John Milne, British geologist and seismologist, was educated at King's College, London, from 1867 to 1870 and then studied geology and mineralogy at the Royal School of Mines in the same city. After gaining some experience in mining engineering in England and Germany he was employed to investigate the coal and other mineral resources of Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada, during 1872-1874. In the latter year he joined an expedition to Mt Sinai, Egypt, and published geological notes on Cairo. From 1875 to 1895 he resided in Tokyo, Japan, as professor of geology and mining (later of seismology) at the Imperial College of Engineering. His main interest was in earthquakes and seismology, and was aroused by the strong earthquake of 22 February 1880. Later that year he took the leading role in forming the Seismological Society of Japan and served as its secretary for the next 15 years. With his colleagues Thomas Gray and James Ewins he began a programme of research and instrument development that culminated in the construction of the first seismograph capable of recording major earthquakes with epicentres any place in the world. His work was important in establishing a sound scientific and mathematical basis for seismology.
After his return to England in 1895 Milne settled at Shide, on the Isle of Wight, were he set up a seismological station. As a Fellow of the Royal Society of London (from 1887) he persuaded the society to fund the erection of twenty seismological stations around the world. These stations were equipped with the horizontal pendulum seismographs that he had helped to develop and sent him their observations for analysis. He had been a member of the British Association for the Advancement of Science since 1882 and now became secretary of the association's Seismological Committee, a position he retained for the rest of his life. His seismic survey covered all of Britain and was regularly reported on to the British Association. In addition to many scientific papers he wrote books on Earthquakes and other earth movements (New York, 1886; later editions to 1939), The miner's handbook (London, 1893), and Seismology (London, 1898). He was a Fellow also of the Geological Society of London. In 1881 he married Tone Horikawa in Japan.
In 1905 Milne visited South Africa to attend the joint meeting of the British and South African Associations for the Advancement of Science and read a paper on "Recent advances in seismology" in which he sketched the development of the discipline from its origins in Japan in 1880, and pointed out its applications to civil engineering. The next year he contributed a paper, "On the observation of earthquakes and other earth movements", at the annual congress of the South African Association for the Advancement of Science, held in Kimberley. The paper was published in the association's Report (pp. 157-161) for that year.