Peach, Charles William (DNB00)

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PEACH, CHARLES WILLIAM (1800–1886), naturalist and geologist, was born at Wansford in Northamptonshire on 30 Sept. 1800, being son of Charles William Peach and his wife Elizabeth Vellum, both of a yeoman stock. The lad was educated at Wansford and Folkingham (Lincolnshire), and was appointed by the Earl of Westmorland to the revenue coastguard in January 1824. Weybourne was his first station; then, after sundry moves, he was sent to Gorran Haven in Cornwall, where he remained till 1845. He performed his duties most efficiently. They gave him opportunities for the study of natural history of which he was not slow to avail himself, and before long he became known as a keen and accurate observer. A paper read before the meeting of the British Association at Plymouth in 1841 brought him to the notice of leading men of science, who in 1844 urged Sir R. Peel to give Peach a more lucrative position. In the following year he was appointed to a place in the customs at Fowey. In 1849 he was promoted to Peterhead, and in 1853 to a higher position at Wick, retiring on a pension in 1861. After his retirement he settled in Edinburgh, where he died on 28 Feb. 1886.

He married Jemima Maleson on 26 April 1829, by whom he had seven sons (only two of whom survived, one, Benjamin Neeve Peach, F.R.S., of her majesty's geological survey) and two daughters, one of whom married George Hay, the historian, of Arbroath.

Peach's life, like that of his friend Robert Dick, was a noble instance of the pursuit of knowledge under difficulties, and of an irrepressible love of nature. For many years his income was less than 100l. a year; the average from the date of his appointment to his death cannot have greatly exceeded that sum. As he had not enjoyed the advantage of a scientific training, his work was that of an observer rather than of a theorist. In natural history he added largely to the knowledge of marine invertebrates, discovering many new species of sponges, cælenterates, and molluscs; he also made valuable observations on fishes. In geology he was the first to discover fish remains in the Devonian rocks of the south-west, fossils which determined the age of the quartzites of Gorran Haven and of the Durness limestone of Sutherlandshire. In addition to this he worked much in the boulder clay of Caithness, the old red sandstone, and the carboniferous plants of Scotland, the last being more especially the occupation of his later years.

In the Royal Society's 'Catalogue of Papers' seventy-one appear under Peach's name, rather more than half being geological; they were chiefly printed in the publications of the Geological and the Polytechnic Society of Cornwall and of the Physical Society of Edinburgh. He had the happiness of feeling that his work was appreciated. Grants were made by scientific societies in aid of his work, among them from the Wollaston donation fund of the Geological Society of London. He received two medals from the Royal Cornwall Polytechnic Society, and the Neill medal from the Royal Society of Edinburgh; while his help was frequently acknowledged in the works of the leading naturalists and geologists of his time.

[Obituary notices in Nature, xxxiii. 446; Athenæum, No. 3040, p. 362; private information; Smiles's Life of Robert Dick.]

T. G. B.