George Fairholme (1789–1846)


During my research on the 19th century Scriptural geologists, I was privileged to meet some of the living relatives of George Fairholme, another one of the geologically competent opponents of old-earth geological theories. George was born into the wealthy Scottish family of William and Elizabeth Fairholme of Lugate, Midlothian on January 15, 1789. Nothing is known of Fairholme’s childhood years except that in 1800, at the age of eleven, his uncle bequeathed to him the Greenknowe estate (comprising 5000–6000 acres) near Gordon, Berwickshire. Given his family’s affluence and the fact that his parents and other relatives were very well read, he was probably tutored at home and then self-taught. According to official university records, he was not a graduate of Oxford, Cambridge, Aberdeen, Edinburgh, Glasgow, St. Andrews or Dublin. Nevertheless, his writing style, vocabulary and evident literary research skills reflect a high level of education and his writings suggest that he was fluent in French and German.

Fairholme was married in Dunkeld, Perth, on November 15, 1818, to Caroline Forbes, eldest daughter of the eighteenth Lord Forbes and granddaughter of the sixth Duke of Atholl. Together they had four sons and one daughter. They resided first in Scotland, then in Switzerland and Belgium and later in the wealthy resort town of Ramsgate in southeast England. Throughout his life, however, they traveled extensively, sometimes for months at a time. They were affiliated with the Church of Scotland, but Fairholme evidently was not too bothered about denomination, since his third son attended a well-known Anglican school and his fourth son was baptized in an Anglican Church in Brussels.

Fairholme died in Leamington Spa, England, on November 19, 1846, leaving his wife, three sons and one daughter. Besides his approximately £l,000,000 (by modern estimation), land and four homes in Scotland, Fairholme also bequeathed to his wife and each of his children a valuable painting, each depicting a different scene from the life of Christ. To his daughter he also gave a small cabinet of his collection of fossils, shells and rocks. Clearly, Fairholme’s Christian faith and the study of natural philosophy, especially geology, were important to him and like many geologists in his day he had the financial resources and time to pursue his study of geology both in Britain and on the European continent.

Fairholme published two lengthy books on the subject of geology: General View of the Geology of Scripture (1833) and New and Conclusive Physical Demonstrations of the MosaicDeluge (1837). His Positions géologiques en vérifications directe de la chronologie de la Bible (1834), a 32-page booklet critically evaluating Lyell’s uniformitarian theory, was published in Munich, but apparently never appeared in English. Also in the area of geology, he wrote three journal articles on coal, Niagara Falls, and human fossils. He read a paper on the nature of valleys to the 1834 meeting of the main German scientific organization. The fact that he was invited to make field-trips with several German scientists after that meeting is an indication of the level of respect they had for his geological knowledge. In addition, he wrote four other scientific journal articles (two of which were translated and republished in leading German scientific periodicals) on the topics of spiders, elephants, microscopic creatures, and woodcocks. Together, these articles reflect careful observations of nature, research in relevant scientific literature, personal correspondence with naturalists in England, Europe, Africa and Asia, judicious use of museum and zoo collections, appropriate experimentation, and caution so as not to over-generalize from the stated observations.

Fairhohne was not a member of the Geological Society or any other such society, as far as I could determine. Nevertheless, he engaged in extensive geological investigations, both in Great Britain and on the European continent. In the process he collected fossils and rock specimens and studied those in the possession of museums and of some of the leading English and European geologists. He was well read in the current works of the prominent geologists and other scientists of his day, and in his writings on geology he constantly interacted with their old-earth arguments, in most cases quoting them liberally before he respectfully presented his reasons for rejecting their interpretations of the geological evidence. In spite of all this evidence of geological competence, the three scathing published reviews of his geological writings by old-earth critics charged that Fairholme, like all the other Scriptural geologists, knew nothing about geology. Yet none of his critics cited a single specific example of such ignorance. Nor did they attempt to answer his well-reasoned objections to the old-earth geological theories. However, Fairholme’s 1837 book was convincing to Captain Robert Fitzroy, whose HMS Beagle had carried Charles Darwin on his famous voyage (1831–36).

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Published: 31 March 2006