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Peach, Benjamin Neevelocked

  • David Oldroyd

Peach, Benjamin Neeve (1842–1926), geologist, was born on 6 September 1842 at Gorran Haven, Cornwall, the youngest child of Charles Peach (1800–1886), coastguard, and his wife, Jemima (née Mabson). Following his father's posting to Scotland, Peach attended schools at Peterhead and Wick. His father's important discovery of fossils at Durness was noticed by metropolitan geologists, and Sir Roderick Murchison, when visiting northern Scotland, also remarked on the son's abilities. Accordingly, in 1859 he arranged for Peach to attend the Royal School of Mines, where in the years 1860–61 he studied under A. W. Hofmann, T. H. Huxley, and A. C. Ramsay.

In 1862 Peach joined the staff of the Geological Survey. After work among the fossils at the London headquarters, he was soon transferred to the Scottish field service. Five years later, he met, and to some extent trained in the field, John Horne, and thus began their lifelong friendship and scientific co-operation. Their best-known work was concerned with the southern uplands and the north-west highlands. In both cases, the views of the structures held by the senior men of the survey, especially Archibald Geikie, were questioned by Charles Lapworth. As a result of this, the southern uplands work had to be revised, and a major effort was required to sort out the geology of the north-west highlands. This involved the recognition of overfolding and thrusting, and the complex imbricate structures produced by repeated faulting. In such investigations Peach proved himself a master at interpreting the internal structure of an area from examination of its external appearances. It was, however, Horne who, in 1883, first realized that the 'official' view of a regular ascending stratigraphic sequence at Durness was mistaken; the following year, after mapping the imbricate structures at Eriboll, Peach reached the same conclusion. After years of detailed fieldwork the results were published in two notable memoirs: The Silurian Rocks of Britain, 1, Scotland (1899) and The Geological Structure of the North-West Highlands (1907).

In addition to his work in tectonics, Peach was an accomplished palaeontologist, with a special interest in fossil crustaceans and arachnids. His investigations in this area culminated with the publication of The Higher Crustacea of the Carboniferous Rocks of Scotland (1908). For the southern uplands, he had to do much work in the identification of graptolites. In his later survey work, Peach was involved in the revisions to the maps of the Scottish coalfields. He also worked on glacial geology and on the Old Red Sandstone.

In 1871, Peach married Jeannie Bannantyne, a farmer's daughter; they had a son and two daughters. After her death, he married Margaret Ann McEwan, daughter of the schoolmaster at Assynt, where much of Peach's most important surveying was done. They had two sons.

Peach was elected FRS in 1892. He was awarded the Murchison and Wollaston medals of the Geological Society (1899 and 1921 respectively), both in conjunction with Horne, and received the Neill medal from the Royal Society of Edinburgh and an honorary LLD from Edinburgh University. He was admired by all who knew him for his physical strength, kindness, and youthful enthusiasms. He was a gifted artist, and explained his ideas by means of diagrams better than in words. He is said to have been a reluctant reader and writer, but there is ample evidence of his epistolary activity in various archives. On several occasions Peach was called on by his chief, Geikie, to accompany him into the field; and Geikie evidently relied on the counsel of his subordinate about controversial issues to a considerable degree. Peach retired from the survey in 1905 and lived in Edinburgh until his death, after an illness of several weeks, on 29 January 1926.


  • J. H. [J. Horne], PRS, 100B (1926), xi-xiii
  • E. Greenly, ‘Benjamin Neeve Peach: a study’, Transactions of the Edinburgh Geological Society, 12 (1928–32), 1–11
  • [J. Horne], Proceedings of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, 46 (1925–6), 376–81
  • ‘Retirement of Dr B. N. Peach’, Geological Magazine, new ser., 5th decade, 3 (1906)
  • E. Greenly, A hand through time, 2 (1938)
  • D. R. Oldroyd, The highlands controversy: constructing geological knowledge through fieldwork in nineteenth-century Britain (1990)
  • A. Anderson, Ben Peach's Scotland: landscape sketches by a Victorian geologist (1980)
  • J. S. Flett, The first hundred years of the geological survey of Great Britain (1937)
  • E. B. Bailey, Geological survey of Great Britain (1952)


  • BGS, corresp. and papers


  • group portrait, photograph, 1885 (with seven other members of the north-west highlands surveying team), BGS
  • S. H. Reynolds, photograph (with J. Horne), repro. in Oldroyd, Highlands controversy, 272
  • photograph, repro. in Greenly, Hand through time, facing p. 515
  • photograph, repro. in Greenly, ‘Benjamin Neeve Peach: a study’, pl. 1
  • photograph, repro. in Horne, Proceedings of the Royal Society of Edinburgh
  • photograph, repro. in Anderson, Ben Peach's Scotland, 1
  • photograph (with other members of Scottish branch of geological survey), repro. in Oldroyd, Highlands controversy, 166
  • photograph (with C. T. Clough and J. Horne), repro. in Bailey, Geological survey, pl. 3

Wealth at Death

£5115 12s. 3d.: confirmation, 6 March 1926, CCI

, 63 vols. (1885–1900), suppl., 3 vols. (1901); repr. in 22 vols. (1908–9); 10 further suppls. (1912–96); (1993)
Proceedings of the Royal Society of London