Category Archives: Wales

Adam Sedgwick; Darwin’s great geological teacher


At the end of 1831 a young Cambridge graduate and budding priest set sail on The Beagle on a five year trip round the world. He was to be the naturalist-cum-companion to the captain – Robert Fitzroy. He got the offer because he was one of the most able young naturalists of his generation. He received the letter from Rev John Henslow suggesting he should go when he returned to Shrewsbury after a three trip around North Wales. Most of that he was carrying out field geology and from the 3rd to the 20th August he was under the tutelage of Rev Adam Sedgwick, the Woodwardian Professor of geology at Cambridge.  Sedgwick had gone to Wales to work out the stratigraphy and structure of North Wales, and “picked up” Darwin in Shrewsbury, as he knew Darwin as a student. After Darwin left Sedgwick on 20th August, Sedgwick began to sort out what he termed the Cambrian. He returned to Cambridge at the end of October with much work still to do and he returned to Wales frequently over the next dozen years. This map shows their routes


And this blog referring to a paper of mine Just before the Beagle gives more detail.

(Spoiler; a longer study is about to be published!)

Darwin’s main interest on the voyage was the geology, which he wrote up in several books. On the voyage Darwin read Lyell’s Principles of Geology and after his return he looked more to Lyell than other geologists. However the influence of Sedgwick, and probably Henslow, was of far more significance and here I seek to present that the importance of Sedgwick to this novice geologist is more important than that of Charles Lyell.


Three mentors; Sedgwick, Henslow and Lyell

Sedgwick hardly needed to take Darwin on the trip and his notes make no mention of him. Here I consider first the relationship of Darwin with the peppery older geologist, which also brings out some of the relationships, perceived or not, of the rising science of geology and Christian belief.  And, most importantly, I consider what geology Darwin learnt from Sedgwick and how this moulded the geology of the Beagle.



It is difficult to discern any tangible benefit to Sedgwick in taking along Darwin as a companion, beyond that of training up another student as a geologist and simply to have company on a long journey. This is, of course, what Henslow had done for Darwin while he was at Cambridge. Some of the pride Sedgwick felt for his young pupil can be seen both in the fact that it was Sedgwick rather than Henslow who read out Darwin’s letters to Henslow on the geology of South America on 16 November 1835 (Barrett, 1977:16-19) and wrote a “bonne bouche” to Dr Butler of Shrewsbury School. Dr Butler sent an extract of this letter to Robert Darwin which Susan Darwin copied out in a letter to Charles, “He is doing admirably in S. America, & has already sent home a Collection above all praise. – There was some risk of him turning out an idle man: but his character will now be fixed, & if God spare his life, he will have a great name among the Naturalists of Europe.”[1] Dr Butler had clearly changed his mind since he regarded the schoolboy Charles as “poco curante”[2], according to his Autobiography (Darwin & Huxley, 1983:24) for wasting his time over such useless subjects as chemistry. Darwin’s sharp remark in his Autobiography may be due to the bitterness caused by his controversy with Butler’s grandson. It is difficult not to see that Sedgwick was congratulating himself, with very good reason, on tutoring Darwin so well in geology.


Charles and myself outside his old school


It is tempting to consider the relationship of Darwin and Sedgwick during this tour in the light of their disagreement over evolution 28 years later, rather than focus on their relationship in 1831, when Sedgwick was a highly proficient clerical-geologist and Darwin a scientifically-inclined putative clergyman. Barrett presents Sedgwick as a crotchety, dogmatic bigoted fundamentalist. Crotchety yes, bigot no! In this he seems to be confined by an extreme either/or outlook categorising scientists into either open-minded agnostic evolutionists or narrow-minded religious creationists, reminiscent of Clarence Darrow and his depiction of Jennings Bryan and his other antagonists at the Scopes trial. That depiction of the Scopes Trial has worn somewhat thin as Numbers (1998) and Larson (1997) have made abundantly clear. As Clark and Hughes stress the Moderate Evangelicalism of Sedgwick, he is not an obvious candidate for the latter. Frank Turner (1978) in his seminal article on the professionalisation of science refers rather patronisingly to the “by no means inglorious role” of clergyman-scientists like Sedgwick, Henslow, Whewell and Ray. However matters became worse when he incorrectly identified the clerical-scientists mentioned in Hooker’s letter to Harvey in June 1860, written in response to a letter from Harvey who put forward scientific and theological objections to Darwin. Hooker referred to the ordained scientists Haughton, Miller and Sedgwick “as asses between bundles of hay” because they rejected Darwin’s theories, which is wonderful from the son-in-law of two clergy-naturalists. Turner failed to note that Hooker was writing to Harvey, professor of Botany at Trinity College, Dublin, about his colleague Haughton, geology professor at Dublin, and Rev William Miller, professor of mineralogy at Cambridge, whom Turner confused with Hugh Miller who had died five years previously. As an aside in 1871 Haughton estimated that the base of the Cambrian was 1526 m.y., three times present estimates and in accord with Darwin’s estimates for the Wealden, and considerably longer than Huxley’s estimates of about 100 million. Ironically Harvey wrote a long and friendly letter to Darwin on 24 August 1860 explaining why he could not accept Natural Selection. Almost as much an ass “between bundles of hay” as this trio was John Henslow, Hooker’s father-in-law, who kept his colours firmly nailed to the fence. I ought to say, proudly, that I, too, am an ass!

Both Barrett and Turner presuppose that Christian belief prevents sound scientific work, as Turner claimed without evidence “Certain questions, areas of inquiry ….were discouraged because they carried the implications of impiety, immorality or blasphemy.” These were not identified. If there were proscribed “areas of inquiry” then these did not include any branch of geology, or even studies on the non-fixity of species or else Dean W. Herbert of Manchester would have been charged with blasphemy or heresy long before being made Dean in 1840! In fact, the only Dean or Bishop would have been Dean Cockburn of York who wrote so much drivel trying to disprove geology and lambasting clerical geologists like Buckland and Sedgwick. Behind the assertions of Barrett and Turner is an uncritical acceptance of the conflict thesis which assumes rather than demonstrates antagonism between science and religion and thus between clerical scientists and those styled by Moore as “Young Reformers”. In their Gifford Lectures Reconstructing Nature, Brooke and Cantor deal critically with these issues. Their assessment of Desmond’s Huxley is relevant here and their comment is most apt, “However, partisan history from whichever camp tends to downplay or distort opposing positions. Thus although Desmond’s book has many strengths, appreciation of Huxley’s critics – such as … Wilberforce or … Mivart – is not one of them”. (Brooke & Cantor 1998:68) As Desmond wrongly claimed that Owen “was coaxing Sam beyond the Six Days to a more informed opposition” (Desmond, p281)- hardly likely for one who attended Buckland’s lectures for three years running and who crowned Murchison “King of Siluria” -, so Barrett wrongly described Sedgwick as “a religious fundamentalist” (1974, p146) and consistently portrayed him as opinionated and even pontifical, right down to suggestions that Sedgwick forced Darwin to misspell “Llan” as “Slan” which cannot be borne out by either Darwin’s or Sedgwick’s manuscript notes or maps for 1831 and other years. That was because Darwin wrote “L” rather flamboyantly in his maps and notes. Both scholars seem to look for conflict way beyond the evidence. To regard Sedgwick as a fundamentalist is to posit that both Sedgwick’s and Darwin’s geology at this time was essentially Scripturally based with either literal or semi-literal notions of a biblical flood and a limited life span for the earth. This is, of course, the classic presentation of Darwin’s pre-Lyellian and pre-Beagle geology and has been given expression by both Barrett and  Gruber (see also Barrett and Gruber Darwin on Man 1974) and a host of other writers. Gruber claimed that Darwin still accepted an Ussher chronology when he boarded the Beagle. During the voyage, due to reading Lyell, “.. he expanded his conception of the time scale on which the history of the earth has unfolded from the Biblical base of 6,000 years to some indefinite number much greater than 20,000 years.” (Gruber, 1974, p101) No evidence was given for this and though conservative theologically neither Henslow nor Sedgwick were remotely literalist. (Clark and Hughes, 1896,passim). Darwin recognised this and said to Rodwell, “What a capital hand is Sedgwick for drawing large cheques upon the Bank of Time!”[3]

Sedgwick was never a literalist as he made clear to Francis Close in 1858, when he wrote, “Don’t think me a bad man, if I tell you that when puzzling my brain (during long by gone years) about this chapter, I have sometimes fancied, that the 3rd + 4th days, had by some mistake of translation been made to change place – formerly I tried all sorts of hypotheses to little satisfaction, so of late years I have little troubled my head with hypotheses, not doubting that in the end, all, all difficulties would vanish”[4]. In his Presidential Address to the Geological Society of 1830 Sedgwick had rejected the identification of “diluvium” with the Biblical Flood. In this Sedgwick was no liberal, but shared the open outlook to geology of many moderate evangelicals. In 1831 Sedgwick probably adopted a variant of the standard “Chaos-Restitution” interpretation of Genesis, which allowed for vast geological ages within an almost literalist rendering of Genesis.  Sedgwick’s fights with creationjists are discussed here;   Geological Society, London, Special Publications 2009; v. 310; p. 155-170,Michael B. Roberts,Adam Sedgwick (17851873): geologist and evangelical).

Darwin was undoubtedly familiar with this both from his theological reading at Cambridge, from geological writers such as Conybeare and Phillips (1822:   ) and from his own grandfather’s writings, which echoed the dominant understanding of Genesis even though “he disbelieved in any revelation”. (Darwin, 1989, vol29 p45). Thus we find in The Botanic Garden the following lines,

Let there be light!” proclaimed the Almighty Lord.

Astonished Chaos heard the potent word; –

Through all his realms the kindling Ether runs,

And the mass starts into a million suns;

From this it is clear Darwin was never a literalist, whether while at Cambridge or before, and his claims in his Autobiography that “I did not then in the least doubt the strict and literal truth of every word in the Bible” must be seen as tricks of memory in later life. In this Darwin simply echoed the current orthodoxy of his day, from which only a noisy minority of Anti-geologists dissented.

Though Darwin’s later lack of faith, or agnosticism, is well-known and it is likely that he rejected Christianity sometime after his return from the Beagle, in 1831 he was more orthodox as a Christian than at any other time. He had just completed his course at Cambridge and was intending to be ordained and although he gave no indication of being an evangelical he was steeped in mainstream Anglican theology. Thus he was hardly likely to differ from Sedgwick on religious grounds as he did later.

As we have seen, the relationship between Sedgwick and Darwin has more often been asserted rather than analysed. Friction, with a theological root, has been assumed rather than demonstrated. To consider the relationship in reverse historical sequence, we begin with his comments on Sedgwick in his Autobiography. Here Darwin wrote respectfully and appreciatively of Sedgwick’s tutoring in 1831, in typically Darwinian understatement, -“This tour was of decided use in teaching me a little how to make out the geology of a country.” Shortly before Sedgwick died Darwin wrote “I am pleased that you remember my attending you in my excursions of 1831. To me, it…made me appreciate the noble science of geology.”[5] This reflects the letter he wrote to Henslow on 18 May 1832 “Tell Prof: Sedgwick he does not know how much I am indebted to him for the Welch expedition. – it has given me an interest in geology”[6] and some to his sisters while travelling on the Beagle. The welcome Sedgwick was given at the Mount during the 1830s is a sure indication of the affection the Darwins’ had for Sedgwick. This affection went a bit further with Susan and Caroline wrote to Darwin on 25 July 1832 that Susan would soon be Mrs Sedgwick![7] From this one can only conclude that Darwin and Sedgwick got on well on their tour. It was clearly a master-pupil relationship, determined both by the great age difference. For this Darwin must be envied. All was not always sweetness and light as the incident of the waiter at Conway, whom Sedgwick suspected of not giving a sixpenny tip. In fact, this is the only adverse statement about the relationship of Darwin and Sedgwick during their 1831 trip, and it does not concern animosity between the pair but animosity directed at the unfortunate waiter. If Darwin was right in his later years that he had given Sedgwick a mild rebuke this is surely normal human relationships and is typical of what occurs between two or more people who spend sometime together.

