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Henry Thomas De La Beche and Roderick Impey Murchison (15 Jul 2004)
In the third set of tantrums we move on to the unseemly row which developed among leading earth scientists in the 1830s. The new science of geology was just beginning to make progress with working out the sequence in which different rocks were laid down.

At the same time it was also becoming successful at predicting where coal could be found. So all was well and there was a rush to map the country and establish names for different periods in geological history.

Then one man, Henry De La Beche, in Devon, found some fossils that according to another man, Roderick Murchison, could not be there. They threatened Murchisonsí theory and furious debate followed over the next decade.

Sir Roderick Impey Murchison was a wealthy Scot, military hero and reputedly one of the finest fox hunters in the land. He was typical of the gentlemen amateurs who were making the running in the new science of geology. Tipped for the presidency of the geological society, he did not take kindly to the findings.

Henry De La Beche was one of a new breed of geologists who actually had to work for a living. When his contentious findings were presented to the society, he was too poor to afford the fare up to London, and his letter was read in his absence.

In the end, the science of geology was helped by the fight - furious though it was - and De La Beche could be said to have pioneered the career of the professional geologist, transforming what had been a pastime for the priveleged few into a serious career option for many.
Article URL: http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio4/science/testtubesandtantrums.shtml

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