1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Fitton, William Henry

FITTON, WILLIAM HENRY (1780–1861), British geologist was born in Dublin in January 1780. Educated at Trinity College, in that city, he gained the senior scholarship in 1798, and graduated in the following year. At this time he began to take interest in geology and to form a collection of fossils. Having adopted the medical profession he proceeded in 1808 to Edinburgh, where he attended the lectures of Robert Jameson, and thenceforth his interest in natural history and especially in geology steadily increased. He removed to London in 1809, where he further studied medicine and chemistry. In 1811 he brought before the Geological Society of London a description of the geological structure of the vicinity of Dublin, with an account of some rare minerals found in Ireland. He took a medical practice at Northampton in 1812, and for some years the duties of his profession engrossed his time. He was admitted M.D. at Cambridge in 1816. In 1820, having married a lady of means, he settled in London, and devoted himself to the science of geology with such assiduity and thoroughness that he soon became a leading authority, and in the end, as Murchison said, “one of the British worthies who have raised modern geology to its present advanced position.” His “Observations on some of the Strata between the Chalk and the Oxford Oolite, in the South-east of England” (Trans. Geol. Soc. ser. 2, vol. iv.) embodied a series of researches extending from 1824 to 1836, and form the classic memoir familiarly known as Fitton’s “Strata below the Chalk.” In this great work he established the true succession and relations of the Upper and Lower Greensand, and of the Wealden and Purbeck formations, and elaborated their detailed structure. He had been elected F.R.S. in 1815, and he was president of the Geological Society of London 1827–1829. His house then became a meeting place for scientific workers, and during his presidency he held a conversazione open on Sunday evenings to all fellows of the Geological Society. From 1817 to 1841 he contributed to the Edinburgh Review many admirable essays on the progress of geological science; he also wrote “Notes on the Progress of Geology in England” for the Philosophical Magazine (1832–1833). His only independent publication was A Geological Sketch of the Vicinity of Hastings (1833). He was awarded the Wollaston medal by the Geological Society in 1852. He died in London on the 13th of May 1861.

Obituary by R. I. Murchison in Quart. Journ. Geol. Soc., vol. xviii., 1862, p. xxx.