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Logan, William Edmond

Logan, William Edmond

(b. Montreal, Canada, 20 April 1798; d. Llechryd, Wales, 22 July 1875)


Logan’s grandfather, James Logan, emigrated from Stirling, Scotland, to Montreal in 1784 and soon developed a prosperous bakery business, which passed upon his retirement to his eldest son, William. The latter married Janet Edmond of Stirling; and their second son, William Edmond, was born in Montreal. Logan’s education began at Skakel’s Private School in Montreal and continued at the Edinburgh High School (1814-1816) and Edinburgh University (1816-1817), where he studied chemistry, mathematics, and logic. He spent the years 1818-1831 in his uncle Hart’s bank in London, becoming its manager upon his uncle’s retirement in 1827. Later (1831-1838) he joined the management of a copper-smelting and coal-mining venture near Swansea, Wales, in which his uncle was interested, remaining there until his uncle’s death. He soon found that chemistry and geology were essential to the success of the business and embarked upon a geological study of the local Glamorganshire coalfield—ultimately, in 1838, producing a memoir, with maps and sections. Its excellence was recognized by the director of the Geological Survey of Great Britain, Sir Henry De la Beche, who with Logan’s permission incorporated it in toto in the Survey’s report on that region. From that time on, Logan devoted himself exclusively to geology, particularly to the coal formations.

Logan’s work on underclays with fossil Stigmaria in South Wales coalfields was to weigh heavily on the side of the in situ theory of the origin of coal, and, with his papers on the packing of ice in the St. Lawrence River, soon established him as a geologist of note. In 1842 the appointment of a provincial geologist was approved by the Canadian government under Sir Charles Bagot, who set about finding a suitable candidate. Logan obtained “a mass of testimonials“including letters from four of the most influential British geologists of the time: De la Beche, Roderick Murchison, Adam Sedgwick, and William Buckland. As a consequence he was offered, and accepted, the directorship of the newly created Geological Survey of Canada, a post which he held until 1869. For twenty-seven years he and his assistants traveled in all reachable parts of Canada from the Great Lakes to the Maritime Provinces; they also issued reports of progress, of which “Report on the Geology of Canada“(1863), his magnum opus, provided a compilation of twenty years of research. After more than a century, it is still a reservoir of important information.

Logan was fortunate in the choice of his assistants for both fieldwork and office work. Alexander Murray was his first and most important field geologist until he resigned to become director of the Geological Survey of Newfoundland in 1864. T. Sterry Hunt, his chemist, was responsible for hundreds of analyses of minerals, rocks, and ores. Elkanah Billings, his paleontologist, examined all fossils collected by field geologists and provided Logan with information invaluable for the correct identification of the age and the stratigraphic position of rock formations. Others included the geologists James Richardson and Robert Bell and the draftsman Robert Barlow. Later, Edward Hartley, Thomas Macfarlane, Charles Robb, and H. G. Vennor joined the Survey.

A twelve-hour day in the field was the rule for Logan. He was usually alone’ carrying all necessary equipment together with the day’s collection of specimens; he recorded his progress by means of pacing and compass in regions of which, for the most part, there were no reliable maps. If at the end of a day in the bush his plotting of his traverse showed an error of more than two chains, he was disappointed. In the evenings he wrote up his notes and completed his maps. Logan’s notebooks, preserved in Ottawa, are marvels of simplicity, perspicacity, and brevity, here and there embellished by illuminating pen sketches of the country covered. He was equally tireless during the winters, composing his reports of progress, revising those of his assistants, and above all seeking adequate governmental financial support. Thousands of pounds of his own resources were poured into the early ill-supported organization.

Following the publication of the 1863 report one can detect a slight but increasing diminution of Logan’s powers, which in 1869 he recognized had reached a point where a younger man was needed to carry the burden of a vigorous and growing organization. As a consequence, in that year he resigned as director and divided his time between an estate he had bought in Wales and exploration, at his own expense, in Canada, designed to settle certain vexatious problems which had been left unsolved at the time of his resignation. While preparing for a summer’s fieldwork in the eastern townships of Quebec, he became ill; and Following a short illness he died in 1875. He was buried in the churchyard at Llechryd, Wales.

