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"Men of the Day No.14 "A faithful friend, an eminent servant, and the best possible president" Sir Roderick Murchison" (Image plate from Vanity Fair)
, 1870

by Carlo Pellegrini

chromolithograph (sheet: 36.5 cm x 24.0 cm)

Sir Roderick Impey Murchison, 1st Baronet KCB (1792–1871), Scottish geologist, is sometimes credited with being the first to predict the existence of Australian gold. Born into a wealthy family, he became interested in geology in the early 1820s, his subsequent endeavours giving rise to significant advances in the science. In his book Siluria, he described how he had the chance to examine rocks brought back from eastern Australia by his friend Count Strzelecki, and that the similarities between the Australian rocks and auriferous Russian specimens led him to predict that gold would be found in the colony. His biographer, however, comments that ‘it is not easy even for a partial friend to discover in what way Murchison’s share in the finding of gold in Australia could be regarded as in any way scientific, or more than a lucky guess’, although he did correspond with William Branwhite Clarke, who in 1841 had predicted, scientifically, that the colony would be found rich in gold. From the 1850s he was director-general of the British Geological Survey, in which role he encouraged investigation of Australia. He is commemorated in the Murchison crater on the moon, as well as more than a dozen locations on earth, including the Murchison River in WA and its tributaries, the Roderick and the Impey.

Collection: National Portrait Gallery
Purchased 2015
Accession number: 2015.91