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Geikie, Archibald

Archibald Geikie was born in Edinburgh, the son of John Stuart Geikie, businessman and composer, and Isabella Thom.  He was educated at the Royal High School and showed a great aptitude for study. His interest in science was furthered in the direction of geology when he and his friends discovered fossils at Burdiehouse quarries. Geikie's professional life began initially in banking, which he did not enjoy, and 1851 saw his newspaper publication of his ‘Three Weeks in Arran by a Young Geologist’, which led to an introduction to Hugh Miller. The banking career abandoned, he matriculated at the University of Edinburgh in 1854 to study Classics but had to leave the following year for financial reasons. He also took private classes in mineralogy and chemistry.

At the age of 20, following a recommendation by both Hugh Miller and Andrew Crombie Ramsay to Sir Roderick Impey Murchison, newly appointed head of the British Geological Survey, Geikie secured a position as mapping assistant. He rapidly established himself both as a very capable geologist and as a very effective writer about geology.

Following in the tradition of James Hutton, Archibald became an acknowledged authority on igneous rocks, and devoted much of his career to their study. Geike’s article ‘The Building of the island’ was printed in JA Balfour’s book ‘The Book of Arran’ and published by the Arran Society of Glasgow. ‘The geology of North Arran, South Bute, and the Cumbraes, with parts of Ayrshire and Kintyre’ by W. Gunn, Sir A. Geikie, B. N. Peach and A Harker was published 1903.

Geike became Director-General of the Geological Survey of Great Britain, President of the Geological Society of London(1891/2 and 1906/7), President of the British Association (1892), Trustee of the British Museum and President of the Royal Society (1909). He was also an accomplished writer, a masterful lecturer and a talented artist. Geikie's drawings and watercolours evolved in relation to the tradition of links between geology and fine art. His work in the Highlands and Lowlands of Scotland related to that tradition and responded to differing visual codes of representation in these locations at the time he worked. Specifically, Geikie utilized a Romantic aesthetic while painting in the Scottish Highlands and adopted a more Realist approach in the Lowlands. 

A collection of Geike’s Field Notebooks, which include attractive watercolours, are held at the University of Edinburgh. The Haslemere Educational Museum in Surrey holds a collection of over 700 of Geike’s watercolours, many of whose locations are unknown.

As the most distinguished and influential geologist of the period, he received many notable honours, including a Knighthood in 1891, Knight Commander of the Bath in 1907 and the Order of Merit in 1913. In retirement Geikie continued to work vigorously contributing to the famous Geological Survey Memoir of the North West Highland of Scotland published in 1907 which he edited, his numerous obituaries of fellow geologists, geological contributions to Encyclopaedia Britannica and other publications, as well as work on his geological collections and Royal Society history. He died in 1924 in Haselmere. Dorsa Geikie, a wrinkle ridge system on the Moon, and the mineral geikielite, a magnesium-titanium oxide, are both named after him, as is Geikie Gorge in the Napier Range in the Kimberley region of Western Australia, Mount Geikie in the Canadian Rockies, Geikie Peak in the Grand Canyon, and the Geikie Slide in the Atlantic Ocean northwest of Scotland.


Aspects of the Life and Works of Archibald Geikie:

Published 2019

Archibald Geikie and landscape painting:

Morrison, John (2018) Geological Society, London, Special Publications, 480 (1). pp. 319-336. ISSN 0305-8719

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