The First of it's Kind

The Smith map displayed in the exhibition is the only copy of this historic map on general public display.

This map, more than any other, had the greatest influence on the science of geology, for it inspired a generation of naturalists and fledgling geologists to establish geology as a coherent, robust and important science. The map was so large, that, for practicality's sake, it was often sold in 15 separate sheets, either loose, or in a leather travelling case. A few, though, for the princely sum of £7, were "Mounted on Canvass and Rollers", to be mounted on a wall. There were more than 400 subscribers willing to support this most ambitious endeavour, including Sir Joseph Banks, to whom the map is dedicated,

How many of Smith's great maps still exist is unclear. In all probability it is likely to be at least 70. The Sedgwick Museum of Earth Sciences, in the University of Cambridge is lucky enough to have more than one copy.

Smith suffered many deprivations in his life. He became a bankrupt and ended up in debtor's prison for a while. Perhaps, almost as galling, he was largely ignored by the geological establishment. However, he gained his due recognition from the Geological Society of London later in life when, in 1831, he was the first person to receive the society's most prestigious medal, the Wollaston Medal. Appropriately, given the hanging of his map in the Sedgwick Museum, it was Adam Sedgwick who presented Smith with his medal. It is perhaps fitting that the most recent recipient of the Wollaston medal, awarded this year, is Professor James Jackson, the Head of Cambridge's Department of Earth Sciences, in whose museum William Smith's great map will now hang.

Watch our Director Dr Kenneth McNamara discussing the map in the video below



Stripping the Earth Bare: William Smith's 1815 Geological Map
1st August 2015 - 31st July 2016
Discovery and Conservation
Find out more about how the map has been conserved and then displayed in the Museum.

Monday to Friday
10:00 to 13:00 & 14:00 to 17:00

10:00 to 16:00 


W.B.R. King was awarded the Military Cross for bravery with the British Expeditionary Force before being evacuated from Dunkirk in 1940. He was a Cambridge graduate and World War I veteran who pioneered the use of geological expertise in the theatre of war. King went on to become the 11th Woodwardian professor of geology in 1944.

The recent discovery of Ice Age mammoth and rhino remains near Cambridge became national news. By coincidence, the Sedgwick Museum at the University of Cambridge has a new exhibit which tells the story of late Ice Age times and how the life and environments of Cambridgeshire were dramatically altered by climate change.