11 Establishing a New Order

In March 1840, with Phillips successfully progressing with his survey of the South West, De la Beche began to plan for the future. Phillips was now indispensable, but without appropriate patronage his services could never be fully acquired. Devon with its difficult geology, so different from the Secondary strata on which both he and Phillips had been weaned, had indicated the changing nature of field science. He was also keenly aware of the problems of building an investigation on the work of gentlemen collectors. They turned the whole business into a jealous battle for discovery. As a consequence collections were shunted around like pieces of artillery and added to the armaments of the most likely victor. One final factor, influencing De la Beche’s strategy, was Phillips’s increasingly theoretically led investigations of fossil distribution. These affected fieldwork, collecting and interpretation. 

De la Beche moved rapidly to get Phillips appointed to a salaried position in the Survey, something the two men had been discussing for some time. Phillips demanded just two things: proper remuneration and adequate funds for the results of his work to come before the public whether in the form of a publication or an exhibition. He also proposed one further change to the mode of operation which had been adopted in Devon: rather than work on fossils back at York at the end of a survey, he suggested that he examine the material as it was extracted and that way aid its interpretation and direct collecting.[1] This at least allowed him to enter the field, which he much preferred to museum work. But it also recognised the benefits of informed collecting, something he was coming to realise at the time he sent these proposals to De la Beche. All the while De la Beche became increasingly ambitious about his Ordnance Geological Survey. In October, Phillips was asked if he would undertake the examination, drawing and description of fossils for the South Wales survey in the next year. ‘I cannot perceive in my country any other mode of occupation more consonant to my habits & feelings, more beneficial to my health, or more fertile of opportunities of performing useful labours in Science’, Phillips told De la Beche. Yet there was another motive. Indeed, those motives already listed were no more than a means, ‘of founding or strengthening a claim to be remembered among the Geologists of this age’. In this Phillips was like all others who played the game of geology.[2]

The plans De la Beche had made for the Survey during 1840 came to fruition in the following spring. On a salary of £300, Phillips was to ‘superintend’ the collection and description of fossils during the survey of South Wales. The new look Survey comprised a team which would both trace the lines of strata and collect the supporting fossil evidence. Phillips and Sanders had already proven the efficacy of direct collecting during their time in Devon. This collecting could be supplemented by the use of more perfect specimens from amateur collections as the need arose. In a more primitive way gentlemen geologists and collectors had also tried to take control of collecting, either by bribing local quarrymen or by employing them. This was a technique Sedgwick had used in Devon: ‘Immediately on my arrival, I went to the fossil quarry & planted two workmen with good tools with direction, to bag as many fossils as they could find – I then procured another worker of slates & planted him in the trilobite quarry & I have procured such trilobites as would make your mouth water.’[3]

Teamwork in practice

Phillips arrived in Usk, which lay on an inlier of Silurian rocks surrounded by the Old Red Sandstone, on 1 April 1841 ready to begin his Welsh survey. Here he aimed to examine the Silurian fossils which Trevor James, one of the geological assistants, had been gathering. This consisted of about 150lb of specimens: ‘James’s box of fossils is very full indeed, & really rich, as well it may be in this country which makes me think of Devonshire with a laugh!’ Based on an inspection of these Phillips could judge what else might be expected and establish the purpose of further collecting.[4] This, Phillips suggested, was not to search for novelties but a better understanding of the distribution of the now extensive list of Silurian species, much as he had done with Yorkshire’s fossils nearly two decades earlier. The fossil richness of certain beds would aid correlation, rationalise the search for indices and inform collecting; this selectivity was identical to that adopted by Smith. Here Phillips had already noticed that the number of Lower Palaeozoic species diminished towards the boundary with the overlying Old Red Sandstone, reaching a maximum a relatively small distance below it. Coral-rich nodules in mudstones, like those he had seen in the ‘Aymestry Limestone [sic. dictum]’, also revealed the same fossils as that rock and were accordingly extracted. On the days that followed, with James as his guide, he traversed the local terrain examining the relationship between the Old Red Sandstone and the Lower Palaeozoic or Silurian rocks. 

