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Introducing Mr Greenough

'Petrographische Karte des Harz-Gebirges' [Petrographical map of the Harz Mountains], by Georg Sigismund Otto Lasius, engraved by G Tischbein, [1789]. Greenough visited the Harz mountains whilst studying in Germany, so the map could have been acquired during that time.  Greenough collection, ref: LDGSL/1008/121. Click to enlarge.

Greenough portrait
George Bellas Greenough. Ref: GSL/POR/58/10
One of the original founders of the Geological Society, George Bellas was born on 18 January 1778 in the parish of St Gregory by St Paul, London. He was orphaned by the age of six and adopted by his maternal grandfather Thomas Greenough, an apothecary and chemist whose wealth came from selling patent medicines.

His grandfather’s death in 1794 left him a considerable fortune, with George adopting his surname ‘Greenough’ as part of the terms of inheritance. The now independently wealthy George Bellas Greenough entered Pembroke College, Cambridge in 1795, where he attended nine terms, but being a dissenter he was unable to take his degree. Instead he enrolled at the University of Göttingen, Germany in 1798 with the purpose of studying law. However he was under the misapprehension that the classes would be taught in Latin so in order to improve his grasp of the German language he began to attend the lectures of the legendary naturalist Johann Blumenbach (1752-1840). After time spent studying mineralogy, notably visiting the mining districts in the Harz mountains where he first began to collect minerals, and later Italy and Sicily, Greenough (now firmly converted to the natural sciences) returned to Britain in 1801.

'Carta del littorale di Napoli e de luoghi antichi più rimarchevoli di quei contorni' [Map of the coast of Naples and the more remarkable ancient places...], (1794). Ref: LDGSL/65. One of three topographical maps by Giovanni Antonio Rizzi Zannoni of the Bay of Naples donated to the Society by Greenough in June 1811. Greenough travelled to Naples and Sicily between 1802-1803 to study volcanic phenomena where he may have acquired this map.  Click to enlarge.

As well as travelling around Britain and further trips to the Continent, between 1801-1807 he was involved as a Member of the Royal Institution, attending lectures on chemistry, working in the laboratory, and rubbing shoulders with contemporary scientists such as Humphry Davy (1778-1829), whom he met during a trip to Cornwall in 1801, and William Babington (1756-1833) who were, like him, keen mineralogists. These men, along with ten others, would found the Geological Society on 13 November 1807.

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