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Henry De la Beche

Sir Henry Thomas De la Beche (1796 - April 13, 1855) was an English geologist.

His father, an officer in the army, possessed landed property in Jamaica, but died while his son was still young. De la Beche spent his early life living with his mother in Lyme Regis, where he acquired a love for geology. At the age of fourteen he entered the military college at Great Marlow.

The peace of 1815, however, changed his career. At the age of twenty-one he joined the Geological Society of London, continuing throughout life to be one of its most active, useful and honoured members. He was president in 1848 -1849. He visited many localities of geological interest, not only in Britain, but also on the continent, in France and Switzerland. Returning to the south-west of England he began the detailed investigation of the rocks of Cornwall and Devon. Contact with the mining community of that part of the country gave him the idea that the nation ought to compile a geological map of the United Kingdom, and collect and preserve specimens to illustrate, and aid in further developing, its mineral industries.

The government then appointed him in connection with the Ordnance Survey. This formed the starting point of the Geological Survey of Great Britain, which was officially recognized in 1835, when De la Beche was appointed director. Increasing stores of valuable specimens began to arrive in London; and the building at Craigs Court, where the young Museum of Economic Geology was placed, became too small. De la Beche appealed to the authorities to provide a larger structure and to widen the whole scope of the scientific establishment of which he was the head. Parliament sanctioned the erection of a museum in Jermyn Street, London, and the organization of a staff of professors with laboratories and other appliances. The establishment, in which were combined the offices of the Geological Survey, the Museum of Practical Geology, The Royal School of Mines and the Mining Record Office, was opened in 1851.

De la Beche published numerous memoirs on English geology in the Transactions of the Geological Society of London, as well as in the Memoirs of the Geological Survey, notably the Report on the Geology of Cornwall, Devon and West Somerset (1839). He likewise wrote A Geological Manual (1831; 3rd ed., 1833); and Researches in Theoretical Geology (1834), in which he enunciated a philosophical treatment of geological questions much in advance of his time. An early volume, How to Observe Geology (1835 and 1836), was rewritten and enlarged by him late in life, and published under the title of The Geological Observer (1851; 2nd ed., 1853).

He was elected Fellow of the Royal Society in 1819. He was knighted in 1848, and near the close of his life was awarded the Wollaston medal.