John Walter Gregory England Peru Australia Ethiopia Kenya Mozambique Tanzania, United Republic of United States

Biography of John Walter Gregory

John Walter Gregory
John Walter Gregory

John Walter Gregory (1864-1932), geologist and explorer, was the University of Glasgow's first Professor of Geology from 1904 to 1929. The University of Glasgow Library holds his collection of eyewitness accounts of the 1910 Glasgow earthquake along with books from his personal library. He was awarded an LLD in 1930.

Born in London, Gregory studied Natural Sciences at Birkbeck College and, in the 1890s, embarked on a series of scientific expeditions to North America and Africa. His book "The Great Rift Valley" (1896) described in detail the structural and glacial geology, anthropology, and parasitology of the geographic trench that runs through East Africa. Gregory was the first to use the term "rift valley", which he defined as "a linear valley with parallel and almost vertical sides, which has fallen owing to a series of parallel faults". The Gregory Rift is named for him. It runs from Ethiopia through Kenya, Tanzania and into Mozambique.

He was appointed Professor of Geology and Minerology at the University of Melbourne in 1899 but returned to Britain in 1904 to the newly-established Chair of Geology at Glasgow. He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1901.

Gregory was a respected teacher and administrator at the University and published many of his thirty-three books and more than 300 scientific papers while in Glasgow. He continued to travel to remote parts of the world, even after his retirement in 1929. He died at the age of sixty-eight when his canoe overturned while he was leading an expedition along the Urumamba River in Peru. He was buried on the banks of the River where he died.

He is the subject of a biography by his successor as Glasgow's Professor of Geology, Bernard Leake.

The University's Geology building was named after Gregory in 1998. In 2021, following consultation with colleagues in the relevant Schools, the University’s Senior Management Group re-named the Gregory Building, the Molema Building. The decision was taken in recognition of the fact that the views propounded by Gregory on race and racial segregation are completely at odds with the University’s values.


John Walter Gregory
Geologist and Explorer

Born 27 January 1864.
Died 2 June 1932.
GU Degree: LLD, 1930;
University Link: Honorary Graduate, Professor
Occupation categories: explorers; geologists
NNAF Reference: GB/NNAF/P143905
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Record last updated: 19th Oct 2021

Country Associations

England England, London
Place of Birth

Peru Peru, No Region
Place of Death

Australia Australia, Melbourne

Ethiopia Ethiopia, No Region

Kenya Kenya, No Region

Mozambique Mozambique, No Region

Tanzania, United Republic of Tanzania, United Republic of, No Region

United States United States, No Region

University Connections

University Roles

  • Honorary Graduate
  • Professor

Academic Posts