Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Belt, Thomas

BELT, THOMAS (1832–1878), geologist, was born at Newcastle-on-Tyne in 1832, and was educated at a private school there. From his early youth he was an enthusiastic student of natural history, became a member of the Tyneside Naturalists' Club in 1860, and contributed to its 'Transactions.' In 1852 he left England for the Australian gold-diggings, and there devoted himself to geological investigations. When the government expedition for crossing the Australian continent was first proposed, Belt pointed out the dangers attending any attempt to travel from south to north, and promised to make the journey successfully, with his brother as his only companion, if the government would convey them to the northerly gulf of Carpentaria, and let them start thence for the south. The disastrous termination of Burke's expedition in 1861 is a proof of Belt's sagacity [see Burke, Robert O'Hara]. In 1862 he returned to this country with a high reputation as a mining engineer, and soon afterwards proceeded to Nova Scotia as superintendent of the Nova Scotian Gold Company's mines. A few years later, while again in England, he examined the quartz rocks of North Wales in a vain search for gold. From 1868 to 1872 he conducted the mining operations of the Chontales Gold Mining Company at Nicaragua, and between 1873 and 1876 he paid frequent visits to Siberia and the steppes of Southern Russia. In 1878 he went out to Colorado to fulfil a professional engagement, and died at Denver on 21 Sept. 1878. Belt was a fellow of the London Geological Society, and corresponding member of the Philadelphian Academy of Natural Sciences.

Belt made the glacial period the chief subject of his geological studies, and took full advantage of his travels in North America and Russia and Wales. To the action of ice flowing from the direction of Greenland he ascribed the formation of the lower boulder clays and diluvium in Europe, and the destruction of the great mammals, and probably of palæolithic man. On this subject he contributed papers to the 'Transactions of the Nova Scotian Institute ' (ii. pt. iii 70; pt. iv. p. 91), to the 'Geological Magazine' (xiv. 156), to the 'Quarterly Journal of the Geological Society' (xxx. 463, 843, xxxii. 80), and to the 'Quarterly Journal of Science' (xi. 421, xii. 135, xiii. 289, xiv. 67, 326, xv. 55, 316). A paper by Belt on the origin of whirlwinds, read in 1857 before the Philosophical Institute of Victoria, was communicated by the astronomer-royal to the 'Philosophical Magazine' (xvii. 47) for 1859. He was also the author of 'Mineral Veins: an inquiry into their Origin, founded on a Study of the Auriferous Quartz Veins of Australia' (London, 1861), and 'The Naturalist in Nicaragua: a narrative of a residence at the Gold Mines of Chontales, and journeys in the Savannahs and Forests' (London, 1874). In these works Belt proves himself a careful observer of zoological and botanical, as well as of geological, phenomena.

[Wright's Memoir of Thomas Belt in Natural Hist. Transactions of Northumberland. Durham, and Newcastle-on-Tyne, vol. vii.; Quarterly Journal of Science, January 1879; information from Anthony Belt, Esq.]

S. L. L.