William Smith (1769-1839)

The first nationwide geological map was penned and put together by English born geologist William Smith. Smith was nicknamed the ‘father of geology’, for putting his studies of England and Wales into a single geological record.

Smith received only a basic education, but when he entered employment as a surveyor’s assistant, he was quick to learn. His travels across the country as a surveyor, and in particular his work for a coal canal company, gave him ample opportunity to build up his knowledge of geology. Through the years he did a lot of studies of rock formations, their layers or strata, and their characteristics. He would often map out and draw cross sections of the rock, and could identify the different strata from the fossils they contained. This led to Smith amassing a large collection of fossils collected from canals, quarries, and even road cuttings, and he published pictures of these, along with the numerous theories he developed from his research.

Smith’s geological map of Britain was published in 1815, and following on from this, he also compiled several books called ‘Delineation Of The Strata Of England’, and ‘Strata Identified By Organised Fossils’. He was also recognised for building the Rotunda geological museum in Yorkshire, which is still open today. The Geological Society of London finally recognised his work in 1831, by awarding him the Wollaston Medal for his achievements. The legacy of William Smith is still in evidence today, as modern geological maps are often based on his original work.