Geologist. Tuomey was born in county Cork, Ireland, on September 29, 1805, the son of Thomas Tuomey and Nora Foley. In his early twenties Tuomey joined a Friends teaching school in Yorkshire, England. He soon immigrated to the United States, arriving in New York in 1830. Circumstances allowed Tuomey to study in Troy, New York, and in 1835 he received a bachelor of natural science degree from the prestigious Rensselaer School (now Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute). He married Sarah Handy in 1838, and the couple had two daughters. In 1841 Tuomey moved to Petersburg, Virginia, where the agricultural reformer Edmund Ruffin assisted him in establishing a private school. Tuomey began a long-standing correspondence with Dr. Lewis R. Gibbes of the College of Charleston, who introduced Tuomey to the scientific activities of the “cultivators of science” in South Carolina, including Francis S. Holmes, Edmund Ravenel, Robert W. Gibbes, and John P. Barratt.
Acting on a recommendation by Ruffin, Governor James H. Hammond appointed Tuomey “State Geological Surveyor” in 1844 to succeed Ruffin in completing an agricultural survey of South Carolina. Tuomey redirected the emphasis of the survey from an agricultural interest to that of geology, with a focus on economically valuable mineral deposits. His Report on the Geological and Agricultural Survey of the State of South Carolina (1844) provided an overview of the rocks and minerals in the state with a discussion of soils and contributed appendixes on agriculture and marl deposits. The report stimulated interest in the mineral deposits of the state and provided the first detailed scientific descriptions of potential economic mineral resources in South Carolina.
The South Carolina legislature provided support in 1845 to continue the survey for two additional years. Tuomey undertook a wide-ranging investigation of the state, again with an emphasis on geology with obligatory attention to agriculture, soils, and marl deposits. His work represented the first systematic geological survey of the state, but legislative discontent with requested extensions to complete the survey forced an early end to Tuomey’s work as “Geologist to the State.” Tuomey’s final report while in this position was Report on the Geology of South Carolina (1848), which was widely received as one of the most creditable and detailed geologic studies made in the antebellum South.
Tuomey departed South Carolina in 1847 when he was elected professor of the newly established chair of geology, mineralogy, and agricultural chemistry at the University of Alabama, and he was subsequently appointed the first state geologist in Alabama. During this time Tuomey completed an impressive paleontological monograph, Pleiocene Fossils of South-Carolina (1857), with Francis S. Holmes of the College of Charleston. This taxonomic work on marine fossils was subsidized by the South Carolina legislature to make amends for deleting the paleontological illustrations from Tuomey’s 1848 report. The collaboration of Tuomey and Holmes on this private report contributed significantly to the advancement of geologic research during a period when Charleston was recognized as the center of scientific activity in the Old South. Tuomey died on March 30, 1857, in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, where he was also buried.
Stephens, Lester D. Ancient Animals and Other Wondrous Things: The Story of Francis Simmons Holmes, Paleontologist and Curator of the Charleston Museum. Charleston, S.C.: Charleston Museum, 1988.
Tuomey, Michael. The Papers of Michael Tuomey. Edited by Lewis S. Dean. Spartanburg, S.C.: Reprint Company, 2001.