Phillips’s initial intention had been to examine, note and draw James’s material as an aid to fieldwork here and elsewhere in Wales, but this was lost as he became more and more drawn to the field and the gathering of ever-increasing quantities of fossils. De la Beche urged Phillips to move on to Tenby, his original destination, where his palaeontological skills could help unravel more complex geology. Phillips, however, resisted the move for a few more days, so that he could not only examine James’s fossils in detail but also take in two important local collections: those belonging to a Mr Conway and those of his old friend John Edward Lee who was newly ensconced in Caerleon. Interest in Lee’s collection lay not simply in his British species. He also had many from Sweden and had been sent numerous North American Silurian fossils by a government geologist ‘before the time allowed’ in the knowledge that Lee was no writer. Similarly Conway’s collection was very rich and was likely to yield species not collected by the Survey.[5] As the Survey in South Wales progressed, however, this interest in independent collectors diminished, as Phillips’s interests in fossils returned to their stratigraphic goal rather than the taxonomic description which had dominated his Devon work. As a result, collecting rigour, rather than the collection of novelties, increasingly became the determinant of good field practice. William Sanders also came over from Bristol to meet with Phillips in order to learn the ‘Silurian grammar’, and by the time they left Usk another box had been filled. 

Fig. 11.1 Map showing Survey locations in Wales and on the Welsh Borders.

As yet no decision had been made on what should be done with the rapidly accumulating pile of fossils. Technically they belonged to the Ordnance Survey of which the Geological Survey was simply a part. Phillips suggested that they would be better stored in the Museum of Economic Geology, another of De la Beche’s creations but one under an entirely different government department – ‘we can then supervise them quietly’, he wrote.[6] De la Beche, however, favoured a more local store, at least until Phillips had had time to view them. Using his contacts in Bristol, he had the fossils dispatched with James, to be held temporarily by Samuel Stutchbury, curator of the Bristol Institution, until a decision had been made regarding their London destination.

From this preliminary tour Phillips could already discern some variation in the abundance of fossils. But it was not just the broader generalisations of fossil distribution upon which he could draw from his Yorkshire past. At Tenby, a few days later, associations of rocks and fossils were also echoing the past. Here Phillips was finding shales like those beneath the Pennine Millstone Grit, which in similar fashion held plentiful supplies of goniatites. These fossils were immediately seen as key stratigraphic indicators, as they were in the Pennines. For all Phillips’s listing, he was using that same kind of ‘characteristic impression’ of fossil and lithological associations that appeared to underpin Smith’s fieldwork and enabled him to spot likely correlational horizons. His lists added corroborative data enabling him to determine where goniatites were most numerous within the established rock succession. This information could then be applied to areas, such as South Wales, where the sequence was less well known. Phillips asked De la Beche to ensure that these strata were coloured on his map. Some four years later when he at last came to work these specimens up into his Malvern memoir, believing that they were synchronous with his Yordale Series and therefore of key importance in linking the rocks of Yorkshire, South Wales, Derbyshire and Ireland, he found them too poorly preserved to be of use. Fortunately, some nodules had been shipped to the Survey’s Whitehall Yard depot in an unprepared state. Phillips recommended ‘splitting the masses & chipping’ these in order to find good specimens which might prove the correlation.[7]

At Tenby, and later Dale, Phillips’s first task was to record the coastal sections that held vital clues to structure and correlation inland. The team of Phillips, James, Andrew Crombie Ramsay, Sanders, and occasionally De la Beche, investigated the rocks of Skrinkle, West Angle, Marloes, Stackpole and other localities for the first time. From Tenby, Ramsay and Phillips investigated Skrinkle; then from Pembroke Ramsay investigated Stackpole, while Phillips went on to Dale to draw the sections at West North Angle Bay and Marloes Bay.[8] Here Phillips found a new kind of geological companionship and team spirit which would mark the work culture of the Survey well into the future. Fieldwork took on a new lease of life: ‘I hope Ramsay told you of our doings at Stackpole not omitting his own feat of swimming to an island & battering in manibus, pedibus, omnibusque nudis. I question if such a thing has been done before unless by the Director of the Survey.’ Ramsay, a promising newcomer, was now beginning to ‘live’.[9]

