Geology Reference
In-Depth Information
exaggerated and embellished with each new telling. But during
the war it was di~cult to move on. Posts were held open for
conscripted men so there was little mobility and no suitable
vacancies arose until, in October 1942, the Regius Professor in
Geology at Edinburgh University was unexpectedly retired.
Alongside Cambridge University and Imperial College,
Edinburgh had once been amongst the top three places in
Britain to study geology. But despite its wealth and facilities,
Professor Jehu, rumoured to have been given the Edinburgh post
because he was a friend of Lloyd George, and his predecessors
had allowed its prominence to fade until it had become quite
second rate. Thus the university's principal, Sir Thomas
Holland, himself a geologist and a supporter of 'continental
drift', was determined to use the unforeseen opportunity of
Jehu's hurried departure to 'restore the prestige of the Chair to
the high level it acquired before 1914 by the work of the two dis-
tinguished Geikie brothers', both of whom had opposed Kelvin
and his short duration for the age of the Earth. It was a formi-
dable challenge for anyone willing to take it on, and in that con-
text Holmes would be singularly appropriate.
The paucity of vacant posts, especially one as sought after as
this, meant that the field was crowded, with twenty-three appli-
cations. These highly prestigious 'Royal' professorships, founded
by Royal subsidy at a very few British universities, were far and
few between and any new incumbent would have to be approved
by no less a person than the King himself. Earlier that year
Holmes had been elected a Fellow of the Royal Society - only
those at the very top of their profession make it into that exclu-
sive club - and so Sir Thomas Holland was quite clear in his
own mind which of the candidates he preferred. Going through
the motions of making a choice (for he had already written to
Holmes encouraging him to apply when Holmes had coyly sug-
gested that fifty-two was too old to start afresh), Holland wrote
to William Watts, the now retired Professor from Imperial
College, asking his opinion about the relative merits of the
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