Born and raised in Edinburgh, Geikie’s love of the countryside developed on family holidays in Scotland. But his interest in geology was sparked upon finding fossil fish in a limestone quarry at Burdiehouse, near Edinburgh. His early career began in clerical work, but his acquaintances with Edinburgh’s intellectuals, most notably Hugh Miller led him to attend Edinburgh University in 1854.
His university life was short-lived. Financial difficulties forced him to leave early, though his reputation as an outstanding student of geology was growing. Appointed as a mapping assistant to the Geological Survey in 1855, Geikie’s distinguished career began.
His mapping duties took him to Skye and throughout the Midland Valley – both areas rich in volcanic rocks. This led to a lifelong interest in volcanic activity. In 1860, he toured the Highlands with Sir Roderick Murchison, a tour which formed a solid relationship between the two men. His rise through the ranks took him to director of the Scottish Branch of the Survey in 1867, then to the newly created Murchison Chair of Geology at Edinburgh University (he was appointed by Murchison in both instances), and finally to the head of the Geological Survey of Great Britain in 1881. He became President of the Geological Society in 1890 and a knighthood followed in the same year.
Throughout his career his private life was spent also on fieldwork and in research. He published many books, most notably ‘Scenery of Scotland’ in 1865, ‘Textbook of Geology’ in 1882 and ‘Ancient Volcanoes of Great Britain’ in 1897.
Flett, Sir John Smith. 1937. The First Hundred Years of the Geological Survey of Great Britain. His Majesty’s Stationery Office, London.
D.R. Oldroyd. 1990. The Highlands Controversy. Constructing geological knowledge through fieldwork in nineteenth-century Britain. University of Chicago Press, Chicago and London.