William Borlase bigraphy, stories - Geologists

William Borlase : biography

2 February 1696 - 31 August 1772

William Borlase (2 February 1695 – 31 August 1772), Cornish antiquary, geologist and naturalist. From 1722 he was Rector of Ludgvan, Cornwall, where he died in 1772.


Family and character

Borlase's elder brother was Walter Borlase, who served as vicar of Madron, and also as mayor of Penzance.

In 1724 William Borlase married Anne Smith. The couple had six sons, of whom two died in infancy. Of the remaining four, three became churchmen. Anne Borlase died in 1769.

Borlase was a conscientious minister to his parishioners, politically conservative, and an amateur painter. Some of his papers are preserved in Penzance at the Morrab Gardens Library.

William Borlase's great-great-grandson was William Copeland Borlase (1848–1899), an antiquarian who was influenced by his ancestor's archaeological work.

Life and works

Borlase was born in 1695 at Pendeen, of an ancient family originating at St Wenn. He was educated at Exeter College, Oxford from 1713, and in 1719 he was ordained. In 1722 he was presented to the rectory of Ludgvan, and in 1732 he obtained in addition the vicarage of St Just, his native parish. In the parish of Ludgvan were rich copper works, abounding with mineral and metallic fossils, of which he made a collection, and thus was led to study somewhat minutely the natural history of the county.

Between 1744 and 1746, Borlase was active against the Methodist preachers in his capacity of magistrate. Various Methodist preachers were seized on warrants issued by him and press-ganged to serve on ships abroad. In John Wesley's Diary there is an account of how he personally laid hands on Wesley, "to serve his majesty", but withdrew when he realised that Wesley was a gentleman.John Wesley's Journal, 2 July 1745; J. H. Barr (1916) Early Methodists under Persecution, p. 154.

In 1750, he was admitted a Fellow of the Royal Society; and, in 1754, he published, at Oxford, his Antiquities of Cornwall (2nd ed., London, 1769). His next publication was Observations on the Ancient and Present State of the Islands of Scilly, and their Importance to the Trade of Great Britain (Oxford, 1756). In 1758 appeared his . The Natural History includes a chapter on the inhabitants and their native language (about one ninth of the whole).

He presented to the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, a variety of fossils and antiquities, which he had described in his works, and received the thanks of the university and the degree of Doctor of Civil Law. Borlase was well acquainted with most of the leading literary men of the time, particularly with Alexander Pope, with whom he kept up a long correspondence, and for whose grotto at Twickenham he furnished the greater part of the fossils and minerals. He also sent collections of mineral and fossil specimens to Dr William Oliver and to a number of natural historians in Europe.


  • Borlase, William (1769) The Antiquities of Cornwall. London: E & W Books, 1973; reprint of the 2d ed., printed in 1769 by W. Bowyer and J. Nichols, for S. Baker & G. Leigh, T. Payne, B. White, London. (First ed. published in 1754 under title: Observations on the Antiquities of Cornwall.) ISBN 0-85409-852-6
  • Borlase, William (1756) Observations on the Islands of Scilly
  • Borlase, William (1758) Natural History of Cornwall ... Oxford: printed for the author; by W. Jackson: sold by W. Sandby, at the Ship in Fleet-Street London; and the booksellers of Oxford
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