|Born||6 October 1773|
|Died||21 August 1835(aged 61)|
MacCulloch, descended from the MacCullochs of Nether Ardwell in Galloway, was born in Guernsey, his mother being a native of that island. Having displayed remarkable powers as a boy, he was sent to study medicine in the university of Edinburgh, where he qualified as MD. in 1793, and then entered the army as assistant surgeon. Attaching himself to the artillery, he became chemist to the board of ordnance (1803). He still continued, however, to practise for a time as a physician, and during the years 1807-1811 he resided at Blackheath. In 1811 he communicated his first papers to the Geological Society of London. They were devoted to an elucidation of the geological structure of Guernsey, of the Channel Islands, and of Heligoland.
The evidence they afforded of his capacity, and the fact that he already had received a scientific appointment, probably led to his being selected in the same year to make some geological and mineralogical investigations in Scotland. He was asked to report upon stones adapted for use in powder-mills, upon the suitability of the chief Scottish mountains for a repetition of the pendulum experiments previously conducted by Nevil Maskelyne and John Playfair at Schiehallion, and on the deviations of the plumb-line along the meridian of the Trigonometrical Survey. In the course of the explorations necessary for the purposes of these reports he made extensive observations on the geology and mineralogy of Scotland. He formed also a collection of the mineral productions and rocks of that country, which he presented to the Geological Society in 1814. In that year he was appointed geologist to the Trigonometrical Survey; and in 1816-1818 he was president of the Geological Society.
Comparatively little had been done in the investigation of Scottish geology, and finding the field so full of promise, he devoted himself to its cultivation with great ardour. One of his most important labors was the examination of the whole range of islands along the west of Scotland, at that time not easily visited, and presenting many obstacles to a scientific explorer. The results of this survey appeared (1819) in the form of his Description of the Western Islands of Scotland, including the Isle of Man (2 vols. 8vo, with an atlas of plates in 4to), which forms one of the classical treatises on British geology. He appears to have been for a time on the board of the Quarterly Journal of Science, Literature and the Arts, which was published at the Royal Institution of Great Britain.
He was elected F.R.S. in 1820. He continued to write papers, chiefly on the rocks and minerals of Scotland, and had at last gathered so large an amount of information that the government was prevailed upon in the year 1826 to employ him in the preparation of a geological map of Scotland. From that date up to the time of his death he returned each summer to Scotland and traversed every district of the kingdom, inserting the geological features upon Arrowsmith's map, the only one then available for his purpose. He completed the field-work in 1832, and in 1834 his map and memoir were ready for publication, but these were not issued until 1836, the year after he died.
Among his other works the following may be mentioned: A Geological Classification of Rocks with Descriptive Synopses of the Species and Varieties, comprising the Elements of Practical Geology (1821); The Highlands and Western Isles of Scotland, in a series of letters to Sir Walter Scott (4 vols. 1824); A System of Geology, with a Theory of the Earth and an Examination of its Connection with th Sacred Records (2 vols. 1831); Proofs and Illustrations of the Attributes of God, from the Facts and Laws of the Physical Universe: Being the Foundation of Natural and Revealed Religion (3 vols. 1837). During his honeymoon in Cornwall he was killed by being dragged along in the wheel of his carriage.
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- This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.
- Hull, Gillian (November 2007). "John MacCulloch, MD (1773-1835): a dedicated geologist". Journal of medical biography (England) 15 (4): 235–40. doi:10.1258/jmb.2007.007059. ISSN 0967-7720. PMID 18463071.