3 August 2016

Dr. Abraham Gesner awarded the Order of New Brunswick

On August 1, 2016, during New Brunswick Day celebrations, Dr. Abraham Gesner was posthumously awarded the Order of New Brunswick. The Award recognized Dr. Abraham Gesner for his advancements in the study of geology in the province, and for his revolutionary contributions to the global petroleum industry. The New Brunswick Museum is pleased with this recognition of Dr. Gesner, and his contributions, including the development of a collection of geological specimens and other materials that are now part of the New Brunswick Museum. 

Abraham Pineo Gesner was born in Cornwallis Township, Nova Scotia in 1797. He trained as a physician, but his passion was geology and chemistry. In 1838, Gesner was appointed the provincial geologist for New Brunswick, beginning systematic geological exploration in the province. Over the next five years, Gesner travelled the province to describe its geology, collecting specimens and publishing five reports. He is 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 is best known for his work to develop a process for the distillation of kerosene. In his early research experiments, he used bitumen named ‘Albertite’, after Albert County, NB. For his work on the development of a process to distill kerosene, he is often considered the founder of the modern petroleum industry.

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, in 1843 his employment with the Province ended and income from the museum was insufficient to solve Gesner’s financial problems. His collections passed to his creditors who, by 1846, had donated them to the Mechanics’ Institute. Eventually, the collections became part of the provincial museum, the New Brunswick Museum. Gesner left New Brunswick; he later returned to Nova Scotia, where he died in 1864.

“Abraham Gesner’s legacy of research, publication and a unique museum collection influenced succeeding generations of geologists in the region,” said Dr. Randy Miller, Curator of Geology and Paleontology at the New Brunswick Museum. “The geological and paleontological discoveries that he made, including his work on the distillation of kerosene, continue to be of significance in our world today.”


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Caitlin Griffiths, Communications & Marketing
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