University of Oxford

The Geologist

Published on by Sally Shuttleworth

The Science Gossip project was led by Dr Geoffrey Belknap, and the articles on the periodicals were written by Dr Matthew Wale.


The story of the Geologist is inseparable from that of its editor, Samuel Joseph Mackie (1823-1902), who is in many ways representative of so many individuals who attempted (and very often failed) to earn a living from science during the nineteenth century. As there was no established career path for a young man to follow in the pursuit of natural history, and very few professional positions until much later in the period, it was often a case of fortunate birth, considerable luck, or sheer perseverance that allowed individuals to dedicate their lives to such work. Mackie lacked the first two of these advantages, but was certainly not lacking in persistence. His early geological work had secured Mackie election to the Geological Society of London, but a financial scandal involving his father left him bankrupt. There are few records that allow us to trace his movements, but in 1858 Mackie established the Geologist, hoping it would become 'the popular organ of a Science which has of late years advanced with gigantic strides, and which is daily attracting an increasing share of attention from all classes of society'. The Geologist was subtitled as 'a popular monthly magazine', appealing to a broad readership of those fascinated by the exciting discoveries made by geologists during this period. 

Running a scientific periodical in the nineteenth century was far from easy money. The expense of publication required a healthy number of subscriptions to avoid a loss, let alone make a profit, and acquiring enough material to fill each issue was a constant strain on editors. Mackie lamented that few knew the 'cost, time, toil, trouble, and determination necessary to establish a magazine', and pleas to the Geologist's readers to supply him with copy and help increase the periodical's circulation were a regular feature. Unfortunately, despite Mackie's doggedness, the Geologist struggled throughout its existence. In 1864, the publishers sold their rights to the periodical for £25. It was relaunched with a new editor and title, becoming the Geological Magazine, which continues to be published to the present. Mackie was left to find other work, and began another ill-fated magazine in 1866. The Geological and Natural History Repertory proved even less successful than his previous venture, and Mackie soon gave up editing to become a civil engineer. 

The Geological Magazine incorporated a previous periodical, the Geologist (1858-64), which had struggled in attaining sufficient circulation to ensure its financial sustainability and was consequently sold by its publisher. Its new owners, Longmans and Co., changed the title and instated the palaeontologist Thomas Rupert Jones (1819-1911) as editor. The magazine became a significantly different publication, as it was no longer a 'popular' periodical that invited contributions indiscriminately from its readers. The majority of the contents consisted of original scientific 'memoirs'—long essays—written by recognised geologists who were fellows of the Geological Society of London. It was nevertheless intended as a 'public' journal of geology, presenting the 'best work from the best men' to a wider audience who may not have followed all its technicalities but nevertheless wished to keep abreast of the latest discoveries. There was a widespread appetite for work on geological subjects during the nineteenth century, and fossils provoked particular excitement among many. Furthermore, it gave established geologists another outlet for their work. Publishing research in the Quarterly Journal of the Geological Society of London was a slower process (as the title implies, this periodical was only issued four times a year), and less widely circulated than the more commercial Geological Magazine.

The Geological Magazine was not entirely exclusive, however, nor was it the preserve of men only. In 1867, it published an article by 'Miss Lynton' on 'an old lake basin in Shropshire'. Charlotte Lynton (1839-1917) is not a well-known figure in the history of geology, and it is difficult to find extensive information about her life, but it is notable that she later wrote a short book on the geology of North Shropshire that was published in 1869 by Robert Hardwicke (of Hardwicke's Science Gossip fame).

The Geological Magazine proved successful, reaching a monthly circulation of 1000 copies. It has since evolved to become a peer-reviewed journal for the publication of research carried out by professional geologists.

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