Charles William Peach. [Obituary]

Trans. Devon. Assoc., 1886, Vol XVIII, pp.64-66.


Rev. W. Harpley

Prepared by Michael Steer

The celebrated Mr Peach (30 September 1800 – 28 February 1886) was naturalist and geologist. He discovered fossils in Cornwall, after it had been stated by the geologist William Conybeare, that there were no fossil-bearing rocks there. Peach at that time resided at Bull Hill, Fowey, in a house overlooking the English Channel, where he was visited by Alfred Lord Tennyson and Charles Darwin. They would take regular boat trips to Mevagissey. Tennyson was a regular visitor and convalesced at Peach’s cottage during illness. One of C.W. Peach’s sons was the geologist Benjamin Neeve Peach, ASRM, LL.D etc. Director the Royal Geological Survey Scotland. BNP's geological map is still used in Universities around the world. This Ben Peach discovered the processes through which older rocks could be found above younger rocks. The article, from a copy of a rare and much sought-after journal can be downloaded from the Internet Archive. Google has sponsored the digitisation of books from several libraries. These books, on which copyright has expired, are available for free educational and research use, both as individual books and as full collections to aid researchers.

Charles William Peach was born, of humble parents, in 1800, at Wansford, Northamptonshire. He first went to a Dame’s school in the village, and at the age of twelve was sent to a school at Folkingham, Lincolnshire, where he remained three years. In January, 1824, through the influence of the Earl of Westmoreland, he obtained an appointment in the mounted coastguard, and was sent to Southrepps, Norfolk, and afterwards to Weybourne. and Cromer, in the same county. From Norfolk he was sent to Dorsetshire, where he was stationed at Lyme Regis and at Charmouth; thence he came into Devonshire, where he resided successively at Babbacombe, Torquay, and Paignton. His next remove was to Gorran Haven, Cornwall, in 1834; and in 1845 he was removed to Fowey, in the same county, and from the Coastguard to the Customs. In 1849 he was sent to Scotland, being first stationed at Peterhead, and finally, in 1853, at Wick, Caithness, where he reached the rank of Comptroller. In 1861 he retired from the Customs, on a pension of £130 per annum, took up his abode in Edinburgh, and remained there until his death, 28th February, 1886, in the 86th year of his age.

Mr. Peach's taste for collecting, first awakened at Cromer, was strengthened while on the coasts of Dorsetshire and Devonshire, where he soon acquired an intimate knowledge of the marine fauna of the South of England. His frequent shiftings were in many respects of considerable advantage to him. They gave him a wider range for his observations, and brought him into contact with scientific enthusiasts, from whom he obtained much useful knowledge and the loan of books. In return he was able to provide specimens, which helped to clear up many points in Natural History. Amongst others he was enabled to supply the Rev. Mr. Layton, of Catfield, Norfolk, with the bones required to complete the elephant found in the well-known "forest bed" of Norfolk, which is now in the British Museum. While at Gorran he continued to direct his observations to geological phenomena, and to cultivate his powers of observation. It was not long before he detected fossils in rocks previously regarded as destitute of organic remains. He at this time made one of the chief discoveries of his life, in finding Lower Silurian fossils in the rocks in Cornwall, which before that time were considered to be azoic. This discovery was of great value, as it furnished data for mapping the rocks of the Dodman district as Lower Silurian.

So far as can be ascertained, Mr. Peach's earliest paper - read to the British Association, at Plymouth, in 1841 - was "An Account of the Fossil Organic Remains of the Southeast Coast of Cornwall, and Bodmin and Menheniot;" and the latest - read to the Royal Institution of Cornwall, at Truro, in 1880 -  was "On Polyzoa from Cornwall, one being New to Britain."  During the forty years thus covered he produced about 118 papers, comprising thirty-one read to the Royal Institution of Cornwall, at Truro; twenty-one to the British Association; twenty to the Royal Geological Society of Cornwall, at Penzance; sixteen to the Physical Society of Edinburgh; thirteen to the Botanical Society of Edinburgh ; five to the Royal Polytechnic Society of Cornwall, at Falmouth; four to the Geological Society, Edinburgh; one to the Geological Society, London ; one to the Linnæan Society, London ; four to Annals and Mag. Nat Hist; and two to Geol Mag.

From 1841 to 1846 inclusive, Mr. Peach attended the meetings of the British Association as an Associate. He became a member in 1847. In 1842 the General Committee of the Association appointed a Committee, consisting of Sir C. Lemon and Mr. Jonathan Couch, with £10 at their disposal, to enable Mr. Peach to pursue his study of the Marine Zoology of Cornwall. This Committee, with the same sum, was re-appointed annually to 1846 inclusive; Professors E. Owen and E. Forbes being members of it from 1843 to 1845 inclusive, in addition to the original members.

That Mr. Peach's scientific neighbours, whether in Cornwall and Devonshire, or in Edinburgh, were by no means unmindful of him, is shown by the facts that the Royal Geological Society of Cornwall elected him an associate in 1837, a corresponding member in 1841, and an honorary member in 1872; the Royal Institution of Cornwall elected him an associate in 1844, and a corresponding member in 1859; the Torquay Natural History Society elected him an honorary-member in 1845; the Plymouth Institution and Devon and Cornwall Natural History Society elected him a corresponding member in 1858; the Devonshire Association for the Advancement of Science, Literature, and Art elected him a corresponding member in 1872; the Royal Cornwall Polytechnic Society elected him an honorary member in 1882; and it should be added that a bust of Mr. Peach, by Mr. Burnard, was presented by the President in 1851, and placed in the

hall of the Polytechnic Society, among those of the worthies whom Cornwall delights to honour. In 1867 the Royal Physical Society of Edinburgh, of which Mr. Peach had for many years been a Non-Resident Fellow, elected him a Resident Fellow "without the exaction of the usual fees, as a mark of their regard, and as a small acknowledgment of the many valuable contributions made by him to different branches of natural science." He was afterwards President of that body. The Botanical Society of Edinburgh elected him an associate in 1870, and the Geological Society of Edinburgh paid him the same compliment in 1871. The Royal Society 'of Edinburgh awarded to him in 1874 the "Neill Gold Medal " for the addition of about twenty species of Echini, Medusæ, and Sponges made by him to the known fauna of the British Isles. Nor were his labours ignored in London. In 1859 the Geological Society awarded him, through Sir R Murchison, "the balance of the proceeds of the Wollaston Fund." The circumstances attending that award are fully narrated in the Quarterly Journal of the Geological Society, London, 1859, voL xv. pp. xxiv.-v. In 1868 Mr. Peach was elected an Associate of the Linnaean Society of London.

When it is remembered that Mr. Peach married in 1829, and had a family of seven sons and two daughters, and had no income save that derived from his very moderate salary, it will be a matter of surprise how he was enabled to maintain his intellectual pursuits amidst the struggles of his every-day life. This short notice may be fitly closed by the concluding words of a paragraph from an article in Chambers' Edinburgh Journal for November 23rd, 1844 (new series ii 321), entitled "The Scientific Meeting at York;" the whole passage being also found in Kingsley's Glaucus, ed. 1855, pp. 80-82: "Honest Peach, humble as is thy home, and simple thy bearing, thou art an honour even to this assemblage of nobles and doctors; nay, more, when I consider everything, thou art an honour to human nature itself; for where is the heroism like that of virtuous, intelligent, independent poverty? and such poverty is thine!"