1933-1937: Arthur E. Trueman

Distinguished palaeontologist and stratigrapher who was knighted for his research and remarkable abilities in academic leadership

Professor Sir Arthur Elijah Trueman FRS, FRSE (1894-1956) was educated in Nottingham, attending school there, and then becoming a student teacher. He studied geology at University College Nottingham with Professor H.H. Swinnerton, expert on the Cretaceous and on belemnites, and author of several textbooks on palaeontology, graduating in 1914. He then moved to the University of London, where he earned his MSc in 1916 for a thesis on the morphology of the ammonite septum and his DSc in 1918 for a thesis about with the systematics and evolu­tionary development of the ammonite family Liparoceratidae, later published (Trueman 1920). He volunteered to serve in the First World War but was classed as medically unfit for active service.

Trueman was appointed to his first academic post as Assistant Lecturer at University College, Cardiff in 1917, and he then became Lecturer and Head of the Department of Geology at the newly established University College, Swansea in 1920. He was appointed Chaning Wills Professor of Geology at the University of Bristol in 1933, and also served as Dean of Science for three years. Trueman was then invited to become Chair of Geology at the University of Glasgow, where he remained until 1946. He then served on the University Grants Committee from 1946, established after the Second World War to stabilise the government funding of universities, serving as Chairman from 1949 to 1953. He was President of the Geological Society of London from 1945 to 1947. Trueman was elected FRSE in 1938, FRS in 1942, and he was knighted in 1951.

Trueman’s first research interests were on the stratigraphy and palaeontology of the Lower Jurassic, specialising in ammonites, for which he earned his two research degrees. He continued his Jurassic and ammonite work while in Cardiff, Swansea and Bristol, but began a new theme, on the Carboniferous Coal Measures. On both themes, he published extensively. A key paper (Trueman 1922a), still much cited, was about the evolution of the bivalve Gryphaea based on his collections through tens of metres of Liassic strata in the Vale of Glamorgan; this is seen as a classic example of gradual evolution through an evolutionary series showing how G. incurva evolved through numerous intermediate stages from oysters of the type of Ostrea liassica.

In his ammonite studies, Trueman carried out the fundamental stratigraphic and taxonomic work that was the norm at the time, but he also applied palaeobiological approaches that mean many of his papers are still of value. For example, he showed (Trueman 1922b) that the study of lineages of ammonites through time could be matched with their ontogenetic series recorded in the growth of the shell, so providing evidence of variable rates of development, and even the omission od developmental stages, topics that would now be included in the study of heterochrony. Trueman capped his studies of gradual evolution in Gryphaea and in ammonites with a discussion of the species concept in palaeontology (Trueman 1924). He continued to publish on the Lower Jurassic of South Wales and the Bristol area, including papers about regional geology, correlation, and palaeontology.

His work on the Coal Measures began in 1920, and he published many papers on the coal fields of South Wales, and focused on the bivalves. For example, Davies and Trueman (1927) presented a thorough revision of the non-marine bivalves of the Late Carboniferous, using simple morphometrics to deal with the persistent problem of wide variations in shape within individual species, and distinguishing such intraspecific variation from  interspecific variation. This was a theme that continued to intrigue Trueman, and culminated in his monograph on the Carboniferous bivalves (Trueman and Weir 1946-1954).

Trueman in Bristol

While in Bristol, Trueman published on various aspects of the local Carboniferous and Jurassic, including a classic account of the Bristol coalfields (Moore & Trueman 1939). This work arose from research by his student Lesley R. Moore (1912-2003), later Sorby Professor of Geology at Sheffield and fiorst President of the Micropalaeontological Society. Trueman also wrote two textbooks while in Bristol, ‘The Scenery of England and Wales’ and ‘An Introduction to Geology’ (Trueman 1938a, 1938b), both of them highly successful. These were followed by later books, including his classic, ‘Geology and Scenery of England and Wales’ (Trueman 1949), and in print for decades afterwards, and an overview of ‘The Coalfields of Great Britain’ (Trueman 1954).

Trueman’s biographer, William J. Pugh (1958, p. 294) summarises, “Those who had known him throughout his academic career and were in close contact with him during the last ten years of his life in London were amazed by his remarkable energy, resilience and determination… Many generations of students were inspired by his teaching and research; many of them occupy important scientific appoint­ments including professorships of geology,’ but that he suffered from ill health throughout his adult life, and died relatively young, aged 61.

Read more

Davies, J.H. and Trueman, A.E. 1927. (With J. H. Davies.) A revision of the non-marine lamellibranchs of the Coal Measures. Quarterly Journal of the Geological Society, London 83, 210-259. Read the paper here.

Moore, L.R. and Trueman, A.E. 1939. The structure of the Bristol and Somerset coalfields. Proceedings of the Geologists’ Association 50, 46-67. Read the paper here.

Pugh, W.J. 1958. Arthur Elijah Trueman. Biographical Memoirs of Fellows of the Royal Society 4, 291-426. Read the obituary.

Trueman, A.E. 1920. The evolution of the Liparoceratidae. Quarterly Journal of the Geological Society, London 76, 247-298. Read the paper.

Trueman, A.E. 1922a. The use of Gryphaea in the correlation of the Lower Lias. Geological Magazine 59, 256-268. Read the paper here.

Trueman, A.E. 1922b. Aspects of ontogeny in the study of ammonite evolution. Journal of Geology 30, 140-143. Read the paper here.

Trueman, A.E. 1924. The species concept in palaeontology. Geological Magazine 61, 355-360. Read the paper here.

Trueman, A.E. 1938a. The Scenery of England and Wales. Victor Gollancz, London.

Trueman, A.E. 1938b. An Introduction to Geology. Thomas Murby & Co., London.

Trueman, A.E. 1949. Geology and Scenery of England and Wales. Penguin, London.

Trueman, A.E. (ed.) 1954. The Coalfields of Great Britain. Edward Arnold and Co., London.

Trueman, A.E. and Weir, J. 1946-1954. The Carboniferous non-marine Lamellibranchia. Palaeontographical Society [Monographs] 99, 1-100. Read the paper here.