Further it is easy to read a breakdown of relationships into their correspondence over Origin of Species in 1859. Sedgwick’s response to Darwin is very critical of his book both on scientific and religious grounds, but Sedgwick did sign himself off as “a son of a monkey”. That self-depreciating humour shows that though Sedgwick could not countenance evolution, he was able to retain his affection for his old pupil. This is apparent in their later exchange of letters in 1868 when George Darwin was offered a Cambridge fellowship.

However it is interesting to consider Darwin’s subsequent relationship with Sedgwick in comparison to Henslow and Lyell. Though Darwin had considerable respect for Sedgwick, he had very little contact with him after returning from the Beagle voyage, whereas he retained considerable affection for Henslow and wrote what can only be termed a eulogy after his death. This may be partly explained by the greater contact and thus more influence Henslow had with Darwin, as opposed to Sedgwick, whose main contact was during this field trip. After his return in 1836 Darwin gravitated to Lyell as a geological mentor rather than Sedgwick. There may well be religious as well as personal and scientific reasons. Although formally “orthodox” while at Cambridge, Darwin never had what may be called any Evangelical fervour, nor was he ever a literalist, despite comments in his Autobiography. It is reasonable to date his “perversion” from orthodox Christianity during Autumn 1838 as he wrote in his diary, “All September … thought much on religion”[8]    “ His Autobiography points to the years “1836 to 1839” (Darwin & Huxley, 1983:49).

Of these three mentors Sedgwick was the most Evangelical as both Clark and Hughes, and Marston (1984) make clear. It also becomes apparent in Sedgwick calling with 500 other evangelical clergy for a revision of the Prayer Book in an evangelical direction, and his friendship with Dean Close, whom Sedgwick upbraids for departing from scripture[9] by adopting Miller’s interpretation of Genesis. He would not have been an easy person to see after his return from the Beagle when Darwin was rejecting his calling to the ministry. For one rejecting his initial calling it was best not to see an Evangelical who was about to be invited to become Bishop of Norwich.

Henslow, though orthodox, was less threatening than Sedgwick, but it is easy to see why Darwin gravitated to Lyell rather than his earlier mentors. Not only was Lyell in London much of the time, he was far more liberal theologically with leanings towards Unitarianism and the extreme of the Broad church. Lyell’s affable tolerance was no threat to the perverting Darwin. Lyell’s jovial anti-clericalism would also have made the rejection of an earlier calling easier.

Were it not for the historical singularity that Sedgwick passed through Shrewsbury en route to North Wales, Darwin would not have had more than a passing acquaintance with Sedgwick, probably only as a colleague of Henslow. As they spent eighteen days together in intimate company just before Darwin joined the Beagle there is the temptation to overanalyse the relationship and there are just enough ingredients for a conflict scenario to tilt the relationship into one of personal and religious antagonism. But this is done retrospectively from Sedgwick’s opposition to the Origin of Species in 1860.  There is insufficient evidence to suggest whether or not they were close friends, but Darwin retained respect, affection and gratitude to Sedgwick throughout his life. And it was mutual.


As the field trip was one in which Darwin as a novice geologist was accompanying Sedgwick an experienced and leading geologist, it would be unreasonable to expect that Darwin himself made any profound geological discoveries. The position was, as far as Darwin was concerned, entirely that of pupil and tutor. As both made notes, a comparison of their respective notes, shows how Darwin developed over these weeks.

By the time Sedgwick arrived in Shrewsbury on 2 August Darwin had a moderate grasp of geology and knew the rudiments of mapping, rock identification and the use of a clinometer to measure dip and strike (Roberts, 1996, 2000). Darwin’s geological understanding was not simply what he had learnt in the last few weeks, but was also what he had picked up in a slightly haphazard way during the previous ten years. From his reference to Cotton and the Bellstone in his Autobiography (Darwin & Huxley, 1983:28), he was familiar with some rudiments of geology by the time he was a teenager. He probably dabbled before going to Edinburgh and there learnt some geology from Jameson and Hope, who were two of the most experienced teachers of geology. As Secord emphasises so strongly by the time Darwin left Edinburgh he had a good all-round knowledge of the subject and was familiar with the geological column from the Old Red Sandstone to the Tertiary. Despite Darwin claiming in his Autobiography that he did not attend Sedgwick’s geology lectures at Cambridge, contemporaries claimed he did. Thus it is would be wrong to presume that Darwin knew no geology before 1831. From his environment both in Shrewsbury and at the universities, he would have acquired general notions of vast ages, strata, geological ages and fossils, as would any person who was competent in natural history at that time. His father’s circle included men familiar with geology and Dr Robert Darwin’s colleague, Dr Dugard, was a member of the Geological Society and thus Darwin would have had access to publications of the Geological Society and other geological works. It would be remarkable if he was not familiar with the work of Arthur Aiken on Shropshire and North Wales and probably that of Robert Townson too (Torrens, 1984). His mentor in entymology, the Rev F.W.Hope, was well-informed in geology and had his own copy of Fleming’s response to Buckland.[10] This evidence is circumstantial, but it would be surprising if the budding naturalist, who carried out many chemical experiments in the garden laboratory, was not also familiar with the rudiments of geology. However it is fair to state that Darwin was in need of competent tuition in field geology. Apart from that, as Secord wrote, “Darwin was one of the best-trained men of his age in Great Britain.” He had, of course, spent some considerable time in the field on his own but his notes and maps indicate that he was floundering. He had tried to make maps (Roberts 2000) and visited Llanymynech (Roberts, 1996) and had most probably visited the area round the Stiperstones and the Bog to the south-west of Shrewsbury. Before Sedgwick arrived he had probably spent at least six or seven days in the field, and had spent considerable time at home, both making his maps, playing with his clinometer and probably reading up on geology.

During their ten days together Sedgwick introduced Darwin to a very wide range of rock types and a fascinating range of geology. There was the additional frisson of working with someone who was on the pioneering and cutting-edge of geology. Into today’s terms Darwin had to consider strata from the Late Precambrian to the Triassic, though, of course, the elucidation of the Lower Palaeozoic was in its infancy. In descending stratigraphic order they looked at the drift at Valle Crucis and the Cefn caves, New Red Sandstone in the Vale of Clwyd; Carboniferous Limestone above Llangollen, the vale of Clwyd, the North Wales coast and Angelsea; allegedly, and putative Old Red Sandstone in the Vale of Clwyd and Anglesey, and the real mckoy in Anglesey; various slates and volcanics of the Lower Palaeozoic between Llangollen and Ruthin and in Snowdonia; trap dikes in Anglesey; and finally various facies of the then unknown Mona Complex in Angelsea. Apart from the Carboniferous the “status” of all these were controversial or were at the cutting edge of geology.

Sedgwick also taught Darwin to observe and describe the lithology of these strata and thus he was familiarised with greywackes, slates of all kinds, conglomerates and sandstones and limestones as well as a wide variety of igneous and metamorphic rocks. His knowledge of mineralogy increased greatly during the trip and he became adept at recognising a wide variety of minerals, although he long had had an interest in minerals. His increasing skill in mineralogy is shown by the absence of minerals recorded at both Llanymynech and the early stages of the tour, and after leaving Conwy he recorded a variety of minerals. His mineralogy was even more detailed after leaving Sedgwick on the final leg from Cwm Idwal to Barmouth.

As well as lithology and mineralogy Sedgwick also introduced Darwin to aspects of structural geology and how to measure dip and strike of both bedding and cleavage. Both Darwin’s and Sedgwick’s notes contain many references to cleavage and on some “Greywacke” above Penmaenmawr Darwin commented “The coloured seams in the rock P. Sedgwick remarks generally indicate the strata”[11]. Sedgwick included his findings about cleavage in his article of 1835 (Sedgwick 1835), Darwin recorded many examples of cleavage on his voyage especially on the Falkland Islands and in a chapter on South America. Darwin’s Geology of South America emphasised the difference of stratification and cleavage resulting in a response from Joseph Hooker on the Tibet border in 1849,

Stratification is vexation,

Foliation’s twice as bad;

Where joints there be,

They puzzle me;

And cleavage drives me mad.[12]

However it took 20 years to convince all geologists that cleavage was different to bedding and one of the last to accept cleavage was Lyell, despite strong letters from Darwin culminating with, “you are wrong & a heretic on this point I know well.”[13]

If my argument that Darwin also visited Anglesey is correct, then he was introduced to a yet wider sphere of geology, which turned out to be vital on the Beagle voyage. Though the geology of Anglesey rocks were of little use to Sedgwick in preparation for Snowdonia, they were of great use to Darwin for the rest of the world. The manifold dikes they investigated showed Darwin the variation in similar igneous rocks and were good preparation for the volcanic islands. The metamorphic strata of the future Mona complex gave an insight into both granitic and gneissic terrains and of schists and altered, even parboiled, greywacke, along with the distinction of altered and unaltered conglomerates and breccias, or rather metamorphosed and unmetamorphosed. Using the brief comments in the Red Notebook as signposts, the influence of both Henslow and Sedgwick on Anglesey on his geology of South America becomes manifest.

One of the ironies of popular accounts of the 1831 field trip is the assertion that Darwin and Sedgwick went on a walking holiday combined with a fossil-hunting trip. Nothing could be further from the truth, but old myths die hard and are still being published in Shrewsbury in the Third Millennium. By and large fossils were incidental to their work and the notes of both geologists make few references to fossils. However Sedgwick himself recorded the presence or absence of fossils at many localities and on several occasions when Darwin and Sedgwick visited localities together only Darwin recorded fossils, presumably having been guided to look for them. While travelling on his own Darwin recorded fossils at Cwm Idwal and on Moel Siabod and clearly understood the various types of fossils, sufficiently so to identify them on the Beagle Voyage as he did in the Falkland Islands.

Darwin was not taken to a classic area and shown the long-understood geology by an experienced teacher, as happens to most novice geologists. Instead he was taken to a relatively unknown area by an experienced geologist, who first wished to check out the previous work of Greenough in the Vale of Clwyd, secondly to work out the mass of strata in Snowdonia which were loosely known as Killas, or lumped together as Greywacke, with associated igneous rocks, and thirdly to the complex terrain of Anglesey. This resulted in a very different learning experience and would satisfy some modern theories of teaching, as the approach was one of discovery rather than being taught “eternal verities”. He was not only taught to observe but to think as well.

In the Vale of Clwyd Darwin was introduced to Sedgwick’s doubts about the existence of Old Red Sandstone marked on Greenough’s map, and then was sent on a traverse to test whether or not it was present. Much of the time Darwin was shadowing Sedgwick and receiving direct tuition, indicated by a frequent near verbal agreement in the two sets of notes.


In conclusion, the field trip with Sedgwick had far more influence than the reading of Lyell’s Principles of Geology in Darwin’s developing geological skills. Lyell gave Darwin a theoretical and conceptual framework, which is very evident when one compares The Principles of Geology with the three volumes of the Geology of the Beagle. Sedgwick gave Darwin something more important by teaching him the skills of practical geological observation in the field and rigourous geological note taking. But a comparison of Geological Observations of South America and his paper on the Falklands indicate that the influence of this trip went far beyond the mere teaching of geological skills.

