Greenough Papers

Archive Collection

Scope and Content

The papers fall into three broad sections: those connected with his work, those of a more personal nature, and correspondence,. They are hierarchically divided into nine series - published works, societies of which Greenough was president, travels, fields of interest, learned and scientific institutions and clubs with which he was associated, personal history, papers relating to his friends, acquired papers, and correspondence. Within these series they are divided into sub-series, arranged chronologically. The titles given to notebooks and folders are Greenough's own. In the absence of any comment the contents can be assumed to agree with the title. Greenough kept many series of notebooks and memorandum books into which he copied the notes he had jotted down in conversation or when reading. The section headed 'Personal History' contained very little biographical or family data, although Greenough's early efforts in poetry, prose and translation from the Greek are well represented. Papers relating to his house, his garden and his investments may help to give an impression of a man who, in the absence of any significant number of letters to his friends, must inevitably remain a shadowy figure. The majority of the letters in the correspondence section relate to geology or to some other aspect of Greenough's work.

Administrative / Biographical History

Orphaned at an early age, George Bellas was brought up by his maternal grandfather Thomas Greenough, a successful apothecary. The boy was sent to Mr Cotton's school at Salthill at the age of six, and to Eton at the age of ten. He stayed there only a year, and in September 1789 entered Dr Thompson's school at Kensington. While he was at school he took the name Greenough at the request of his grandfather who had adopted him. In 1795 his grandfather died leaving him a fortune which enabled him, for the rest of his life, to devote himself wholeheartedly to his many interests without the necessity of earning a living. In that year too, he went up to Pembroke Hall, Cambridge, but he did not take a degree, and in September 1798 he went to the University of Gttingen where he became interested in geology. In 1799 Greenough made at least two tours of the Harz; one in the Easter vacation with Clement Carlyon and Charles and Frederic Parry; and the other in the late summer with Carlyon. During these tours he collected many minerals, and also studied geological collections in the towns he visited. His interest in geology deepened when in 1801 he travelled over England with Carlyon and met Humphry Davy in Penzance. Later he attended Davy's lectures, and in 1802 went to France and Italy and 'noted what I saw of geology on my way'. He went on a geological tour of Scotland with James Skene in 1805, and of Ireland with Davy in 1806: in Ireland he also made a study of social conditions. In 1807 he became associated with a group of mineralogists to which Davy referred in a letter to William Pepys, dated 13th November 1807, when he said 'We are forming a little talking Geological Club'. This club rapidly developed into a learned society devoted to geology. Greenough was to be the first president of the Geological Society from its inception in 1807 until 1813. When the future Royal Geographical Society was founded in 1830 Greenough was once again an early interested member and he was its president in 1839 and 1840. Greenough's interests were very varied, and he travelled much. His many journals and notebooks bear witness to the close attention which he paid not only to geological and geographical detail, but also to architecture, sculpture, painting, history and politics. He gave practical effect to this last by sitting as the MP for the pocket borough of Gatton in Surrey, from 1807 to 1812. A List in which he briefly noted some of the societies to which he belonged mentions 37, and against many of these he wrote the words 'original life member'. Greenough wrote a good deal, but he published very little, and his main achievement was the publication in 1802 of his geological map of England and Wales. This map was the culmination of many years of work during which he had noted and plotted the location of the various strata of areas visited by him and other travellers, and had gleaned information from books or from a questionnaire sent to anyone who might have local knowledge. A second edition of the map was published in 1839 together with an introduction in which he set out his theory on the manner in which geological structures should be represented on a map. In 1854 his large scale geological map of the whole of British India appeared: once again he had relied on information from questionnaires, books and travellers: in this instance they were his only sources, for he did not visit India himself. His only book A critical examination of the first principles of geology, in a series of essays was published in 1819. He derived much pleasure from the building and design of his home, Grove Lodge, in Regent's Park, London, where he entertained members of his family from Dripsey in Ireland, and also his wide circle of friends.The diaries of his last years show his health beginning to fail in the early 1850s, and Greenough died in 1855 while travelling in Italy.

Conditions Governing Access

Accessible to all registered researchers

Acquisition Information

Presented to the Library of University College London in 1966-68 and 1971 by Mrs P Greer, one of Greenough's descendants

Other Finding Aids

Detailed published handlist: Jacqueline Golden A list of the papers and correspondence of George Bellas Greenough (1778-1855) (London, 1981); and name index.