a distinguished naturalist, styled the father of modern natural
history, third son of Thomas Jameson, merchant and soap-manufacturer,
Leith, was born in that town on the 11th July, 1774. He
early showed a strong desire of becoming acquainted with the history
of natural objects, and whilst a boy at the grammar school of his
native town, he commenced stuffing birds, and collecting animals and
plants, on the beach of Leith and its neighbourhood. In 1788 he
entered the humanity class, in the university of Edinburgh, and as a
student, he walked in the procession at the laying of the foundation
stone of the New college buildings, in one of the class-rooms of which
he was destined to be a distinguished lecturer. At first, from his
great desire to see the world, he was anxious to be a sailor; but his
father objecting, by the advice of his friends, he adopted, instead,
the study of medicine, and was appointed assistant to John cheyne,
Esq., surgeon, Leith. In 1792 he attended one course of the lectures
of Dr. Walker, then professor of natural history in the college of
Edinburgh, and another in 1793. He soon became a favourite pupil, and
shortly afterwards was appointed keeper of the museum. He also studied
botany with great success. In 1793 he visited London, and was
introduced to the principal scientific gentlemen of the metropolis,
particularly, Sir Joseph Banks, Dr. Shaw, and other leading members of
the Linnaean Society.
return to Leith, he seems to have resigned his surgical appointment,
and applied all the time he could spare to practical anatomy, under
the celebrated lecturer John Bell, with whom he dissected for a long
period, to enlarge his views of comparative anatomy. Whilst attending
the chemical class, his assiduity attracted the attention of Dr.
Rotheram, Dr. Black’s assistant, and afterwards professor of physics
in the university of St. Andrews. He now added to his chemical
knowledge, mineralogical information generally, and his first essays
as a mineralogist were contributed to the 13th volume of
the ‘Bee,’ edited by Dr. Anderson. To the Natural History Society,
which appears to have been instituted in 1790, but whose proceedings
were not published, he read twelve papers on various scientific
subjects. In 1794 he visited the Shetland Islands, where he spent
three months, exploring their geology, mineralogy, zoology, and
botany. In 1797 he also, with a similar purpose, visited the island of
Arran, at that time unknown to geologists, and in the following year
he published his ‘Mineralogy of the Island of Arran and the Shetland
Isles,’ which at once took a high place among scientific publications,
for the remarkable phenomena described in it.
In 1798, in
company with his intimate friend, Mr., afterwards Sir Charles Bell,
the celebrated anatomist and physiologist, he spent the summer months
in examining the geology of the Hebrides and the Western Islands. The
following year, he visited and investigated the Orkney islands, and
again explored the isle of Arran. The result of his researches was
published in 1800, in his ‘Mineralogy of the Scottish Isles,’ in 2
vols. Quarto, illustrated with maps and plates, a work which contained
the first sketch of the geology of the Hebrides and Orkneys. The same
year, he left Scotland for Freyberg in Germany, where he remained
nearly two years, studying mineralogy and geology under the learned
and famous Werner. He worked in the mines there under the rules laid
down by his master, and underwent the same drudgery and the same kind
of work as the common miner, by which means he acquired much valuable
information. Mr. Jameson fully acknowledged that it was from Werner
that we first derived clear and distinct views of the structure and
classification of rocks. Some of his fellow-students under Werner
gained a high European reputation, particularly Frederick Mohs, the
celebrated mineralogist; T. F. D’Aubisson de Voisins, distinguished
for his works on the mines of Freyberg, and the Basalts of Saxony; and
Professor Steffens, one of the most elegant of scientific writers.
In 1804, Mr.
Jameson returned to Scotland, and on the death of Dr. Walker the same
year, he was appointed regius professor of natural history in the
university of Edinburgh. He held that chair, with great celebrity to
the university, for the long period of fifty years. In 1808, he
founded at Edinburgh, the Wernerian Natural History Society, and was
elected its president for life. The following year he published, in
one volume octavo, the ‘Elements of Geognosy,’ the professed object of
which was to make known Werner’s views respecting the composition and
structure of the globe. The result was a division of the northern
geologists of Great Britain into the supporters of the Wernerian and
the Huttonian doctrines, and the fierce controversy that ensued was
ultimately useful, by exciting attention, and diffusing a taste for
In 1819, Mr.
Jameson commenced the Edinburgh Philosophical Journal, and for the
first six years he conducted it with Sr David Brewster; but, after
that period, he was the sole editor. The earlier volumes contain not a
few contributions from his pen. He was a corresponding member of the
Institute of France, and a member of the French academy, and of many
other scientific bodies both at home and abroad. His name was long
associated with the museum of the Edinburgh university, of which, from
the labour, zeal, and anxiety he displayed in its collection and
arrangement, he may almost be considered as the founder, and a marble
bust of him, by Steell, stands in the centre of the upper hall. On his
appointment to the chair of natural history in 1804, he found the
museum very inconsiderable. He placed his own collection of natural
history in it, and continued collecting from that period till 1819.
