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Callcott Lyell earthquakes in Chile

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Geological debate Edit

In the mid 1830s Maria Callcott’s description of the earthquake in Chile of 1822 started a heated debate in the Geological Society, where she was caught in the middle of a fight between two rivalling schools of thought regarding earthquakes and their role in mountain building. Besides describing the earthquake in her Journal of a Residence in Chile, she had also written about it in more detail in a letter to Henry Warburton, who was one of the Geological Society’s founding fathers. As this was one of the first detailed eyewitness accounts by "a learned person" of an earthquake, he found it interesting enough to publish in Transactions of the Geological Society of London in 1823.


One of her observations had been that of large areas of land rising from the sea, and in 1830 that observation was included in the groundbreaking work The Principles of Geology by the geologist Charles Lyell, as evidence in support of his theory that mountains were formed by volcanoes and earthquakes. Four years later the president of the Society, George Bellas Greenough, decided to attack Lyell’s theories. But instead of attacking Lyell directly, he did it by publicly ridiculing Maria Callcott’s observations.

Maria Callcott, however, was not someone who accepted ridicule. Her husband and her brother offered to duel Greenough, but she said, according to her nephew John Callcott Horsley, "Be quiet, both of you, I am quite capable of fighting my own battles, and intend to do it". She went on to publish a crushing reply to Greenough, and was shortly thereafter backed by none other than Charles Darwin, who had observed the same land rising during Chile’s earthquake in 1835, aboard the Beagle.

In 1837 Augustus Callcott was knighted, so Maria became Lady Callcott. But shortly afterwards her health began to deteriorate, and in 1842 she died, 57 years old. She continued to write until the very end, and her last book was A Scripture Herbal, an illustrated collection of titbits and anecdotes about plants and trees mentioned in the Bible, which was published the same year she died.

Augustus Callcott died two years later, at the age of 65, having been made Surveyor of the Queen's Pictures in 1843.

This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article Category:Volcanoes_of_Chile and other GNU-FDL sources

Works Edit

  • As Maria Graham:
    • Memoirs of the war of the French in Spain (by Albert Jean Rocca) - translation from French (1816)
    • Journal of a Residence in India (1812) - translated into French 1818
    • Letters on India, with Etchings and a Map (1814)
    • Three Months Passed in the Mountains East of Rome, during the Year 1819, 1820 (1821)
    • Memoir of the Life of Nicolas Poussin (820)
    • Journal of a Residence in Chile during the Year 1822. And a Voyage from Chile to Brazil in 1823 (1824)
    • Journal of a Voyage to Brazil, and Residence There, During Part of the Years 1821, 1822, 1823 (1824)
    • Voyage Of The H.M.S. Blonde To The Sandwich Islands, In The Years 1824-1825 (1826)
  • As Maria Callcott or Lady Callcott:
    • A Short History of Spain (1828)
    • Description of the chapel of the Annuziata dell'Arena; or Giotto's Chapel in Padua (1835)
    • Little Arthur's History of England (1835)
    • Histoire de France du petit Louis (1836)
    • Essays Towards the History of Painting (1836)
    • The Little Bracken-Burners - A Tale; and Little Mary's Four Saturdays (1841)
    • A Scripture Herbal (1842)

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