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Tribute to Frank Howie  It was with great sadness that we learned that RGSC member Frank Howie had died on Wednesday 27 April 2022 aged 76.

Frank was a chemist originally and then did a geology degree by evening classes at Birkbeck College. Frank was an expert in palaeontology conservation and then health and safety advisor at the Natural History Museum London.

After retirement to Cornwall, Frank researched speleothems and other Quaternary Geology. He was a Trustee of The Cornwall Wildlife Trust and chair of its Geoconservation Group. Frank had sadly been suffering from cancer for some time but continued to play an active role in RGSC Council and lecture meetings until very recently.

The funeral, which took place on 20th May at Camborne crematorium, was attended by several RGSC members. The celebration of Frank’s life included various geological and chemical stories, in tributes from Frank’s children and close friend, Heather Williams. Professor Frances Wall, President of the RGSC read the following tribute at the funeral.

‘I first knew Frank when we both worked at the Natural History Museum in London, so it was a great pleasure to meet him again here in Cornwall when I joined Camborne School of Mines. One way or another Frank was involved in many geological activities in SW England. As a conscientious ordinary member of the Royal Geological Society of Cornwall, Frank attended the AGMs in Penzance and volunteered to be RGSC representative for the Morrab Gardeners House project. This should have been a nice restricted task, requiring occasional reports to Council but somehow in what I am told was very typical style, Frank volunteered to attend RGSC Council meetings and immediately became an active, important, supportive and much-liked member of the RGSC team over the last couple of years. He volunteered to give one of our monthly lectures, on one of his favourite subjects, entitled ‘Pyrite the ubiquitous sulphide’. Frank gave the talk on Zoom in September last year and, for those familiar with such things, topics in his comprehensive talk ranged from his original interest of fossil pyrite conservation to a modern day pyrite snail that lives at hydrothermal vents and looks a bit like a pangolin, to new battery materials.

Frank’s role chairing the Cornwall Geoconservation Group enabled us at RGSC to start a fruitful collaboration between the two groups, and Frank was able to chair a joint lecture as recently as February this year. So, on a final note, like the title of his talk, ‘the ubiquitous sulphide’, ‘ubiquitous’ is a good word to describe Frank – the ubiquitous geologist, whose contribution to the region and science was extremely valuable. Frank will be much missed but very well remembered.'   Photo provided by Tanya Dickson


A Walk Across the Moho at Coverack - 15 May 2022   

The sun was shining on a glorious spring morning as 29 RGSC members and guests gathered at Coverack on Sunday 15 May to walk across the boundary between the Earth’s crust and mantle on a classic section of ophiolite, a piece of ancient ocean floor pushed up to the Earth’s surface during collision of two plates.

Just before low tide, the group picked their way across the boulders to the north side of the beach where they discussed magma chamber processes in the gabbro that forms the ocean crust, crystallised from mantle-derived magmas near a mid-ocean ridge 375 million years ago.

The group then moved south along the beach and ‘down’ across the ‘Mohorovičić discontinuity’ defined by geophysics studies of earthquakes as the boundary between the crust and mantle, reaching serpentinised peridotite of potential mantle material towards the south of the beach. In practice as the group found, the geophysicists’ line coincides with a change in density of the rocks but this may not actually be the petrological boundary at the base of the crust.  The density change seen in the geophysics signal could also be a build-up of cumulate ultramafic minerals that settle out from the gabbroic magmas.    The photo on the right shows gabbro with evidence of magma chamber processes.     

After lunch (with sausage rolls from the local shop), the group visited an exposure on the shore just on the other side of the village to look at harzburgite and dunite mantle rocks that have certainly been the source of the magmas that moved up into the ocean crust.

And to answer a question from one of the participants: Coverack was first recognised as an ophiolite by a team of researchers from Memorial University Newfoundland and University of Southampton and published as a short abstract in 1975 in the Proceedings of the Ussher Society (Strong et al., 1975, Proc. Ussher Soc, 2, 252).

Thanks very much to Kate Moore (Camborne School of Mines, University of Exeter) for leading the group and her super explanations of some complex processes, and to Beatrice Kerno for organising registrations.


