Ramsay | Sir | Andrew Crombie | 1814-1891 | geologist

Biographical Information

Occupation, Sphere of Activity

Sir Andrew Crombie Ramsay, who was the son of a Glasgow dye manufacturer, became involved with the study of geology comparatively late in life. His first major geological work came in Autumn 1840 when he was instrumental in the preparation of a geological model of the island of Arran, for the British Association for the Advancement of Science. The competence he showed in this endeavour, and his subsequent preparation of a guided visit to the island for members of the association (which never took place), convinced Roderick Impey Murchison of his worth, and Murchison obtained a post at the Geological Survey of Great Britain for him. He subsequently occupied a number of positions in University College London, the Government School of Mines and the Geological Survey, which culminated in him being appointed Director-General of the latter in 1871.

Over his career, Ramsay produced between forty and fifty scientific papers. His most important work was on glaciation, denudation and fluvial systems. He controversially - though largely correctly - explained how certain mountain valleys and lakes were formed by the glaciers that once flowed through them. His work on denudation was based on his study of South Wales, in which he proved, from study of strata, that the area had experienced substantial denudation in the distant past. His work on rivers, in particular the Rhine, is considered less interesting and remains controversial.

Ramsay's main interests surrounded geomorphology, stratigraphy and the origin of geographical features. He had little time for palaeontology and petrology, and it is said that this refusal to look at theories that did not interest him was the cause of many of his mistakes.


Sir Andrew Crombie Ramsay's main patron was Sir Roderick Impey Murchison (1792-1871), professor of geology at the University of Edinburgh.

Other Significant Information

Notable publications:

Geology of the Island of Arran, ( 1841)

Geology of North Wales, (1866)

Geological Map of England and Wales, ( 1874)

Physical Geology and Geography of Great Britain, (1894)

Honours, Qualifications and Appointments

1844: Elected Fellow of the Geological Society

1847: Appointed Professor of Geology at University College London

1852: Appointed Lecturer in Geology at the Government School of Mines

1862: Elected President of the Geological Society

1862: Elected Fellow of the Royal Society

1862: Awarded Cross of St. Maurice and St. Lazare

1866: Awarded Neill Prize of the Royal Society of Edinburggh

1866: Awarded Doctor of Law (LLD) at the University of Edinburgh

1871: Appointed Director-General of the Government School of Mines

1871: Awarded Wollaston Medal of the Geological Society

1880: Elected President of the British Association for the Advancement of Science

1881: Awarded Knighthood


List of sources for the biographical information:

Gillispie, Charles C, Dictionary of Scientific Biography, vol XI, (New York , Scribner's, 1975)

Lee, Sidney, Dictionary of National Biography, vol XVI, (London, Smith, Elder & Co, 1909)