As on-site palaeontological expert, Phillips provided other members of the team with indications of what they should be looking for, in other words what might be of particular interest stratigraphically or geographically. Phillips’s fashion for comprehensive lists was also showing the same kind of discrimination which had enabled his uncle and himself to make such rapid progress in Yorkshire. Such lists, whether in the field or later in the museum, held the key to locating unseen correlations and confirming others, but they were less than practical for distinguishing strata in the field. Phillips still had in mind the utility of characteristic fossils and sought particular species which might provide instant clues. One such group comprised the various species of the coral Turbinolopsis or, as Phillips often jokingly referred to it, ‘Turbinolopsides’. This genus existed in Murchison’s Welsh borders, throughout most of the rocks of Devon and Cornwall, and in Wales. Phillips noticed that the fossils were not all of the same species (opening the possibility that they characterised rocks of different ages) and that they were often well preserved.[10] Thus if the Survey could collect a plentiful supply they might provide an important correlational key, much as the diverse and ubiquitous ammonite fauna was now enabling further refinement of the rocks of the Oolites. This same practice was put in place when other fossils were found which were apparently identical to those from established localities such as May Hill. These were collected in abundance in order to make identification, and therefore correlation, certain. 

Initially, Phillips’s recently acquired knowledge of the Devon fauna motivated the Survey’s collecting or at least his interest in what was being collected. He not only wished to add to his Devon lists but also hoped to obtain a better understanding of that region by studying Welsh fossils. Devon would not hold the key to South Wales but the converse might be true. However, it was soon local lithologies, faunas and correlations which began to dominate his thinking and motivate collecting. Of particular interest were those species which appeared to cross major boundaries. They provided a useful linking mechanism but also expanded the knowledge of species distribution by devaluing certain presumed characteristic species to a lesser role. As Phillips told De la Beche, ‘Possibly as we have now got Old Red [Sandstone] fossils in Mtn. Limestone shales, we may at last get Silurians really in Old Red, but I doubt. Murchison seems in a state of fluctuation as to this matter; & evidently was unsatisfied in this district.’ With teams working in two or more locations at any one time, De la Beche instituted a system utilising numbers and colours with which to mark the collections and thus maintain their order as they moved between temporary stores.[11]

The pleasures of Dale were, however, short-lived for Phillips and by the middle of June he was packing his bags for Plymouth, there to spend 42 days in the service of the British Association. Before leaving he briefed James on what needed to be extracted at West Angle Bay, a locality producing some interesting crinoids. Two large crinoids had already been found and these Phillips recommended eventually sending on to London. At Dale he had already examined two barrels of fossils and one each was sent to Tenby and Bristol, the Survey’s palaeontological bases.[12] This kept the specimens within easy reach for both description and reference. These fossils, which had been measured into the coastal sections, now allowed Phillips to draw up a stratigraphic outline of local fossil distribution for the inland investigations which lay ahead.

In August, Phillips returned to the Survey’s Bristol headquarters with the aim of examining the collections stored there. However, having been cooped up on British Association business for the past month or so, he was now eager to re-enter the field; spending the remaining summer on museum work held no appeal. Instead he sought fossil correlations between local strata and those he had a few months earlier observed in Wales. These he found and wrote to De la Beche, in boastful tone: ‘let me lay on your breakfast table a small dish of Cypridiform Crustacea, such as we found at Caldy [Caldey], &c. &c. and which I have now found by searching in the coral beds of the “Lower Limestone Shale” of the Avon Bank. I looked for them & I found them in shale & in a bone bed. This is a pleasant coincidence.’ In April, Caldey had produced an excellent thickness of rocks in section, which De la Beche had drawn. In May, Ramsay had drawn a very similar section at Skrinkle Bay. Phillips encouraged comprehensive fossil collecting from these sections knowing that they would provide useful keys in correlation. On the Avon he had been able to demonstrate how this was so.[13]

His fossil collecting continued to progress by problem solving, rather than simple inductivism. But this was little different from the kind of collecting he had the Scarborough collectors undertake two decades earlier. With fond memories of his time in Dale, he longed to return to the field permanently. This, rather than wandering through boxes and drawers of fossils, was his natural domain; it was essential to his intellectual, spiritual and physical well-being. Of this he needed to convince De la Beche, who still viewed him as a palaeontologist rather than stratigrapher. As Phillips explained, being locked away from the action at Tenby and Bristol was not an efficient use of his time: ‘it neither gives me the home convenience of books, cabinets, & M.S., nor the field advantage of close work with your corps; it is, I fear, a plan which by mixing two objects prevents the perfect accomplishment of either.’ Instead he proposed sending everything to his home in York where he was to work on it during the winter; the summer he would spend in the field.[14]

De la Beche was easily convinced and Phillips returned to Wales at the end of September to guide collecting in the field. On the way he intended to stop at Bala to study the lithology and fauna of the Bala Limestone. A decade earlier Sedgwick had shown this rock to be of great correlational importance due to its distinctive lithology and presence of fossils rare in the older rocks of North Wales. 

