The Cockburn Geological Museum
The Cockburn Museum at King’s Buildings holds an extensive collection of geological specimens and historical objects which reflect Edinburgh’s prominent position in geological sciences since the time of James Hutton (1726-1797) and its continuing activity today. The stored collections reflect the whole spectrum of Earth Science materials – minerals, rocks, fossils – as well as maps and photographs and archives of activity by famous Earth scientists dating back as far as the late eighteenth century.
The collections have been housed at the Grant Institute since its opening in 1932 and were largely catalogued and arranged during the early years of the Institute by Dr. A. M. Cockburn. The considerable care, dedication and effort undertaken by Dr Cockburn on a voluntary basis automatically led his colleagues to adopt his name for the museum following his death in 1959. Since 1960, the curatorial staff of the Cockburn Museum and have played a major part in extending the teaching and research collections in association with the huge expansion in both undergraduate and graduate students in geology in the second half of the twentieth century.
The original purpose of the museum dates back to 1873 when Professor Archibald Geikie, the holder of the first Chair of Geology at Edinburgh University, founded “a museum for the teaching of geology”; with the straightforward objective of having collections of minerals, rocks and fossils for the instruction of students. Geikie’s example has been followed by many geological staff in the university and the teaching collections have been continually added to. At the same time the existence of the museum over many years has led to major donations of special and rare specimens (particularly minerals), which provide extremely valuable reference material for research investigations as well as some beautiful specimens for display.
Summary of Collections
The total holding of the museum exceeds 130,000 specimens and other materials. The last full inventory of all categories of material gave the following numbers of articles:
Special (donated) Museum Collections:
30,000 Research Collections, 60,000 Teaching Collections specimens, 10,000 Thin Sections, 7,000 Economic Collections , 3,000 Exam. Collections, 10,000 Sedimentary Collections , 3,000 Map Collections, 3,000 Transparency Collection , 4,000 Special Collections and Features of Particular Interest
Hall collection of the first experimental apparatus for simulating melting and other processes in rocks; Sir James Hall of Dunglass (1761-1832) a friend of James Hutton. Brown collection; largely minerals donated by Dr Thomas Brown of Waterhaughs and Lanfine, 1874. Jehu-Campbell Collection of Highland Border Fossils, 1917-18. Lyell rock, mineral and fossil collection; donated by Sir Charles Lyell, 1927. Currie mineral collection; particularly fine collection donated Dr James Currie, 1931. Davidson mineral collection, donated by James Davidson of Summerville, Dumfries, 1947.
Access and Services
Many attractive specimens from the collections are displayed in presentation cases along the main corridors of the Grant Institute. Material may be viewed, and in appropriate circumstances loaned, by arrangement with the Curator. Much other material is readily accessible but in locked cabinets. The research collections from graduate theses are mainly stored in the basements to the Earth Sciences buildings. Material in storage can also be examined by prior arrangement with the Curator.
Members of academic staff particularly involved with the collections are Geoffrey Bromiley and Godfrey Fitton. We are happy to identify rocks, fossils and minerals on request. We run outreach activities and occasional tours or talks about aspects of the Museum, and are happy to put you on our mailing list if you would like to be informed about these activities. We also participate in the City of Edinburgh Doors Open Day every year.