George Bellas Greenough bigraphy, stories - Geologists

George Bellas Greenough : biography

18 January 1778 - 2 April 1855

George Bellas Greenough FRS FGS (18 January 1778 – 2 April 1855) was an English geologist.


Greenough bequeathed his fossil collection to the Geology Department at University College London (UCL) and his notebooks are in the Greenough Papers collection held at UCL Library. The student geological society at UCL is named after Greenough.

The Greenough River in Western Australia was so-named in 1839 by Captain's George Grey, after Greenough sponsored his exploration north of Perth. Successful wheat production in the area helped establish the small town of Greenough.

Selected writings


Greenough was born in London, as George Bellas, named after his father, George Bellas, who had a profitable business in the legal profession as a proctor in Doctor's Commons, St Paul's Churchyard Doctors' Commons and some real estate in Surrey. His mother was the only daughter of the apothecary Thomas Greenough, whose very successful business was located on Ludgate Hill near to St Paul's. A younger brother died in infancy..

At the age of six he was orphaned with his father dying first, and the cause, recorded by Greenough in a biographical sketch, was ‘By neglect of business, by carelessness, extravagance, dissipation and by party zeal, my father’s fortune was soon squandered away—family dissention followed; his constitution was broken, his prospects blighted and he died of decline at Clifton in 1784’.UCL Greenough Papers 24/1 His mother followed only a few months later.

He was adopted by his maternal grandfather, who had made a fortune through selling popular preparations, the most popular of which were "Pectoral Lozenge from Balsam of Tolu", for coughs and colds, and various tinctures for cleaning teeth and gums and curing tooth ache..National Archive Kew, Petition for a patent, 19 January 1744

His grandfather sent him to Mr Cotton's school at Salthill near Slough and then to Eton at the age of ten. He stayed there only one year, suggesting he was perhaps too delicate a child for the robust life at the boarding schools of the day. In September 1789 he entered Dr Thompson's school at Kensington where he studied for the next six years. Whilst he was at school he took the name Greenough at the request of his grandfather.

He left school in 1795 and went up to Pembroke Hall, Cambridge to study law for three years, but he did not take a degree.

In September 1798, he went to the University of Göttingen to continue his legal studies, thinking that the lectures would be in Latin, but found instead they were all in German. In order to improve his language skills Greenough attended the lectures of Johann Friedrich Blumenbach on natural history and these inspired a passion for mineralogy and geology. At Göttingen Samuel Coleridge was one of his closer friends. A few year's later Greenough was instrumental in securing a government post for Coleridge during his period in Malta..

In 1799, Greenough made at least two tours of the Harz; one in the Easter vacation with Clement Carlyon and Charles and Frederic Parry; and the other in the late summer with Carlyon and Coledridge. These tours were mainly to collect minerals, but he also studied geological collections in the towns he visited..

In 1801, Greenough returned to England and his interest in geology deepened when he toured England with Carlyon and met Humphry Davy in Penzance. Later he attended Davy's lectures at the Royal Institution in London.

The following year he travelled to France and Italy and 'noted what I saw of geology on my way'. He went on a geological tour of Scotland with James Skene in 1805, and of Ireland with Davy in 1806. On the Ireland tour he also made a study of social conditions which aroused a deep interest in political questions.

1807 was a significant year for Greenough. He was elected member of parliament for the borough of Gatton, continuing to hold this seat until 1812, although Hansard does not record he made any contributions to the House. In this year his interest in science in general, and geology in particular, increased : he joined a number of eminent scientific and cultural societies and he was elected fellow of the Royal Society. He also became associated with a group of mineralogists to which Davy referred in a letter to William Pepys, dated 13 November 1807, when he said 'We are forming a little talking Geological Club'. This club rapidly developed into a learned society devoted to geology and Greenough became the chief founder with others of the Geological Society of London. He was the first chairman of that Society, and in 1811, when it was more regularly constituted, he was the first president. In this capacity he served on two subsequent occasions, and did much to promote the advancement of geology.

Living octopus

Living octopus

In countries which are located near sea coasts, sea food is an important part of national cuisine