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Edinburgh University Library Special Collections Division

Papers of Robert Jameson

Collection Summary

Reference Code

GB 0237 Robert Jameson

Date(s)

1794-1854

Extent and medium of the unit of description

7 metres

(21 boxes, 20 volumes)

Existence and Location of Originals

This material is original.

Name of creator

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

Biographical History

Biographical History

Robert Jameson (1774-1854) was appointed third Professor of Natural History at Edinburgh University in 1804, a post which he held for fifty years. During this period he became the acknowledged leader of the Scottish Wernerians. Although Jameson made no considerable direct contributions to geology, either in theory or in field-work, many of his observations are still of relevance today.

The mineralogist Robert Jameson was born in Leith, Edinburgh. His early education was spent in Edinburgh, after which he became the apprentice of a surgeon in Leith, with the aim of going to sea. He also attended classes at the University of Edinburgh, studying medicine, botany, chemistry, and natural history. By 1793, and influenced by the Professor of Natural History, John Walker (1731-1803), he had abandoned medicine and the idea of being a ship's surgeon, and focused instead on science, particularly geology and mineralogy. Jameson was given the responsibility of looking after the University's Natural History Collection. In 1793, he went to London, meeting naturalists and visiting museums where he took copious notes. A visit to the Shetland Islands followed in 1794, to explore the geology, mineralogy, zoology and botany there. This led to the publication of The mineralogy of the Shetland Islands and of Arran, (1798), with an appendix containing observations on peat, kelp, and coal. Earlier, in 1796, Jameson read two papers rejecting the vulcanist interpretation of the formation of the earth that had been put forward by Edinburgh geologist James Hutton (1726-1797). Hutton had propounded the theory that the features of the earth's crust were caused by natural processes over geologic time; the principle of uniformitarianism. Instead, Jameson supported the ideas of Abraham Gottlob Werner (1750-1817) who had proclaimed the aqueous origin of rocks; that rocks were formed when immense quantities of minerals precipitated out of the waters of the biblical flood. Other visits to the Scottish islands in the north and west, and to Ireland, produced the two volume Mineralogy of the Scottish Isles, (1800) which was a fuller description of his views. In 1800, he spent a year at the mining academy in Freiberg, Saxony, to study under Werner. He returned to Edinburgh in 1802. On the death of Walker in 1803, Jameson was appointed Regius Professor of Natural History and Keeper of the University's Natural History Collection. Over his fifty year tenure, he built up a huge collection of mineralogical and geological specimens for the museum, including fossils, birds and insects. Although he had been one of the great exponents of Werner's geological tenets Jameson afterwards admitted conversion to the views of Hutton. He died in Edinburgh on 19 April 1854. Shortly after his death, the University Museum was transferred to the Crown and became part of the Royal Scottish Museum (now the Royal Museum) in Edinburgh's Chambers Street.

Robert Jameson founded the Wernerian Natural History Society in 1808, and was its president until his death. Along with Dr David Brewster (1781-1868) he started the Edinburgh Philosophical Journal in 1819, and from 1824, was its sole editor. Jameson took every opportunity to increase the university museum collections and, by 1852 there were over 74,000 zoological and geological specimens, and in Great Britain the natural history collection was second only to that of the British Museum.

Scope and Content

Scope and Content

The papers of Robert Jameson consist of:

  • 16 boxes of material relating to geology, hydrology, mineralogy, meteorology, zoology and botany
  • 4 boxes of correspondence on a variety of topics, including details of specimens and catalogues of minerals, contributions to journals, various introductions, and accounts and bills. Some of the letters are also about issues relating to Jameson's health and his projects and plans. Most letters are in English, but some are in German and French.
  • volumes including: student notes of Jameson's lectures on natural history, zoology, mineralogy, meteorology and hydrography (1813-1836)
  • journals containing details of natural history trips, mineralogical descriptions collated during walks and notes on geology, fossil remains and mammoths (1793-1819).

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