Matthew F. Heddle

Matthew Forster Heddle was born in Hoy, Orkney in the year 1828. He was educated at Edinburgh Academy and Murchison School in Edinburgh.


He later attended Edinburgh University and in 1851 he graduated as M.D. and subsequently went on to practice as a medical Doctor in the city for only a short time.
His main interests were Chemistry and Botany and in 1856 he was appointed Assistant to the then Professor of Chemistry at St Andrews University - in 1862 he went on to become Professor until he resigned in 1880.
This appointment gave him the spare time to pursue his geological and mineralogical interests in the field and over the years to build up his knowledge of Scottish minerals and geology. It was during this time that he built up the database that would form the basis of his Geognosy but especially The Mineralogy of Scotland

His knowledge of Chemistry was very useful when distinguishing many doubtful minerals found in Scotland at that time and this work increased considerably the total number known.

He was a very fit man and this physical strength and endurance enabled him to go into many of the more remote and inaccessible parts of Scotland in pursuit of specimens. It has been said that would carry hammers up to 28lbs into these areas and that he regularly used black powder or even dynamite to get the “best” specimens.


He initially spent a lot of his time exploring and documenting the geology and minerals of Sutherland, Orkney and the Shetland Islands later to be published in his "Geognosy".
In 1858 he revised and practically edited Greg and Lettsom’s Mineralogy of Great Britain and Ireland. He also contributed greatly to the published work in connection with the rocks and minerals of Scotland.


He was also a very active member of the Scottish Mountaineering Club - this too enabling him to get to places not normally visited when collecting specimens. It is said that his full set of Ordnance Survey maps were deposited with the Club after his death and that these were marked with all the mineral localities he had found and visited over the years - the whereabouts of these maps today remains a mystery.


One of his main lifetime fascinations was collecting and cutting agates and over the years he built up an enormous collection covering all Scotland’s main agate localities.

 
Most of his agate and mineral collections are now housed in the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh with much of it in storage at the museums Collections Centre at Granton.


He was a F.R.S.E. and in 1851 was appointed President of the Geological Society of Edinburgh and later in 1884 this society appointed him their first Associate. In 1876 the Mineralogical Society of Great Britain and Ireland elected him as Vice-President and later President in 1879. He was also a recipient of the Keith Gold Medal for his work on Rhombohedral Carbonates and on the Feldspars.
He had been working on his main work The Mineralogy of Scotland for many years and it was not until after his death in 1901 that the two volumes were finally published. 
These volumes stand to this day as the only comprehensive study into the mineral wealth of Scotland.

They are therefore a tremendous source of information for the amateur collector - it is still occasionally possible to obtain a set of these volumes in Antiquarian Book Shops.

 

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