There was no regular allowance for the maintenance and increase of the
museum, he himself had no salary as keeper, and the only resources he
had to look to, for keeping it up, were occasional assistance from the
town council and his own private funds. In 1812, he applied to the
barons of exchequer for a grant of money for its support, and
succeeded in obtaining £100 per annum, for expenses incurred in its
preservation, and for the purchase of specimens. In 1820 the museum
was for the first time opened to the public, on payment of
half-a-crown for each visitor. In July 1834, the admission fee was
reduced to one shilling, and on another application to the crown, the
grant of £100 per annum was raised to £200. In the meantime various
collections had been purchased and added to the museum. In 1852 it had
increased so much that the magistrates, and Professor Jameson, as
keeper, forwarded memorials to the lords of the treasury, for
converting the museum into a national museum for Scotland, and their
request was granted.
last two years of his life, he suffered much from repeated attacks of
bronchitis, and in the session of 1852-3, he attempted to lecture, but
was compelled to forego this and all active duties. He died at
Edinburgh, 19th April 1854, in his 80th year,
and such was the estimation in which he was held that he received a
public funeral. During the long period of his professorship he had the
honour of sending forth from his class-room many pupils who
subsequently acquired a high name in the world, and not a few of them
came to fill distinguished places in the seminaries and scientific
institutions of Europe. This sketch has been drawn up from a
biographical memoir of him by his nephew, Laurence Jameson, Esq.,
inserted in the Edinburgh New Philosophical Journal for July 1854.
Jameson’s works are:
Gems, contributed to Dr. Anderson’s Bee, vol. 13.
of the Island of Arran and the Shetland Islands, with Dissertations on
Peat and Kelp. Edin. 1794, 8vo.
of the Scottish Isles, 2 vols, 4to, illustrated with maps and plates,
the drawings for the latter having been furnished by the professor’s
travelling companion, Sir Charles Bell. Edin. 1800.
Mineralogical Description of Scotland. Vol. i. Part i, 8vo. With map
and plates. Edin. 1804. This volume contained an account of the
geology of the county of Dumfries. His other labours prevented him
from publishing systematic geological accounts, on the same plan, of
the other counties of Scotland.
the External Characters of Minerals. Edin. 1805. 8vo. Republished,
with additions, in 1816. 3d edit. 1820.
Mineralogy. Edin. 1804-1808, 3 vols, 8vo, with plates. 2d edit. 1816,
3d edit. 1820. In the first edition of this work, which, for the time,
was the most complete of its kind, the Wernerian theory is supported
in its totality, but in the 3d edition, published in 1820, a number of
important modifications were introduced.
Geognosy. Edin. 1809, 8vo.
Minerals and Mountain Rocks. Edin. 1831; considered the best text-book
of its time.
Encyclopedia Britannica, seventh edition, Mr. Jameson contributed the
articles Mineralogy, Geology, and Organic Remains; and to the
Edinburgh Encyclopedia, various scientific articles bearing the
translation of the baron Leopold von Buch’s Travels through Norway and
Lapland during 1806, and two succeeding years, published at Edinburgh
in one vol. 4to, in 1813, and advised by Mr. Jameson, he wrote an
account of its author, and various notes illustrative of the natural
history of Norway.
contributed the notes to the translation by Mr. Kerr of Cuvier’s
celebrated Discourse on the Theory of the Earth, published the same
year. The notes were accompanied by an account of Cuvier’s Geological
Discoveries. Mr. Kerr’s translation was only 190 pages, but in the 5th
edition Mr. Jameson, completely remodelling the whole work, extended
it to 550 pages.
Captain Parry’s narrative of his polar expedition, he drew up from the
specimens brought home by that enterprising navigator, a sketch of the
geology of the different coasts discovered and touched upon by him;
which was published, with the botanical observations of Brown and
Hooker. 1824. 4to. He also prepared, for the Cabinet Library, an
account of the Geology of the Arctic Regions visited by Captain Parry;
and to the Edinburgh Cabinet Library he furnished articles on the
Physical Geography of Africa and India.
He edited an
edition of Wilson’s American Ornithology, in 4 vols.; the whole being
revised and arranged in a scientific manner, and rendered suitable for
contributions to Murray’s Encyclopedia of Geography. Edin. 2 vols.
according to the Natural History Method. Edinburgh, 1837, post 8vo.
contributions to periodical publications were three to Nicholson’s
Journal, in 1802; nine to Thomson’s Annals of Philosophy; thirteen to
the Wernerian Transactions; and twenty-three to the Edinburgh
Philosophical Journal. Of the latter work he became sole editor after
the publication of the tenth volume of the old series, which extended
to fourteen volumes. The new series, at the time of his death, had
reached the forty-fifth volume. Professor Jameson thus edited
forty-nine volumes of that popular scientific Journal.