School of GeoSciences

The Cockburn Geological Museum

The Cockburn Museum at King's Buildings holds a very extensive collection of geological specimens and historical objects which reflect Edinburgh's prominent position in geological sciences since the time of James Hutton (1726-1797) and its continuing activity today.


The stored collections reflect the whole spectrum of Earth Science materials - minerals, rocks, fossils - as well as maps and photographs and archives of activity by famous Earth scientists dating back as far as the late eighteenth century.

The collections have been housed at the Grant Institute since its opening in 1932 and were largely catalogued and arranged during the early years of the Institute by Dr. A. M. Cockburn. The considerable care, dedication and effort undertaken by Dr Cockburn on a voluntary basis automatically led his colleagues to adopt his name for the museum following his death in 1959. Since 1960, Helen Nisbet and Peder Aspen have been curators of the Cockburn Museum and have played a major part in extending the teaching and research collections in association with the huge expansion in both undergraduate and graduate students in geology in the second half of the twentieth century.

The original purpose of the museum dates back to 1873 when Professor Archibald Geikie, the holder of the first Chair of Geology at Edinburgh University, founded " a museum for the teaching of geology "; with the straightforward objective of having collections of minerals, rocks and fossils for the instruction of students. Geikie's example has been followed by many geological staff in the university and the teaching collections have been continually added to. At the same time the existence of the museum over many years has led to major donations of special and rare specimens (particularly minerals), which provide extremely valuable reference material for research investigations as well as some beautiful specimens for display.

Summary of Collections

The total holding of the museum exceeds 130,000 specimens and other materials. The last full inventory of all categories of material gave the following numbers of articles:


Special (donated) Museum Collections 30,000 Research Collections 60,000
Teaching Collections specimens 10,000 Thin Sections 7,000
Economic Collections 3,000 Exam Collections 10,000
Sedimentary Collections 3,000 Map Collections 3,000
Transparency Collection 4,000    

Special Collections and Features of Particular Interest

These include:

  • Hall collection of the first experimental apparatus for simulating melting and other processes in rocks; Sir James Hall of Dunglass (1761-1832) a friend of James Hutton.
  • Brown collection ; largely minerals donated by Dr Thomas Brown of Waterhaughs and Lanfine, 1874.
  • Jehu-Campbell Collection of Highland Border Fossils , 1917-18.
  • Lyell rock, mineral and fossil collection ; donated by Sir Charles Lyell, 1927.
  • Currie mineral collection ; particularly fine collection donated Dr James Currie, 1931.
  • Davidson mineral collection , donated by James Davidson of Summerville, Dumfries, 1947.

Access and Services

Many attractive specimens from the collections are displayed in presentation cases along the main corridors of the Grant Institute. Material may be viewed, and in appropriate circumstances loaned, by arrangement with the Curator. Much other material is readily accessible but in locked cabinets. The research collections from graduate theses are mainly stored in the basements to the Earth Sciences buildings. Material in storage can also be examined by prior arrangement with the Curator.

Members of academic staff particularly involved with the collections are Geoffrey Bromiley and Godfrey Fitton. We are happy to identify rocks, fossils and minerals on request. We run outreach activities and occasional tours or talks about aspects of the Museum, and are happy to put you on our mailing list if you would like to be informed about these activities. We also participate in the City of Edinburgh Doors Open Day every year.

Research on the Collection

Research on our collections is ongoing. We are happy to provide research space and facilities, although a charge may be levied for any analytical work. We particularly welcome artist who are interested in using specimens of minerals, rocks, thin sections, fossils and maps as inspiration


Parking is available in front of the Grant Institute by prior arrangement. On-street parking is available along the whole of West Mains Road. Refreshments are available at King's Building House, immediately behind the Grant Institute, which provides a full range of catering services including coffee, snacks and meals. Toilets are situated on the ground and first floors of the Grant Institute.

Arrangements for People with Disabilities

There is an access ramp and lift for people with reduced mobility. We provide student volunteers on request to act as helpers or to aid interpretation of the collection.


From the City Centre, head south following signs for the A701 along Mayfield Road for approximately 1.5 miles until the junction (traffic lights) with West Mains Road and Esslemont Road is reached. The King's Buildings campus is bounded by this junction. Turn right in to West Mains Road and take the first entrance on the left (Entrance 2).   Take the first turning on the left and The Grant Institute is the first building on the right.

If approaching from outside the city, follow the City Bypass (A720) and turn off at the A701 junction (Straiton Junction) heading north towards the city centre.   After a few miles, bear left at the traffic lights at the bottom of Liberton Brae into Mayfield Road . Turn left at the lights into West Mains Road and take the first entrance on the left (Entrance 2).  

Dr Gillian McCay

Contact details



Cockburn Museum
School of GeoSciences
The University of Edinburgh
Grant Institute
King's Buildings West Mains Road
Edinburgh EH9 3FE


  • Monday-Friday, 0900-1700 by prior arrangement with the Curator.