Sedgwick memorial

Memorial to Adam Sedgwick, Dent
Memorial to Adam Sedgwick, Dent.

As a memorial to a great geologist, it's rather fitting: a large boulder of local limestone converted into a fountain. I hope Adam Sedgwick would have approved.

Sedgwick's memorial is to be found in the picture-postcard-pretty village of Dent on the Cumbria-Yorkshire border. I took a spin round the Yorkshire Dales yesterday, and popped into Dent for a pint and a bite to eat at The Sun Inn.

Sedgwick was born in the village in 1785. His father was the local vicar. Sedgwick began his geologising in Dent, where he discovered the Dent Fault: a crack in the earth's surface where the shale rocks of the nearby Howgill Fells break through the younger local limestone.

Like many of his male relatives, Sedgwick went on to become a clergyman, but he continued his geological work, eventually becoming Woodwardian Professor of Geology at Cambridge. It was at Cambridge that he tutored the young Charles Darwin. Shortly before Darwin received his invitation to take part in the Beagle voyage, Sedgwick took him on a geological trip to North Wales. It was during this trip that Darwin gained his first proper experience of field geology. During the Beagle voyage, Darwin wrote to his other Cambridge tutor, Henslow:

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, which I would not give up for any consideration.— I do not think I ever spent a more delightful three weeks, than in pounding the NW mountains.

In later years, the religious Sedgwick was to become an opponent of Darwinian evolution. Days after the publication of On the Origin of Species, he wrote to Darwin:

I have read your book with more pain than pleasure. Parts of it I admired greatly; parts I laughed at till my sides were almost sore; other parts I read with absolute sorrow; because I think them utterly false & grievously mischievous— You have deserted—after a start in that tram-road of all solid physical truth—the true method of induction—& started up a machinery as wild I think as Bishop Wilkin's locomotive that was to sail with us to the Moon.

Sadly, Sedgwick was never to accept his former pupil's explanation of how species evolve (nor to see people travel to the moon), but he was undoubtedly a great scientist and is rightly regarded as one of the fathers of modern geology.

See also:

Richard Carter, FCD

Writer and photographer Richard Carter, FCD is the founder of the Friends of Charles Darwin. He lives in Hebden Bridge, West Yorkshire.WebsiteNewsletterMastodonetc…

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *