Southeastern Section - 57th Annual Meeting (10–11 April 2008)

Paper No. 7
Presentation Time: 3:50 PM


DONOVAN, Stephen K., Department of Geology, Nationaal Natuurhistorisch Museum Naturalis, Postbus 9517, Leiden, 2300 RA, Netherlands,

The survey geologist, Charles Alfred Matley (1866-1947), recognised a Precambrian or Palaeozoic Basal Complex under Jamaica and the Caribbean, analogous to the Mona Complex he had mapped in northwest Wales. Existence of a Basal Complex remains unproven and unlikely. The principal opponent to the Basal Complex hypothesis was the only other major expert on the geology of Jamaica at this time, the independently wealthy amateur Charles Taylor Trechmann (1884-1964). Subsequent to his debate with Matley, Trechmann changed his Caribbean research programme from stratigraphy and mollusc systematics to tectonics, and the formulation of his Theory of Mountain Uplift in competition with Matley's Basal Complex. Trechmann's theory suggested that uplift of mountains was the product of lunar attraction, reinforced by pressure at depth produced by deep columns of ocean water which also induced metamorphic changes at relatively shallow crustal depths. Unfortunately, Matley died after publication of the first of four privately published monographs on mountain uplift, depriving Trechmann of the target audience for his theory. The Theory of Mountain Uplift was widely ignored at a time when the status of the amateur in geology was waning and Trechmann lacked disciples to spread his ideas. His was the last parochial theory of Antillean tectonics and is remembered for its errors, as seen from a present where plate tectonics provide the framework for all geology, rather than its adherence to the fixist research programmes of the first half of the 20th Century.

Trechmann's main failing was that his interpretation and theory weren't as strong as his observation and description. His was one of many tectonic theories being championed in the 1950s, but was one of the least successful and went largely unnoticed by the broader geological community. He undertook his research privately and was unorthodox in his approach in a way that may only be possible where personal gain is decoupled from the creative scientific process. In judging him critically, posterity has been less than generous; the Theory of Mountain Uplift taints the memory of Trechmann, yet those who theorised that the Antilles was a sunken continent are forgotten. Trechmann's theory was not just wrong, but it was wrong at the wrong time.