John Vernon Harrison South Africa England Iran, Islamic Republic of Iraq Peru

Biography of John Vernon Harrison

John Vernon Harrison on wedding day in 1961
John Vernon Harrison on wedding day in 1961

John Vernon Harrison graduated BSc from the University of Glasgow in 1914, and became a prominent structural geologist.

Harrison was born on 16 March 1892 to civil engineer, John Fred Harrison, in Bloemfontein, South Africa. He went to school at George Watson’s College in Edinburgh and then Allan Glen’s in Glasgow, before enrolling at the University of Glasgow to study Science in 1910, aged 18. During his three years as a student, he received many prizes, including first-class certificates in Chemistry, Natural Philosophy and Geology. He also received the Joseph Black Medal and George Roger Muirhead prize for Chemistry in 1913. He was deeply inspired by his professor of Geology, John Walter Gregory, a well-known geographical explorer. Harrison graduated with a BSc in 1914, with distinctions in Chemistry and Geology.

Upon graduation, Harrison was employed as an explosives chemist. However, the Great War cut this employment short and he joined the Royal Engineers on 15 November 1916, where, as Lieutenant, he served in Mesopotamia until 1918, handing Indian water supply and transportation. Nearing the end of the War, Harrison was seconded to the Anglo-Persian Oil Company as a geologist, and he remained in this employment after demobilisation for a total of 20 years. During this period, he worked in Persia and Iraq (1918-20): places described then as ‘territories virtually unknown geologically.’ One of Harrison’s greatest achievements was mapping most of the immense Zagros Mountain Range (from the border of Iraq to Baluchistan), some 30,000 square miles of rough country.

Harrison continued to travel extensively in his work from Asia to Latin America, being deemed one of the ‘great structural geologists of his time.’ In 1938, he was appointed lecturer at Oxford University. In 1957, his summer work culminated in the publication of a geological map of the remote mountainous terrain from the forests of the Amazon to the Pacific Coast, for which he was appointed a Grand Officer of the Order of Merit for Distinguished Services by the Peruvian Government.

During the Second World War, Harrison, initially enlisted in the Regular Army Reserve of Officers, had reached the age limit to be recalled by April 1943. He therefore became part of the Admiralty for Geological Work. After the War, having returned to Oxford University, he was promoted to Reader in Structural Geology, retiring in 1959. In 1961, Harrison was awarded the Lyell Medal by the Geological Society of London, and in the same year married Janet Mitchell Marr Dingwall, a Scottish Geologist.

He died on 31 July 1972 in Oxford.

You can see his entry on the WW1 Roll of Honour here.


John Vernon Harrison
Born 16 March 1892.
Died 31 July 1972.
GU Degrees: BSc, 1914; Science and Engineering, DSc, 1931;
University Link: Graduate
Occupation categories: geochemists; geologists; lecturers
English snippet: Science graduate of the University of Glasgow in 1914, and prominent structural geologist
Record last updated: 9th Jan 2015

Country Associations

South Africa South Africa, Bloemfontein
Place of Birth

England England, Oxford
Place of Death

Iran, Islamic Republic of Iran, Islamic Republic of, No Region

Iraq Iraq, No Region

Peru Peru, No Region

University Connections

University Roles