The Survey’s collecting was progressing very effectively but no-one knew what would be derived from it: ‘whether the result was a publication, or a classified collection’. Phillips remarked that it was necessary ‘to collect, at all events, as much stuff for future study, as possible, whatever use we may find it best, & in whatever manner most convenient, to employ them in hereafter.’[15]

At this time Trevor James was tracing the boundary between the Old Red Sandstone and the Silurian rocks around St Clears and Carmarthen. Here he had had considerable success in gathering fossils in an area generally poorly endowed with fossils.[16] Amongst these were the heads of crinoid or ‘sea lilies’ like those found in the neighbourhood of Haverfordwest. He had also found fossils in the ‘Black Shales’ at Llanddowror, just two miles south west of St Clears. These shales formed an important marker horizon but had resisted releasing any indicator fossils. 

Like other assistants in the Survey, James was not well-versed in fossils and had only a rudimentary knowledge of geology. For the purposes of the Survey this was immaterial: the task of spotting contacts between different rock types did not require more than a locally evolved knowledge and the fossils gathered inductively could be interpreted by the Survey palaeontologist. The obvious imperfections in this fieldwork model could be corrected by on-the-spot training and guidance. James, for example, had spent much time mapping the ‘Old Red’ boundary around St Clears but the nature of this rock made this difficult for the novice. From Phillips he learnt that the ‘Old Red’ was grey,  ‘grown gray with age’. Consequently James had to undertake a certain amount of remapping. Even so, Phillips was pleased to see that James’s lines were much better than those Murchison had drawn in the previous decade.[17]

In contrast to James, Phillips’s intimate and fully integrated knowledge of strata and fossils made him particularly effective at finding fossils where others did not. Despite this, fossil collecting was seen as a laborious and fairly routine task, and one which could easily be delegated to a lowly geological assistant such as James. Thus, despite his specialist skills, Phillips recorded barometer readings while James collected fossils. Alternatively, two assistants might be brought in to gather up fossils from localities noted during the tracing of boundaries. In general, a geological framework was built up from boundary chasing largely based upon lithological information. Fossils might be collected, but were more often marked for future collecting on ‘fossil days’. Phillips could thus advise other members of the Survey where to look:

The fossil gathering between St. Clairs [St Clears] & Llandilo, N. of the Towy [River or Dyffryr Tywi], has been very limited. The country is very unproductive, except at Mydrim [Meidrim], Melin Ricket, Bwlch Capel, & N.E. of Aberguilli [Abergwili]. We have searched the whole of the Limestone patches near the Towy (including all Williams’s), & pretty thoroughly too. It would probably be well to try a few more points, & repeat the operation at a point or two near Aberguilli, particularly as Ramsay will most likely pass from Fishguard with the New Year or soon after.[18]

In the following year, Phillips, then in Malvern, continued to tell the Welsh field parties where fossils should be sought: 

1 M. W.N.W. of Caermarthen is the great contortion of Beds at Penglan. Both James & I searched here for fossils in vain. I hope Ramsay may have been more fortunate. West of Merthyr I found a Trilobite (Berthllwyd) in shale. In Bwlch Capel Slate quarry are Graptolites. 1 quarter M. N.E. of Aberguilli, fossils in slaty rock above Letty. In the conglom. S.E. of Caermarthen Encrinites in the quarry near Logyn dwr TP.[19]

De la Beche had taken on the difficult conglomerates around Fishguard, where the presence and absence of fossils appeared a useful tool in correlation. As for collecting, Phillips continued to recommend the abandonment of caution: ‘The more duplicates the better, I think, as it costs only a little more labour & a little more time (when on the spot) to get a good lot, than a few specimens, & this sort of work will not be repeated for many years.’[20] It was largely impossible for the fieldworker to determine what was important, so uncontrolled collecting made sense.

