Records of the Wernerian Natural History Society

Scope and Content

The records of the Wernerian Natural History Society consist of 2 volumes of Minute Books (Jan 1808-Apr 1858).

Administrative / Biographical History

The Wernerian Natural History Society was formed in Edinburgh in January 1808 by nine scientists and laymen, presided over by Robert Jameson (1774-1854), and in honour of the illustrious Abraham Gottlob Werner of Freiberg. Werner (1750-1817) was a German geologist and mineralogist who helped to establish geology and mineralogy as two distinct sciences and became the first scientist to classify minerals systematically. He believed that rock strata were either sediments originally deposited at the bottom of the sea or were crystallised deposits precipitated from sea-water. This school of geological thought emphasising water as the chief agent in rock formation came to be known as Neptunism, as opposed to the Vulcanist school of which James Hutton (1726-1797) was the main proponent. It could not, however, explain the origin of insoluble igneous rocks, and much of his theory was discredited. The Wernerian Natural History Society was formed ostensibly for the purpose of promoting the study of the Sciences and of Natural History in particular. It attracted many members and remained in existence for almost 50 years, with Jameson remaining its president until his death in 1854. During these years eight volumes of memoirs were published, to which Jameson contributed more than a dozen papers on geological and mineralogical topics, as well as a few on zoology and botany.

Access Information

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


The biographical history was compiled using the following material: (1) Birse, Ronald M. Science at the University of Edinburgh 1583-1993. Edinburgh: University of Edinburgh, Faculty of Science and Engineering, 1994. (2) Werner, Abraham Gottlob. Full-text [online].   Microsoft Encarta Online Encyclopedia 2000. [Accessed 16 March 2001]. (3) The Concise Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia. 3rd Edition. Full-text [online].  Infonautics Corporation. [Accessed March 2001]. (4) Strange Science - the Rocky Road to Modern Paleontology and Biology. Full-text [online].  Michon Scott, 1996-2000 [Accessed March 2001].

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

Other Finding Aids

Important finding aids 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 references to material relating to Abraham Gottlob Werner (check the Indexes for more details): Dc.1.28; Dc.1.79/1-84.