CodeDS/UK/59
Person NameJameson; Robert (1774-1854); Professor; geologist; natural historian
Dates1774-1854
TitleProfessor
Epithetgeologist; natural historian
HistoryJameson was born on 11 July 1774 in Leith. He attended the University of Edinburgh (1789-96), taking classes in medicine among other subjects. John Walker's lectures on natural history in 1792-3 and a London visit to naturalists and institutions there in 1793 led Jameson to give up medicine without graduating.

In 1794 Jameson and his younger brother Andrew (1779-1861) visited their father's homeland of Shetland. Four years later Robert published the results of that journey as An Outline of the Mineralogy of the Shetland Islands, and of the Island of Arran (1798). Further journeys led to publication of Mineralogy of the Scottish Isles (1800), an augmented revision of the 1798 work, now including studies of the Orkneys.

Now fully committed to natural history, in 1800 Jameson travelled to Germany for coursework in mineralogy and geology under the renowned teacher Abraham Gottlob. Forced by his father's death to return to Scotland, Jameson assisted Dr Walker (who was by then blind and very ill) with his classes. When Walker died, on 31 December 1803, Jameson succeeded to the Edinburgh chair of natural history, a post he held with distinction for the rest of his life. For more than fifty years he lectured regularly on meteorology, hydrology, mineralogy, geology, botany, zoology, and anthropology. Between 1804 and 1808 he published the most important of his books, a three-volume System of Mineralogy based on the teachings of Werner. In 1808 Jameson founded the Wernerian Natural History Society, of which he remained president for life.

Jameson's role as keeper of the natural history museum at Edinburgh University was both productive and controversial. Jameson replaced and enlarged the museum's holdings, secured many valuable additions, and successfully obtained new and larger quarters for the museum as a whole. By the time of his death in 1854 it contained 40,000 rocks and minerals, 10,000 fossils, and 8000 birds, together with numerous crania, skeletons, fishes, reptiles, invertebrates, insects, recent shells, casts, drawings, models, maps, and instruments. In 1826, however, a royal commission investigating the university and its museum received numerous complaints that Jameson arbitrarily restricted admission to the museum and limited its geological and mineralogical exhibits to those which reflected his Wernerian bias.

Jameson was first editor of the Memoirs of the Wernerian Society (from 1811). Between 1819 and 1824 he founded and co-edited the Edinburgh Philosophical Journal with David Brewster. After 1824 Jameson alone continued it as the Edinburgh New Philosophical Journal, a distinguished publication remarkably open to important new ideas. Despite his editorial openness, Jameson's numerous writings tended strongly to take sides, usually on behalf of Werner and Cuvier. As a medical student he had presented two papers attacking the geological theory of James Hutton. Jameson accepted the efficacy of some present-day geological causes in 1808, gave up his belief in the deluge before Buckland and Sedgwick did, and presided over the discrediting of Werner by his own students and in his own journal. He accepted extensive glaciation before Agassiz did, and by 1833 had adopted large parts of the Huttonian theory he had once so vehemently opposed.

Jameson died on 19 April 1854 and was buried at Warriston cemetery in Edinburgh on 28 April.

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