It was intended that Phillips move northwards in November to provide palaeontological support to De la Beche’s party. But he preferred to maintain a broader remit, and stayed in the vicinity of Llandeilo tracing boundaries, unravelling structural and stratigraphic relationships and bringing these into line with what was known of the rocks further west. James continued to undertake most of the fossil gathering. The work was easier than Phillips expected. In October, he had found what he thought was a trilobite in the black shales, and sought information from De la Beche on the geological relations of this bed in his part of the country. By the end of November, Phillips could distinguish three separate beds of black shales, two of which held graptolites. Indeed, at Narberth, Phillips now found ‘graps above the Limestone, in black shales at two or three points as clear & plain as a.b.c.’ and ‘by thousands’ at measured intervals beneath the junction of the Old Red Sandstone. As Phillips became increasingly sure of the stratigraphic relations of the different districts he began to pursue more focused research, anticipating and searching out particular faunas. Just north of St Clears, which had been Phillips’s centre of research for many months, he found a standard sequence of Silurian rocks containing numerous trilobites, including Asaphus Buchii which in 1834 Murchison and Sedgwick had identified as an indicator of the lowest Silurian. ‘Think of that Mr. Director. What will you now expect but that some of these wayward Lower Silurians should come to poach in your country and even fish in the Teivy [River or Afon Teifi]?’ Phillips wrote. His reason for writing was less to convey the discovery and more to boast about its mode of acquisition: ‘I thought you would like to know of this new thing, because it was no accident, but a result of reasoning & right research. I fully believed from dips (not cleavage) that the country was gathering beds to the North & here is the confirmation thereof.’[21]

Beneath these beds were graptolite-rich shales: ‘These graptolithes will be to us what an imaginary centre of stability would have been to Archimedes. They will move all the rocks into their right places.’[22] That these fossils had not been well recorded during the survey undertaken to date may have been the result of using a largely untrained workforce and an obvious belief in inductivism. Phillips had now proven that more persistent searching would reveal them, and advised De la Beche, ‘Pray do not omit to look for them in all your black shales and slates. I have got them in almost any spot where I searched well.’ Phillips’s celebrations, however, were short-lived as towards the end of the year the Survey once again became lost in the confusion of correlation.

Barrels of fossils were, by this time, arriving in York, Swansea and London: material for description and identification, for local reference and for the promotion of science or the Survey, respectively. In December, 15 barrels at last arrived in York from Bristol, having apparently travelled there by canal. Phillips was now desperate to return to York and he advised De la Beche to delay colouring the maps until he could undertake a statistical analysis of the fossils in the hope that this would indicate the relative age of the strata. While data and fossil collecting had been far more comprehensive and sophisticated during the Welsh survey than the piecemeal methods employed in Devon, understanding that data would remain an intellectual jigsaw in large part undertaken away from the field.

As mapping and collecting progressed in Wales the future of the Survey itself came into doubt, and there were grave fears that the work would cease in the following March. However, by mid-November its future was assured and during the spring of 1842 the Survey began to be viewed as a permanent organisation. In Phillips’s opinion De la Beche had built his own monument: ‘you will hammer out for yourself a monument of fitting dimensions & worth, & confer a real benefit on the Scientific & Practical applications of Geology.’ Science in itself was all well and good, but its participants demanded recognition. As Phillips put it, remarking with anger on Murchison’s undoing of his own discoveries, ‘It is a sort of précis on a passage of Scripture which may be falsely rendered: Let others praise thee; (if) not – (praise) thyself.’[23] Phillips had complained that Murchison would remove the Magnesian Limestone from the Palaeozoic where Phillips had put it; but Phillips knew the risks of being a ‘plainspoken friend’ to Murchison ‘among so many flatterers’: ‘he might advance (perhaps) & he might check (perhaps) my power of being useful to science.’

