Coal seams and copper: W.E. Logan and the geological map

William Logan, 1856
William Logan, 1856
The Forest Works near Swansea 1792 by John 'Warwick' Smith (1749-1831).

The Forest Works near Swansea 1792 by John 'Warwick' Smith (1749-1831).

Lewis Weston Dillwyn (1778-1855) by Sir George Hayter (1792-1871).

Lewis Weston Dillwyn (1778-1855) by Sir George Hayter (1792-1871).

William Edmond Logan was one of the leading geologists of the nineteenth century and is recognized as Canada's most important scientist of all time. It was in Wales that his geological career began.

Swansea: copper town

In the mid nineteenth century, around half of the world's copper was being produced in Swansea, with copper ores being imported from around the world to be smelted with south Wales coal.

Swansea controlled the world price of copper and came to be known as 'Copperopolis'. Fourteen copper works were in operation in the Swansea district in the 1830s. One of these was the Upper Forest Copper Works at Morriston, opened in 1752. Here, William Edmond Logan began his career as one of the great geologists of the 19th century.

W.E. Logan (1798-1875)

William Edmond Logan was born in Montreal in 1798. His parents had emigrated from Scotland. At the age of 16, Logan was sent to school in Edinburgh and then briefly attended classes at the university there. After a year, in 1817, he moved to London to work for his uncle's accounting business.

During the 1820s, Logan became interested in geology, collecting fossil shells on his uncle's estate in Suffolk and on the Isle of Sheppey in Kent. In 1831, Logan's uncle acquired a share in the Upper Forest Copper Works at Morriston and sent his nephew to Swansea to manage the company's accounts.

Swansea: a centre of science

Science flourished in Swansea in the 1830s and 1840s, largely under the leadership of the naturalist and local MP, Lewis Weston Dillwyn (1778-1855). He was the founding President of the Swansea Philosophical Institution which, within a few years, became the Royal Institution of South Wales. Logan, too, was a founding member and served as the Institution's Honorary Secretary and Honorary Curator of Geology from 1836.

Coal and copper

In 1833, Logan became joint manager of the Upper Forest Copper Works. The following year, he spent several months in France and Spain in search of new sources of copper ore. He was also keen to establish reliable supplies of local coal, so in 1835 he began a study of the local coal seams around Swansea by recording their outcrops onto maps and sections.

"I attend to nothing else but the making of copper and digging of coal from morning to night." W.E. Logan.

The Geological Survey comes to Swansea

In 1835, Henry De la Beche (1796-1855), a geologist from Lyme Regis in Dorset, was given government funding to make a geological survey of Cornwall - the beginnings of the British Geological Survey. Two years later, De la Beche moved to Swansea in December 1837 to map the rocks of the South Wales Coalfield.

De la Beche became involved in the Swansea Philosophical Institution through his friend Lewis Weston Dillwyn. He met Logan and was impressed by the quality of his mapping of the Swansea coal seams, commenting that Logan's map was "beautifully executed [and] of an order so greatly superior to that usual with geologists".

De la Beche used Logan's work on the official Geological Survey map. Logan continued mapping with the Geological Survey in South Wales until 1841.

The geological map of Swansea

The first Geological Survey map of the Swansea district was published in 1844, based on the 1830 Ordnance Survey topographic map on the scale of one inch to one mile. It covers the area from Kenfig in the east to Kidwelly in the west. The geological mapping is credited to W.E. Logan and Sir Henry De la Beche.

Henry Thomas De la Beche (1796-1855), founder of the British Geological Survey, about 1841.

Henry Thomas De la Beche (1796-1855), founder of the British Geological Survey, about 1841.

"I worked like a slave all summer on the gulph of St Lawrence, living the life of a savage, inhabiting an open tent, sleeping on the beach in a blanket and sack, with my feet to the fire, seldom taking my clothes off, eating salt pork & ship's biscuit, occasionally tormented by mosquitoes".

Letter from Logan to De la Beche, 20 April 1844.


Logan in Canada

With his geological skills honed on the coal rocks of Swansea, in 1841 Logan applied for the post of first Director of the Geological Survey of Canada. His application was supported by many of the leading British geologists, including Henry De la Beche, and he was appointed in April 1842.

By 1849 he and four staff had mapped the area between the St Lawrence River and the Great Lakes, worked on the coal deposits of Nova Scotia, and found copper ore to the east of Montreal. In 1851, he prepared a display of ore minerals from Canada for the Great Exhibition in London.

In 1863, Logan and his staff published the first major study of the geology of Canada. It is regarded as the pinnacle of Canadian scientific publishing in the 19th century. This was followed by the publication of maps in 1865 and 1869.

Logan returns to Wales

Logan was knighted in 1856, the first native-born Canadian to receive a knighthood. He was also honoured by France, the Royal Society, the Geological Society, Bishop's University in Quebec, and McGill University in Montreal, as well as by the citizens of Toronto and Montreal.

Although Logan officially retired in 1869, he continued summer fieldwork around Montreal and spent winters at his sister's house in west Wales. He died there in June 1875 and is buried in the churchyard at Cilgerran in Pembrokeshire.

Today, William Edmond Logan is recognized as Canada's most important scientist of all time. And it was in Wales that his geological career began.

External links

Swansea Museum

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