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 


Historic fossils from Agostino Scilla’s collection within the Sedgwick Museum’s Woodwardian cabinets are currently on display in the Royal Society’s summer exhibition in London. Called ‘Science made Visible: Drawings, Prints, Objects’, the exhibit explores the questions of how and when science become visual; how drawings, diagrams and charts came to be used alongside words and objects; who made them and what made them scientific?

All the Museum and Department were very sad to hear of the death of former staff member Rod Long. Rod, Uncle Rod as he was affectionately known, was to many people the face of the Museum. Dave Norman, our long time Director, has kindly written his recollections of a man who, put simply, we all loved him for his friendly, helpful and kind nature.
Liz Harper