The Rt. Rev. George Young: an early Geologist on the Yorkshire Coast

Author: From Peter Robinson’s notebooks.

George Young was born southwest of Edinburgh at Kirk Newton to John Young and his wife Jean. He was born without a left hand and so like many devout people of the time, his parents educated him for the ministry.

At the University of Edinburgh he distinguished himself in mathematics and natural philosophy. He was a favorite student of Professor John Playfair who was, at that time, becoming the great promoter of James Hutton’s uniformitarian geology. After receiving high honors upon completion of his degree in 1796, he studied theology under Dr. George Lawson at Selkirk for five years. In 1806 he became the pastor of the Cliff Street chapel in Whitby where he served for 42 years. He obtained an M.A. from the University of Edinburgh in 1819. In 1826 he married Margaret Hunter. Though married for 20 years they had no children.

Young could read and write in several languages and developed his own short-hand which is still undecipherable. He helped established the Whitby Museum as first secretary and founding member of the Whitby Literary and Philosophical Society. He also procured fossil and mineral collections for the Yorkshire Philosophical Society.

Young wrote 22 books on many topics but is best known in the world of geology for A Geological Survey of the Yorkshire Coast, which he wrote with John Bird in 1822; it was followed by Scriptural Geology in 1838.

Contemporary geologist Martin Simpson described Young's Geological Survey as "in every way worthy of a pupil of the celebrated Playfair." Young's research was done with accuracy, minute investigation and care. The Survey was a fair and accurate description of the geology of the strata and was an encouragement to geological pursuits in the area.

Young did not travel extensively, but his acquaintance with this particular part of England was significant for developing a wider view of earth history, because most the geological "column" was to be found in Yorkshire.

Young noted that geology had only begun, in twenty or thirty years, to assume her proper rank among the sciences. The collection of facts had been rapid, but Young cautioned that considering the diversity of opinions, not enough data had been obtained for explaining the causes, employed by the Creator, that brought the earth to its present state. He urged much more research and observations upon which to base a true theory of the earth. 

On the 8th of May, 1848 Rev. George Young passed away following a bout of influenza. He was buried in St. Mary's Churchyard, the ceremony being performed by his friend Dr William Scoresby junior, "amidst a grief so deep and general as to show that Whitby had lost a great benefactor".