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HRKR - The papers of Alfred Harker
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The papers of Alfred Harker

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This material is held at Cambridge University: Sedgwick Museum of Earth Sciences
Reference Number(s) GB 590 HRKR
Dates of Creation 1860-1936
Name of Creator Alfred Harker
Language of Material English
Physical Description 13 boxes

Scope and Content

The collection comprises notebooks, sketchbooks, and photograph albums detailing geological excursions in the U.K from the late nineteenth century. These mostly cover the Isle of Skye, Isle of Arran, Yorkshire (Scarborough), and other Scottish Highlands. There are also notebooks detailing specimens collected (catalogues); lecture note drafts; maps; and some personal records including details of an 80th birthday event.

Administrative / Biographical History

Alfred Harker (1859-1939) was born on 19 February 1859 at Kingston-upon-Hull. Harkers father was the Yorkshire corn merchant Portas Hewart Harker, his mother was Ellen Mary Harker. He attended Hull and East Riding College, and the private Clewar House School (Windsor).

He enrolled as an undergraduate at St. John's College (Cambridge) from where he graduated with an M.A. in 18 January 1882, after which he lectured in Physics at Newnham College. In 1884 he held the post of Demonstrator in the Geology Department under Thomas McKenny Hughes (whom he regarded his mentor), as College lecturer in Physics at St Johns in 1892, University Lecturer in 1904, and as Reader in Petrology in 1918.

His duties included teaching Mineralogy and Petrology to students. Harker was elected as a College Fellow of St. Johns in 1885. A geological tour of Western Europe in 1887 introduced him to the metamorphic rocks of the Ardennes which proved to be an influential experience to his continuing research.

Harker accompanied Professor Thomas McKenny-Hughes to the United States in 1891 where they attended the 5th International Geological Congress. This was the first time the event had been held outside of Europe. Harkers two geological notebooks/travel diaries from this time are held in the Sedgwick archive and contain many sketched observations of the people and places he encountered on the excursion.

In 1895, Harker commenced employment with the Geological Survey of Great Britain on a part-time basis. Professor McKenny-Hughes had also worked with the Survey, but Harkers invitation came from the then Director General, Archibald Geikie. This was to assist in the mapping and determination of the igneous rocks of the Isle of Skye and the small Isles. This association lasted some 10 years or so. At this time, he also became a Member of the Scottish Mountaineering Club, photographs of which are in the collection.

Harkers active fieldwork programme also saw him collaborating with Professor J. E. Marr of the Department of Geology on the volcanic rocks of the Lake District in 1889. The Sedgwick Memorial Museum opened in 1904 and three years later, Harker published research on material he had prepared petrological rock slices of. He named the petrological samples brought back by Charles Darwin as the Beagle Collection of Rocks. He and other British geologists pioneered the use of thin sections and the petrographic microscope in interpretive petrology.

Harker became a member of the Geological Society of London and served as President of that organization between 1916-1918. The Society awarded him the Murchison Medal in 1907 and their highest honour, the Wollaston Medal in 1922.

In 1935 he was awarded the Royal Medal of the Royal Society (Fellow since 1902).

The University of Edinburgh awarded him with an honorary doctoral degree in law in 1919, as did McGill University. Harker Glacier on South Georgia Island, Mount Harker in Antarctica, and Dorsa Harker, a feature on the Moon, are named after him. The mineral harkerite, first found on the Isle of Skye, is also named after him. Ternary composition plots used in classifying igneous rocks are commonly referred to as Harker Diagrams.

Harker retired in 1931 and was made Honorary Curator of the Cambridge Petrological Museum, and their extensive rock collection bears his name. St. Johns College made him a Life Fellow soon after his retirement. Alfred Harker died in 1939.

A book illustrating the geology and landscapes of the Western Isles of Scotland was published post-humously. Many of the illustrations in this work were based on drawings he made in his numerous field notebooks.


There was no obvious original order to many of these records, although some of the notebooks have been numbered by Harker, and a list is available in one of the notebooks. The collection has been provisionally (intellectually) arranged into the following series.

HRKR 1 Personal (& Education)

HRKR 2 Field Research notebooks & sketchbooks

HRKR 3 Writing

HRKR 4 Photograph Albums

HRKR 5 Maps

Conditions Governing Access

The papers are open for consultation by researchers using Sedgwick Museum of Earth Sciences. However, as the papers have not been appraised, there may be some closures. The Geological Conservation Unit [Brighton Building] is open from Monday to Friday, 10:00-13:00 and 14:00-17:00. A prior appointment made at least two weeks in advance, and two forms of identification are required.

Please contact the Museum to ask about the collection or to make an appointment.

Conditions Governing Use

Photocopies, photographs, and print-outs from scanned images may be provided. Charges may apply. Readers may also use their own digital cameras subject to copyright legislation and in-house rules.

Researchers wishing to publish excerpts from the papers must obtain prior permission from the copyright holders and should seek advice from Sedgwick Museum Staff. Please cite as Sedgwick Museum of Earth Sciences, The Papers of Alfred Harker, HRKR.

Archivist's Note

This collection level description was created by Sandra Marsh and Dr Lyall Anderson of Sedgwick Museum in November 2010 using information from Alfred Harkers entry in Who Was Who (A and C Black, 1997) the Dictionary of National Biography, Royal Society memoirs, and the papers themselves.

The collection was catalogued in 2011 by Dr Anderson and Sandra Marsh.

Other Finding Aids

This collection has been catalogued which is available online, and in hard copy from the Sedgwick Museum. A previous basic box-list from the DDF project 2010-2011 also exists. Please ask staff for further information.