This is evidenced first by both the content and the style of Darwin’s notes, and how they evolved from his first notes at Llanymynech and, for our purposes, culminating with those made at Quail Island. (Roberts, 1996). The development of Darwin’s skill can be seen graphically by simply reading through his notes in sequence from those taken at Llanymynech, then during his Welsh field trip and finally the first few days of notes taken on Quail Island, which were his first field days on the Beagle voyage.           The notes taken at Llanymynech are simply indifferent and are little more than his first use of a clinometer. Though he sought to describe and interpret the geology he observed, he notes have all the hallmarks of a not very competent beginner. The notes which Darwin made in Cwm Idwal and on Quail Island both show the influence of Sedgwick.

It is evidenced secondly by the way Darwin used and developed both Henslow’s Anglesey Memoir and Sedgwick’s interpretation of it. Darwin’s notes on Anglesey may be missing, but the threads of thought can be traced through his notebooks into his published work.

Darwin’s comment; “This tour was of decided use in teaching me a little how to make out the geology of a country” (Darwin &Huxley,1983:39) is a masterly understatement of his debt to Sedgwick. He should have said “continent “ or “the world” instead of country. Were it not for Sedgwick’s tutoring the reading of Lyell would have been of limited value. Sedgwick taught Darwin the practical geological skills and a sound basis of geology, whereas Lyell gave Darwin a daring conceptual and theoretical framework. Without the practical skills learnt from Sedgwick during these few days his three volumes on the geology of the Beagle voyage Darwin would have “started up a machinery as wild .. as Bishop Wilkin’s locomotive that was to sail with us to the moon.”[14] 

His birit to St Paul’s Rocks in the middle of the Atlantic show how much geology he had learnt as  on 16th February 1832 Darwin visited St Paul’s Rocks and identified serpentine, which required great geological insight;

“The rocks are serpentine. & in the lower parts mixed with much Diallage.”

and then commented;

“Is not this the first Island in the Atlantic which has been shown not to be of Volcanic origin?”[1]

ATLANTIC: ST. PAUL'S ROCKS A ship passing St. Paul's Rocks in the Atlantic  Ocean, some 550

[1] : Darwin, C. R. 2.1832. Geological diary: St Pauls. CUL-DAR32.37-38.


The Darwin manuscripts (DAR) are quoted with permission of the Syndics of Cambridge University Library. The Sedgwick Notebooks and Maps are cited or reproduced with permission of  xxxx of the Sedgwick Museum Cambridge, and the letter of Sedgwick to Close by permission of Dean Close School, Cheltenham.




BARRETT, P.H., 1974 The Sedgwick-Darwin geologic tour of North Wales. Proceedings of the American Philosophical society 118: 146-164.

BARRETT, P.H., (1977), The Collected Papers of Charles Darwin, Univ of Chicago Press, Chicago/London.

BARRETT et al (1987), Barrett, P.H., Gautry, P.J. et al., Charles Darwin’s Notebooks, 1836 – 1844, Cambridge Univ Press, Cambridge.

BROOKE,J.H. & CANTOR, G, 1998, Reconstructing Nature

BURKHARDT, F. and SMITH, S. (eds.), 1985 The correspondence of Charles Darwin, Vol. 1 (1821-1836). Cambridge Pp 702.

BURKHARDT, F and SMITH, S  (eds.), 1986 The correspondence of Charles Darwin, Vol. 2 (1837-18430. Cambridge Pp 603.

BURKHARDT, F and SMITH, S (eds.), 1991 The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, Vol. 7 (1858-1859, supplement 1821-1857). Cambridge Pp 671.

CLARK   & HUGHES    , 1890 Life and letters of Adam Sedgwick

CONEYBEARE, W & PHILLIPS, W, 1822, Outlines of the Geology of England and Wales

DARWIN, C.R., (1839c): Journal of Researches into the geology and natural history of the various countries visited by H.M.S. Beagle.;

DARWIN, C.R., 1844, Geological Observations on the Volcanic Islands, London, Pp175.

DARWIN, C.R. (1846), Geological Observations of parts of South America, London, Pp279.

DARWIN, C.R., (1846), On the Geology of the Falkland Islands, Quart Jour of Geol Soc, pt I, 2:267-74, (in Barrett, 1977:203 –212.)

DARWIN, C.R. & HUXLEY, T.H., 1983 Autobiographies, edited by Beer, Oxford.  Pp 123.

DESMOND, A, 1994, Huxley: the devil’s disciple, London, Pp 475.

DODD, A.H., 1990 The Industrial Revolution in North Wales. Wrexham.  Pp 439.

EVANS, John Evans, 1795 Map of the Six Counties of North Wales (inscribed to Sir Watkin Williams-Wynn of Wynnstay Hall, Ruabon, June 1 1795.)

HENSLOW, J.S., 1822, Geological description of Anglesey. Transactions of the Cambridge Philosophical Society. 1:359-452.

HERBERT, S, 1990 Charles Darwin as a prospective geological author, British journal for the history of science 24:159-92.

LARSON, E, 1997, Summer for the Gods, Harvard, Pp318.

LYELL, C., (1833): Principles of Geology, vol iii, Murray, London.

NUMBERS, R, 1998, Darwinism comes to America, Harvard, Pp216.

ROBERTS, M.B., 1996 Darwin at Llanymynech: the evolution of a geologist. British journal for the history of science 29:469-78.

ROBERTS, M.B., 1998 Darwin’s Dog-leg. Archives of natural history 25:59-73.

ROBERTS, M.B. 1998. Geology and Genesis unearthed, The Churchman,

ROBERTS,M.B., 2000, I coloured a map, Archives of natural history 27:59-73.

SECORD, J. A., 1991 The discovery of a vocation: Darwin’s early geology. British journal for the history of science 24:133-57.


TURNER, F., 1978 The Victorian Conflict between Science and Religion: a Professional Dimension, Isis, 1978

[1] Susan Darwin to Charles Darwin, 22 November 1835, Smith & Burkhardt, 1985, p469.

[2] Matthew to Darwin, March/April 1831, Smith & Burkhardt, 1985, p119

[3] J.M.Rodwell to Francis Darwin, 8 July 1882, in DAR 112: 94v, cited Smith & Burkhardt, 1985, p125.

[4] Sedgwick to Close 1858, Dean Close School Archives.

[5] Darwin to Sedgwick, 13 October 1868

[6] Darwin to Henslow, 18 May 1832, Smith & Burkhardt, 1985, p236.

[7] Susan Darwin to Charles Darwin, 25 July 1833, Smith & Burkhardt, 1985, p254.

[8] Chronology 1838, Smith & Burkhardt, 1986, p432.

[9] Sedgwick to Close

[10] Fleming    The copy of this at the Oxford Museum has Hope’s name on it.

[11] CUL DAR 5 series ii, fol 10i

[12] Hooker to Darwin , 1849 Smith & Burkhardt, 1988,

[13] Darwin to Lyell, 18 November 1849, Smith & Burkhardt, 1988,

[14] Sedgwick to Darwin, 24 November 1859, Smith & Burkhardt, 1985,  CCD 8, p396


Darwin’s first attempt at geology – Llanymynech

After leaving Cambridge in early 1831 Charles Darwin returned to his home – The Mount – in Shrewsbury


and decided to learn some geology in preparation for a trip to Tenerife, which never came off. At that time geology was not well-developed and all the strata belowed the Carboniferous (U.S.A Mississippian) was unknown. Sedgwick and Muchison began to unravel later that year, with Darwin in tow with Sedgwick.


a superb presentation of the Geological Column by Ray Troll, accurate and witty.

By early July Darwin had obtained his geological equipment and was especially proud of his compass-cum-clinometer. Here is his actual field bag and actual equipment, which is stuill the basis for field work today.


He also needed maps and he used Robert Baugh’s topographic map of Shropshire (wait for my next blog) and Greenough’s geological map of England and Wales. This is a photo of Darwin’s actual copy in Cambridge Univ Library.


After leanig how to use his clinometer on furniture he went into the filed to try his hand at field work. His destination was Llanymynech Hill some 15 miles west of Shrewsbury. I presume he travelled on one of the horses. His notes, transcribed below say NE, but that is typical of Darwin’s compass inversion, which he did both at Llanymynech and Cwm Idwal. If you don’t visit the sites and sit in stuffy libraries just reading his notes you’d never see this. You cannot do the history of geology without fieldwork, getting soaked, chased by irate cows and twisting ankles.

Llanymynech 16 miles NE [sic] of Shrewsbury; to the north of the village about ] of mile in an extensive quarry of Limestone. On the road to it, passed over a hillock of a soft slaty rock. some of the Strata were crumblingaway by exposure to the air. Strata very distinctly defined inclined at 78″. Direction ESE 6a 1i7N!7. The quarry is worked in the escarpment of a range of Carboniferous Limestone facing S by ]if. On the Eastern side & high in the hill where the stratification is better marked the rock more compact & of a redder colour. the seneral D is NE b N 14′. To the Westward & lower down D of st.ata is more NW 6< the angle lessl In centre there of quarry are several great cracks passing strait thrugh the rock now filled with clay. To this line the strata on each side are inclined on each side from [E crossed out] tOf 10″ & from [W crossed out] E 15o. It gives to the strata the appearance ofcurves. The stratification of the whole Western side appears to be less regular than that of the East. At one place I observed a series of strata having D ENE 10″ – The lowest Strata of Limestone that are worked consist of rocks of a softer texture, marked in patches by a brightish red, called by the’Workmen’bloody veined’Beneath there is the Delve consisting of avery argillaceous Limestone, soft & wastingaway on exposure to the air. it is not worth being burnt for Lime – The Workmen have never gone beneath this.

This has recently been put on the extensive website Darwin on line

Llanymynech Hill bounds the west of the Shropshire plain and his an extensively quarried limestone hill of 226 metres. The carboniferous limes lies on top of silurian slate (hill of slaty rock) There is a golf course on top for those who like to spoil a good walk and ther is a heitage trail. It is a hill I know very well as I have walked all over it and also done several of the rock climbs. On the visit I made all my measuresments i’d cycled the 11 miles from Chirk.


View looking ovber Breiden Hills


viewpoint with details for trail and on Darwin


Information board gleaned from my work

From Darwin’s notes it seems he came up from Llanymynech village and truned off on a lane at the bend GR266212.

The exposures are at the bend just up the hill. Continuing up you see the quarry cliffs and then need to find the paths onto them.


As you go up the lane you find the “slaty rock” with some obvious bedding. That was infuriating to measure as I found they dipped to the NW. It seems he was dyslexic  – like the best of us. The strata were later seen to be Silurian.


Following up from those slaty rocks a path leads you into a quarry. This not as Darwin saw it as further quarrying took place for about a century.  It is now abandoned and a  haven for wild flowers and rock climbing. Some of the hardest routes are here, which I had to second rather than lead.


The limestne is well-stratified, with some interspersed muddy beds. Worsely is valuable on this. (The mud made for hairy rock-climbing in the rain.)


To read more, open up for my paper in the Brit Jour of the History of Science

Darwin at Llanymynech

Peter Worsley has corrected some of my conclusions on the mudcracks!

Darwin was baffled by the Bellstone in Shrewsbury, but in 1831 nop one knew that it had trundled down from Scotland on an ice sheet


After his next work on maps (my next blog) Adam Sedgwick arrived on the scene at the Mount. Big sis Susan took a shine to the reverend geological bachelor and his sister Caroline wrote to Darwin on the Beagle to say they expected Susan to become Mrs Sedgwick!! That would have been fun for historians.

So in August Sedgwick arrived and took Charles around North Wales in a gig and taught him a litte geology








The Welsh Dragon—sorry the Welsh Dinosaur. Yr Draig Goch; or yr deinosor gwirion

As I lived in Wales for many years we got used to flying the Welsh flag  – a red dragon. It now seems that it was not a dragon but a dinosaur as Dr  Brian Thomas. who has a Ph.D. in paleobiochemistry from Liverpool University demonstrates in this blog for the Institute for Creation Research.

