James Powrie was one of the pioneers of nineteenth century palaeontology and leading figures in the early history of Scottish geology.
James was the son of a Dundee merchant. He received an MA at St Andrews University and inherited the Reswallie Estate on his father’s death in 1845. He was interested in geology, astronomy and archaeology and may be regarded as a Victorian gentleman scientist. His interest in geology and fossils probably stemmed from the widespread quarrying of sandstones for building in the area around where he lived during the middle part of the nineteenth century. The quarries would have revealed geological sections and associated fossil material that would have formed the basis of Powrie’s geological studies.
He was a noted collector of the Old Red Sandstone fossils and the author of several papers on the Old Red Sandstone (Devonian) of the Midland Valley. He was a fellow of the Geological Society of London, elected a fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh in 1865, a J.P. and Commissioner in Angus. In 1858 he was elected an Ordinary Member of the Literary and Philosophical Society of St. Andrews.
Like many naturalists of the day, Powrie had his own deeply ingrained views on the emerging interpretations of the fossil record that were becoming at odds with widely held religious belief. His significant and sometimes controversial early descriptions of vertebrate fossils and geological accounts of the Midland Valley of Scotland, are still stimulating research today and, therefore, ensure that he will continue to be recognized as a leading figure of Scottish geology.
Davidson, R.G. & Newman, M.J. 2003. James Powrie, chronicler of the Scottish Lower Devonian. Proceedings of the Geologist’s Association, 114, 243-246.