Thomas Webster Papers

Scope and Content

The papers contain letters written and received by Thomas Webster, along with printed syllabuses of courses of lectures delivered by Webster. His letters date from 1818-44, but mostly cover the earlier period. Other leading geologists of Webster's era appear within his correspondence, including W H Fitton; William Buckland; W D Conybeare and Henry de la Beche. The main material on the research undertaken during this period is available in the monographs and published papers of the time, but the letters provide an extra insight and personal views on both events and characters of the age. They also reveal a great deal as to the operation of geological practice over a century ago.

Administrative / Biographical History

Thomas Webster was born in 1773 in the Orkneys. He was educated at Aberdeen, but soon moved to London, where he studied architecture and agriculture. After completing his studies, he travelled through England and France gaining practice as an architect. In 1779, he was appointed to the post of clerk of the works with the newly established Royal Institution, the building for which he designed.

On deciding to follow a career in geology, he acted as curator, draughtsman and librarian to the Geological Society from 1812-26, and as house-secretary, 1819-27. His work with the society included a great deal of editorial work on their Transactions. Webster's published papers are relatively few in number, but are all known as classic texts on their respective subjects. His work focused upon the Tertiary and Cretaceous, and, to a certain extent, the Jurassic strata of the South of England, 1814-27. Later in life, he delivered lectures in geology to, and on behalf of, various educational and scientific bodies, becoming the University of London's first Professor of Geology in 1841. He died in 1844 at his London home. Today his name is associated with the rare British mineral, Websterite.

Access Information

The papers may be consulted through application by e-mail to: or by post to: Aberystwyth University, Archives, Information Services, Llandinam Building, Penglais, Aberystwyth, SY23 3DB. Tel: 01970 628593.

Acquisition Information

The Thomas Webster archive was donated to The University of Wales, Aberystwyth by Professor F W Rudler, ISO (1840-1915). Rudler was professor of natural science at UWA, 1876-79, and librarian and curator of the Geological Survey Museum, 1860-1902. In a letter accompanying his bequest to UWA Rudler wrote that when Webster's letters were offered for sale, he knew that the Geological Survey Museum museum would not sanction their purchase, therefore he bought them himself, "because I always took interest in the early geologists of our country". Professor Rudler's papers are also held at the University of Wales, Aberystwyth.


This archive is held at the Hugh Owen Library, Aberystwyth University, Aberystwyth.

Description compiled by Rhian Phillips, archive cataloguer, with reference to John Challinor, Some Correspondence of Thomas Webster, Geologist (1773-1844), (1963), and Sidney Lee (ed.), Dictionary of National Biography, Vol. XX, (London: Smith, Elder and Co., 1909).

Other Finding Aids

Basic finding aid available on request from Archives staff.

Related Material

Further papers of Thomas Webster are held by The Royal Institution of Great Britain, The University College London, and The Geological Society of London.


Many of the letters in this archive have been published in John Challinor, Some Correspondence of Thomas Webster, Geologist (1773-1844), (1963).