He had visited St David’s cathedral in west Wales and found a carving of a dinosaur Brachytrachelopan mesai  on a misericord as he describes below. (I lifted the blog to save you the effort of opening it!)  As befits a Ph D from one of our leading universities with a great geology department (where I gave lectures on the glories of creationism many years ago) Thomas discusses the possibility of it being a dinosaur in a very scientific way (nagadi) and considers whether it could have been the imagination of the woodcarver. However he shows that was not the case and that there were dinosaurs in wales at that time. Unfortunately the welsh velociraptors (known in welsh as diogyn – the fastest animal on earth) had died out before 1280, otherwise  Llywelyn ap Gruffydd, would have used them with great effect against Edward I of England. Not even his longshanks would has escaped them! This is a great pity, although we would not have Conwy or Caernarfon castles today.



If they had survived and Edward paid homage to LLywelyn, other dinos could have helped to build the castles as the had Stonehenge just after Noah’s flood


The welsh have an excellent term to describe this high quality intellectual reasoning;

cachu rwtsh

The more I read this article, the more I am convinced by it and support his last sentence

This remarkable art forces a rethink of secular dinosaur doctrines but happens to fit perfectly with a biblical view of dinosaurs.

There is more too this, as  Phillip Bell of Creation ministries Internation found representations of dinosaurs in Carlisle cathedral.  These show that in the Lake District dinos were still alive and well in the 15th century. I am convinced that the then Bishop of Carlisle had a pet dinosaur  and thus it was put on his tomb to remind subsequent generations of his love of dinosaurs.

These two episcopal examples show conclusively that dinosaurs were roaming Britain less than a thousand years ago. Wales has been better at keeping the memories alive, but the Church of England and the Church of England have hopelessly compromised themselves on the truth of biblical creation.

I call upon the Archbishop of Wales, and his counterparts in York and Canterbury, to repent and publicise and preach the truth of Biblical Creation and to lead the Anglican Churches away from heresy.

This would be a much belated recognition of the wonderful work of Henry Morris, whose name indicates his Welsh ancestry


Source: St. Davids Dragon—Fantasy or Reality?

From The Institute of Creation Research, San Diego

My early memories of dinosaur teachings reflected the doctrine of their extinction 65 million years ago and the evolution of mankind only several million years ago. If that really happened, then our ancestors who lived before the scientific study of fossils should have had no knowledge of dinosaurs or similar creatures like pterosaurs and ichthyosaurs.

Certain pieces of ancient artwork appear to show just the opposite. I grabbed an opportunity to examine one such piece—a carved wooden dragon—found in St. Davids Cathedral in Wales. The ICR Discovery Center for Science & Earth History in Dallas displays a picture of this intriguing dragon art.

St. Davids Cathedral, Wales
Image credit: Brian Thomas

My wife and I visited the cathedral situated in picturesque Pembrokeshire, a far western headland of Wales. Religious buildings have occupied the site for a millennium. The current cathedral had its last big refurbishment in the 1800s, about 400 years after a major late-medieval upgrade, when the dragon-art piece was crafted. We ascended the slope-floored main area to several smaller chapels in the back.

One chapel featured folding seats called misericords. Each one is attached to a tall, straight-backed, dark, ornately carved wooden slot. They line three walls like a series of serene sentinels. Whereas medieval artists represented ecclesiastical themes with reverence, they brought a measure of whimsy to scenes, faces, and animals carved on the underside of each solid oak seat. When the seats are folded up, each carving is visible.

Image credit: Brian Thomas

One misericord shows a dinosaur look-alike. Its overall anatomy resembles the sauropod dinosaurs known from fossils, with longer hind legs than front legs. These long-necked, extinct reptiles typify Jurassic rock layers. This one’s neck is not nearly as long in proportion to its main body as the more familiar sauropods like Diplodocus. Lest someone say its neck looks too short for the carving to represent any real sauropod, its neck length closely matches that of a dinosaur fossil found in Argentina in 2005 named Brachytrachelopan mesai.1

Two of the carving’s body details—small wings and ears—don’t match what fossils suggest.2 Like some modern cartoon dragons, these wings make no biological sense. The creature’s body would be far too massive for such tiny wings to support it in flight. Do these misfit features disqualify the piece from representing a real animal? It depends.

Image credit: Copyright © M. Hattori. Used in accordance with federal copyright (fair use doctrine) law. Usage by ICR does not imply endorsement of copyright holder.

We first must ask if the unknown artist could have imagined by chance this particular animal form. The pure imagination hypothesis would explain the wacky wings, but it wouldn’t explain the long neck, long tail, legs positioned beneath a barrel-shaped body instead of straddle-legged like modern lizards, small head with sauropod-shaped mouth, and reptilian frills along its spine. When placed on a biology balance, the weight of creature features favors the idea that the artist somehow knew what sauropods looked like. If so, then he or she knew this centuries before scientists began to describe them from fossils.

This eyewitness hypothesis would benefit from an explanation of the ears and especially the wings. Until someone uncovers an ancient artist’s notebook that explains particular stylistic choices, we must reason it out. Medieval dragon depictions across Europe very often include wings. Perhaps artists placed wings on their large reptilian forms to identify them as dragons. In medieval Europe, the word dragon referred to reptiles. The St. Davids sauropod may represent a real, though extinct, reptile with imaginary body parts added on purpose. How could this happen?

If flying dragons were more widely known than fen-dwelling (wetland) dragons, then the artist could have added the flying serpent’s familiar wings to a lesser-known land dragon body just to make sure the viewer knew the creature was a reptile. Evidence that ancient inhabitants of the United Kingdom were familiar with flying dragons that we know today as pterosaurs would bolster this supposition. One sober 18th-century Scottish account reads:

In the end of November and beginning of December last, many of the country people observed…dragons…appearing in the north and flying rapidly towards the east, from which they concluded, and their conjectures were right, that…boisterous weather would follow.3

And according to an approximately 19th-century Welsh anecdote, “the woods around Penllyne Castle, Glamorgan, had the reputation of being frequented by winged serpents, and these were the terror of old and young alike.”4 If flying dragons hadn’t yet been eradicated from the UK by the 1700s, then the animals must have been around to terrorize old and young long before then—for example, in medieval times when the St. Davids carvers lived.

Whoever would reject the wings-equal-dragon hypothesis still needs to explain the wealth of short-necked sauropod-specific anatomy on the St. Davids misericord. The larger weight of evidence lies on the side of artists who had some measure of eyewitness knowledge of their subject matter. This remarkable art forces a rethink of secular dinosaur doctrines but happens to fit perfectly with a biblical view of dinosaurs.5


  1. Creation researcher Vance Nelson connected the carving to this fossil in his book Dire Dragons. Nelson, V. 2012. Dire Dragons. Red Deer, Canada: Untold Secrets of Planet Earth Publishing Co.
  2. A third detail—webbed feet—could have represented a wetland habitat.
  3. Flying Dragons at Aberdeen. 1793. A Statistical Account of Scotland. 6: 467. Quoted in Cooper, B. 1995. After the Flood. Chichester, UK: New Wine Press, 141.
  4. Trevelyan, M. 1973. Folk-Lore and Folk-Stories of Wales. Yorkshire, UK: EP Publishing Limited, 169. The passage adds on page 170: “An aged inhabitant of Penllyne, who died a few years ago, said that in his boyhood the winged serpents were described as very beautiful….This old man attributed the extinction of winged serpents to the fact that they were ‘terrors in the farmyards and coverts.’”
  5. God created dinosaurs when He “made the beast of the earth according to its kind” (Genesis 1:25). Noah’s Flood fossilized many of them, when “all flesh died that moved on the earth: birds and cattle and beasts and every creeping thing that creeps on the earth” (Genesis 7:21). Some dinosaurs presumably survived the Flood on board Noah’s Ark, where “they went into the ark to Noah, two by two, of all flesh in which is the breath of life” (Genesis 7:15). Centuries later, God told Job, “Look now at the behemoth….He moves his tail like a cedar,” probably indicating a sauropod living near where “the Jordan [River] gushes” (Job 40:15-23). These and many other historical records challenge evolutionary beliefs about dinosaur extinction.

* Dr. Thomas is Research Associate at the Institute for Creation Research and earned his Ph.D. in paleobiochemistry from the University of Liverpool.

Cite this article: Brian Thomas, Ph.D. 2019. St. Davids Dragon—Fantasy or Reality?Acts & Facts. 48 (11).



Should Creationism be taught in Welsh Schools

Yes, but no!

YES! that will annoy some. Surely I should just shriek “NO”! We need more than a knee-jerk reaction.


In context, Creationism cannot be taught in England and Wales has yet to formulate its position, as new teaching guidelines do not mention creationism and could open the floodgates. As a result the British humanist Association have jumped and have got 50 leading scientists to sign , including at least three Christians – Prof Tom McLeish, Rev Prof Michael Reiss and Simon Barrow. I signed it but don’t think I’ll join the BHA.

Here’s the substance of the letter

The letter says:

‘As scientists and educators we believe that good science teaching is vital to the education and development of all children, wherever they live in the UK. We note the Welsh Government is currently consulting on a new national curriculum that will drastically overhaul education in Wales, including science education. The new Science and Technology Area of Learning and Experience (AoLE) doesn’t explicitly prohibit presenting creationism and other pseudoscientific theories as evidence-based, and evolution is only mentioned once (and only at secondary level at that).

‘Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution. It is a fundamental concept that describes and explains the development of the diversity of life on the planet. Pupils should be introduced to it early – certainly at primary level – as it underpins so much else. What’s more, without an explicit ban on teaching creationism, intelligent design, and other pseudoscientific theories as evidence-based, such teaching may begin to creep into the school curriculum, when it is vital children in Wales are not exposed to pseudoscientific doctrines masquerading as science.

‘State schools in England, including primary schools, are already required to teach evolution ‘as a comprehensive, coherent, and extensively evidenced theory’, and ‘must not allow any view or theory to be taught as evidence-based if it is contrary to scientific or historical evidence or explanations’. We urge the Welsh Government to introduce the same requirements in Wales.’

So often evolution is called a belief and thus people may say “I believe in evolution”. That is unhelpful as evolution is a scientific theory it should not be dependent on belief but evidence. In that, it is contrasted to creationism which is a belief based on a particular reading of the Bible. I, for one, do not believe in evolution but accept the arguments and evidence for it.

I consider that this petition is too focused on biological evolution and ignores cosmological and geological evolution. In school, both at primary and secondary level, the concept of Deep Time must be taught. Yes, the universe IS 13.4 billion years old, the earth 4.64 billion  and the first life was between 4 and 3.5 billion and so on. The succession of life (call that evolution if you will) needs some treatment even at primary level.

I have taken part in teaching rocks and volcanoes to Years 3 and 4 (ages 7 and 8). Having climbed Mt St Helens I show slides of that  and the 1980 eruption and then ask “Where is the nearest volcano?”


That stumps them and then I tell them “in the Lake District, 450 million years ago.” Wow! Of course, they will soon forget the 450 million and if asked will just say “millions”, which is fine. Dinosaurs are a must and again their great age can be stressed. This gives an open door for evolution.

However my observation in schools (mostly Anglican primary) is that some teachers are unsure about it and fearful of either what they think the church believes or an awareness of fundamentalist parents. With many evangelical churches teaching creationism this can inhibit schools in their teaching.

Above all, YEC and Intelligent Design need to be excluded from the science curriculum.

What is creationism?

It may seem superfluous asking this question as most think they know what creationism is. Many, including those in churches, assume it is simply traditional Christianity.

