‘Geology, the Inner Hebrides, and the writings of Hugh Miller’ (Alexander Hay)

Hugh Miller A yawl, similar to The Betsey

Dr Alexander Hay gave a very interesting talk on Geology, the Inner Hebrides, and Hugh Miller. Miller was a geologist and writer, who published works during the 19th century. For the purposes of this talk, Dr Hay used Miller’s story ‘The Cruise of The Betsey’, which was publish posthumously in 1858. ‘The Betsey’, an example of early popular science, centred on Miller’s time exploring the Inner Hebrides, examining its geology and examining its social and spiritual conditions.

The themes of this story and of Miller’s larger body of work are gothic in nature, in addition to focusing on death and its relation to the sea. It is believed that Miller had a fascination with the latter because of his own ties to growing up in a coastal community (Cromarty in the Scottish Highlands) and the inescapable familial deaths at sea often experienced by those growing up in such communities.

An interesting discussion on fossil hunting came out of this talk. The question was raised whether or not taking fossils from their environment (as Miller was doing throughout the voyage) could be (or should be) considered ‘looting’. A comparison was drawn to the looting that is constantly happening on submerged ships.

If you would like to read ‘The Cruise of The Betsey’, it can be found online here.