S2A3 Biographical Database of Southern African Science




Lamplugh, Mr George William (geology, physical geography, archaeology)

Born: 8 April 1859, Driffield, Yorkshire, England.
Died: 9 October 1926, Place not known.

George William Lamplugh, British businessman and self-taught geologist, was the son of Henry Lamplugh and his wife Elizabeth, born Weightman. He followed a commercial career with a corn merchant in Bridlington,Yorkshire, rising to head clerk by 1891. In 1878, when only 19 years old, he published his first geological paper, "On the occurrence of marine shells in the boulder-clay at Bridlington and elsewhere on the Yorkshire coast" in the Geological Magazine, describing the Pleistocene glacial deposits near his home. In 1884 he took part in the Yukon gold rush in Alaska and studied glacial processes in the American and Canadian Rocky Mountains. His work soon led to many more papers on the glacial deposits of Yorkshire; on glacial phenomena in Canada, namely on Vancouver Island (1885) and in British Columbia (1886), as well as in Ireland (1898); the geysers of Yellowstone Park, United States (1888); and the geology of the Isle of Man (1895, 1900, 1903). What made his papers valuable was his ability to observe and to write lucid, factual accounts of what he had seen, making a clear distinction between observations and opinions.

Meanwhile he had given up his business career and in 1892 obtained an appointment as an assistant geologist with the Geological Survey of Great Britain. Soon after his appointment he conducted a geological survey of the Isle of Man. In 1901 he was promoted to district geologist in charge of the Irish Branch of the Geological Survey, in Dublin. After returning to England in 1905 he became assistant director of the Geological Survey in 1914, a post he held until his retirement in 1920. During his career, and especially from about 1903 to his death in 1926, he published numerous papers, reports, books and monographs on the geology and physical geography of portions of Great Britain, retaining his early interest in glacial phenomena. He was elected a Fellow of the Geological Society of London in 1890, served as its president from 1918 to 1920 and received its Wollaston Medal in 1925. In 1905 he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society (FRS) as well as a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society (FRGS).

Lamplugh became a member of the British Association for the Advancement of Science in 1893 and in 1905 was joint vice-president of its Section C (Geology). That year the British Association met jointly with the South African Association for the Advancement of Science in South Africa. Lamplugh was asked by the council of the British Association to visit and study the geology of the Victoria Falls and the gorge below it, and report on his findings at the joint meeting. He arrived at the falls on 2 July 1905 and with the help of F.W. Sykes of the British South Africa Company undertook an expedition through the rough country along the northern bank of the river to Wankie's drift, some 110 km downstream. Here they crossed the river and explored the region south of the gorge. The trek of 1000 km, on foot and horseback, ended at the Wankie Coal Mine and railway station on 4 August. Lamplugh had collected a large number of geological samples, stone artefacts, and some freshwater shells. On 30 August in Johannesburg he delivered his preliminary "Report on an investigation of the Batoka Gorge and adjacent portions of the Zambesi Valley". It included the first reasonably accurate description of the course of the Zambesi immediately below the falls. Like A.J.C. Molyneux* he concluded that the falls and gorge had developed slowly as a result of the erosive power of the river.

Several important publications were based on the observations and samples gathered during the expedition. A summary of Lamplugh's report was included in the Addresses and papers... published after the meeting ("The Batoka Gorge of the Zambesi", Vol. 2, pp. 110-118), as well as in the British Association's Report of the meeting and in Nature. "Notes on the geological history of the Victoria Falls" appeared in the Geological Magazine (1905), followed by two long and informative papers, "The geology of the Zambesi basin around the Batoka Gorge" in the Quarterly Journal of the Geological Society (1907), and "The gorge and basin of the Zambesi below the Victoria Falls, Rhodesia" in the Geographical Journal (1908). The stone artefacts he collected were exhibited at the Johannesburg meeting and later donated to the British Museum (Natural History). Most were found along the river, both above and below the falls, and consisted of "rudely chipped implements of chalcedony and agate", formed on water-worn pebbles. Surprisingly the collection contained no hand-axes. The artefacts were described in "Notes on the occurrence of stone implements in the valley of the Zambesi around the Victoria Falls", in the Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute (1906, Vol. 36, pp. 159-169). Other members of the British Association, including H.W. Feilden* and J.P. Johnson*, also collected stone artefacts at the falls after the meeting.

Lamplugh was a member of three committees of the British Association at this time, which reported on various aspects of geology in Britain. He also read a "Note on the occurrence of Dwyka Conglomerate at Kimberley Mine", in which he described glacial boulders and the cast of a striated glacial surface in the open shaft of the mine. These observations were presumably based on a visit to the diamond fields on his way from Cape Town to the Victoria Falls.


List of sources:
Addresses and papers read at the joint meeting of the British and South African Associations for the Advancement of Science, South Africa, 1905. Johannesburg: South African Association for the Advancement of Science.

Annual general meeting, June 28th, 1905. Proceedings of the Rhodesia Scientific Association, 1905, Vol. 5, pp. 54-57.

British Association for the Advancement of Science. Report of the seventy-fifth meeting... South Africa, 1905.

Cohen, A.B. Notes on South African stone tool collectors represented in the collections of the British Museum (Natural History). Private communication, 27 March 2001.

Goodwin, A.J.H. A commentary upon South African prehistory... Bantu Studies, 1935, Vol. 9, pp. 291-333; bibliography pp. 387-413.

Hall, A.L. A bibliography of South African geology to the end of 1920. Pretoria: Geological Survey, Memoir No. 18, 1922.

Jones, N. The prehistory of Southern Rhodesia. Cambridge University Press, 1949.

National Union Catalogue, pre-1956 imprints. London: Mansell, 1979.

Penny, L.F. Early discoverers, XXIV: George William Lamplugh (1859-1926). Journal of Glaciology, 1966, Vol. 6, pp. 307-309.

Rowe, D. George William Lamplugh. Yorkshire Philosophical Society. Retrieved from https://www.ypsyork.org/resources/yorkshire-scientists-and-innovators/george-lamplugh/ on 2018-4-16.

Royal Society of London. Catalogue of scientific papers. London: Royal Society, 1867-1925.

Who was who, Vol. 2, 4th ed. London: Adam & Black, 1967.


Compiled by: C. Plug


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