Born in Tarradale, Scotland, he was known for his investigation and differentiation of Lower Palaeozoic rock strata. He established the Silurian system, named after the Silures of South Wales where he conducted his studies, which also extended into Herefordshire. He was also a President of the Royal Geographical Society. A distinguished honorary member of the Woolhope Club in the early days, he went on many of the field meetings, especially those in the Woolhope area where the Silurian rocks could be observed in many quarries. He was helped in his researches by geologist members like T T Lewis to whom he later gave greater recognition.