Creationism, or more accurately Young Earth Creationism (YEC) holds that the bible, especially Genesis must be taken literally and that God created in 6 24-hour days. They further claim that before the Fall – when Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit – there was no death, suffering or disease including among animals and that most of the strata were laid down during Noah’s Flood. I could deal with at great depth but this gives the outline.

On certain things there are variety of understandings but all coalesce on the above.

At times ideas get a bit far-fetched as with the suggestion of fire-breathing dinosaurs, described in this blog.


The Bible specifically states that the first few books of the Old Testament are not meant to be taken literally. Despite this, a number of Young Earth creationists promote a view of the ancient world where people lived alongside allosaurs and pterosaurs and so on. If you’ve seen a version of this page mentioning lemonade and homosexuality, it’s a spoof (the original text does not include that section of text). Image: (c) Ken Ham,  Dinosaurs of Eden .

Here is a recent tweet by a creationist. That shows the problem.

More than likely the dinosaurs died out after the flood due to large dietary requirements. After the centuries after that they were hunted to extinction by mankind due to their terror of dragons.

I would have thought most would baulk at that, but these views are held in many churches, especially independent evangelical ones. That includes some Anglicans. i have had some heated discussions with Anglican clergy on YEC.

This, briefly, is what they affirm but they also argue that scientists have got so much wrong, especially geologists, who have wrongly argued for an earth being millions or billions of years old for 300 years. When you dig into their writings you find they take an odd position on evolution  and thus claim that creatures evolved rapidly after the Flood, so that all cats from moggies to lions evolved in a few hundred years after landing at Ararat from the Cat-kind Noah took to sea!

I presume all intelligent people will find that nonsense, but that IS what  creationism (YEC) is. It is what I’ve read and heard from YECs for half a century.

My introduction to YEC was thrust upon in the Swiss Alps. After three years as an exploration geologist in Africa I felt called to the Anglican ministry and in preparation for that went out to study for a month in 1971 under Francis Schaeffer at L’Abri above the Rhone Valley. On arrival Schaeffer’s son-in-law, Udo Middelmann suggested I should read a host of YEC books. I was reluctant but did so. At first I was baffled and began to read The Genesis Flood. 


At first I felt they were incontrovertible, but then I started to discover the sheer dishonesty of the arguments and their systematic misquotations. The book was cleverly argued and those without geological knowledge would probably not identify the flaws. After that, I often muttered “bloody liars” under my breath as I read The Genesis Flood  and other YEC books. However few in Britain were concerned about YEC in the 70s as it only came to the fore in 1981.

The problem of dealing with YEC is that one needs skills in all branches of science and my skills become limited beyond geology. Even so, YECs continually present new killer arguments which appear plausible and not amenable to quick refutation. I and many others have done slow hatchet jobs on these arguments and without fail they always turn out to be based on bad science and misrepresentation (aka lying). Thus in the early 80s a certain Woodmorappe (alibi!) wrote an article on how so many radiometric dates were wrong and gave a list of 700 dodgy dates. Many came from the 1964 Geological Society of London tome on The Geological Time scale of which I had a copy. So laboriously I checked these out and there were about a hundred.  In every case the literature was misquoted. I could not reconcile that with the Ninth Commandment.

There are myriad examples of this , or at a popular level by Prof A Mcintosh, formerly of Leeds. I cannot see how a D Sc in anything could get things so wrong. McIntosh gives talks in various places and works alongside Ken Ham. He wrote a popular book Genesis for Today which has an appendix on why geology is wrong. The errors are horendous.

It is difficult not to get angry about this type of thing.

creationist binjgo

Yet YEC persists.

As well as that a fair number of Christians are fearful that this is the orthodox and traditional view of the churches and are initially bemused when I say it is not. I have found this for over 40 years in my ministry and consider it is because clergy have failed in their teaching and left the subject to one side. (My own policy has been to deal with creation and science , when the lectionary suggests a reading on creation, slip it out at Harvest as an aside, rather than hammer away. Most know of my being a geologist and often of my interest in Darwin.)


No, YEC is not the traditional view of the churches. Yes, Christians in the past did believe the earth was thousands. not billions, of years old, but that was before geologists had discovered the earth was ancient. Thus Archbishop Ussher who in 1656 argued for creation in 4004BC, was reflecting the best scholarship available and not rejecting and rubbishing science. It was 20 to 30 years after that some began to realise the vast age of the earth.

The historical relation of Christianity and science would require volumes, but suffice it to say that many early geologists were devout Christians. a good number were Anglican clergy, like Sedgwick, who taught Darwin geology, Henslow, Buckland and Coneybeare. Sedgwick was an inspiration, not only as a geologist, but for the way he tackled wrong ideas, as I show in this chapter/blog. (It was fun writing it!)

As for evolution, that was accepted in most churches within 20 years of the publication of The Origin of species (see for the last 150 years)

but is Creationism being taught?

The answer many in education will give is that it is not. That is what some educationalists have said to me – including within the church. However over the decades a few instances have come to light. I, and others, are sure there are many more.

Noah's Ark Zoo Farm, Bristol, England, UK

Some Bristol schools have taken pupils to this creationist zoo.

I lift this from another blog of mine. I just love the cart pulled by a dinosaur!!



The most public face of creationism has been in education, mirroring the American experience. This became apparent in 2002 after the Emmanuel Gateshead affair. It is difficult to estimate how much creationism is taught in British schools, but apart from independent (creationist) Christian and Islamic faith schools, creationism is taught as science in some state schools. It remains largely hidden because one cannot go round schools and ask the question outright and also a teacher teaching creationism would be wary of disclosing the fact.

First, the fifty independent faith schools do teach creationism as science for religious reasons. They often use American creationist material like Accelerated Christian Education. Secondly, several state secondary schools effectively teach creationism but claim to follow the National Curriculum. The first state school to teach YEC was probably Emmanuel College, Gateshead, a Christian foundation formed in 1992. In April 2002 Ken Ham of Answers in Genesis (the leading creationist organisation)[35] led a meeting at the school. As it was a case of hiring out the school hall it was not relevant, but it took on a media-life of its own. However it became clear that creationism was taught as science. Richard Dawkins, the Bishop of Oxford and others called for a review but a government inspection supported the school. Some indications had appeared on the Christian Institute website. The head McQuoid made his support of YEC clear and in 2000 The Christian Institute had hosted a lecture series on Christian education, mostly by teachers at Emmanuel Gateshead. Stephen Layfield, head of science lectured on “The Teaching of Science; A Biblical Perspective”. He suggested that the “Principal evidence [for the Flood] is found in the fossil-laden sedimentary rocks, the extensive reserves of hydrocarbon fuels (coal, oil and gas)…”[36]. This article can be considered a manifesto for creationist teaching of science by arguing that science teachers should question evolution or geological time at every opportunity, and teaching an alternative Creationist opinion. Thirdly, there are examples of creationist teaching within the state system, in a covert way. Numbers of teachers are creationists but short of surveillance one cannot find out what they teach. To teach creationism would be contrary to both government guidelines.

The pressure to teach creationism comes from many different groups, mostly from independent churches, which are involved in groups like Answers in Genesis and Creation Ministries International. However much writing on creationism appears in evangelical magazines, like, Evangelical Times, Evangelicals Today and in Evangelicals Now. The sheer weight of articles over many years has convinced many evangelicals that evolution is bad science and, at the very least, creationism or design should be taught as an alternative.

In September 2006 the group Truthinscience[37] began a public campaign to encourage ‘the critical examination of Darwinism in schools’ and the teaching of “design” schools. They claimed:

We believe that a critical examination of Darwinism and the controversy that surrounds it will enable students to fulfill some of these objectives. …We consider that it is time for students to be permitted to adopt a more critical approach to Darwinism in science lessons. They should be exposed to the fact that there is a modern controversy over Darwin’s theory of evolution and the neo-Darwinian synthesis, and that this has considerable social, spiritual, moral and ethical implications. Truth in Science promotes the critical examination of Darwinism in schools, as an important component of science education.[38]

Figure 7 Screenshot of the homepage of Truth in Science The DVD Set in Stone presents arguments fro a young earth and the website gives the impression of being “good” science


Their website scarcely touched on a young earth or Noah’s Flood but the board of advisors were Young Earth Creationists including Prof McIntosh of Leeds and an Anglican vicar. They claimed to be presenting Intelligent Design as an alternative to “Darwinism”. Design is used by creationists today as it is less threatening to the general public than creationism. They declined to affirm their belief that dinosaurs were on the Ark. One cannot determine how successful truthinscience has been in Britain. However, since September 2006 there have been many responses to the teaching of creationism. The concerns of creationists may be seen in Paul Taylor’s book entitled Truth, Lies and Science Education[39], written for the general reader. Taylor claims much science taught in schools is wrong and based on atheistic assumptions. The book is scientifically inaccurate and asserts much science teaching is actually scientism and gives radiometric age-dating as an example. That is simply absurd.

In 2010 another organisation Centre for Intelligent Design (C4ID) was formed with Alistair Noble as the Director.[40] This claimed that Design was a scientific position and thus ought to be taught. The website material is very ambivalent on the age of the earth, but it is difficult not to see it as a YEC front. C4ID has attracted much criticism especially from the British Centre for Science Education (BCSE)[41]. C4ID has attempted to influence scientists and teachers and have had lectures presented by American creationists.

Groups like Truth in Science and C4ID appeal for fairness and to encourage “critical thinking”. However in the push for fairness, there are no demands to teach a flat earth or phlogiston in chemistry. “Critical Thinking” sounds fine, but it is impossible to do that with the misrepresentation of science which is the hallmark of all creationism.

Over the last few years, there have been several official responses. On the official teachers’ website the document GUIDANCE ON THE PLACE OF CREATIONISM AND INTELLIGENT DESIGN IN SCIENCE LESSONS [42],  emphasized that neither Creationism nor Intelligent Design are scientific theories. Shortly after this in September 2007 the Association for Science Education published a similar statement on Science Education, Intelligent Design and Creationism[43] and stated that it agreed the consensus of science expressed in the Interacademy Panel statement[44]; a global network of the world’s science academies, which gave a statement on the unquestionable scientific consensus of the universe being billions of years old, the earth younger and the evolutionary succession of life, in contrast to creationist opinion that the universe and earth are less than 10,000 years old. This demonstrates that Creationism has minimal support in the scientific community, in fact, a fraction of one per cent.

However there are misunderstandings, as in September 2008 when Michael Reiss resigned as Director of Education at the Royal Society, after some Fellows of the Society protested about his views on tackling creationism in science teaching. At a meeting of the British Association in September 2008, Reiss argued that creationist pupils needed to be treated with respect and that simply attacking creationism was futile as creationism was part of a wider (religious) world view.[45] Reiss is a University Professor and chief executive of the Science Learning Centre in London, who has a Ph.D. in biology. He is also an ordained priest in the Church of England, which some atheists see as compromising his science. It seems that Reiss was misunderstood in his appeal to understand why some students are creationist as he made the obvious statement that understanding the students rather than criticizing them makes better educational sense.

Education and creationism have been in the news in 2011, and these type of issues have continued. In March2011 (and again in March 2012), Philip Bell of Creation Ministries International was invited to St Peter’s Church of England Aided School in Exeter to speak to GSCE students in which he gave ‘scientific’ arguments for creationism resulting in a protest by a Christian parent, Laura Horner, a geologist, who set up the CrISIS petition[46], followed by a letter of concern to Gove from several atheists and Christians, asking for clarification. In his reply on 7th July 2011 to Hugo Swire M.P. the Minister of State for Schools, Nick Gibb, replied with reference to St Peter’s School, explaining the government position on the teaching of creationist in science lessons;

‘Creationism does not fit with the scientific consensus…: nor does it employ the scientific method. As such it should not be taught as a scientific theory or body of knowledge as it is neither of those things.’

