Davies Gilbert      

History of the Society


The Royal Geological Society of Cornwall is a geological society based in Penzance, Cornwall.  

It was founded in 1814 to promote the study of the geology of Cornwall and is the second oldest geological society in the world, after the Geological Society of London which was founded in 1807.


Davies Giddy (later to be known as Davies Gilbert - to find out more about Davies Giddy follow the links below) was elected first president of the Cornwall Geological Society, the vice presidents were Sir Rose Price and Mr John Scobell, Dr Ayrton Paris was requested to take on the office of secretary and the chairman of the council was Sir Christopher Hawkins with the Right Honourable Lord de Dunstanville requested to honour the Society by becoming its Patron.


Other notable people include Sir Humphry Davy  (some of whose papers are held by the Society) and William Gregor who discovered titanium. 


The Society was honoured by the Prince Regent who announced his intention to become Patron of the Society. Lord de Dunstanville resigned from his position as patron and the society became the Royal Geological Society of Cornwall.


The society's first premises was a house in North Parade, Penzance and in 1853 the Borough of Penzance put forward plans for a new public building on the west side of Penzance. It was planned to have the Borough offices, county court and police station in the east wing, the two floors of the west wing housing the RGSC's museum and a public hall between the two run by a public company. The foundation stone was laid on 27 April 1864 and work was completed by Messr Olver & Sons of Falmouth and opened on 10 September 1867. The building, known as St John's Hall, still exists today.

Penwith Local History Group on RGSC

Penwith Local History Group on Davies Gilbert

Open University Early History of the RGSC

Grace's Guide to British Industrial History

Wikipedia on Davies Gilbert

Elizabeth Catherine Thomas Carne (1817–1873) was a British author, natural philosophergeologistconchologist, mineral collector, and philanthropist. In later years, following her father's death, she also became a banker. Today we would probably place her contributions to science under human ecology and natural history.

She was the first woman to be elected a member of the Royal Geological Society of CornwallDuring the 200th  birthday celebrations of the RGSC, this first woman member was celebrated.  Melissa Hardie- Budden MBE took this bi-centennial occasion to present a study of Elizabeth C T Carne and her scientific and artistic relatives and associates. A local and national celebrity in her own time, Carne had been lost in the pages of history until now.   

Carne was the fifth child of eight children born to Joseph CarneFRS, and his wife Mary Thomas of Glamorgan. Elizabeth was born at Rivière House, in the parish of Phillack, near HayleCornwall.

At Rivière House, owned by the Cornish Copper Company of which her father was the Company Director, the cellars were fitted out as laboratories where smelting processes of copper and tin were tested, and minerals and rocks studied for their constituents. Davies Gilbert (first president of the RGSC) came to the laboratory along with the young Humphry Davy to view the workings of a scientific environment. 

Born into an influential and wealthy Methodist family of mining agents and merchants, Elizabeth was acutely aware throughout her life of poverty and deprivation in surrounding mining areas, and the dire need for education and social support for those less fortunate. She read widely, studied mathematics, the classics, and learned several languages.

Educated at home in Chapel Street, Penzance with her sisters, she assisted her father with his extensive mineral collections and shared his keen interest in geological formations, age and density.  

On her father's death in 1858, she came into a large fortune, and used this legacy, following the charitable habits of her parents and family, to share considerable sums for educational and other philanthropic purposes. She made possible by donating the purchase price for the land upon which St John's Hall (the town hall) was constructed and separately built a museum on Lower Queen's Street near her home, in which to exhibit the fine collection of minerals which she had assisted her father in amassing.

She took up her father's partnership from 1858 until her death, as head of the Penzance Bank founded by her grandfather.

She also inherited her father's love of geology, and wrote four papers:  

  • ‘Transactions of the Royal Geological Society of Cornwall
  • ‘Cliff Boulders and the Former Condition of the Land and Sea in the Land's End district,’
  • ‘The Age of the Maritime Alps surrounding Mentone,’ ‘On the Transition and Metamorphosis of Rocks,’ and
  • ‘On the Nature of the Forces that have acted on the Formation of the Land's End Granite.

Many articles were also contributed by her to the ‘London Quarterly Review,’ and she was the author of several books