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SHOREHAM AND DEEP TIME
A Talk by DAVID HORSLEY

 

 

David Horsley gave a most interesting talk to the Society on 21 October on Joseph Prestwich, who lived at Darenth Hulme from 1869 to 1896. Prestwich was an amateur geologist who became Professor of Geology at Oxford, and whose researches and discoveries were hugely significant and influential in the controversial debate about the Antiquity of Man.

Prestwich's working life was spent in the wine business, but he devoted one hour before breakfast and two after work every day to his real passion, scientific research. He developed an interest in tertiary rocks, the main rock strata of south-eastern England, and his researches into geological succession convinced him that the earth was many thousands, even millions, of years older than currently believed, and that man had lived on the earth for aeons of time. The controversy surrounding his paper of 1859 on the Antiquity of Man, however, was trumped by that caused by Darwin's The Origin of the Species, published a few years later stating that Man was not descended from God but from an apelike ancestor.

Prestwich first came to Shoreham in 1853 when he bought 'a bare piece of chalk down with a topknot of wood' where he built Darenth Hulme, named after Hulme Hall, his ancestral seat near Manchester. In 1870 he married Grace, 20 years his junior, who became his amanuensis and willing slave, the role previously taken by his sister Civil. He retired from his City job at 60 with relief, and two years later was surprised to be appointed Professor of Geology at Oxford, a post he held for 13 years. He was greatly influenced by a new friend, Benjamin Harrison of Ightham, an amateur palaeontologist who had amassed a huge collection of fossils. Benjamin convinced Joseph that many of these were eoliths, manmade shaped tools of great age, and Joseph published Harrison's theories, which eventually were accepted by the scientific establishment.

Although these theories have been largely superseded by more recent geological research, David Horsley felt that the part Joseph Prestwich played in the growth of scientific knowledge should not be underestimated, both in his singlehanded discovery of the tertiary succession of rocks, and in his contribution to the public perception of deep time, the many millions of years during which the earth and man evolved.

Shoreham And District
Historical Society
Affiliated to
The Shoreham Society
The Kent History Federation and
The Kent Archaeological Society

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Last Updated

November 17, 2014

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Shoreham And District Historical Society