Roderick Impey Murchison (1792-1871)

The most politically powerful geologist of the 19th century. Developed the modern classification of the Paleozoic, which previously consisted only of the Greywacke and Coal Measures (Carboniferous). He first defined the Silurian system to distinguish his Welsh rocks from Sedgwick's older, Cambrian "territory"; he then defined the Devonian to resolve a stratigraphic dispute with Henry de la Beche, and finally defined the Permian as an intermediate between the Carboniferous and Triassic. His emphasis on biostratigraphy eventually brought him into a lifelong dispute with Sedgwick over the placement of the Cambrian-Silurian boundary (the two are now separated by the Ordovician), but also modernized geological thinking about time scales. A former soldier, he was among the last of the independently wealthy gentleman geologists. Conducted field work in Wales during the 1830's and led major geological expeditions in Germany and Russia in the 1840's. Headed the Geological Survey of the United Kingdom after de la Beche's retirement. His interests then turned to geography, and as head of the Royal Geographical Society he encouraged British exploration around the world, taking an interventionist, colonial stand.

Murchison in 1836. From Secord, p. 43.


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