The Edinburgh Geologist
Issue no 33

Offshore geological nomenclature 


Ken Hitchen's original What's in a Name? article on the naming of features in Rockall has prompted a mailbagful of correspondence, which we thought that readers might find interesting. The first was received from Antony Swithin: 

Saskatoon, Canada 

Dear Dr. Hitchen, 

I received today from my friend Ellis Yochelson a copy of your article in the recent EDINBURGH GEOLOGIST. I am absolutely delighted and quite thrilled that some of the names I chose for localities on my imaginary sub-continent of Rockall have been perpetuated and given reality on Rockall Bank! 

Please accept my sincerest thanks. I should, however, point out that I am still a geological lecturer, at this university since 1972, and that I came here from Nottingham, not Leicester. The confusion is understandable in that the old Nottingham Geology Department's personnel were mostly transferred to Leicester when that Department closed; however, by then I was already in Saskatchewan. 'Antony Swithin' are my middle names, by the way; I was born on the 15th of July. 

I have five more books about Rockall awaiting publication. Unfortunately, Harper took over Collins and promptly cancelled my contract, since which time I have been seeking a fresh publisher in vain. (It is not easy to persuade a new publisher to take on, not only the publication of the new books but also the republication of the original four!). 

With good wishes and my sincerest thanks once again; truly I am greatly honoured! 

Sincerely yours, 

(Prof.) William A.S. Sarjeant, D.Sc., F.R.S.C. 

The remaining correspondence was related to the naming of sea-bed features discovered during fisheries research: 

Montrose,  Scotland 

Dear Dr. Hitchen, 

Chance led me to read your article 'What's in a name?' in THE EDINBURGH GEOLOGIST. May I comment? The George Bligh Bank was named after a ship (probably a Royal Navy survey ship) which first mapped it out. Bill Bailey's Bank is named after a fishing skipper, probably from Milford Haven. Whether he was trawling or great-lining I know not. Lousy Bank is so-named because fish, particularly halibut, caught there tended to be heavily infested with sea-lice. I have seen this for myself when hauling great lines on the bank, as many as a dozen lice on one halibut. 

I am passing a copy of this letter and your article to Jim Adams, of 2 Drummond Place, Edinburgh, who knows much more than I do about the history of oceanography and fisheries. 

As a smallish boy, I was privileged to go on a number of excursions of the Edinburgh Geological Society, many led by Robert Campbell, and some by Murray MacGregor, so I was quite interested to be shown this edition by my daughter-in-law, who is a member. 

Yours sincerely, 

Robert Craig 


Edinburgh,  Scotland 

Dear Dr. Hitchen, 

As you know, my former colleague, Bobby Craig, passed me a copy of your interesting article, which appeared in THE EDINBURGH GEOLOGIST. I would not claim to be as expert as Bobby suggests. However, your article did encourage me to look at some texts which I had to hand. As a result, I would like to comment on the names of two of the banks. 

George Bligh Bank

Bobby was partly correct in his supposition that the George Bligh was a naval ship. However, according to A J Lee's excellent history of MAFF's Directorate of Fisheries Research, by the time the vessel discovered the bank in April 1921, she was on her maiden voyage after conversion as a fisheries research vessel. The survey in which she was involved was aimed at locating new fishing grounds. 

The vessel had been built as a Mersey class naval trawler during World War I, and, on being purchased from the Admiralty after the war, the Ministry retained her original name, George Bligh. I can find no evidence that the name in turn is based on that of a famous explorer. Indeed, H T Lenton and J J Colledge, in their Warships of World War II, state that the names of theŻ Merseys (and the Castles and the Straths, also built as naval trawlers) were taken from the muster rolls of the Victory and the Royal Sovereign at the time of Trafalgar. 

Another of the Mersey class naval trawlers, the John Felton, was purchased for the use of the Marine Laboratory in Aberdeen. However, the name was changed to Explorer, and she continued in service as a fisheries research vessel until 1956. Her successor, also named Explorer, was in service from 1956 to 1984 and is currently in the Edinburgh Dock, Leith, where a group of enthusiasts are attempting to preserve her as part of Scotland's maritime history. 

Rosemary Bank

This bank was also discovered during a survey aimed at finding new fishing grounds. However, on this occasion the vessel was the HMS Rosemary, working during the course of the second of two cruises which the Admiralty agreed to undertake in 1929-30 in response to pressure from the fishing industry. Again, A J Lee provides the details. 

Since she was a naval vessel, it should not be difficult to establish the origins of the name Rosemary, although it could be the plant, rather than the lady. 

Yours sincerely, 

Jim Adams 

Further reading

The publications referred to in this correspondence are: 

A.J. Lee, 1992. The Directory of Fisheries Research: its Origins and Development; MAFF. [ISBN 0-907545-025]. 

H.T. Lenton & J.J. Colledge, 1963. Warships of World War II, part six, Trawlers; Ian Allan, London. 

Anthony Swithin's published books on mythical continent of Rockall are: 

Book 1 Princes of Sandastre 
Book 2 The Lords of the Stoney Mountains 
Book 3 The Winds of the Wastelands 
Book 4 The Nine Gods of Safaddne 

All are published by FONTANA. 

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