Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Jameson, Robert (1774-1854)

JAMESON, ROBERT (1774–1854), mineralogist, born at Leith on 11 July 1774, was educated at Leith grammar school and Edinburgh University, and became assistant to a surgeon in his native town, but having studied natural history under Dr. Walker in 1792 and 1793, he soon determined to abandon medicine for science. In 1798, when only twenty-four, he published his ‘Mineralogy of the Shetland Islands and of Arran, with an Appendix containing Observations on Peat, Kelp, and Coal,’ which he incorporated in 1800 with his ‘Mineralogy of the Scottish Isles,’ two quarto volumes. In this latter year he went to Freiburg, to study for nearly two years under Werner, after which he devoted two years to continental travel. On his return to Edinburgh in 1804 he was appointed regius professor of natural history and keeper of the university museum in succession to Dr. Walker. As a teacher he attracted numerous pupils, excited their enthusiasm, keenly measured their abilities, and retained their friendship in after-life. Of a slender, wiry build, he conducted numerous successful excursions of students until prevented by the infirmities of age, and as keeper of the museum got together, with government aid but at great personal cost, an enormous collection, arranging in geographical order forty thousand specimens of rocks and minerals, in addition to ten thousand fossils, eight thousand birds, and many thousand insects and other specimens. He was the first great exponent in Britain of Werner's geological tenets, but afterwards frankly admitted his conversion to the views of Hutton. In 1808 he founded the Wernerian Natural History Society, and throughout his life he kept the scientific world in England informed as to the progress of science in Germany. In conjunction with Sir David Brewster he, in 1819, originated the ‘Edinburgh Philosophical Journal,’ of which, from its tenth volume, he was the sole editor until his death. Jameson died unmarried, in Edinburgh, on 19 April 1854. His bust is in the library of the university.

In addition to the works above mentioned, he published:

  1. A mineralogical description of Dumfriesshire, 1804, the first part of an intended series embracing all Scotland.
  2. ‘System of Mineralogy,’ 3 vols. 1804–8, of which a second edition appeared in 1816, and a third in 1820.
  3. ‘External Characters of Minerals,’ 1805; 2nd edit. 1816.
  4. ‘Elements of Geognosy,’ 1809.
  5. ‘Manual of Minerals and Mountain Rocks,’ 1821.
  6. ‘Elements of Mineralogy,’ 1840.

In 1813 he annotated Leopold von Buch's ‘Travels through Norway,’ adding an account of the author, and in 1813, 1817, 1818, and 1827 he published editions of Cuvier's ‘Theory of the Earth.’ In 1826 he edited Wilson and Bonaparte's ‘American Ornithology,’ and wrote the geological notes on Sir W. E. Parry's third arctic voyage. In 1830 he edited ‘The Anatomie of Humors’ for the Bannatyne Club, and in the same year probably produced the ‘Illustrations of Ornithology’ in conjunction with Sir William Jardine [q. v.], and P. J. Selby, as well as a ‘Narrative of Discovery and Adventure in Africa,’ written in conjunction with Hugh Murray and James Wilson. In 1834 he wrote an ‘Encyclopædia of Geography,’ and in 1843 an ‘Historical and Descriptive Account of British India,’ both produced jointly with Hugh Murray. Jameson was, moreover, the author of numerous contributions to the ‘Encyclopædia Britannica,’ ‘Edinburgh Cyclopædia,’ ‘Nicholson's Journal,’ Thomson's ‘Annals of Philosophy,’ the ‘Transactions’ of the Wernerian Society, &c.

[Edinburgh New Philosophical Journal, April 1854, with bibliography; Gent. Mag. June 1854; Encyclopædia Britannica.]

G. S. B.