Papers of Professor Robert Harkness (1816-1878)

Scope and Content

The Harkness material includes correspondence with Sir Charles Lyell, 1855-1873, letters to Sir Archibald Geikie, 1872-1877, and papers on the geology of the Wexford and Cromer forest beds, 1873.

Administrative / Biographical History

The geologist Robert Harkness was born in Ormskirk, Lancashire, on 28 July 1816. He was educated in Dumfries and at Edinburgh University, 1833-1834, after which he continued his scientific studies in Ormskirk. His first paper was read before the Manchester Geological Society in April 1843, and was entitled The climate of the coal epoch. In 1848 Harkness and his father moved to Dumfries and his subsequent papers on the geology and fossils of south-western Scotland built his reputation as a geologist. In 1853 he was appointed Professor of Geology at Queen's College, Cork. In 1854 he was elected Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, and in 1856 Fellow of the Royal Society of London. When Harkness was required to add physical geography, zoology, botany, and mineralogy to his curriculum in 1876, his health broke down. Professor Robert Harkness died on 5 October 1878 just after resigning his Chair.

Access Information

Generally open for consultation to bona fide researchers, but please contact repository for details in advance.

Acquisition Information

Material within Geikie correspondence, transferred from Geology Dept. December 1960, Accession no. E60.33.


The biographical/administrative history was compiled using the following material: (1) Stephen Leslie. and Lee, Sidney (eds.). Dictionary of national biography. Vol.8. Glover-Harriott. London: Smith, Elder and Co., 1908.

Compiled by Graeme D Eddie, Edinburgh University Library, Special Collections Division.

Other Finding Aids

Important finding aids generally are: the alphabetical Index to Manuscripts held at Edinburgh University Library, Special Collections and Archives, consisting of typed slips in sheaf binders and to which additions were made until 1987; and the Index to Accessions Since 1987.

Related Material

The local Indexes show various other references to Harkness (check the Indexes for more details): mention in a letter of Geikie to Patrick Dudgeon, 10 June 1875; details of Harkness' early life mentioned in a letter, 10 December 1878; and a galley proof of the obituary of Harkness among the Geikie correspondence. Otherwise, the UK National Register of Archives (NRA), updated by the Historical Manuscripts Commission, notes: drawings and maps, Geological Society of London, see Bridson, Natural history MS resources 1980.