Lecture: William Smith - Geological Investigations in Somerset And the Reconstruction of His Country Map

Speaker: Dr Peter Wigley

Entry Fee

Members: Free

Visitors: £5.00

Date and Time

19:30 -


Bath Royal Literary and Scientific Institution, 16-18 Queen Square, Bath BA1 2HN

Lecture Description

William Smith is now commonly viewed as the father of English geology and creator of the world’s first geological map, ‘A delineation of the Strata of England and Wales with part of Scotland’ Yet William Smith’s life could be the stuff of a Dickens novel. Born the son of a Blacksmith and orphaned by his father at just eight years old, the material of Smith’s life made for very small expectations indeed. Still this intelligent and well-read child fascinated by fossils and the natural world went on despite all likelihood to make one of the greatest scientific leaps of all time and not only that, made them on Bath’s own doorstep.

And if all this was not dramatic enough Smith who had struggled against class prejudice and financial hardship all his life was on the point of publishing his great work when he was undercut by plagiarists making cheap copies of his ideas. He ended up as consequence in a debtor’s prison. It was only posthumously Smith’s heroic achievements were truly celebrated and Bath somewhat as consequence came to be viewed latterly as the cradle of English Geology.

A lecture being held at the Bath Royal Literary Institution on Thursday 3rd October will be celebrating those achievements and describing to those both in the know and those new to William Smith something about the work that took place on the canal ways and coal seams of North East Somerset.

William Smith’s geological achievements in Somerset will be evaluated using his original maps and cross- sections compared with modern data. His early Mearns colliery survey and later work on the Somerset Coal Canal will be the subject under discussion by Smith authority Peter Wigley. Wigley’s recent work on Smith; William Smith’s Fossils Reunited, was warmly received and had an introduction written by a figure no less illustrious than David Attenborough.

Smith’s work culminated in the world’s first geological map and the Bath area in 1799, and though he never published a geological map of Somerset, a version with faintly engraved geological boundaries was used to reconstruct a geological map of the country. From early in his career as a surveyor for the Somerset Coal Canal Company, Smith recognized the importance of fossils in the characterisation of strata, examples of these from his ground-breaking publication “Strata Identified by Organized Fossils” will be presented during the lecture.

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