Easter Social at Penryn Campus - Looking into Rocks 20 April 2022

Twenty two RGSC members and guests took part in the Easter meeting on 20 April at Penryn University Campus. Calum Beeson, Senior Geology Technician at Camborne School of Mines (CSM) had facilitated use of the CSM Geology Laboratory for the evening and set up the petrological microscopes ready for use.

First up was a thin section of a Cornish granite (number I43) to follow on from the Carn Galver fieldtrip in February. Dr Sam Hughes, aka ‘@CornwallGeologist’ explained how to identify the main minerals under the microscope and, with the help of our able demonstrators, Peter Scott, Calum and Megan Shute, everyone learned more about the story of granite. Sam then put the granite minerals into wider context, linking the radiation damage halos in the biotite to geothermal energy and the alteration of feldspar to the kaolin mined at St Austell.

We then moved to the opposite end of the igneous rock compositional spectrum and had a look at an example of the kind of mantle rocks we will see on the 15 May field trip to Coverack. The actual Lizard rocks are rather heavily altered and not the best for beginner microscopists, and therefore Kate Moore suggested we ‘cheat a bit’ by looking at an altered peridotite from Kimberley, South Africa (I88). Kate couldn’t make it to the session, so Frances Wall led the group through looking at the mantle peridotite and especially bright and rather beautiful interference colours of its olivine, the Earth’s most abundant mineral. The group contrasted the irregular fractures in olivine with the 120 degrees cleavage in the amphibole and regular cleavage lines in pyroxene and mica.

After the microscope session, the group visited the Camborne School of Mines Museum for tea/coffee, cakes and conversation – with many thanks to Linda Beskeen for delicious baking! 

 

Photos and write up by Professor Frances Wall

 

 

 

 

 


Second Visit to Caerhays Castle - Saturday 30th April 2022

Here is a picture, courtesy of Colin Bristow, of the second RGSC group who enjoyed a visit to Caerhays Castle,    hosted by Courtenay Smale.  The group saw the Caerhays' Mineral Collection and then were taken on a visit to the castle gardens.

 

 


Visit to Caerhays Castle 26 March 2022

 

Eighteen members of the RGSC visited Caerhays Castle on Saturday 26 March, at the invitation of Courtenay Smale and the Williams family, to see the Williams mineral collection and enjoy the castle gardens.

Courtenay explained to the group how he was approached in 2009 by Charles Williams and asked to look at the minerals in the castle to see if he could make a display for visitors. Courtenay found minerals all over the castle, including in the dark and damp of the wine cellar, and, after very many days of painstaking mineralogy and historical sleuthing of the Williams family mining history, revealed some amazing specimens and fascinating stories. Courtenay has been working as a volunteer on the collection since then, and has been sponsored by the Williams family to take displays to mineral shows worldwide, including Tucson, Arizona, and the Munich Mineral Show. Even though specimens from the original Williams collection were gifted to the Natural History Museum by John Charles Williams in 1893, there are still many very fine specimens to be seen. Some are on permanent display for visitors, others are light-sensitive and only brought out for select visitors (like RGSC!).

Among the highlights we saw were a tray of liroconite – a few of these are in the Natural History Museum being checked to see if they might be the new iron-end member mineral species, kernowite (as described by Mike Rumsey in this talk to the 2021 RGSC AGM).

We saw one of the world’s best azurites, from Chessy-les-Mines copper mines in France, presented to Scorrier house by two French counts (later to become kings of France) when they were exiled from France and hosted by the Williams family, the delicate cerussite specimens carried by foot on a hammock all the way from Pentire Glaze mine some 20 miles to Scorrier House where the Williams family lived because the crystals were too fragile to carry by horse and cart and an amazing set of miniature specimens curated by Bryce McMurdo Wright (identified from his handwriting in a manuscript catalogue) and now back in their original mahogany storage case. And, of course, we heard the story of how Courtenay telephoned to Gregor Borg in Germany to say there was a collection of gold nuggets from the Carnon Valley that could be tested and compared to the gold of the Nebra Sky disc. Two weeks later, Professor Gregor Borg of Halle University, Professor Harald Meller of the Museum of Pre History at Halle and a film crew all turned up to have a look….

