Open main menu

Page:Dictionary of National Biography volume 47.djvu/243

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.

a reorganisation of the survey, early in 1845, Ramsay was appointed ‘local director’ for Great Britain. The more northern part of Wales soon became the field of his personal work, and during the summers of 1848–51 he was engaged in the Snowdonian region.

In 1847 he was appointed professor of geology at University College, London, a post where the duties were not very heavy; but the pay was almost minute, so that his connection with the survey was undisturbed. In the summer of this year his attention was directed, probably by Robert Chambers [q. v.], to the signs of glacial action in North Wales. His interest was at once keenly aroused, and he communicated a paper on the subject to the Geological Society of London in the winter of 1851.

In the summer of 1850 he was invited to spend a few days under the roof of the Rev. James Williams, rector of Llanfairynghornwy, Anglesey, whose daughter Louisa he married on 20 July 1852. Their wedding tour afforded Ramsay his first opportunity of seeing the peaks and glaciers of the Alps, and gave him a still keener interest in physical geology. Prior to his marriage another change had taken place. The Government School of Mines had been established in connection with the geological survey; Ramsay was appointed to the lectureship in geology, and resigned his post at University College. But his work became, if possible, harder than ever, and the difficulties after a time were increased by the failing health of the director-general. In the spring of 1855 De la Beche died. Ramsay had hoped to be his successor; his disappointment, however, was mitigated by the selection of his first patron, Sir R. I. Murchison.

In the summer of 1858 Ramsay was recalled from an Alpine tour, in company with Professor John Tyndall [q. v.], by the news of his mother's death in her eighty-fifth year. He felt the loss keenly, and at the close of the next year his own health, hitherto so vigorous, showed signs of failure. Rest was ordered for six months, which were spent chiefly at Bonn and in the Eifel. He returned with his bodily vigour restored, but it may be doubted whether his nervous system ever quite regained its former strength.

In the beginning of 1862 the staff of the survey again underwent rearrangement, and Ramsay's post was altered to that of senior director for England and Wales, Scotland and Ireland being placed under separate officials. Though this restricted the area of his visits of inspection, the natural increase of work made the change no relief, and so ten laborious years slipped away, till, in the autumn of 1871, Sir R. I. Murchison died. After some delay Ramsay was appointed director-general; but the authorities diminished the salary by the amount of his lectureship, thus indirectly obliging him to retain the latter post. Ten more weary years had passed before his taskmasters gave him some relief by restoring the salary to its original amount, when he at once resigned the lectureship. But the effects of overstrain were again becoming perceptible. In the autumn of 1878 an acute nervous affection in his left eye made its removal a necessity. But he worked on till the end of 1881, when he retired from the geological survey, and received the honour of knighthood.

Ramsay was (1862–4) president of the Geological Society; he had been elected a fellow in 1844, and received the society's Wollaston medal in 1871. He was elected F.R.S. in 1862, and was awarded a royal medal in 1880. From the Royal Society of Edinburgh he received the Neill prize in 1866. Edinburgh university made him an LL.D. in the same year, and Glasgow in 1880. In 1856, 1866, and 1881 he presided over the geological section at the British Association, and was president of the association in 1880. In 1862 he received the cross of St. Maurice and St. Lazare, and he was a corresponding or honorary member of many societies, British and foreign.

After spending the two winters following his retirement on the continent, he finally, in the summer of 1884, quitted London for Beaumaris, where Lady Ramsay some years before had inherited a house, in which their summer holidays had been generally passed. Very slowly a torpor stole over body and mind, till on 9 Dec. 1891 he died; he was buried in the churchyard at Llansadwrn. His wife, four daughters, and a son survived him.

Ramsay's official duties made travel difficult beyond the limits of our islands; but he once spent two months in North America, visited Gibraltar on a mission to investigate the water supply, and made some half-dozen holiday trips to the continent besides those mentioned above. Most of these journeys bore fruit in scientific papers. Of these he wrote between forty and fifty. In addition to his share in the maps and memoirs of the geological survey, the most important of which was the classic memoir on North Wales (1866, 2nd edit. 1881), he was author of a volume on the ‘Physical Geology and Geography of Great Britain.’ This had its origin in six lectures delivered to a class of working men at Jermyn Street, published in 1863, but was expanded till, in the fifth edi-