This is one of the few examples where attempts to introduce creationism into schools has come to the public’s notice. It highlights the situation in that teaching creationism is contrary to Government policy, yet it is occurring in British schools

The second case was as a result of the present government’s initiative in the setting up of Free schools, whereby a group can sponsor a new school, which will be independent of the Local Education Authority. A fundamentalist church in Newark, the Everyday Champions Church, was seeking to set up the Everyday Champions School, as a free school in Newark with a creationist basis. The application was turned down in October, as it would have contravened government policy.[47] As of April 2012 there are further applications for creationist Free Schools.

In 2013 a Lanarkshire school sent creationist books home for children. There was an outcry from parents and the BCSE was involved resulting in 18 months of controversy in Scotland and not yet resolved.

TruthBeTold (2)Cart pulled by dinosaur

See also Paul Braterman has several blogs on Scottish creationism.

Throughout the period from April to September 2011, articles on the issue of creationism in schools appeared in major newspapers and in publications like The Times Educational Supplement and the New Scientist. Possibly as a result of this, on 19th September 2011about 30 scientists, including David Attenborough, Richard Dawkins and Michael Reiss wrote an open letter to the government insisting that creationism should not be taught in schools.[48] Responses have been variable with positive reports in leading newspapers and Ekklesia[49] and strongly negative ones by Creationist groups like CMI[50] and AIG[51]. So far there has been no response from the mainstream churches and little from politicians. It appears that only interested groups , either “evolutionary” scientists or creationists, are concerned about teaching creationism in schools, and that opposition is confined only to those who have an interest i.e. scientists, rather than of concern to a wider society. The fact that such eminent scientists made such an appeal, indicates how seriously they take what they consider to be the threat of creationism to science education and are trying to persuade the wider public. Yet, the teaching of creationism in schools is not considered a serious problem among most people, including church leaders and politicians.

(see for the last 150 years)


As well as these I found one church secondary school where parents were leaning on the head over creationism, and I felt the head was reluctant to offend them. This is a soft way in. It needs to be watched.

And then some teachers lean to YEC or are fearful to deal with subject.

In England it is not permissible to teach YEC whether in county or church schools, but I pick up instances of teachers leaning to YEC, but not too overtly. After all you can raise doubts about evolution., without actually teaching YEC. You can hint at doubts about Darwin or geological time. Others have found the same thing. However the evidence is anecdotal rather than systematic.

However teachers , of any faith or none, must deal with creationists pupils with respect and understanding.

BUT there is another side to this, both in the teaching material and by teachers. It can be, and is, presented that Christianity is actually YEC with the implication that a science student cannot be a Christian. I can give examples.

SHOULD Creationism be taught?

In a word “No”.

YEC as I presented above is simply not science and is a hotch-potch of odd ideas cobbled together to discredit science. Further I does not have roots in either traditional church teaching nor the science of past eras. (Yes, I know science has changed and that some ideas have been long rejected, but these were ideas put forward by wise scientists trying to make sense of the world. I could give loads of examples from geology, and itemise where geologists like Sedgwick, Buckland and Darwin got things wrong! Each were superb geologists.) BTW I have published on Buckland and Darwin’s geological work, especially on Welsh glaciation.

YEC dates back to the 19th century. First, in England with the anti-geologists who tried to overthrow the geology of Buckland, Sedgwick and Lyell with an odd mish-mash of ideas. They were effectively silenced by Buckland and Sedgwick among others. The church was wiser back then – and less polite.)


This is Tom Sopwith’s painting of Buckland looking for Welsh glaciers in 1841. Yes, he was a bit nuts.

We then move to the USA with the ideas Ellen White of the Seventh Day Adventists, who wrote a rambling work claiming all strata were laid down i the Flood. This was taken up after 1900 by McCready Price with his “New Geology”. The new ideas simmered in the USA until Morris and Whitcomb  published The Genesis Flood in 1961. After that YEC slowly took off in the USA, becoming the default view of evangelicals. It spread to Britain by 1968 and gradually took root.

There is no way YEC should be taught as SCIENCE in SCIENCE lessons, but inevitably it will come up and teachers need to find a way of dealing with it in a sensitive fashion.

It is clear that YEC cannot be on any science curriculum, but its existence needs acknowledging.

However, if a teacher does teach it, then that has to be a disciplinary matter

The reasons for that should be obvious from what I have written.

YEC simply is not science.

Worse than that it is full of untruth, not in the sense that they get their science wrong, but by systematically distorting and misquoting standard science.

Beyond that it undermines a good understanding of so much science, especially geology and biology, which are needed both to understand  and deal with the pressing issues of today.

In a time of environmental crisis we must get our science right.

We cannot say with Calvin Beisner of the Cornwall Alliance that all fossil fuels were laid down a few thousand years ago when Noah was in the ark! This chapter from Religion in Environmental and Climate Change  deals with Beisner and YECs on Climate Change


If we do we cannot understand geomorphology and thus cannot make good judgments on how to deal with issues of flooding , earthquakes, climate change etc.

The same applies to more biological matters like medicines and medical methods etc.

The same for agriculture and forestry.

And so on, ad infinitum.

What should the churches do?

YEC has been present in the UK for nearly half a century and the churches have done little about it. It has taken over most independent evangelical churches, especailly with the activities of Answers in Genesis. I felt the Church of England has tried to look the other way , when their bishops could have spoken out decades ago. Some years ago Dawkins argued the Anglican bishops should have been forceful. I wrote to The Times agreeing with Dawkins and saying our bishops could have done more. A few days later I got an irate e-mail from my bishop criticising what I wrote! He’d sent it at 6 in the morning, so he must have been up all night fuming at me!!

Most mainline churches are not YEC, but they are a significant presence (at least 5% of clergy) in most, including the Church of England. There are several such vicars in my diocese!

Often in the churches teaching and preaching issues on creation , and thus of evolution, are sidestepped. This allows members to unwittingly think YEC may be true.

In recent years churches have, at long last, emphasised the care of the environment, which needs to be backed up by good simple science on geology, biology and evolution. Churchmembers do not need to know that the base of the Upper Bowland Shales is the Cravenoceras Ieion Marine Band, which was about 325.2 million years ago, but need a general awareness of deep geological time e.g. Ice Ages ended 10,000 years ago etc. YEC says the Ice Age took place after Noah’s flood!

Above all, there must be an insistence on integrity and rigorous honesty. Thus the churches must criticise YEC. I fear this will not happen.



YEC is  simply Untrue

The main reason why YEC should not be taught is simply that it is untrue.

That cannot be stressed too strongly whether it upsets anyone or not.

YEC twists and misrepresents science to produce a complete parody of science and such that one begins to question whether leading creationists are not deliberately lying. After half a century of reading creationist writings I would find it very difficult not to say that.

It is also very bad science

If you follow bad science, pseudoscience or untrue science, this has serious implications on science -based projects  in society whether for environmental work, medical improvements, agriculture, technology etc

And finally, as a Christian, I find YEC makes Christianity seem utterly false and dishonest.

Last of all to give a Welsh twist, William Williams (Pantycelyn)  who wrote Guide me, O thou great redeemer made it very clear in Golwg ar Deyrnas Crist that he thought the earth was much older than Ussher’s 4004BC.

P.S. I was asked to write this for the Geol Soc of London book  Geology and Religion. It brings out my position on geology and creation



A rainy visit to Cwm Idwal chasing after Darwin

Little did I think when I first visited Cwm Idwal in 1963, I would still be coming here 56 years later. Then I was here only for the climbing and after that I cycled home to surrey, climbing the Snowdon horseshoe and Cadair Idris en route. Since then most of my visits have been to climb whether the Idwal slabs, the surrounding peaks or even snow climbing. However for the last 25 years many of my visits have had an academic and Darwinian bent as I was researching Darwin’s visits in 1831 and 1842.

In 1831 Darwin visited Cwm Idwal after leaving the geologist Adam Sedgwick in Bangor and he tried to work out the geology with varying success. When he got home to Shrewsbury a fortnight later there was a letter asking him to joint the Beagle. Then in 1842, after a spell of illness, he returned to Snowdonia to confirm or not Buckland’s ideas of glaciation.

In the 90s I spent many days sorting out what Darwin did. This was made harder by his tendency to invert compass readings! And so these got into print and lo! I was the go-to-person for Darwin in Wales.

Every year since 2005 I have assisted Andrew Berry take Harvard students round North Wales looking at Darwiniana  and our high point is Cwm Idwal and for most the ascent of Y Garn 3104 ft. I don’t do that with them now as I cannot match the speed of athletic Harvard students!

Each year we wonder about the weather and have experienced everything. soem of the years we become drowned rats as we did this time.


Our first task is to visit the Vomitory, which is just down the road from Idwal Cottage. I spent hours trying to work out that word in Darwin’s notes and then I realised it was a good appellation of an ice-fall as here the Francon descends steeply to the bottom of Nant Francon.


Here is the view first of Nant Francon , a perfect U-shaped valley and then looking down the vomitory!

After that we returned to the awful visitors centre, with its woeful comments about Darwin and took the path to Llyn Idwal – the lake.



It’s less than half an hour and the outlook on arrival is always stupendous, which explains why it was Darwin’s favourite place. However the weather was closing in and we wondered if Y Gard was possible with a threat of thuunder.


Looking back we could see Pen yr Oleu Wen, where I was blown over a cliff and the west face of Tryfan, where I did my early rock-climbing. But we weren’t there for that.


and so we looked at Darwin’s boulders, which he helpfully said were on the west side of where the stream left the lake. Typical dyslexic like me. It was on the east. There is one big boulder split into four, which Darwin suggested happened as it collasped thorught the glacier. This lies on another.  Here is Andrew holding forth – after I did.


This is looking west to the head of the Nant Francon with the northerly Glyderau peaks and then above the boulders to the crag where I did my first rock climb.


some years ago on another field trip I was amazed at these incredible yellow flowers, which I’d never seen before. I thought I must have been as blind as a bat, but Pete, the botanist, said that until sheep were removed in about 2000 they never saw the light of day.  They now cover the area with their yellow spikes , which turn to rust-colour after the end of flowering as we get into august.


The weather was most atmospheric with a threat of rain, which soon came down, giving two fine views of Pen yr Oleu Wen and the head of the Nant.


Cwm Idwal is a great area for insectivorous plants which Darwin must have seen. There were hundreds of butterworts and drosera. Later Darwin researched these with experiments at Down House. He tried out possible acids and even gave them milk. He published his book in 1875.


below Devil’s Kitchem there was a grassy area below the scree which contianed different flowers eg the campanula. The second is a view of his boulders.


In 1831 Darwin was puzzled by Devils Kitchen which he thought was a volcanic plug. However in a letter written a few weeks later in Sept 1831  Sedgwick put him right pointing out it was a syncline of the folded lava beds. Mark you I cannot criticise as I intended to map Cwm Idwal for my mapping project in my geology degree. I could not distinguish the rock types so had to find something else. So I ended up mapping a layered basic intrusion in the Canadian Arctic instead!


While Andrew took most of the students up Y Garn I went round the lake with two students looking at things in detail. I then noticed that Y Garn was falling to bits as there was a large rock fall just above the lake. I have often walked through the path of that avalanche!!


And so we ended up looking down the U-shaped valley of Nant Francon and then the rain came. We went down to the lake and the second photo is looking towards the Devils Kitchen but all was obscured.


Before we got to the bottom it was chucking it down and all was dark and gloomy, but very atmospheric. On the way up the stream was a trickle but after two hours it had changed.


We walked a mile along the A5 to the coach getting wetter and wetter and then the rain paused giving me fine photos of Foel Goch and the north ridge of Tryfan.

sometime later the drowned rats who had climbed Y Garn returned and we drove off in pouring rain.

