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Scientists of Wales: Owen Thomas Jones

(June 01, 2017)


Dr Owen Thomas Jones D.Sc. (Wales), F.R.S.

 Owen Thomas Jones. Catalogue Number: P810095. Reproduced Courtesy of the British Geological Survey
Image: Catalogue Number: P810095
Reproduced Courtesy of the British Geological Survey

OT Jones is in the first rank of geologists in the world and almost every honour in this field came to him. He was born in 1878. His early education (up to 15 years of age) was limited but it was soon evident that he had distinctive intellectual abilities, so it was no surprise that he rose very rapidly in academic circles in Wales and England. He served with the British Geological Survey before moving to the university world at Aberystwyth, Manchester and Cambridge. He contributed very significantly to studies of the geology of Wales, especially rocks with names associated with Wales e.g. Cambrian, Ordovician and Silurian. Perhaps the pinnacle of his work was the masterly synthesis which was published under the title Evolution of a Geosyncline. He was elected a fellow of the royal society in 1926. He died in Cambridge in 1967 at the age of 89.


  Map daearegol o Gymru a de-orllewin Lloegr  
  Geologic map of Wales and south-west England  
  Based on:  
  British Geological Survey; 2005: Bedrock geology UK South, 1:625 000 scale (5th ed.), HarperCollins Publishers Ltd.  
  Jackson, A.A.; 2005: Bedrock geology UK South, an explanation of the bedrock geology map of England and Wales - 1:625 000 fifth edition, British Geological Survey, Keyworth/Nottingham  
  Holland, C.H. & Sanders, I.; 2009 (2nd ed.): The Geology of Ireland, Dunedin Academic Press, Edinburgh, ISBN: 9781903765722  

He was born on April 16, 1878 in Plasnewydd, Beulah, Newcastle Emlyn, Cardiganshire, the only child of David Jones and Margaret Thomas. The family moved to live on a small farm by the side of the road in the same area. OT had a lonely childhood but this upbringing was a means to nurture a deep interest in all aspects of rural life.

He received his early education, up to 15 years of age, in the British school in Trewen not far from his home. Fortunately for him he came under the influence of D.S. Davies who had been a health officer in Bristol and it was he who persuaded OT to learn English and French; prior to this, Welsh was the only language of the young man. It is clear that he possessed natural talent, which enabled him to go to Pencader School. Here he shone in his examinations which enabled him to go to the university in Aberystwyth. In 1900 he graduated with first class honours in physics.

From Aberystwyth he went to Trinity College, Cambridge where he took first class in the first part in the Tripos, again in Physics but adding chemistry, mineralogy and geology. From this time onwards geology was his main interest and again he shone, winning the Harkness and Sedgewick prizes.

In 1903 he joined the British Geological Survey concentrating on studies in the west of Carmarthenshire and Pembrokeshire. This region was of considerable interest and importance, containing rocks from the pre-Cambrian age with many examples of geological folds and fractures. In this period of his career he contributed to the creation of maps on the scales of 6 inch and 1 inch. The experience with the British Geological Survey gave OT an opportunity to refine his methods and his expertise; he retained his initial interest, becoming famous across the world for his knowledge of Ordovician, Cambrian and Silurian rocks. It is he who deserves the praise for setting the foundations for understanding the variety of forms of rocks over a large part of mid Wales.


Delwedd lloeren o Gymru - Ffynhonnell: NASA
Satellite image of Wales
Source: NASA


In 1910, at the age of 32, he was appointed Professor of Geology at Aberystwyth, the first to hold this position. For two years he was the only member of staff in his department. He was a popular lecturer, despite sometimes starting at 7 o’clock in the morning, sharing with his students not only his mastery of geological methods but also appealing recollections of fieldwork where he was an enthusiastic leader with an expectation that students would be able to keep up with him.

Although he had responsibilities in the college there was no constraint upon his enthusiasm for map work. Often he would leave Aberystwyth at the end of June and return at the end of September. The output of all this effort was detailed maps of the region around Aberystwyth, about 1800 square miles of land e.g. detailing the valleys of the rivers Tywi and Teifi. Most of this work was published by the Geological Survey in 1922.

In 1919 OT was appointed Professor of Geology at Manchester university where he extended his research to deal with the rocks of the highlands of Scotland. Throughout his career he had a keen interest in geomorphology and often lectured on drainage patterns, faults along the length and breadth of valleys and the effects of glaciers. He became President of the Geological Society in London where, in his presidential address, he described the water flow system of Wales and adjacent areas.

In 1930 OT was appointed to the Woodward Chair in Cambridge University in succession to his old professor. Although now farther from Wales he held to his main interest, namely, Paleozoic rocks (about 500 million years old, when the climate was mild and different forms of life began to appear). While he was in Cambridge he took an interest in the slide and sudden fall of underwater precipitates in the region of Denbighshire. In a paper published in 1937 he described a framework of river beds and the deposits which had been deposited regularly above. OT retired from his chair at Cambridge in 1943 but this was no cause for him to relax; he remained busy travelling the world and lecturing on aspects of his specialism.

Many prizes came his way in recognition of his distinction, Fellow of the Geological Society, winner of the Lyell Medal in 1926, winner of the Wollaston Medal in 1945. He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society and received the Royal Medal of that society in 1956.

He married Ethel May Reynolds in 1910 and they had a family of one girl and two boys. He died in Cambridge on the 5th of May 1967 at the age of 89.

Neville Evans, June 2017

If you enjoyed this, you'll also enjoy these by Dr Neville Evans, in his series Scientists of Wales:

     Dyfrig Jones; March 2017
Ewart Jones
; December 2016
Elwyn Hughes
; September 2016
Gareth Roberts
; June 2016
Ezer Griffiths; March 2016

Handel Davies; December 2015
Mathematicians of Wales; September 2015

Professor Eleri Pryce; June 2015

William Robert Grove; March 2015

Frank Llewellyn-Jones; December 2014

Professor Julie Williams; September 2014

Ieuan Maddock, F.R.S.; June 2014

John Houghton, F.R.S.; March 2014

David Brunt, F.R.S.; December 2013

Professor John Beynon; September 2013

John Meurig Thomas; June 2013
Robert Recorde and William Jones; March 2013
Richard Tecwyn Williams, F.R.S; December 2012

Lyn Evans; September 2012
E G Bowen; June 2012
cylchgrawn Cymru Culture magazine
Published by/Cyhoeddwyd gan:
Caregos Cyf., 2017

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