Heddle was born on the Island of Hoy, Orkney and educated at Edinburgh Academy, before moving to Merchiston Castle School at 15 where he developed his passion for collecting. Initially his love was for botany, but following the accidental destruction of his herbarium by a friend, he chose instead to collect minerals. This was a decision that was to mark his place in history.
He graduated as a Doctor of Medicine from Edinburgh University in 1845, but his interest in chemistry and mineralogy led him to continuing his studies in these fields. By 1862 he had been appointed as Professor of Chemistry at St. Andrews University.
His love of mineralogy continued, and he travelled all over Scotland assembling an incredible collection of minerals, particularly agates; his collection is now housed in the National Museums of Scotland. He had incredible physical fitness and stamina and was well known to personally carry hammers up to 28lbs in weight on his travels. He also used dynamite to blast apart rocks to reveal their “hidden treasures”.
As President of the Edinburgh Geological Society he helped to convince the government to set up the Geological Survey of Scotland in 1855. He was also involved in the creation of the Mineralogical Society in 1876 (along with H Sorby, James Nicol and Archibald Geikie). During his life’s work he published many papers, revised Greg and Lettson’s ‘Manual of Mineralogy of Great Britain and Ireland’ and wrote for the Encyclopaedia Britannica. He sadly died before his greatest work ‘The Mineralogy of Scotland’ could be completed, although it was published posthumously.
Matthew Forster Heddle and The Mineralogy of Scotland