So ended what must be about my 150th visit to Cwm Idwal. It is ever new and there is always something new to see.


More on this and my papers are in this blog


How to deal with (Victorian) Creationists and win!

For the last fifty years Young Earth Creationism has been thriving and growing , first in the USA and then throughout the world. It has been opposed by many scientists and the wiser of Christians. At times some Christians have been too reticent.

And so the likes of Henry Morris and Ken Ham have called too many shots over recent years.

Image result for ken ham image

I wonder if Christians today shouldn’t have been as forthright as Sedgwick and Buckland.

During the early 19th century a handful in Britain argued against the geologists with their vastly extended timescales. There has been no full-scale treatment of them , though the Answers in Genesis resident “Historian of Geology” did a Ph D on the “scriptural geologists” and published a eulogy – sorry book – on them The Great Turning Point. He seems to think they were wonderful scientists!

I have only managed to find forty to fifty who went into print and they all tried to rubbish the geologists and insist the earth was young.  Many were Anglican clergy, most notably the Dean of York , William Cockburn , whose activities you can read in my link at he end. As the early 19th century was the time of the Reverend Geologists like Rev. William Buckland from Oxford and


Rev. Adam Sedgwick from Cambridge,


who took it upon themselves to take on these scriptural geologists.

Both Buckland and Sedgwick were brilliant geologists, who made great geological contributions. Buckland was the first to describe a Jurassic mammal and introduced notions of the Ice Age to Britain. Sedgwick made a massive , if not leading contribution to the works out of the Cambrian, Ordovician Silurian and Devonian periods. Sedgwick also taught Darwin geology and took him on a Welsh field trip in 1831.



I have researched Buckland on the Ice Age and Sedgwick in Wales and never fail to be amazed their geological skill. This resulted in much walking over the Welsh mountains in all weather conditions. My most energetic day was a trek over the Carneddau covering 18 miles and over 6,000ft of climbing.

Sedgwick wrote A discourse on the studies of the university in 1833 in the middle of his Welsh explorations. An Anglican cleric Henry Cole took Sedgwick to task, but Sedgwick rightfully shredded him. Then in 1844 he got the same treatment from Dean Cockburn of York Minster. I think Cockburn gets the prize for being the stupidest dean ever, though there are some competitors! I won’t say whom.

Here’s the memorial plaque to Sedgwick in Dent Church


And now read the paper to see how silly Cole and Cockburn were!!

,Michael B. Roberts,Adam Sedgwick (17851873): geologist and evangelical)

From:K O ¨ LBL-EBERT, M. (ed.) Geology and Religion: A History of Harmony and Hostility. The Geological Society, London, Special Publications, 310, 155–170. DOI: 10.1144/SP310.18 0305-8719/09/$15.00 # The Geological Society of London 2009.

Follow this link




Darwin concluded The Origin of Species with this magnificent paragraph;

It is interesting to contemplate an entangled bank, clothed with many plants of many kinds, with birds singing on the bushes, with various insects flitting about, and with worms crawling through the damp earth, and to reflect that these elaborately constructed forms, so different from each other, and dependent on each other in so complex a manner, have all been produced by laws acting around us. These laws, taken in the largest sense, being Growth with Reproduction; inheritance which is almost implied by reproduction; Variability from the indirect and direct action of the external conditions of life, and from use and disuse; a Ratio of Increase so high as to lead to a Struggle for Life, and as a consequence to Natural Selection, entailing Divergence of Character and the Extinction of less-improved forms. Thus, from the war of nature, from famine and death, the most exalted object which we are capable of conceiving, namely, the production of the higher animals, directly follows. There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved.

This makes me think of the narrow country roads in Shropshire, which were sunken by cart traffic over hundreds of years leaving high banks on either side. These banks became entangled with plants (hawthorn, brambles, hazel, campanula, primroses, snowdrops etc.) and colonised by various animals (insects, butterflies, lizards, rabbits, polecats etc) and host to birds.

The entangled bank was an integrated ecological web.

As Darwin rode round these lanes on his horse Dobbin, whether en route to his girlfriend, Fanny, or to shoot, he would have passed many entangled banks and observed the wildlife. From so small a beginning of a teenage horse rider and amateur naturalist came the most profound of scientific theories.

The Skills Darwin learnt before sailing on the Beagle

Outdoor skills from hunting and shooting and exploring.

Navigation, use of maps

Travelling through rough country, which still can be dangerous.

A wide range of naturalists skills, observation of plants and animals, habitats, specimen collection and preservation.

A good basic geology.


This is why when he boarded the Beagle in December 1831 he was one of the most proficient young naturalists of his day.

The influences on Darwin. (1809-1882)

He was born at The Mount on 12 th February 1809


and went to Shrewsbury School under Dr Butlet but was taught little but Greek and Latin and no science


His father was a doctor with a good knowledge of science (and less on dietetics) and his grandfather, Erasmus, even more so. So from home he learnt much.


His older brother, Erasmus, built a very good chemistry lab in a shed

He collected eggs etc from an early age.

He was keen on hunting thus observed the behaviour of foxes and birds.

From his late teens he collected beetles by the thousand!


1825-27. He studied at Edinburgh for medicine and also learnt some geology and also marine invertebrates from Robert Grant

1827-1831. He studied theology and philosophy at Christ’s College, Cambridge and intended to get ordained. There was no official science teaching but John Henslow gave unofficial classes and field trips.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA180px-John_Stevens_Henslow

1824-30 He did much naturalising around Shropshire and visited North Wales most years either to Snowdonia itself or to Barmouth. He climbed most of the mountains


He went on great hikes and observed all he saw on the wildlife and a little on the rocks. His favourites were beetles, but also fungi and birds (which he shot to collect specimens)


His favourite mountain was Cadair Idris and he shot birds for specimens at Bird Rock

cadairbird rock

He explored the rugged Rhinogau with epic hikes and explored the Mawddach estuary


He stayed at Barmouth supposedly being tutored in the binomial theorem but preferred other things!


He left Cambridge in June 1831 and as he was planning an expedition to Tenerife he did geology around Shrewsbury and in July 1831 tried to make a geological map and visited the limestone hill of Llanymynech.




The last of the four photos is from Nesscliff where he studied a Permo-Trias outcrop. The view is of the volcanic Breidden Hills and to the left is Long Mountain which is capped by Old red Sandstone. Darwin and Sedgwick got within a mile of an exposure but turned back, thus making Sedgwick miss a vital exposure.


The Sedgwick–Darwin Tour 3 to 20 August 1831

I present this more fully here


To the West of Shrewsbury 3-4 August

Shrewsbury to Denbigh, 5 to 7 August

Alone to Conwy, 8 to 9 August

Conwy to Bethesda, 10 to 11 August

To Anglesey and Dublin? 12 to 20 August

Separate Ways, 20 August

Caernarvon to Barmouth via Cwm Idwal 20-24th August

This map shows the route


They both had a copy of Greenhough’s map. They new that the Orange rock in the south was Old Red sandstone (later Devonian) and it was younger than the older strata (later Cambrian, Ordovician and Silurian) which he wanted to study. The aim was to find the ORS and then older rocks below it. Murchison who went to South Wales was guided to the contact by Rev Thomas Lewis and sorted it all out. Sedgwick’s aim was to follow the arc of ORS (orange rocks) along the North Wales coast and Llangollen and then find the older rocks below. That determined Sedgwick’s route  and his pupil Darwin just tagged along. as it turned out Sedgwick just missed ORS at Long mountain while at Shrewsbury  and then discovered there was no ORS in North Wales so he lost his stratigraphic marker! So when he started on 21st August 1831 on his own, he bagan in Llanberis which was not the best place to start, but that is another story.


They travelled by gig with a driver. this picture is of one of Dr Robert Darwin’s patients -Mad Jack Mytton who though affluent died in a debtors jail.


In August 1831 Adam Sedgwick (geology professor at Cambridge) came to Shrewsbury after looking at strata in DudleyBRESSAN_2013_Geologizing_-Darwin_Map1

and after a few days of geologising near the town they travelled to North Wales by gig (2 –wheeled carriage pulled by a horse) trying to work out what strata there were below the Devonian.Their first stop was up Castell Dinas Bran (silurian) and then to the Carboniferous Limestone of the Eglwsyeg cliffs. There is a fault between the two hills and no Devonian.


Next day they drove to Ruthin and looked first at Silurian strata by Vallee Crucis abbey, which shows the difference between bedding and cleavage.


On to the top of the Horseshoe pass (my first big hill on a cycle) looking over to the grey limestone cliffs. The road was built in the 1810s to service the slate quarry


Glancing over to Snowdonia behind the sheep they descended to Dafarn Dowarch, then made out of turf. Sedgwick stayed here in the 1840s.


Past some limestone then descended to the complex Clywd basin of the Vale of Clwyd going past more Transition/silurian slate. This windy road is Nant y Garth, which I once cycled up in a thunderstorm doing field work for this. That was memorable.


Darwin walked the last 6 miles to Ruthin where they stayed at the Castle Hotel.


At Lanfwrog to the west Darwin found some red sandstone lying topographically  below Carboniferous Limestone 50 yards away. In fact, it was New Red Sandstone, not Old Red/Devonian which had been downthrown to the east. Alas there was no basin analysis to help them!!


And then down some lovely lanes which would have been muddy! they visited the Ogof caves and found some rhino fossils – teeth.



They took the road west of St Asaph and near Glascoed Darwin was dropped off to do a 20 mile traverse and Sedgwick carried straight on to Conwy.

Darwin’s brief was to find ORS below the Carboniferous and above the Silurian/Transition. The second photo is taken a few miles west looking north towards Abergele. The hills are Carb limestone and and the foreground is Silurian. Darwin must have been miffed not to find any ORS.


He stayed at Abergelle and the next day walked to the Ormes and Llandudno chasing the non-existent ORS


He left the Great Orme behind and crossed the brand-new bridge to Conwy and met Sedgwick near the castle.


The next day, after Darwinstopped Sedgwick arguing with a waiter, they went up the Conwy valley to Cannovium and over the 2100ft Tal y Fan and dropped down to Aber for the night. They visited Aber Falls the next day and then went to the Bethesda Slate Quarries




Here is the major problem I encountered in this study. Darwin’s notes on Cwm Idwal – 5 miles from the quarries – follw straight on from his notes on Bethesda. further in his Autobiography Darwn states he went round Cwm Idwal with Sedgwick. HE DID NOT. This is countered by the letters between D and S in September 1831 when Darwin told Sedgwick what he saw on his own and then Sedgwick corrected him after visiting Cwm Idwal a fortnight later.

Instead the went across Anglesey, as Sedgwick had Henslow’s wonderful 1822 geological map to guide him, but the ORS was still elusive and this supposed outcrop of ORS later turned out to be Ordovician. Later at Cape Verde Darwin described some recent conglomerates by the shore as hard as this. I can assure that the rock is very painful to hit with a hammer.


And so the crossed the Menai Straits and shot down the newish London-Holyhead road, which had just been replaced by a dual carriageway when I visited there.



From Holyhead they took a steam-packet to Dublin for the weekend as Sedgwick wished to meet some geologists. On their return they went to look at the precambrian rocks at north Stack and then went across Anglesey with Henslow to guide them.


They found what Henslow’s incredibly hard ORS on which I nearly broke my arm. And so to the old Copper Mine at Parys Mountain. It dates back to the Bronze Age and I think it is still being mined


And so they arrived at Caernarfon, when Darwin wanted to go home for the start of the shooting season. Sedgwick went to Llanberis and started in ernest and found it hard.

