Andrew Ure (1778-1857)


I want to introduce you to one more of the Scriptural geologists. Andrew Ure was born in Glasgow on May 18, 1778, to Anne and Alexander Ure, a cheese monger. He studied first at the University of Glasgow and later the University of Edinburgh, obtaining his MA in 1798–99 and his MD in Glasgow in 1801. After graduation he served briefly as an army surgeon in northern Scotland before settling in Glasgow, where he became a member of the Faculty of Physicians and Surgeons in 1803. The following year he became Professor of Natural Philosophy (specializing in chemistry and physics) at the recently formed Andersonian Institution (now the University of Strathclyde) in Glasgow. In addition to teaching the students of this institution, he also gave extremely popular lectures in chemistry and mechanics for artisans in the city for about twenty years. Attended by as many as 500 people, including up to 50 women, these courses were influential in the public promotion of science and the arts and in the development of similar institutes in Edinburgh, Paris, London and other cities.

Eventually, strained relationships with the management of the Andersonian Institution led to his resignation in 1830. He moved to London and became probably the first consulting chemist in Britain. By 1834, he was regularly called on to do chemical analyses for the Board of Customs. In this capacity he demonstrated his willingness to make financial sacrifices and to risk personal friendships and professional reputation for the sake of scientific truth and the exposure of large-scale criminal activity. As a chemist, he was highly esteemed by contemporary scientists and the great scientist, Michael Faraday, said that not one of Ure’s chemical analyses was ever impugned.

But chemistry was not his only interest. In 1809, after a trip to London to meet some of the appropriate leading scientists, he helped establish the Glasgow Observatory and was appointed its astronomer. For several years he resided there and during this time the famous astronomer William Herschel assisted him to install a fourteen-foot reflecting telescope, which Ure had designed and manufactured. He was one of the original honorary Fellows of the Geological Society of London shortly after it was founded in 1807, was an original member of the Astronomical Society and became a Fellow of the prestigious Royal Society in 1822. He was also accepted into the membership of several foreign scientific bodies, such as the Philadelphia Academy of Natural Science and the Pharmacological Society of Northern Germany.

He wrote extensively throughout his life: seven books and more than 53 scientific journal articles. His journal articles primarily dealt with various chemical problems. But other topics included gravity, telescopes, a thermostat, methods of apartment heating and ventilation, gunpowder and detonating matches, thunder-rods, experiments on a human cadaver, and four articles on light. A paper on the latent heat of vapors, published in 1817, was influential in the development of many modern meteorological theories. Many of these articles were republished by foreign scientific journals. He was also a linguist and a fair classical scholar, was well acquainted with English and foreign literature, and had read deeply in theology and Biblical criticism. All in all he was ‘one of those brilliantly versatile men of science’ in the early nineteenth century, who had an ‘encyclopedic understanding’ covering many subjects.

Most of his books dealt with chemistry, the arts, manufacturing, mining, and the art of dyeing cloth. Of most interest to me, however, was his one book on geology, which was written for the general public. Besides giving a good general introduction to the subject, Ure proposed a theory of earth history, which sought to be faithful to the literal teaching of Genesis and to respond to old-earth geological arguments. He also gave one of the earliest proposals of an ice age, which he reasoned to be a natural consequence of the Flood.

Sadly, his marriage in 1807 lasted only twelve years until Andrew divorced his wife due to her adulterous relationship with the Professor of Anatomy at the Andersonian Institution. During those twelve years, however, the Ures had two sons and one daughter. The oldest son, Alexander, became a successful London surgeon. Andrew Jr. worked and died in China in 1840. His daughter married but remained devoted to her father, traveling with him to Europe several times as he sought treatment at spas for gout. On January 2, 1857, at the age of 78 and still mentally sharp, Ure died after a few days of illness.

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Published: 31 March 2006