Assembling the jigsaw

Phillips returned to York by train on 2 January 1842. During the previous year fossils had been sent to London by steamer. The train, which was ‘extravagantly cheap’ for the conveyance of parcels, revolutionised the movement of fossils from rockface to museum. It also meant that Phillips could meet lecturing engagements in distant parts of Britain without the need for overnight accommodation. The railway was just one of a number of factors transforming communication at this time. The penny post had been established in 1840 and the Survey men experimented with this as a means of transporting small specimens. James, however, discovered its limitations having placed some curious fossils in an envelope for Phillips’s opinion only to hear that they had been crushed by the letter stampers.[24] Even fieldwork was undertaken at a more rapid pace. In the past season this had largely been undertaken on foot. This remained the only option when the weather was too wet and unpleasant for fieldwork on horseback. The past season had been extremely wet. On occasion Phillips had travelled by carriage but had found the locals all too willing to make a profit. He was once charged a shilling a mile rather than the nine pence paid by locals. However, towards the end of the season, the Survey workers had been taken over by ‘hippomania’ and there was talk of a subscription horse for the following season.

In Phillips’s absence from Wales, the junior members of the Survey continued to work the area out. Two field parties were to be established for the winter consisting of the ‘Noviciates’ with an ‘Orderly’ in each. William Talbot Aveline and Trevor James would continue to work under Phillips’s guidance from York. Local men were also to be recruited. These included David Hiram Williams who was a proficient fossil collector – ‘I hope Williams will do extremely well, yet it seems to me that he will often think of your indulgent mastership & the care of horses, with some regret, when he gets a big basket of Bellerophons (fine alliteration) for the Survey.’ Others were, however, less easily acquired – ‘David Lewis, the Cooper, is a most excellent Welshman, but married, & I fear not to be had away from wife & shop. He is singularly disinterested & a great lover of the sport, but as I said before, I fear not to be had.’[25]

Phillips’s work on the collections during the winter months involved some drawing of species but its main purpose was to provide the underpinning correlations for colouring the map. Fossils were to make sense of the ‘rolly polly’ landscape of folded and tilted rocks which repeatedly thrust the same beds to the surface. His reasoning was increasingly affected by theory, and by De la Beche’s view of rocks as past environments. Both men expected to find great variation in lithology in contemporary deposits, reasoning this from an understanding of the ‘momentarily changing influences’ and ‘accidental changes’ to be witnessed in modern depositional environments. This resulted in a dynamic patchwork of seabed substrates which when seen in geological sections appeared as repeating and uncorrelatable lithologies. Phillips believed these different seabed conditions, together with the complexities of species diffusion, would be reflected in the distribution of preserved fossils: ‘thus finally any one who looks for Terebratula every where on a given geological plane will be disappointed for two reasons: first because the life of the said Brachiopod was not ubiquitous at any one epoch, & secondly because there is no such universal plane … What might from analogy be expected in the county of Caermarthen would amaze a Salopian.’ This view of the past made possible De la Beche’s visual and verbal illustrations of ancient worlds, illustrations which sought to question the validity of the universal system, as exemplified by Murchison’s Silurian. It also made the use of characteristic fossils appear risky. De la Beche’s views were adopted by all his disciples and coloured their interpretation of phenomena in the field. As Ramsay and the other field workers began to spread their attentions to new areas they too felt they had found evidence of local environmental regimes. Thus at Llandeilo he could record, ‘at that place, where the rocks are decomposed & unaffected by the stream, they present exactly the same appearance as the fossiliferous rocks at Newcastle Emlyn, containing many of the same fossils, developed in exactly the same manner when fractured.’ It is apparent here that Ramsay too was reacting to a ‘characteristic impression’ of the strata.[26] He was applying those same field connoisseurship skills previously exploited by Smith and Phillips and thus felt assured that: ‘This taken in connexion with the Northern dip I take to be a beautiful proof that change of conditions & not difference of age is the main cause of the difference in the rocks N. & S. of Towey.’

By the end of February 1842, sections for Skrinkle and Marloes Bays had been drawn, upon which Phillips marked the position of fossils. However, he was now beginning to regret his over-enthusiasm for fieldwork and consequent neglect of his palaeontological duties; without an assistant the task of drawing the fossils was too much for the winter period, so vast had been the store of fossils assembled in York. The collection was disorganised and difficult to work through and would occupy six rather than four months. It now seemed he would have to work on the Welsh fossils of 1841 in the following winter also; ‘those which may be collected this year I do not wish to be accumulated so heavily.’[27] For the next season, Phillips intended to draw, describe and group specimens in the field as they were extracted, the mode of operation which had originally been envisaged.