Natural history museums
Natural sciences
Research work
Scientific expeditions

Personal Names

Harker, Alfred. ( 1859-1939) Petrologist

Geographical Names

Inverness, Highland, Scotland, United Kingdom, EUROPE

Cataloguing Info

Title The papers of Alfred Harker
Sponsor A professional archivist was employed to inventory and re-box the legacy records of the Sedgwick Museum of Earth Sciences in 2010-2011. This was made possible by a grant under under the Museums Libraries and Archives Council Designated Development Funding (DDF). Further funding was acquired from Trinity College Isaac Newton Trust in 2011-2012 to continue essential work. Other funding was generously secured from the 'Friends of the Sedgwick Museum' to catalogue some of the notebooks.
Creation Created by Sandra Marsh using the cheshire for archives ead creation tool 2011-03-09


Reference Number(s) GB 590 HRKR 1
Dates of Creation 1896-1936
Name of Creator Alfred Harker
Physical Description 4 files

Scope and Content

Certificate and files relating to Harkers 80th Birthday celebrations.



Wollaston Fund 1896 Certificate

Reference Number(s) GB 590 HRKR 1/1
Dates of Creation 1896
Physical Description 1 item

Scope and Content

Comprising a certificate acknowledging Alfred Harkers receipt of the Wollaston Fund, 1896.

Administrative / Biographical History

The Wollaston fund has been awarded since 1831 to contributors to the Earth sciences under the age of 40 on the basis of noteworthy published research.



80th Birthday Book

Reference Number(s) GB 590 HRKR 1/2
Dates of Creation 1939
Physical Description 1 volume

Scope and Content

A book to accompany the portrait of Alfred Harker presented to him on his 80th Birthday. This comprises the names of those sending their best wishes and/or attending the celebratory dinner.

80th Birthday Print

Reference Number(s) GB 590 HRKR 1/3
Dates of Creation 1939
Physical Description 1 item

Scope and Content

Copy of a pencil illustration of Alfred Harker presented to him on the occassion of his 80th birthday.

80th Birthday dinner

Reference Number(s) GB 590 HRKR 1/4
Dates of Creation 1939
Physical Description 1 file

Scope and Content

Comprising a signed dinner menu from guests; and a seating plan, March 1939.



Field research

Reference Number(s) GB 590 HRKR 2
Dates of Creation 1878-1938
Name of Creator Alfred Harker
Physical Description 9 boxes

Scope and Content

The series comprises numbered and un-numbered field notebooks;specimen catalogues; sketchbooks, photograph albums, and maps.

Administrative / Biographical History

The records in this series reflect the work undertaken by Harker both when employed by the Geological Survey from 1895, and during the times he was engaged in teaching. They also cover the time when he had retired from both these activities.


The series has been arranged to reflect the ways in which Harker created and stored his records i.e. there is a clearly numbered sequence of notebooks covering expeditions which forms one sub-series, and others which do not fit into this but are either clearly labeled or identifiable, so make up other sub-series. These have been arranged chronologically, in keeping with the numbered series.


Field work
Geological data
Geology maps
Geological cross-sections
Geological specimens
Geological surveys
Sedimentary rocks

Field and specimen notebooks, numbered

Reference Number(s) GB 590 HRKR 2/1
Dates of Creation 1882-1892
Name of Creator Alfred Harker
Physical Description 23 volumes

Scope and Content

The notebooks contain notes whilst on location and elsewhere, sketches (mostly geological) in pencil, ink and watercolour, and ephemera such as business cards and railway timetables.

Administrative / Biographical History

Alfred Harker undertook a large number of expeditions during the course of his life. Many of these were undertaken as part of employment for the Geological Survey from 1895 on a part-time basis. This series of records reflects his work in a variety of localities across the UK.


This sub-series of notebooks were numbered and labeled by Harker himself (a list of names given to each of the notebooks can be found in notebook 5 ‘Miscellaneous’).


Railway services
Geological cross sections

Yorkshire A

Reference Number(s) GB 590 HRKR 2/1/1
Dates of Creation 1884
Name of Creator Alfred Harker
Physical Description 1 volume

Scope and Content

Notebook mainly comprised of entries on geological field excursions to the East Yorkshire and North Yorkshire coasts of England. There is also one entry relating to an excursion to North Wales. Comprising occasional geological section sketches, and listings of fossils collected at localities by Alfred Harker. There are also newspaper clippings relating to a meeting of the Field Naturalist’s Society of Hull and the Market Weighton to Driffield railway (2).

Administrative / Biographical History

The notebook covers the period during which Alfred Harker was an undergraduate and subsequently a graduate of St Johns College, University of Cambridge, 1878-1884.


Railway lines

Personal Names

Lamplugh, George William. ( 1859 - 1926) Geologist
McKenny Hughes, Thomas. ( 1832 - 1917) Geologist
Middlemiss, Charles Stewart. ( 1860 - 1945) Geologist
Teall, Jethro Justinian Hattis. ( 1849 - 1924) Geologist

Corporate Names

Field Naturalist Society of Hull
Yorkshire Naturalists' Union

Geographical Names

Scarborough, North Yorkshire, England, United Kingdom, EUROPE
Bridlington, North Yorkshire, England, United Kingdom, EUROPE
Filey, North Yorkshire, England, United Kingdom, EUROPE
Whitby, North Yorkshire, England, United Kingdom, EUROPE
Robin Hood's Bay, North Yorkshire, England, United Kingdom, EUROPE
Market Weighton, East Riding of Yorkshire, England, United Kingdom, EUROPE.
Brough, East Riding of Yorkshire, England, United Kingdom, EUROPE