ISBN 978-0-9555289-0-3

Published by CPGS, 21st March 2007

Book Reviews: Professor Paul Wignall, University of Leeds
1. Yorkshire Geological Society: Circular 539, Sept. 2007
2. Geologists' Association Mag. Vol. 6 No.4., Dec. 2007
3. Down To Earth, Issue 61, 2007 (Chris Darmon, Geo Supplies Ltd.)

Runner-up: ENI Geological Challenge Award 2007

The competition is sponsored by the Italian oil company, ENI. The stated aim of the award is “to recognise the achievements of individuals or groups in the field of conservation, interpretation or field geological education in the UK.”

Book review by Professor Paul Wignall for the YGS

Geo Supplies Ltd. Reviewed by Chris Darmon

“This is a delightful little book is well written and superbly illustrated in full colour. It’s also an object lesson in realistic pricing; it could be read by anyone with an interest in the subject, or even on interest in biographies, because this is primarily a story about one man and his life’s work”

Star rating: ****

Craven Herald (25 January 2008)


The cause of earthquakes has historically been attributed to mythical beasts or the wrath of Gods! However, the first rational explanation of earthquakes is from Greek natural philosophers. Aristotle (4th Century BC) attributed earthquakes to the shaking of the Earth due to dry heated vapours underground or winds trapped in its interior trying to leave toward the exterior. In the 17th Century A. Kircher (1678) related earthquakes and volcanoes to a system of fire conduits inside the Earth. In the 18th Century M. Lister and N. Lesmery suggested that earthquakes were caused by explosions of flammable material concentrated within the Earth's interior.

The destructive Lisbon earthquake and associated tsunami (1st November 1755) ultimately proved to be the starting point of modern seismology (a term derived from two Greek words: Seismos = Shaking and Logos = Science or Treatise). In 1760, J. Mitchell (a Cambridge astronomy) was the first to relate earthquake shaking to the propagation of elastic waves inside the Earth.

An Irish engineer, Robert Mallet (1857), made an important contribution by mapping earthquake zones around the Mediterranean. He suggested that earthquakes are elastic waves of compression caused by the sudden flexing and fracturing of the Earth’s crust.

John Milne: UK

Born in Liverpool in 1850 and spending his early years in his home town of Rochdale. Milne had an eventful career quite unlike any of his peers. At the age of 13, he entered Liverpool Collegiate Institute where he gained many prizes, one of which was a sum of money which he used it to fund a trip to the Lake District.

Not content with viewing the natural splendour of the Lakes, he crossed over to Ireland and made his way to Dublin by existing on apples and what he could earn by playing the piano at pubs on route.

Having moved south and now aged of 17 he entered King's College London where he studied Maths, Mechanics, Divinity, Geology, Chemistry, Mineralogy, Geometrical Drawing and Surveying. This was followed by a spell at the Royal School of Mines (London) and Freiburg, where he studied more on Mineralogy.

In the early 1870's he was fortunate to have visited Iceland, Newfoundland and the Sinai Peninsular. This widespread experience as a field geologist specialising in minerals and mining significantly contributed to Milne being appointed consulting engineer to the newly-formed Public Works Department of the Japanese Government. Milne was not a keen sailor so to many peoples surprise he made the journey to Tokyo overland via Scandinavia, Russia, Siberia, Mongolia, China and finally Japan.

John Milne: Japan

In Japan Milne worked on Japan’s Volcanoes (plus volcanoes of the Kurile Islands), their formation and geological distribution. Milne concluded that: ‘the majority of earthquakes which we experience do not come from volcanoes nor do they seem to have any direct connection with them’.

The origin of the Japanese people captured Milne's attention. He struck up a friendship with Morse (USA) although in time Milne's opinions on the Stoneage Japan differed considerably from those of Morse. Much of his recorded work took place in and around Hakodate where on Hokkaido, the northern-most island along the Japan arc.

The Tokyo - Yokohama earthquake of Sunday, 22nd February 1880 proved to be the turning point in Milne's career where one might say Milne the Seismologist was born! Milne founded the Seismological Society of Japan and was a guiding force in the development of the seismograph alongside Thomas Gray and James Ewing.

In June 1871 Milne was elected to the Royal Society.

The Mino-Owari earthquake of 28th October, 1891, with its spectacular faulting, helped convince Milne that faulting caused earthquakes by the release of strain energy which had been stored in rock through the slow deformation of the Earth's crust (Milne, 1898b, p 24-38). This earthquake is sometimes referred to as the Nobi Earthquake of 1891.

Milne collaborated with W.K. Burton and K. Ogawa in completing a photographic record of the 1891 earthquake (The Great Earthquake of Japan, 1891) and also The Volcanoes of Japan (part 1 Fujisan).

On leaving Japan in 1895 with his wife Tone, Milne was presented with the Order of the Rising Sun from the Meiji Emperor - an honour rarely accorded to any foreigner.

John Milne: Isle of Wight

In 1895, on his return from Japan, John Milne set up his observatory in an old stable. Milne made sure the concrete foundation was put in place prior to the first seismograph being put into operation on 16th August, 1895. At the nearby Carisbrooke Castle, another seismograph was installed in 1896. His friend and assistant, Shinobu Hirota collected daily details from the Carisbrook seismograph. By 1900 Milne had added a laboratory. Sometimes several seismographs at a time were in operation, however, the principal one was the Milne horizontal pendulum.

Milne became the driving force of the BAAS Seismological Investigation Committee and fulfilled his goal by setting up the first global network of seismograph stations. The observatory closed following his untimely death in 1913.


The death of John Milne in July 1913 creates a situation of some difficulty and anxiety. He organised a world-wide seismological service with very little financial help from others. In many of the outlying stations the instrumental equipment was provided either by himself or by one of his friends, and the care of it has been generously undertaken by a volunteer who is often busily engaged in other work. The collation of results was in the early years untaken by Milne himself, with the able help of Shinobu Hirota. Of late years a subsidy of 200/ a year from Government Grant Fund allowed of paid assistants; and Shinobu Hirota thus obtained a well-deserved official position; but for many years the only salary that he received was paid from Milne's own pocket.

Professor John Milne, D.Sc. F.R.S., F.G.S.,
Hon. Fellow of King's College, London.

30 December, 1850 - 31 July, 1913

Opening Slide of the Presentation at Touchstones

The illustrated talk will explore the life and work of John Milne beginning with his roots in Rochdale, Lancashire; his amazing overland journey to Tokyo, via Europe, Siberia, Mongolia and China; his major accomplishments during the 20 years in Japan; and finally his legacy to the Isle of Wight where he established the first ever seismological network of stations across the world.

Download as a pdf


This talk is a contribution to the Geological Society of London’s Bicentenary 2007 Local Heroes - celebrating 200 years of geology initiative. Not only is 2007 the Bicentenary of the Geological Society of London, but 2008 will be the Sesquicentenary (150th anniversary) of the founding of the Geologists’ Association. The two societies have agreed to unite in promoting a programme of outreach during the two years as a joint celebration of our geological heritage. Also, 2008 will be United Nations International Year of Planet Earth, whose activities will begin in 2007 and end in 2009.

Paul Kabrna's new book on John Milne, published by the Craven and Pendle Geological Society on 21 March 2007 will be available for purchase at the event.

Left to Right:
The ladies are the daughters of David Milne and Duncan Milne, relatives of John Milne. Paul Kabrna is third from the right. To his right is David Milne with his daughter Jenny and Kathryn and his great niece Becky. On the far right is Will Twycross from Australia who is a relative of John Milne. John's mother was Emma Twycross. Will brought along with him some John Milne memorabilia.