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Abraham Gesner

Abraham Gesner is best known for his work to develop a process for the distillation of kerosene. For that work he is often considered the founder of the modern petroleum industry. He is also recognized as the first government geologist appointed in a British colony and an inspiration for Sir William Logan’s later development of the Geological Survey of Canada. He published five reports pertaining to the geology of New Brunswick from 1839 to 1843 before the government terminated his services. Gesner has been the subject of numerous books and articles recognizing both his genius and his faults. His role in founding the modern petroleum industry, the story of kerosene, and his work as a geologist are the subject of most works.

Systematic geological exploration in New Brunswick began with the appointment of Gesner as provincial geologist in 1838 by Sir John Harvey, Lieutenant Governor of New Brunswick. Gesner lived in Saint John and when the government no longer financially supported Gesner’s geological survey he turned to other projects. Disappointed in the turn of events, Gesner opened a museum in Saint John in 1842 to exhibit his collections. Gesner’s Museum was the first of its kind in British North America. The original catalogue listed 2,173 specimens and artifacts, 1,596 of which were of geological interest. Unfortunately, income from the museum was insufficient to solve Gesner’s financial problems. In 1843 his collections passed to his creditors who in turn donated them to the Mechanics’ Institute by 1846. Gesner eventually moved back to Nova Scotia; however his legacy of a unique museum collection did influence the next generation of geologists in Saint John.