Barrett | Lucas | 1837-1862 | geologist and naturalist

Biographical Information

Occupation, Sphere of Activity

Lucas Barrett (1837-1862), a geologist, was the son of an ironfounder, and was educated at Ashton's School, Royston, Cambridgeshire, then at University College School. He did not go to university. From an early age, Barrett showed an interest in geology, spending time in local chalk quarries as a child, looking for fossils. He was also a frequent visitor to the British Museum's natural history galleries during his schooldays. In 1853, after completing school, he spent a short period of time in Ebersdorf (Germany) to study chemistry and German. He made a geological trip to Bavaria in this time.

Aged just 18, Barrett was appointed as curator of the Woodwardian Museum in Cambridge, and was elected a Fellow of the Geological Society of London, the youngest person ever to be elected to this body. He also worked for Professor Adam Sedgwick (1785-1873) at this time, by delivering lectures on his behalf. From 1855-1857, he spent the summer months carrying out surveys of the waters between Shetland and Norway (in association with R McAndrew, in 1855), and the coastal waters of Greenland (1856) and Spain (1857). These expeditions gave him extensive knowledge of marine science. During his period in Cambridge, he prepared a detailed geological map of Cambridgeshire, which was reprinted several times.

In 1859, he was appointed to the post of Director of the Geological Survey of Jamaica. While in Jamaica, he determined the cretaceous age of the limestone that forms part of the Blue Mountains - this he did by examining the fossilised shells encased in the rock. One of these shells was of a previously undiscovered type, and was named "Barrettia" in his honour. He also showed that the orbitoidal limestone of Jamaica, previously thought to be of the carboniferous age, was, in fact, Miocene. He also conducted experiments at sea off Jamaica, repeating the tests he had carried out in European waters several years earlier. He found the two areas to have very similar fauna, making him conclude that 90% of the globe's ocean beds form a "nearly uniform province all over the world".

In 1862, he returned briefly to Britain, in order to act as commissioner for Jamaica at the International Exhibition. He acquired a diving suit before returning to Jamaica, where he used it to examine coral reefs. After several successful descents in shallow waters, he was drowned during a dive in deeper waters off Kingston, aged only 25.


Worked under Adam Sedgwick (1785-1873) at the University of Cambridge.

Other Significant Information

Notable publications:

Geological Map of Cambridgeshire, ( c1857)

Honours, Qualifications and Appointments

1855: Appointed Curator of the Woodwardian Museum, Cambridge

1855: Elected Fellow of the Geological Society

1859: Appointed Director, Geological Survey of Jamaica

1862: Appointed Commissioner for Jamaica for the International Exhibition


List of sources for the biographical information:

Lee, Sidney, Dictionary of National Biography, vol I, (London, Smith, Elder & Co, 1908)

Encyclopaedia Britannica, Barrett, Lucas (from the 1911 Encyclopaedia Britannica), (, 1911)