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Essex Field Club
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Essex Field Club

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Noteworthy naturalist

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William Herbert Dalton (1848-1929) Geologist

W.H. Dalton was born into a comfortable but by no means privileged family at the Rectory, Foulness on 16th July 1848. He died of heart failure on 18th September 1929 aged 81, at his home, 85 Hayter Road, Brixton Hill, Surrey. Dalton was very short sighted and he could read to the thousandth of an inch on his maps, but could not read a clock-face a couple of yards off. This compelled the life-long wearing of spectacles out of doors. Dalton could be quite scathing of other people’s opinions. Dalton enjoyed the company of young people and took groups of them on geological field trips and to places of interest. Additionally he threw his house open to Belgian refugees during the Great War of 1914-1918. He was a good linguist and Russian scholar. His work as a field geologist took him to many parts of England and overseas. For example in 1871 he was living in Barnsley. Ten years later in 1881 he was at Clarboro, East Retford. He spent much time in East Anglia – at Framlingham, Saxmundham, Beccles and Hunstanton interspersed with family visits to Scotland and Foulness. In his career as a petroleum geologist he travelled widely including California, South Africa, Burma, Siberia and Japan.

Dalton’s father was Samuel Neale Dalton (1813-1892), who was rector of Foulness for 43 years from 1848 until his death in 1892. His father was described as “a man of primitive and retiring manners… content with his lot in this lonely spot”. His mother Sophia Way married Samuel in 1840. They had several sons. William Herbert Dalton married three times. His first wife, Maggie Miller, was ten years older than him when they married on 28th December 1869 at Greenhead, Glasgow. She died on 12th December 1911, aged 74. Dalton then married Amelia Everard who died in 1925. Finally he married Emily Gertrude Warren, who survived Dalton and died in 1946. Dalton had one child, a daughter Frances Edith Dalton who was born at Barnsley on 24th February 1871.

Dalton was a geologist. The earlier part of his career was with the Geological Survey. He later became a consulting petroleum geologist. Dalton was the son of an Anglican clergyman. An uncle paid the two guinea fee for Dalton to sit the open examination for candidates to the Geological Survey. One of the exam questions was “Describe the geology of your native county”. This he had at his fingertips and he passed the interview and was appointed to the Geological Survey on 31st July 1867 as an Assistant Geologist. He went to Yorkshire and worked with J. R. Dakyns. He was appointed to the grade of Geologist in 1883. Shortly afterwards ill-health forced him to resign from the Survey in 1885, after only 17 years service, aged 37. In the ten years from 1878 to 1888 Dalton contributed to nine geological survey memoirs and several maps, including the Yorkshire Coalfield, North West Essex , Colchester, Lincolnshire and, Ipswich, Aldborough, Halesworth. Dalton was elected to Fellowship of the Geological Society (No. 2907) on 15th December 1875. After he had left the Geological Survey he became a consulting geologist, particularly in the field of petroleum exploration. In the Great War of 1914-1918 he was adviser to Sir Boverton Redwood, F.R.S. and collaborated in producing Redwood’s three volume Treatise on Petroleum. The third edition of this work appeared in 1913 and contained a 172 page bibliography by Dalton. He was engaged for the last thirty years of his life in compiling a huge Bibliography of Petroleum Literature. His obituary in the Journal of the Institution of Petroleum Technologists described Dalton as “a great petroleum geologist…who was associated with the early development of many of the oilfields of the world”. W. H. Dalton was educated with his brother, Henry, at Blackheath. From Blackheath he went to King’s College, London University from 1865-1867. Here he studied mathematics, mechanics, chemistry, geology, mineralogy, manufacturing and geometrical drawing. Dalton had close connections with the Essex Field Club. In 1891 he was living at 2 Victoria Villas, Derby Road, Woodford, Essex. He donated many rocks, minerals and fossils to the Club when the Stratford Museum was being set up. He personally entered these in the Accessions Register. He was elected an honorary member of the Club in 1902. Dalton travelled extensively within England as a Geological Surveyor and internationally in his career as a petroleum consultant geologist. This is evidenced at a meeting of the Essex Field Club on 8th April 1905 when Dalton exhibited some Miocene fossils from Frankport-on-Main, shells from the shore of the Okhotsk sea on the eastern side of the island of Sakhalin and shells from the northern part of Lower Burma. He was in Saghalian just before the Russo-Japanese war (1904-1905). The Essex Field Club also possesses Dalton’s catalogue of his own geological collection. In addition to his official writings for the Geological Survey Dalton wrote more than thirty articles of a geological nature, many relating to Essex, which appeared in a wide range of journals, including the Essex Naturalist, from 1875-1912. In addition to his numerous geological writings Dalton compiled bibliographical lists and notes on other subjects ranging from archaeology to ecclesiology. Archaeology was a natural adjunct to his study of geology. He edited the Essex Review from 1892-1894 and the journal of the Institute of Petroleum Technologists. In sum over a period of more than 50 years Dalton published a massive corpus of about 50 geological books, papers and maps from 1875-1929. His writings are a model of clarity and style.

E.J. Garwood. 1930. Obituary of William Herbert Dalton. Quarterly Journal of the Geological Society. Vol. 86 pp. lxii.

P. Thompson. 1930. Obituary Notice of William Herbert Dalton (1848-1929). Essex Naturalist Vol. 23 pp. 41-42.

W.W. Watts. 1930. Obituary of William H. Dalton. Proceedings of the Geologists’ Association. Vol. 41 pp. 97-97.

F.E. Leaning. 1951. The Dalton Book. Typescript copy at Society of Genealogists.

W. H. George. 2006. William Herbert Dalton (1849-1929), Essex Geologist. Essex Field Club Newsletter No. 51 September 2006 pp. 15-21.

His effects were valued at £7965 for probate.

Account provided by Mr William George
page last edited on Thu May 8th 2008 by site user 68