Logan’s bibliography is not extensive and consists mostly of progress reports to the government concerning the work of the Survey. Many of these reports, sixteen in all, he wrote in his own hand—some in quadruplicate. The most important, and nearly the last, was his 1863 report, which provided the first complete coverage, according to information then available, of the geology of Canada from the Great Lakes to the Atlantic seaboard. In this remarkable compilation Logan was ably assisted by Sterry Hunt, whose work as chemist provided the foundation on which much of the information concerning the rocks, minerals, and ores of Canada was based. Early articles on underclay, the Glamorganshire coalfield, and ice packing have been mentioned. Others, mostly short notes, recorded his observations on the copper-bearing rocks of Lake Superior, animal tracks in the Potsdam sandstone, the supposed fossil Eozoön, subdivision of the Precambrian rocks of Canada, and remarks on the laconic question, in which he avoided controversy by using the term “Quebec group“for equivalent rocks in Canada. Although he was the first to publish the discovery of Eozoön, and exhibited specimens of it during his visits to England, Logan later became noncommittal as the battle was waged between those who saw it as a fossil and those who advocated its metamorphic origin.

Among Logan’s achievements was his recognition of an anomalous structural condition in which rocks of the Quebec Group lay structurally above younger (Middle and Late Ordovician) beds of the St. Lawrence Lowland. This he explained by proposing “an over“turn anticlinal fold, with a crack and dislocation running along its summit, by which the [Quebec] group is made to overlap the Hudson River [Upper Ordovician] formation,“He traced this thrust fault from Alabama to the Canadian border, and thence to the tip of the Gaspé peninsula. Although made up of a multitude of imbricating faults the structure is still referred to as Logan’s Line. The earliest use of that term is not known.

Logan was never directly connected with university affairs, although as a result of his regard for Sir John William Dawson he donated $19,000 to found the Logan chair in geology and lesser amounts for Logan medals. Both McGill University in Montreal (1856) and the University of Bishop’s College in Lennoxville, Quebec (1855), conferred honorary degrees on him. The excellence of his display of Canadian rocks and minerals at the London exhibition of 1851 led to his election as fellow of the Royal Society; he was sponsored by the most prominent contemporary British geologist, Sir Roderick Murchison. A similar exhibit at Paris in 1855 earned him the Grand Gold Medal of Honor from the Imperial Commission and an investiture as chevalier of the Legion of Honor in the same year. The following year he was knighted by Queen Victoria and also received the Wollaston Palladium Medal from the Royal Society. He was a fellow of the Geological Society of London (1837) and of the Royal Society of Edinburgh (1861), and a member of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia (1846), the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, Boston (1859), and the American Philosophical Society (1860).


I. Original Works. Logan’s complete bibliography is in John M. Nickles, “Geologic Literature of North America 1785-1918,“in Bulletin of the United States Geological Survey, no. 746, pt. 1 (1923), 671-672. His most important work was “Report on the Geology of Canada,“in Geological Survey of Canada, Report of Progress to 1863 (Ottawa, 1863), a summation of all his previous annual reports. His bibliography also includes a dozen short reports and articles on various topics.

II. Secondary Literature. See Robert Bell, Sir William M. Logan and the Geological Survey of Canada (Ottawa, 1877); B. J. Harrington, “Sir William Edmond Logan,” in American Journal of Science and Arts, 3rd ser., 11 (1876), 81-93; Canadian Naturalist and Geologist, 8 (1876), 31-46, with portrait; and Geological Survey of Canada, Report of Progress for 1875-1876 (Ottawa, 1877), 8-21; and Life of Sir E. William. Logan, Kt. (London, 1883), with portrait; J. M. Harrison and E. Hall, “William Edmond Logan” in Proceedings of the Geological Association of Canada,15 (1963), 33-42; G. P. Merrill, The First One Hundred Years of American Geology (New Haven, 1924), 237, 411-416, 636; and W. Notman and Fennings Taylor, “Sir William Edmond Logan, LL.D., F.R.S., F.G.S.,” in Portraits of British Americans With Biographical Sketches, II (Montreal, 1867), 133-145.

