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Episodes 1999; 22(1): 36-40

Published online March 1, 1999


Copyright © International Union of Geological Sciences.

Observing orogeny — Maria Graham’s account of the earthquake in Chile in 1822

M. Kölbl-Ebert

M. Geologische Staatssammlung München, Luisenstraße 37, 80333 München, Germany.

This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/4.0) which permits unrestricted non-commercial use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


“As to ignorance of the science of Geology, Mrs. [Graham] confesses it: and, perhaps, that circumstance, and her consequent indifference to all theories connected with it, render her unbiassed testimony of the more value.” (Callcott, formerly Graham, 1835)

In November 1822, part of the Chilean coast was devastated by an intense earthquake. This report of geological phenomena by Maria Graham, later Callcott (1785–1842) — being one of the earliest detailed descriptions dealing with geologically relevant facts — gave rise to a vituperative debate lasting several years at the Geological Society of London about the effects of earthquakes and their role in mountain building. Although Mrs Graham’s account was entirely reasonable from a present-day view, she became trapped between the millstones of two conflicting theories which were then held.