Highlands Controversy

Who's who?

Henry Moubray Cadell (1860-1934)

Eldest son and heir to the estates of an important Lothians family, Cadell had a short career in the Survey before leaving to run the family's mining industries. He was thrown into the deep end joining Peach and Horne in Durness on their first forays in 1883. He mapped the ground south of Loch Eriboll, providing spectacular accounts of the complex thrust structures in the mountain wilderness of Foinaven. However, Cadell is best remembered for his "experiments in mountain building" published in 1888.

There is far more information on Cadell and his work elsewhere in this site.

Charles Callaway (1838-1915)

The Glencoul Thrust - discovered by Charles Callaway in the early 1880s.
Started working in the NW Highlands in 1880, initially because he was interested in Precambrian Rocks. Callaway 's chief contribution was to demonstrate that Precambrian strata overlie Cambrian in the Durness area and then further south. He also demonstrated that the Moine and Lewisian rocks at Glencoul had been forced over the Cambrian by what we now call thrusts. Callaway read geology at the University of London and went on be awarded a DSc (1878). He was variously employed by museums as a curator through his career. He was thus something of an outsider, being nether in the Survey or academia. Consequently Callaway's importance to resolving the Highlands Controversy has perhaps been under emphasised.

Charles Clough (1852-1916)

When Charles Clough died, after being struck by a train while working on a railway cutting, geology lost one of its finest field mappers. What stands out is the detail and accuracy of his maps, generally regarded by his peers as the finest produced in the NW Highlands. Clough mapped the Glencoul part of the Moine Thrust Belt but his reputation is largely based on clarifying the immensely complex geology of the metamorphic terranes of the Lewisian at Loch Maree and at Glenelg.

Archibald Geikie (1835-1924)

One of the most influential and, in terms of positions and honours, one of the most successful geologists in British Society, Geikie eventually rose to the position of President of the Royal Society (1908-1913). He began his career as an apprentice geologist, appointed by Murchison to the Survey in 1855 and joined Murchison on his later travails in NW Scotland. Up until 1883 (by which time he was Director General of the Survey, 1882-1901) Geikie was a fearsome advocate of Murchison's belief in stratigraphic continuity in NW Scotland. However, under persuasion from Peach and Horne, he accepted the notion that tectonic movements had greatly affected the area. He then coined the term "thrust" but caused much anger in the academic world for failing to give due credit to the work of Lapworth and Callaway. However, as Director General he did direct substantial Survey resources to NW Scotland in support of Peach and Horne's mapping efforts, despite competing priorities elsewhere. Thus the quality and detail both of the 1907 memoir and the maps are largely down to Geikie's vision and patronage.

William Gunn (1837-1902).

Gunn joined the Geological Survey in 1867 and for 17 years he mapped much of northern England and the Scottish borders. As the scale of the task of mapping in northern Scotland became clear, Geikie assigned Gunn to Peach and Horne's team. Joining in 1884 he was largely responsible for mapping around Ullapool.

Lionel Hinxman (1855-1936)

Part of Peach and Horne's mapping team from 1883, Hinxman initially worked in the complex ground north of Glencoul. However, he was replaced here by Clough the following year and went on to work in southern Assynt, including around Knockan Crag.

John Horne (1848 - 1928)

Horne joined the Survey in 1867 and worked with Peach almost from the start. While perhaps less innovative than Peach, Horne was undoubtedly a much more organised man and must have been something of a diplomat. It was he who helped the Survey come to terms with Lapworth's conclusions in the Southern Uplands and then again helped persuade Geikie of the validity of Lapworth's ideas on the Highlands Controversy. John Horne was the principal author of the classic 1907 memoir and was personally responsible for mapping vast tracts of the Moine Thrust Belt. He ran the Scottish branch of the Survey from 1901-1911, was President of the Royal Society of Edinburgh and a Fellow of the Royal Society, largely in recognition of his NW Highland researches.

