John Milne was, perhaps, the greatest individual contributor to observational earthquake investigations of all time. He was an English geologist and mining engineer, but his earthquake investigations were largely, especially in early years, carried out in Japan. His contributions included
• seismological organization
• instrument development
• world-wide seismological networks
• earthquake geography
• the relation of earthquakes to volcanoes and surface topography
He wrote a classic textbook on earthquakes with W.K, Burton, (J. Milne and W.K. Burton, Earthquakes and Other Earth Movements, 1898).
L.K, Herbert-Gustar and P.A. Nott published a biography of Milne (John Milne, Father of Modern Seismology) in 1980. The following paragraphs are based partly on that biography and partly on class notes prepared, in the late 1970's, by the late Professor Harold Mooney of the University of Minnesota.
At age 25, Milne took a position as professor of Geology and Mining at the new Imperial College of Engineering in Tokyo. Partly from a sense of adventure and partly because he suffered from seasickness, he traveled overland across Siberia taking three months to reach Tokyo.
On his first night there, he experienced a small earthquake. In 1880, a moderate earthquake did damage in Yokohama. This led him to initiate the founding of the first seismological society in the world, the Seismological Society of Japan. Although he was asked to be president of the society, he demurred, insisting that it would be better to have the post filled by a prominent Japanese official. He, however, edited the journal of the society and wrote about 2/3 of all that appeared in it.
He compiled an extensive catalog of Japanese earthquakes, including current information based upon questionnaire postcards. He enlisted the help of two English colleagues, Alfred Ewing, a mechanical enginering professor, and Thomas Gray, an electrical engineering professor, to invent a revolutionary new seismograph, simple yet sensitive. After modifications, it was widely used for many years as the Milne-Shaw seismograph.
Milne's instruments permitted him to detect different types of earthquake waves, and estimate velocities. By 1900 he was able to plot the first significant travel-time curves for P, S, and surface waves to a distance of 160 degrees.
By 1895, Milne had been in Japan for 20 years, had married a Japanese woman, and appeared settled for life. Then on February 17, a fire destroyed his home, his observatory, his library, and many of his instruments. Disheartened, he resigned and returned in June, with his wife (a photo appears in BSSA, V.2, p.6), to England and settled on the Isle of Wight in Shide Hill House.
He set up a laboratory in Shide and persuaded the Royal Society to fund 20 earthquake observatories around the world, equipped with his seismographs. The total cost was about $5000. His network included 7 in England, 3 in Russia, 1 in British Columbia, 3 on the east coast of the United States, 1 in Antarctica, etc, eventually totaling 40. For 20 years, this obscure bucolic location was the world headquarters for earthquake seismology.
Milne's work on the Isle of Wight continued until 1913. During that time he was recognized as the world's leading seismologist and was visited by many of the world's seismologists as well as other well-known people. Among these was Robert Scott of Antarctic fame. He died of Bright's disease on July 31, 1913