S2A3 Biographical Database of Southern African Science

Gurich, Mr Georg Julius Ernst (geology, plant collection)

Born: 25 September 1859, Guttentach, Silesia, Germany.
Died: 16 August 1938, Berlin, Germany.

Georg J.E. Gürich, German geologist and palaeontologist, was born in a small town near present Dobrodzien, Poland, then part of the German Empire. He graduated as Doctor of Philosophy (Dr Phil) in geology at the University of Breslau (now Wroclaw, Poland) in 1883 and obtained a post as an assistant in the Botanical and Geological-Mineralogical Institute of Hamburg. In 1885 he was a member of an expedition to the western Sudan led by E. Flegel. He reported on the expedition's work in two papers, "Die Expedition im westlichen Sudan" (1886-1887) and "Die botanische Ergebnisse der Flegel'schen Expedition nach dem Niger-Benue" (1887), the latter in Engler's Botanische Jahrbücher. His Beiträge zur geologie von West-Afrika (Breslau, 1887, 43p) served as his inaugural dissertation as an academic. Another paper by him dealt with fossils from Mossamedes in Angola (1887). After returning from his African expedition he continued his research on the geology and palaeontology of Silesia.

In May 1888 Gürich was sent out to German South West Africa (now Namibia) by the Südwest-Afrikanisches Goldsyndikat of Berlin to prospect for minerals. He arrived in Cape Town and first studied the then disputed succession of the Cape Supergroup in the vicinity of Ceres. His observations, published as "Zur Alterbestimmung der unteren Grenze der Karrooformation" in the Neues Jahrbuch (Stuttgart, 1890, Vol. 1, pp. 283-285), settled the matter by convincingly supporting the succession first proposed by A.G. Bain* and later also adopted by E.J. Dunn* and A.H. Green*. Two further papers by him, both in 1889, dealt with the same succession and with a new fossil from the Karoo respectively.

After visiting the diamond fields at Kimberley Gürich travelled to Walfish Bay and started his evaluation of the mineral potential of parts of central and northern Namibia. He covered mainly the triangular area between Walfish Bay, the Erongo Mountains and Rehoboth, but also travelled northwards to Otjitambi (south-east of Kamanjab). Although he returned to Germany in January 1889 after only a few months of field work, his pioneering reconnaissance surveys yielded important results. He investigated the succession which later became known as the Otavi Group, and introduced the name Kaoko Formation for the Karoo strata in Kaokoland. This work was described in a comprehensive publication, "Deutsch Südwest-Afrika: Reisebilder und Skizzen aus den Jahren 1888 und 1889 mit einer Original-Routenkarte" in the Mitteilungen der Geographischen Gesellschaft (1891/2, pp. 1-216) and several other papers. These constituted the first proper reports on the geology of Namibia. Some gold occurrences which he studied in southern Damaraland, and which did not prove to be economically viable, were described in two further papers in 1889.

Gürich also brought back a collection of some 130 plants from Namibia, from which one genus and 24 species were described as new, by H.G.A. Engler* in 1895. The species Sterculia gurichii, Sigmatosiphon gurichii, Euphorbia gurichiana and Ficus guerichiana were named after him.

After his visit to Namibia Gürich led an expedition to Venezuela for a merchant firm in Hamburg. He taught geology at the University of Breslau from 1894 to 1910, when he became director of the Mineralogisch-Geologischen Staatsinstituts at Hamburg. Four years later he went on an expedition to East Africa, but on hearing that World War I had broken out tried to return to Europe on a Portuguese ship. However, the ship touched at the Cape, where he was taken ashore and interned at Fort Napier, Pietermaritzburg. He was repatriated in 1915, and the next year published an account of his experiences during the early part of the war in the form of a book.

In 1919 Gürich became professor of geology and palaeontology at the newly established University of Hamburg. During his long career he studied the geology and palaeontology of Silesia and Poland, the quarternary period, the occurrence of oil in northern Germany and various other topics, and published numerous scientific papers. Some of his more important geological publications were Geologische Ubersichtkarte von Schlesien... (1890, with an explanatory volume; Das mineralreich (1896); Geologische Führer in das Riesengebirge (1900); and Erdgestaltung und Erdgeschichte... (1928). He retained his interest in the geology and palaeontology of Namibia and South Africa, continuing to publish on these regions to 1933. For example, in 1930 and 1933 he described the first macrofossils from the Nama Group, based on the impressions of soft-bodied organisms found in the quartzite of the Kuibis formation in southern Namibia by the geologists H. Schneiderhöhn* and P. Range* between 1908 and 1914. During 1928-1929 he visited South Africa and Namibia again, and attended the International Geological Congress in Pretoria.

List of sources:
Corstorphine, G.S. The history of stratigraphical investigation in South Africa. Report of the South African Association for the Advancement of Science, 1904, pp. 145-181.

Debus, A.G. (Ed.) World who's who in science. Chicago: Marquis, 1968.

Gunn, M. & Codd, L.E. Botanical exploration of southern Africa. Cape Town: Balkema, 1981.

Hall, A.L. A bibliography of South African geology.... Pretoria: Geological Survey, Memoirs No. 18 (1922), No. 25 (1927), No. 27 (1931), and No. 30 (1937).

Hillebrecht, W. [Unpublished notes for a Dictionary of Namibian biography]. National Archives of Namibia, Windhoek, June 2004.

Hugo, P.J., Schalk, K.E.L. & Barnes, S.J. Bibliography of South West African/Namibian earth science (also the introduction). Windhoek: Geological Survey, 1983.

Kienetz, A. Nineteenth-century South West Africa as a German settlement colony (pp. 564-573). PhD thesis in social geography, University of Minnesota, 1976. Facsimile by University Microfilms International, Ann Arbor, Michigan, 1977.

National Union Catalogue, pre-1956 imprints. London: Mansell, 1968-1980.

Neue Deutsche Biographie. Berlin: Duncker & Humblot, 1953-1997.

Royal Society of London. Catalogue of scientific papers [1800-1900]. London: Royal Society, 1867-1925.

South African bibliography to the year 1925. London: Mansell, 1979.

South African Committee for Stratigraphy (SACS). Stratigraphy of South Africa. Part 1: Lithostratigraphy... (Compiled by L.E. Kent; (pp. 415, 535, 543). Pretoria: Geological Survey, Handbook 8, 1980.

Compiled by: C. Plug