A collection of several hundred books, pamphlets and journals covering seismology and earthquakes from the 18th to early 20th centuries

John Milne Seismological Library

John Milne was one of the leading seismologists of the late 19th century. He was well aware that historical and observational records play an important role in the study of earthquakes. Milne spent 19 years of his working life in Japan, where he established a world-wide network of stations sending him observational data. He compiled the annual reports on earthquake investigations for the British Association (BA) from 1881 to 1913.

Milne was a collector of seismological literature but lost most of his collection to a fire in 1895. That year he left Japan, settled on the Isle of Wight and re-established his library. Milne bequeathed it to the BA and it was taken to the University Observatory in Oxford after his death. In 1946 it was transferred to Down House in Kent where it stayed until 1952.

In 1951 the collection was offered to the Science Museum where it was hoped better use could be made of it. Until 1982 it was held in the Museum’s Geophysics Section, but was moved to the Science Museum Library where it remains as a separate collection. It is now house at our Wroughton Library.

The collection includes many works by Milne himself, including The great earthquake in Japan, 1891. Its books, pamphlets and journals give a comprehensive picture of world-wide seismology in Milne’s time. Many of the items are virtually unobtainable anywhere else.

Pre-1800 works that have been transferred to the Rare Books Collection are catalogued on our online catalogue. Just type ‘John Milne Seismological Library’ into the ‘words or phrases’ box and click on ‘Search catalogue’. None of the rest of the collection is catalogued yet. There is a printed (but not exhaustive) list of its contents available at our Wroughton library for consultation.

The Science Museum’s Seismology Collection contains several objects associated with John Milne including the Gray-Milne seismograph, 1885, the Milne horizontal pendulum seismograph, 1899 and the Milne double boom seismograph, 1908.