Charles Lapworth (1842-1920)

Generally recognised as the greatest original thinker to have operated in NW Scotland, Lapworth began working in the area in 1882, shortly after gaining the Chair in Geology at Birmingham University (Mason College at the time). He had come to prominence a few years earlier for painstaking mapping and stratigraphic investigations in the Southern Uplands of Scotland, a study that revealed serious shortcomings in the work of the Geological Survey. Lapworth was the first to map at 1:10,560 in the Eriboll area and demonstrated thrust and fold repetitions of strata. In1883 he suffered a period of mental illness (folk-lore has it that he feared that thrusts would run him over in the night!) which delayed publication of his results (Teall read the paper in absentia). Lapworth recognised that shearing associated with thrust movement had strongly modified surrounding rocks, generating prominent banding. He called these rocks "mylonites". He was elected Fellow of the Royal Society both for his advances in structural geology and for stratigraphy. One of his sponsors was Geikie.

John Macculloch (1773-1835).

Author of the first Geological Map of Scotland, Macculloch's work formed the foundation for Murchison's researches. This effort was all the more remarkable in that he undertook the task almost single-handedly over a ten year period (1814-24). Initially these studies were supported through his post as geologist for the Trigonometrical Survey but in his later years the work progressed through private sponsorship. The map was barely completed at the time of his death (bizarrely he died falling from his honeymoon carriage) and was published posthumously.

Roderick Impey Murchison (1792-1871).

A truly towering figure in nineteenth century geology through tirelessly promoting the extent of Silurian rocks in the British Isles. Murchison was independently wealthy and only took up geology as a hobby in the 1820s at the suggestion of his wife (apparently to replace fox-hunting as a pastime). He began working in the northern Highlands in 1827, initially in the company of Adam Sedgwick of Cambridge University but later in his career, with James Nicol. Murchison was appointed as Director General of the Geological Survey in 1855. The year after he fell out with Nicol over geological interpretations and so continued fieldwork with new collaborators (Charles Peach, father of Ben, and A.C. Ramsay, his deputy director). After 1860 Murchison's chief collaborator was the young Archibald Geikie. The pair became inseparable through Murchison's later years.

James Nicol (1810-1879)

A one-time ally of Murchison, Nicol held the chair of natural history at the University of Aberdeen from 1853. Two years later, the two men fell out after a joint field excursion to the northern Highlands. Nicol proposed that the rock succession was not continuous but rather was tectonically broken up. He was the first to suggest that a major fault zone ran through the northern Highlands from Eriboll to Skye - a feature we know today as the Moine Thrust. However, the arguments with Murchison meant that Nicol's views were not widely accepted until after his death.

Ben Peach (1842-1926)

Along with Lapworth, Ben Peach was arguably the finest field geologist of his generation.

His father was a noted amateur palaeontologist and one-time collaborator of Murchison's. Murchison sponsored Ben Peach through Imperial College and appointed him to the Survey in 1862. Peach's early work focused on the Scottish coal fields and the Old Red Sandstone. By 1882 he was recognised as one of the most able geologists in the Scottish Survey so Peach was a natural choice for spearheading the investigations in NW Scotland, with John Horne. His ability to unravel complex structures was held in awe by his contemporaries: he was elected fellow of the Royal Society (1892) for his work. He was also an accomplished water-colourist. There is a special part of this web site on Peach and his notebooks. Perhaps less interested in the politics of science than some of his contemporaries, Peach continued to research after his retirement from the Survey (1905), publishing an important monograph on fossil crustaceans.

Ben Peach gallery.

Jethro Teall (1849-1924)

As a man of independent means Teall was an expert petrologist who was invited by Geikie to join the Survey in 1888 for his expertise in metamorphic rocks. He contributed petrographic descriptions for the 1907 memoir. Indeed Teall succeeded Geikie as Director General of the Survey in 1901 and was knighted in 1916 in recognition to the order he brought to the organisation. However, his earlier contributions are perhaps as important, acting as confidant to Lapworth during the 1880s. It was Teall who reported Lapworth's early findings in the Eriboll district to the Geological Association when Lapworth himself as unable to do so because of illness.

Further information

You can find out much more about the personalities behind the Highlands Controversy in David Oldroyd's entertaining book of the same name (published by Chicago University Press (ISBN 0-226-62635-0, pbk).

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