T. H. Clark

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Sir William Edmond Logan

Sir William Edmond Logan

Sir William Edmond Logan (1798-1875) was a Canadian geologist who founded the Geological Survey of Canada and contributed many fruitful new ideas to the science of geology.

William E. Logan was born on April 20, 1798, in Montreal, where his father, a Scottish immigrant, was a prosperous businessman. William attended high school in Edinburgh, Scotland, and then entered the University of Edinburgh. After a year he left for London to join his uncle in business for the next 10 years. These were the years of highly touted processes for extracting previously unrecognized metals from slag heaps and mine tips. When everyone else was plunging however, Logan was cautious and avoided the grave losses which ensued in many of these fly-by-night enterprises.

In 1831 Logan's uncle decided that the family copper works near Swansea in Wales required the full time of a trustworthy person, and Logan immersed himself in the subjects of copper smelting and coal mining. He purchased some simple instruments, a compass and a theodolite, to map the Glamorganshire coal field; the maps were so detailed and so accurate that they were eventually adopted in the government survey by De La Beche.

Logan's interest in the origins of coal fields was soon stimulated, and he began looking into the London Clay formations on the Isle of Sheppey. His copper business took him through France and Spain, and he studied the geology of various regions en route.

By 1837 Logan was elected a fellow of the Geological Society. He carried on in Wales, by now more immersed in geology than in business. In 1840 he communicated a very important paper to the Geological Society of London, "On the Characters of the Beds of Clay Immediately below the Coal-Seams of South Wales." He showed clearly that coal developed originally in the position in which it was now being found and was not some vast garbage pile of driftwood from past eras which had become mineralized.

In Nova Scotia, Logan visited quarries seeking fossil remains. At one quarry he found the tracks of a batrachian animal, evidence of animal life in the Lower Carboniferous rocks, but was not given credit for this discovery for some years.

Geological Survey of Canada

In 1841 the Geological Survey of Canada was founded, and Logan became its first director. He carried out surveys of the then-settled part of Canada, rejecting over and over again the possibility of making a fortune from the knowledge thus acquired. He received numerous honors and was knighted by Queen Victoria at Windsor in 1856 and awarded the Woollaston Medal by the Geological Society of London.

Logan, a confirmed bachelor, gradually attracted a core of dedicated and highly qualified workers about him, but he suffered the indignities of many pioneer scientists when it came to getting Parliament to finance his work. His great volume, Geology of Canada (1863), was derided by the Canadian prime minister, who said "It ought to have been a school book to instruct the youth of the province in the elements of geology."

But Logan was tough and determined and wrote "whatever may happen to the Survey it is not my intention to abandon the geological investigation of Canada." At the British Association meeting in Bath in 1864 the great geologist Sir Charles Lyell referred to Logan's discovery of a large species of rhizopod (Eozon canadense) as the greatest geological discovery that had been made in his time. This suggested that life existed in the Laurentian Shield before it existed in some of the oldest rocks in Europe.

Logan was director of the Geological Survey until 1869. He died at Castle Malgwyn, Pembrokeshire, Wales, on June 22, 1875.

Further Reading

Logan's own work, written with T. S. Hunt, is Geology of Canada: Report of Progress of the Geological Survey from Its Commencement to 1863 (1863). A biography is Bernard J. Harrington, Life of Sir William E. Logan (1883). For a background work in which Logan is cited see Carl O. Dunbar, Historical Geology (1915; 3d ed. 1969). □

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