Greenough, George Bellas (DNB00)
|←Greenhow, Edward Headlam||Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 23
Greenough, George Bellas
GREENOUGH, GEORGE BELLAS (1778–1855), geographer and geologist, was born in 1778. His father, whose name was Bellas, was a proctor in Doctors' Commons, and died in 1780. His mother, a daughter of a surgeon named Greenough, died soon after, leaving her son to the care of her father. Being a good classical scholar the grandfather did much to foster a taste for scholarship in the boy, who at nine years old was sent to Eton. While Bellas was still at school his grandfather died, leaving him a fortune, and desiring him to add the name of Greenough to his own. In 1795 Greenough entered St.Peter's College, Cambridge, and kept nine terms, but took no degree, and in 1798 proceeded to the university of Göttingen to study law. He there became intimate with Coleridge, and coming under the influence of Blumenbach devoted himself mainly to natural history He studied mineralogy for a time at Freiburg under Werner, and after visiting the Hartz Mountains, Italy, and Sicily, returned to England in 1801. After going to Cornwall and the Scilly Isles, he settled in Parliament Street, Westminster, and became an active member of the Royal Institution. He attended the lectures of Wollaston and Davy, and for several years acted as secretary to the institution. In 1806 he accompanied Davy to Ireland to study the geology and the social condition of the country, and in the following year he entered parliament as member for Gatton, Surrey, which he represented until 1812. In politics he was a liberal of the school of Bentham, Romilly, and Horner. In 1807 he organised in an informal manner what afterwards became the Geological Society of London, though it was not regularly constituted, with Greenough as its first president, until 1811. The young society met with considerable opposition from Sir Joseph Banks, who wished to subordinate it to the Royal Society. Davy and others withdrew their names, but Greenough adhered to his original scheme of an independent society, acting as its president for six years, and being subsequently re-elected in 1818 and 1833. His presidential addresses to the society are among his chief contributions to geology; but he was proficient also in architecture and in archæology, and took a deep interest in ethnology. At an early date he began to form a collection of maps, upon which or in his note-books he entered all the geological data he could obtain from travellers and from books. In 1808 he first sketched the boundary-lines of the various strata in England and Wales, and in 1810 he travelled over a great part of the country for the purpose of mapping it. At the request of the Geological Society he then, with the help of Conybeare, Buckland, and Henry Warburton, coloured a large scale-map drawn by Webster, and in 1820 published it in six sheets, with an index of hills. A second edition of this map was engraved in 1839, and he presented the copyright to the society. Meanwhile in 1819 he published his only independent book, 'A Critical Examination of the first principles of Geology,' a series of eight essays, mainly directed against the views of the plutonists. This work was translated into French, German, and Italian. Most of his addresses are of the same critical character, carefully analysing the year's work and discussing various theoretical conclusions. For a long time he refused to admit the cogency of evidence derived from fossils, but ultimately abandoned his opposition and formed a collection. In 1822 he built himself a house in the Regent's Park, his home for the remainder of his life. He was one of the first trustees of the Geological Society under its charter in 1826, an original member of the British Association in 1831, one of the original council of University College, an active member of the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge, and a fellow of the Royal, Linnean, and Ethnological Societies. He acted as president of the Royal Geographical Society in 1839 and 1840, and in 1840 delivered an obituary notice of his former teacher, Blumenbach, ‘the John Hunter of Germany.’ In 1852 he laid before the Asiatic Society a series of maps of Hindostan, mainly hydrographical, and in 1854 a large-scale geological map of the whole of British India, afterwards published as a 'General Sketch of the Physical Features of British India.' This had been the work of eleven years, and in it he had the assistance of his niece, Miss Colthurst, afterwards Mrs. Greer. He then started for Italy and the East, but was taken ill on the way dropsy supervened, and he died at Naples on 2 April 1855. His books and maps were bequeathed to the Geological and Royal Geographical Societies. His bust, by Westmacott,is in the Geological Society's apartments.
[Proc. Geol. Soc. 1856; Journ. Roy. Geogr. Soc. xxv. p. lxxxviii.]