Rival theories by English amateurs: Matley, Trechmann and the geological origin of Jamaica

Stephen K Donovan (The Netherlands)

The two most significant geologists to visit Jamaica and study its geology between the two World Wars were both British: Charles Alfred Matley (1866-1947) and Charles Taylor Trechmann (1885-1964). Both had active research programmes in Jamaica and the Antilles in the 1920s and 1930s, mainly on subjects that did not overlap, but the one geological concept on which they strongly disagreed was the one that underpinned all of their work – the geological evolution of the Caribbean basin.

C A Matley

Charles Matley (Fig. 1A) was a career civil servant and distinguished amateur geologist. He studied at the Birmingham and Midland Institute and the Mason Science College. The latter was incorporated into the new University of Birmingham in 1900. At Mason College, he was taught by Charles Lapworth, the father of the Ordovician System and one of the principal debunkers of Murchison’s assignment of the Scottish Highlands to the Silurian (Oldroyd, 1990). Matley’s principal field research while at Birmingham was on the Precambrian and Lower Palaeozoic of North Wales (for example, Matley, 1899, 1900, 1928), particularly Anglesey, work for which he was awarded a DSc by the University of London in 1902. Of particular relevance to his Jamaican research was his understanding of the geology of the Llyn Peninsula and Anglesey (McIlroy and Horák, 2006).

Matley’s later career took him further afield in the British Empire, including Ireland and India, where his researches examined topics as diverse as Carboniferous stratigraphy and dinosaur tracks (Donovan, 2010). He retired in 1920 and his experience in the Civil Service in Britain and overseas, and his wide geological experience, doubtless counted in his favour when he was appointed as geologist to the short-lived second geological survey of Jamaica (1922-1924). Later visits to the island came in 1938-1939 and 1943.

Fig. 1. (A) Charles Alfred Matley (1866-1947), probably in about 1935 at the earliest (after Donovan, 2008, fig. 2). (B) Charles Taylor Trechmann (1884-1964), date of image unknown (after Donovan, 2008, fig. 1).

C T Trechmann

Charles Trechmann was an independently wealthy amateur geologist and archaeologist. He inherited an anhydrite mine from his father, the amateur mineralogist Dr Carl O Trechmann (1851-1917). Charles sold his inheritance to ICI in about 1924. He had already been awarded a DSc by the University of Durham for his research on the Zechstein (Permian) of northeast England and was now wealthy enough to pursue his geological interests wherever he chose – in northeast England during the summer and, commonly, the Antilles during the English winter (Donovan, 2003).

In the 1920s and 1930s, Trechmann would leave his home in County Durham once the winter set in and travel south to Southampton. He would then sail to the West Indies and would study some aspect(s) of the geology of one of the islands, which would result in a paper or papers that would later be published in Geological Magazine. Jamaica was a particular favourite and resulted in a number of papers on the Cretaceous and Cenozoic, particularly concerning the stratigraphy and fossil molluscs (such as Trechmann, 1923, 1929). The first stratigraphic column of the Jamaican succession had been published less than 25 years before Trechmann’s first paper on the island (Hill, 1899) and many aspects of the record were still poorly defined. Other Antillean islands on which Trechmann had a research interest included Antigua, Barbados, Carriacou, Trinidad and Tobago.

Early ‘cooperation’

There seems to have been some early cooperation, or at least toleration, between Matley’s new geological survey and Trechmann, who was already an established expert on Jamaican geology. Initially at least, Trechmann agreed to concentrate on Jamaican palaeontology and the Cretaceous, while the survey worked on the Cenozoic. For example, much of the mapped area in Matley’s (1951) posthumous memoir of the Kingston district was part of the Cenozoic sedimentary succession. But it may be considered an error that Matley’s survey lacked a palaeontologist, although its remit was largely focussed on resources, including water (Donovan, 2010, p. 64). This merely repeated the error of the first geological survey (1859-1865), which did not replace the stratigrapher, Lucas Barrett, after his untimely death in 1862 (Chubb, 2010). In the 1920s, the only stratigrapher working in Jamaica was Trechmann, who was independent of the survey.

It was about this time that Trechmann began to extend his researches further afield in the English-speaking Caribbean. His Caribbean papers were all concerned with Jamaica between 1922 and 1924, but moved further afield thereafter, as indicated by his first papers on Barbados and Trinidad (Trechmann, 1925a, b). That Trechmann “… was unorthodox, a philanthropist and amusing, but could be antagonistic to his peers …” (Donovan, 2008, p. 607) is well known; it may be that geological ‘competition’ in Jamaica persuaded him elsewhere. However, he was working in Jamaica and publishing on the island’s geology again, soon after the demise of the survey. Yet, it was not until Matley (1929) published his full account of the Basal Complex that the (now defunct) second survey gave Trechmann a solid target with which to publicly disagree.

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