On his own from Caernarfon to Barmouth 20th to 24th August

Darwin left Sedgwick at Caernarfon and then visited Cwm Idwal on his own. He reckoned that the Devil’s Kitchen was a volcanic plug, but Sedgwick put him right a little later, explaining it was a syncline.


A sketch to show what Darwin thought about Cwm Idwal and how Sedgwick corrected him.



He found the geology difficult as I did when I tried to do my undergraduate mapping there. (I gave up and mapped a layered intrusion in Northern Canada instead!!). He was oblivious of any glacial features.  He must have found some predators – sundew.


view of Cwm Idwal from Glyder Fawr 2000 ft above the Lake


From Cwm Idwal it was 6 miles to Plas y Brenin, the coach inn at Capel Curig, where he spent two nights. The next day he climbed Moel Siabod and made more notes . After that he walked to Dolwyddelan and over the moors to Ffestiniog for the night. The next day he cross the Rhinogau by the the Bwlch Drws Ardudwy


An early morning view from Plas Y Brenin

In his autobiography Darwin claimed to follow a compass bearing to Barmouth. I do not believe him! First, the route would be an utter killerwading through boulders and 3 foot heather. Secondly his geological notes describe the localities OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAi

visited and I mark these on the sketchmap.


Moel Siabod and the moorland south of Dolwyddelan


My key outcrop to determine his route was Carreg y Fran, which I located. Darwin said the rocks at the base of the cliff were conglomerate. They were in fact agglomerate.


From there he cross the remote and rugged Rhinogau and made his way to Barmouth.


After a few days at Barmouth Darwin returned home for the shooting season. Instead he accepted an invitation to travel on the Beagle

Here is Topper (1992-2004) my faithful field assistant, navigator and mountain climber, taken near the summit of Glyder Fawr, after waiting for me to follow him over the cornice!.


He took a stagecoach back to Shrewsbury and found a letter inviting him to join the Beagle!

In the summers of 1837 and 1838 he spent a few weeks while staying with his father in Shrewsbury looking at glacial deposits (c18000 years old around the town and by the field centre)

At this time he was very ill and only walked short distances.

In June 1842 he felt better and wrote the first half of a draft on evolution and went to Snowdonia and went home to finish it. It as not published.

Darwin spent two weeks in Snowdonia, staying at Plas y Brennin and other inns.

He looked for evidence of glaciation especially in Cwm Idwal and was convinced that Snowdonia used to have glaciers. He could only walk five kilometres.

But this will be my next installment



 Along with many earlier visits to Snowdonia, the mountainous region of North Wales, in the 1820s to study natural history and to “climb every mountain”,

Darwin made two important visits to study the geology. In 1831 he spent nearly four weeks studying the geology of Shropshire and North Wales, mostly under the tutelage of Adam Sedgwick of Cambridge and then in 1842 to see whether there had been “former glaciations2 in Snowdonia. In 1831 he was a “learner” and made no contribution to geology[1], but his work on glaciations was highly significant[2].

My purpose here is to put Darwin’s two visits into the whole context of geology as a developing science. I give it in note form as a developing historical theme.

  1. 1660-1700. Earliest geology beginning with Nils Steno in Italy. Little grasp of an ancient earth
  2. 1690s E Lhwyd (born near Oswestry – 20 miles from Shrewsbury) and John Ray (the English Linnaeus) noted the boulders in Nant Peris a valley below Snowdon. As there were lots of boulders and only one or two fell down in a lifetime, they suggested that the earth must be much older that the biblical 6000 years. These were in fact glacial erratic transported there by glaciers.
  3. 1700- 1800 more evidence for an ancient earth and beginnings of working out the order of strata
  4. 1788 Rev John Michell, prof of geology at Cambridge worked out an order of strata;

Chalk                                                         Upper Cretaceous                                           120ft

Golt                                                            (Gault   Lower Cretaceous                              50ft

Sand of Bedford                                        Lower Greensand  – lwr Cret                          10-20ft

Northamptan andPortland lime                      (Jurassic)                                                        100ft

Lyas strata                                                       (Lias –Lower Jurassic)                                   100ft

Sand of Newark                                              (Triassic)                                                          30ft

Sherwood Forest pebbles and gravel              Permo-triassic sandstones                               50ft

Very fine white sand                                      uncertain

Roche Abbey and Brotherton Lime               (Permian Magnesium lst)                                100ft

Coal Strata of Yorkshire                                 Upper Carboniferous

This gives a good summary of strata from Upper Carboniferous to Upper Cretaceous

  • Smith developed this with use of fossils and then Geology map of England and Wales 1815.
  • untitled

6 Cuvier worked on Cretaceous strata around Paris

  1. By 1820s strata reasonably well-known down to Old Red Sandstone/ Devonian. What lay below was totally unknown and refered to Killas. This was classically put in The Outline of the Geology of England and Wales by Conybeare and Phillips (1822)

Below are a series of geological columns and the final development for today is the right hand column. What is crystal clear is that the order has not changed since Michell made his preliminary one in 1788. After the publication in 1822 there was an immense amount of geological fieldwork all over Europe but only the British work concern us.





1799, 1812, 1815






1860 US


London Clay



Purbeck, Portland
Coral Rag, Cornbr.
Upper Oolite
Under Oolite

Magnesian Ls

Coal Measures

Mountain Ls

Red and Dunstone

Killas and Slate

Granite, Sien

Upper Marine(Freshwater: London Clay, Plastic Clay)SUPERMEDIAL ORDER
Chalk Marle
Green Sand
Iron Sand
Oolitic Series
Purbeck, Portland
Coral Rag, Oxford
Inferior Oolite-
New Red SandstoneMagnesian Limestone
Coal Measures
Carboniferous or
Mountain Limestone
Old Red SandstoneSUBMEDIAL ORDERTransition LimestoneSerpentine

Modern Group

Erratic Block Gr.

Cretaceous Group

Oolitic Group

Red Sandst. Gr.
Red Marl
Red Sandstone

Carboniferous Gr.
Coal Measures

Carboniferous Ls

Old Red Sandst

Grauwacke Group

(Inferior Strati.
Serpentine, Trap
Granite, Volcan.

Newer Pliocene
Older Pliocene
CretaceousWealdonOolite or JuraLias
Trias or New Red
SandstoneMagnesian LsCarboniferous
Coal Measures
Millstone Grit
Mountain LsOld Red Standst.
or DevonianPRIMARY
Coal Meas.
Millstone Grit
Mountain LsDevonian
LowerUpper Silurain
(9 units)Lower Silurian
(4 units)




1830s. After the publication in 1822 there was an immense amount of geological fieldwork all over Europe but only the British work concern us. By 1830 British geologists had felt clear on the geology from the Old Red Sandstone to the top of the Cretaceous, but what lay above and below was still to be discovered. Lyell was instrumental in bringing order to the Tertiary, but in 1830 Sedgwick and Murchison decided to tackle what lay below the ORS in Wales, in preparation for a second volume continuing Coneybeare and Phillip’s work. They had described what lay below the ORS as SUBMEDIAL ORDER; Transition Limestone, Serpentine, Sienite,  Greywacke and  Clay Slate, indicating that it was scarcely elucidated. All this later came to be termed Cambrian, Ordovician and Silurian, but in 1830 it was simply unknown strata.
(Shrewsbury is just north of the Long Mynd on the map, and Cwm Idwal is slighty above the letter “N” of Snowdonia)

The map above is a sketch map fo the geology of North Wales marking all strata older than the Devonian, i.e. all the shaded area on the map. In 1830 the weather was so bad that neither geologist went to Wales, but both went in the Summer of 1831. Murchison went to Southern Wales about 25 miles southwest of the Longmynd and was guided to an excellent downward succession from ORS to what was to be called Silurian by the Rev Thomas Lewis. Sedgwick went to Northern Wales and his aim was to find the ORS (marked on geological maps as lying below Carboniferous Limestone from Llangollen to Conway. When he found the ORS he hoped to find it going down conformably into Killas/grauwacke (now Silurian). This did not happen and he and Darwin concluded that there was no ORS from Llangollen to Conway, thus frustrating his intentions. Ironically at over 300 metres on top of the Long Mountain between Welshpool and Shrewsbury , there is a capping of ORS/Devonian strata but Sedgwick and Darwin did not go up the steep hill in their gig, thus missing the solution to the puzzle by two miles!

In early August Sedgwick and Darwin left Shrewsbury for North Wales to  look at the base of the Carboniferous Limestone hoping to find first ORS and then “Silurian” below it. They failed as there was no ORS. After that they went round Anglesea and found that no more helpful, though they found some ORS identified by Henslow in 1822, though some of that was mis-identified and turned out to be far older.  On 20th August Darwin left Sedgwick to go home via Cwm Idwal and Barmouth.  Sedgwick started working on strata by Llanberis, but had no stratigraphic markers or fossils to guide him. After a few years he managed to make sense of the geology.  Sedgwick called all these Cambrian and Murchison called southern Wales strata Silurian. It took another 50 years to sort them out properly into Cambrian Ordovician and Silurian.

After leaving Sedgwick at Caernarfon, he took a coach to Cwm Idwal, not knowing anything about the geology, except that it was older than the ORS. He had no geological guides to help him, so simply made notes. Cwm Idwal is a glacial cirque carved out of Ordovician Volcanics. Darwin gave brief descriptions regarding most as “altered slate” with some resembling basalt.

He also note volcanic rocks at Devil’s Kitchen which he considered  the Volcanic rocks at Devils Kitchen to be  “Basalt protruded out of the slate” as an “inverted cone”. In fact, they were laid flat  and then gently folded into a syncline, as Sedgwick pointed out to Darwin in a later letter after .

1842 Glacier visit

In 1842 Darwin returned to Snowdonia, having travelled round the world in the Beagle. His purpose was to see whether the Glacial Theories of Agassiz and Buckland were correct. In 1838 he had been to Glen Roy and in 1838 and 1839 had looked at the gravels around Shrewsbury and concluded that “glaciers” has some influence. Initially he was wary of Agassiz’s ideas of a continental ice age and after Buckland visited Snowdonia in October 1842, when he demonstrated glaciations, Darwin went to Snowdonia for 10days in June 1842. (In fact he had half written his first manuscript[1842] on Natural Selection before he went and finished it on return.)

He confirmed the terrestrial glaciations in Snowdonia and confirmed Buckland’s identification of glacial troughs. The highlight was his visit to Cwm Idwal where he identified the remains of an icefall by Ogwen cottage, ice-scoured rocks and moraines. Most interesting are two boulders he described, now known as Darwin’s boulders. After visiting Moel Tryfan, which he realised was sea-ice he returned to Nant Peris near Llanberis and made more observations.

Darwin had confirmed that these deep valleys were not formed by rivers………



Darwin at Llanymynech; British Journal for the History of Science, 1996, Vol 29, pp469-78

Darwin’s Dog-leg ; Archives of the History of Natural History, 1998, Vol 25, p59-73

I   coloured a map ; Archives of the History of Natural History, 2000, Vol 27,p69-79

Charles Darwin’s 1831 notes of Shropshire,Archives of the History of Natural History 2002,Vol 29 , p 27-9; co-authored  with Prof.S.Herbert (University of Maryland)

Darwin’s Welsh Geology, 1831,  Endeavour  Spring 2001, 25, p33-37


Charles Darwin’s 1831 notes of Shropshire,Archives of the History of Natural History 2002,Vol 29 , p 27-9; co-authored  with Prof.S.Herbert (University of Maryland)

Darwin’s Welsh Geology, 1831,  Endeavour  Spring 2001, 25, p33-37

Darwin, Buckland and the Welsh Ice Age, 1837 – 1842, accepted for publication in Proceedings of the Geological Association 2012


Sandra Herbert; Charles Darwin;geologist 2005

And an account of the 2018 field trip with pictures