Elizabeth Catherine Thomas Carne (1817–1873) was a British author, natural philosopher, geologist, conchologist, mineral collector, and philanthropist. In later years, following her father's death, she also became a banker. Today we would probably place her contributions to science in the realm of human ecology.[1][2]

Elizabeth Carne
Elizabeth Carne portrait.jpg
Elizabeth Catherine Thomas Carne

(1817-12-16)December 16, 1817
Rivière House, Phillack, Cornwall, England
DiedSeptember 7, 1873(1873-09-07) (aged 55)
Penzance, Cornwall, England
Known forGeology, First female member of the Royal Geological Society of Cornwall

Personal lifeEdit

Carne was the fifth child of eight children (three sons and five daughters) born to Joseph Carne, FRS, and his wife Mary Thomas of Glamorgan. Elizabeth was born at Rivière House, in the parish of Phillack, near Hayle, Cornwall, and baptised in Phillack church on 15 May 1820. At Rivière House, owned by the Cornish Copper Company of which her father was the Company Director, the cellars were fitted out as laboratories where smelting processes of copper and tin were tested, and minerals and rocks studied for their constituents. To that laboratory had come, before she was born, Davies Gilbert, PFRS, bringing with him the young Humphry Davy to view the workings of a scientific environment.[3] Born into an influential and wealthy Methodist family of mining agents and merchants, Elizabeth was acutely aware throughout her life of poverty and deprivation in surrounding mining areas, and the dire need for education and social support for those less fortunate. She read widely, studied mathematics, the classics, and learned several languages. Both her grandfather, often styled 'the Father of Cornish Methodism',[4] and her father had been staunch and active Wesleyan Methodist class leaders within the Church of England, and the local Methodist book room was lodged in their home. Educated at home in Chapel Street, Penzance, with her sisters, she assisted her father with his extensive mineral collections and shared his keen interest in geological formations, age and density.[5] A close and devoted friend, with whom she regularly corresponded, was the notable Quaker diarist, Caroline Fox of Falmouth's distinguished shipping and mining family.[1]

Charitable worksEdit

On her father's death in 1858, she came into a large fortune, and used this legacy, following the charitable habits of her parents and family, to share considerable sums for educational and other philanthropic purposes. She gave the site for St Paul's school which opened, after her death, at Penzance on 2 February 1876, and founded schools at Wesley Rock (Heamoor), Carfury, and Bosullow, three thinly populated districts in the neighbourhood of Penzance. She made possible by donating the purchase price for the land upon which St John's Hall (the town hall) was constructed and separately built a museum on Lower Queen's Street near her home, in which to exhibit the fine collection of minerals which she had assisted her father in amassing.[5]

Geologist and authorEdit

She took up her father's partnership from 1858 until her death, as head of the Penzance Bank founded by her grandfather, William Carne, in 1795 (Batten, Carne and Oxnam). She also inherited her father's love of geology, and wrote four papers in the ‘Transactions of the Royal Geological Society of Cornwall:’ ‘Cliff Boulders and the Former Condition of the Land and Sea in the Land's End district,’ ‘The Age of the Maritime Alps surrounding Mentone,’ ‘On the Transition and Metamorphosis of Rocks,’ and ‘On the Nature of the Forces that have acted on the Formation of the Land's End Granite.’[5] She was the first woman to be elected a member of the Royal Geological Society of Cornwall.[6] She was also an early member, with her friends Caroline Fox and Anna Maria Fox of the Royal Cornwall Polytechnic Society at Falmouth, Cornwall.

Many articles were contributed by her to the ‘London Quarterly Review,’ and she was the author of several books.[5]


Carne died at Penzance on 7 September 1873, and was buried at Phillack, five days later, on 12 September. Her funeral sermon was preached in St Mary's Church, Penzance, by the Reverend Prebendary Hedgeland on 14 September.[5]


She was the author of:[5]

  • ‘Three months' rest at Pau in the winter and spring of 1859’ — brought out with the pseudonym of John Altrayd Wittitterly in 1860.
  • ‘Country Towns and the place they fill in Modern Civilisation,’ 1868.
  • ‘England's Three Wants’ — an anonymous spiritual pamphlet, 1871.
  • ‘The Realm of Truth,’ 1873.

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b "Elizabeth Catherine Thomas Carne: A 19th century Hypatia and her circle", M. Hardie-Budden in Transactions of the Royal Geological Society of Cornwall; Bicentennial issue, April 2014
  2. ^ "A 19th Century Hypatia - Elizabeth Catherine Thomas Carne (1817-1873)". The Hypatia Trust. Retrieved 10 October 2017.
  3. ^ History of the Cornish Copper Company, W. H. Pascoe
  4. ^ Shaw, Thomas (1967) A History of Cornish Methodism. Truro: D. Bradford Barton; p. 64 footnote: "William Carne is said to have borne «a paternal relationship» to Cornish Methodism (Wesleyan Methodist Magazine, 1836, p. 725). Maria Branwell, the mother of the Brontës was related to him."
  5. ^ a b c d e f Boase, G. C. (1886). "Carne, Elizabeth Catherine Thomas (1817–1873)". Dictionary of National Biography Vol. IX. Smith, Elder & Co. Retrieved 21 November 2007. The first edition of this text is available at Wikisource: "Carne, Elizabeth Catherine Thomas" . Dictionary of National Biography. London: Smith, Elder & Co. 1885–1900.
  6. ^ Denise Crook, ‘Carne, Elizabeth Catherine Thomas (1817–1873)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004 accessed 21 Nov 2007