hotel, Penzance, and attended by the great and the good – the aristocracy, the gentry, the clerics, the merchants, the mining interest and the professions – who gave the plan whole hearted support. The plan was the brainchild of Dr John Ayrton Paris (possibly better known now for his Guide to Mounts Bay and the Land's End) who proposed that Davies Giddy should take the chair, seconded by Sir Rose Price and carried unanimously.

The theologian, the historian, the agriculturalist, and the miner were all equally interested in the pursuit of geology, said Giddy. The theologians were yet to see where all this would lead but the rock on which their church was built was about blow the certainties of their faith apart while they continued to collect their mineral specimens and examine their fossils. At the other end of the spectrum, the miners were painfully aware of the need for a scientific body which might help and support their business endeavours. A single example demonstrates the case: at Hurland Mine, said Giddy, a quantity of silver ore had been discarded as being of no value but had afterwards been sold for £8,000. Why? Not to put too fine a point on it, ignorance, an ignorance which the formation of a geological society would help to address.

Geology was a new and fast developing science at this moment. The first illustrations of strata had been published by John Whitehouse in 1778. The first geological map of England and Wales would be published by William Smith in 1815. Sir Charles Lyell would publish his Principles of Geology in 1830-1833. The idea of an ice age was not yet formulated but would be publicised by Agassiz in 1837. A new science was taking shape.

Cornwall was at the forefront of this burgeoning new science. The society which was under discussion would become the Royal Geological Society of Cornwall, the world's second geological society, following in the footsteps of the Geological Society of London which had been founded in 1807. More than that, it was intentionally set up in Penzance because, to quote Davies Giddy, “it was its proximity to an extensive and interesting coast, as well as to mines of singular Geological importance, which rendered Penzance above all other towns in the British dominions, best adapted for the purpose”.

In seconding the motion for the formation of the Cornwall Geological Society, The Reverend Valentine Le Grice (a theologian) “rejoiced at this institution.” The Society would he said lead us closer to God, our greater understanding of God's creation would deepen our awe at the Creator's work. Little did the Reverend Le Grice know!

Davies Giddy was elected first president of the Cornwall Geological Society, the vice presidents were Sir Rose Price and Mr John Scobell, Dr Paris was requested to take on the office of secretary and the chairman of the council was Sir Christopher Hawkins with the Right Honourable Lord de Dunstanville requested to honour the Society by becoming its Patron. Before the evening was out 70 subscribers had entered their names in the membership ledger, among them Joseph Carne, who would go on to speak before the Society on numerous occasions, leaving for future generations his detailed observations on the geology, mineralogy and mining of Penwith and particularly of St Just.

Before 1814 was out The Society was honoured by the Prince Regent who announced his intention to become Patron of the Society. Lord de Dunstanville resigned from his position as patron and the society became the Royal Geological Society of Cornwall.


Royal Cornwall Gazette 19 February 1814

Royal Cornwall Gazette 3 December 1814

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Penwith Local History Group
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Growing Up in West Cornwall. A Publication by the Penwith Local History Group

"Growing Up in West Cornwall"

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Sally Corbet

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