Miller | Hugh | 1802-1856 | man of letters and geologist

Biographical Information

Occupation, Sphere of Activity

Hugh Miller (1802-1856) was a self-taught geologist and writer. His formal education ended after a violent confrontation with his teacher, and he took a job as a stonemason, studying literature and writing poetry in his free time. It was his profession - and more precisely his contact with quarries - that sparked off his interest in geology.

In the early 1840s, the British Association for the Advancement of Science met in Edinburgh, giving Miller the chance to meet some eminent geologists including Louis Agassiz (1807-1873). His work on Old Red Sandstone - in which he identified it as a fossil-rich rock, contrary to common belief - brought him eminence in scientific circles. Miller was a correspondent of Roderick Impey Murchison (1792-1871).

Miller was an excellent and persuasive writer, which helped his scientific writing reach a lay audience. His talent was also used in writings on religion. Miller was involved in the controversy in the Church of Scotland that led to the creation of the Free Church, as a writer for the bi-weekly newspaper 'The Witness'. An opponent of religious sectarianism, he argued in favour of non-denominational public education. He continued creative writing throughout his life.

Suffering from stress and silicosis, caused by his work as a mason, he committed suicide on the day he received the final draft of his last book, The Testimony of the Rocks.


Hugh Miller was a correspondent of Sir Roderick Impey Murchison.

Other Significant Information

Notable Publications:

Scenes and Legends of the North of Scotland, or the Traditional History of Cromarty, (1836)

The Old Red Sandstone ; or , New Walks in an Old Field, (1841)

My Schools and Schoolmasters; or, the Story of my Education, (1854)

The Testimony of the Rocks, (1857)

The Life and Letters of Hugh Miller, (1874)

Honours, Qualifications and Appointments

1840: Appointed Editor, The Witness


List of sources for the biographical information:

Gillispie, Charles C, Dictionary of Scientific Biography, vol IX, (New York , Scribner's, 1974)

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