Sir William Edmond Logan

Sir William Edmond Logan (1798-1875) was a Canadian geologist who founded the Geological Survey of Canada and contributed many fruitful new ideas to the science of geology.

William E. Logan was born on April 20, 1798, in Montreal, where his father, a Scottish immigrant, was a prosperous businessman. William attended high school in Edinburgh, Scotland, and then entered the University of Edinburgh. After a year he left for London to join his uncle in business for the next 10 years. These were the years of highly touted processes for extracting previously unrecognized metals from slag heaps and mine tips. When everyone else was plunging however, Logan was cautious and avoided the grave losses which ensued in many of these fly-by-night enterprises.

In 1831 Logan's uncle decided that the family copper works near Swansea in Wales required the full time of a trustworthy person, and Logan immersed himself in the subjects of copper smelting and coal mining. He purchased some simple instruments, a compass and a theodolite, to map the Glamorganshire coal field; the maps were so detailed and so accurate that they were eventually adopted in the government survey by De La Beche.

Logan's interest in the origins of coal fields was soon stimulated, and he began looking into the London Clay formations on the Isle of Sheppey. His copper business took him through France and Spain, and he studied the geology of various regions en route.

By 1837 Logan was elected a fellow of the Geological Society. He carried on in Wales, by now more immersed in geology than in business. In 1840 he communicated a very important paper to the Geological Society of London, "On the Characters of the Beds of Clay Immediately below the Coal-Seams of South Wales." He showed clearly that coal developed originally in the position in which it was now being found and was not some vast garbage pile of driftwood from past eras which had become mineralized.

In Nova Scotia, Logan visited quarries seeking fossil remains. At one quarry he found the tracks of a batrachian animal, evidence of animal life in the Lower Carboniferous rocks, but was not given credit for this discovery for some years.


Geological Survey of Canada

In 1841 the Geological Survey of Canada was founded, and Logan became its first director. He carried out surveys of the then-settled part of Canada, rejecting over and over again the possibility of making a fortune from the knowledge thus acquired. He received numerous honors and was knighted by Queen Victoria at Windsor in 1856 and awarded the Woollaston Medal by the Geological Society of London.

Logan, a confirmed bachelor, gradually attracted a core of dedicated and highly qualified workers about him, but he suffered the indignities of many pioneer scientists when it came to getting Parliament to finance his work. His great volume, Geology of Canada (1863), was derided by the Canadian prime minister, who said "It ought to have been a school book to instruct the youth of the province in the elements of geology."

But Logan was tough and determined and wrote "whatever may happen to the Survey it is not my intention to abandon the geological investigation of Canada." At the British Association meeting in Bath in 1864 the great geologist Sir Charles Lyell referred to Logan's discovery of a large species of rhizopod (Eozon canadense) as the greatest geological discovery that had been made in his time. This suggested that life existed in the Laurentian Shield before it existed in some of the oldest rocks in Europe.

Logan was director of the Geological Survey until 1869. He died at Castle Malgwyn, Pembrokeshire, Wales, on June 22, 1875.


Further Reading on Sir William Edmond Logan

Logan's own work, written with T. S. Hunt, is Geology of Canada: Report of Progress of the Geological Survey from Its Commencement to 1863 (1863). A biography is Bernard J. Harrington, Life of Sir William E. Logan (1883). For a background work in which Logan is cited see Carl O. Dunbar, Historical Geology (1915; 3d ed. 1969).