We then had a coffee break and explored the gardens in the amazing spring sunshine.

The RGSC would like to give our sincere thanks to Courtenay Smale for his time to impart such knowledge of the collections. The trip was about two-times oversubscribed and Courtenay agreed to do a second session on Saturday 30 April.  Frances Wall

 


Announcing the Sad Death of Neil Plummer on 22 April 2021 

It is with sadness that we announce the death of Neil Plummer. 

This picture of Neil was taken in Sept 2018, after he led a field trip of U3A budding geologists down Rosevale Mine, a privately owned former tin mine, situated at Zennor, near St Ives.

Neil was at home with his wife Beatrice Kerno, and had been poorly for some time. Several RGSC Council members joined Beatrice and a large congregation for the funeral procession and service in Stithians.

Neil’s contribution to RGSC over the years was immense, not only in working to ensure the Society could continue after disagreements about its future, but in taking multiple roles over the years including Secretary, President, Convenor of Meetings and fieldtrip leader. Neil was honoured with the Bolitho Gold Medal of the RGSC in 2019. Perhaps the existence of the Society is itself the greatest memorial. 

Beatrice said: "I would like to thank you for the messages of sympathy and especially the recognition of what a fantastic person Neil was. He lived for his rocks and fossils and Cornwall and planning, aiming in his 40 years as a Kerrier and Cornwall Councillor, to keep Cornwall from being covered in concrete. He fought fiercely for the protection of the World Heritage Mining Sites".  Article about Neil Link

 


Moving Forward with the RGSC 2020

An historic moment was reached on 15 February 2020, at the Annual General Meeting of the Royal Geological Society of Cornwall (RGSC) held in St John’s Hall, Penzance. For the first time in its 206 year organisational life, since establishment in 1814, a woman has been elected as its President. 

Dr Christopher Page handing over the Presidency to Professor Frances Wall at the AGM

The retiring President, Dr Christopher Page, BSc, PhD, FLS standing down for health reasons, welcomed this choice with enthusiasm and expectation of greater links and connections to the current educational systems in Cornwall today.

Professor Frances Wall, Professor of Applied Mineralogy at the Camborne School of Mines, University of Exeter, has accepted the distinguished position in understanding of the critical roles that environmental and earth sciences issues play in all of our lives. 

She is no stranger to scientific contribution, and in 2019 received the Geological Society of London’s William Smith Medal in recognition for international excellence in the publication of research findings and achievements in the application of geosciences.

Frances was listed in 100 Global Inspirational Women in Mining (Women in Mining 2016), and she has served as former President of the Mineralogical Society of Great Britain and Ireland.

Assisting in the administration of the Society will be a new Vice-President, Dr Loveday Jenkin, with a background in botany and biochemistry and a PhD in plant biochemistry from Cambridge University.

Dr Melissa Hardie-Budden, was also appointed Corresponding Secretary. 

A new series of Transactions, exhibitions, lectures and workshops will be forthcoming to include publications focusing on geological, mineralogical and climatologically-based studies here in southwest Devon and Cornwall.  Thus, will be continued the long tradition of ‘citizen science’ which has always been the hallmark of the RGSC, from its earliest roots in the Industrial Revolution.

Honouring his enormous contribution to the RGSC over the recent turbulent period in which St. John’s Hall was devolved to Cornwall Council and underwent reconstruction, the Bolitho Gold Medal of the RGSC 2019 was presented in absentia  due to illness, to Joseph Neil Plummer.  His wife, Beatrice A Kerno, Hon Treasurer, accepted this Medal on his behalf.

The Annual Lecture ‘The Greening of Planet Earth and its Consequences’ was delivered to a rapt audience by Professor Dianne Edwards, MA, PhD, ScD (Cantab), CBE, FRS, FRSE, FLS, Research Professor at the School of Earth and Oceanic Sciences, Cardiff University. Her travels from Wales to Penzance in the face of Storm Dennis was much appreciated.