Masters of fossil collecting

The work of the Survey during the 1842 season was to extend the mapping from Llandovery to the Severn (i.e. the Brecon and Ross Sheets). For the first two months Phillips would take up station at Ledbury, on the edge of the Malverns and ‘in the centre of three Silurian districts’, with the aim of joining up with Williams’s work in the Forest of Dean. The younger workers would undertake to complete the survey in South Wales. All this would prepare them well for a more extensive invasion of Wales: ‘we can rush into the wilderness of Wales with all our forces & strength of acquired knowledge and there remain till the weather & winter drive us out’, Phillips told De la Beche.[28] The invasion would begin after Phillips’s summer recess in Manchester to make preparations for the meeting of the British Association. 

In April, he set off for the Malverns, his first instinct being to trace the lines of strata and definitely not collect fossils. His winter work had taught him the consequences of unbridled collecting. Each day, however, he met with temptation: ‘Fossils abound, & compel me to fill my pockets but I do not yet mean to collect any thing till I have well traced the geographical areas in the districts hereabouts’. ‘These I avoid collecting till the whole physique is understood, and the right points for collecting well determined’. ‘This is a beautiful fossil region, & I am marking a series of points for collection but at present collect not at all’.[29] Rocks, however, were collected.

While Phillips resolved to restrict himself to mapmaking, Ann, his sister and companion who generally accompanied him to his summer locations, was less constrained and in the company of her maid often took to collecting fossils while Phillips traced boundaries. These assistants made some useful discoveries later exploited by the Survey collectors but none more so than a fossiliferous conglomerate: ‘My Sister has made a very curious discovery, while I was shewing Sedgwick some of my discoveries in the Malverns … My Sister, meanwhile, took a careful walk on the West side of the mountains & found the Silurian fossils in abundance in masses of felspathose conglomerates, in fact Malvern rocks recomposed!’ Here broken fragments of igneous rock had been mixed with fossils and buried; the igneous rock therefore had to be older than the fossils. This provided a relative date for these rocks, turning them into useful markers. Phillips published a notice of the discovery immediately.[30] The fossil bed was to remain in situ and kept away from the fossil-collecting hammers of James and Aveline, reserved for a ‘special hammering’ when De la Beche was next in the area.

Phillips found fieldwork in the Malverns easy. After one month, he felt it would just take just one more to make it ‘all clear as sunshine’, and indeed by the end of May he had mapped virtually all of the Malvern Hills but had not ‘fossilized’. Once again, Phillips suggested that the act of fossil collecting should be delegated to lowlier members of the team: ‘It is rich & would be a capital bit of a school for the younger members of the body, in every respect.’ In early July, the ‘younger members’ – James and Aveline – arrived to take up fossil collecting. With Phillips’s directions, ‘they will soon clear this district of fossils’ while he extended his lines southwards. The young David Williams also arrived, having already proved his ‘reputed skill & good eye for fossils.’ By the end of August, Phillips had all but finished his geological map of the region. The Malverns were to Siluria, what Scarborough Castle Hill had been to the Yorkshire ‘Oolites’. He wrote to De la Beche urging him to come – ‘upon the whole the Malvern section is the best you can see, in this land.’ Phillips intended to draw up an account of the Malvern fossils before leaving the area and had, by the end of October, completed the report, map and sections. The fossil plates and descriptions still awaited completion. The remainder of the year involved more map work, this time in Gloucestershire where he found the base maps laughably inaccurate with seas replacing hills, probably with the intent of foiling the French but also confounding the English. In December, Phillips returned to York in fine spirits – the result of walking some 1500 to 2000 miles.[31]The 12 casks of fossils which had been collected remained in Malvern. 

During his summer in the Malverns, Phillips also guided Aveline and James in their fossil collecting and mapping work in Wales. Indeed, Wales remained of constant interest to his interpretation of the geology of the Malverns and the other related exposures at Usk, May Hill, Woolhope and Shropshire. These localities appeared to Phillips to lie in a different faunal province from those seen in Wales in the previous year. The sediments also differed. Phillips saw the boundary between these faunal provinces as running along ‘the Brecon road’ and urgently sought boxes of fossils from Llandovery which lay on this line of parting. This echoed Ramsay’s discovery at Llandeilo of the previous year. ‘This is very curious & leads to very fine reflections concerning the Antient ranges of sediments and the distributions of organic life’, Phillips remarked. In Manchester he had also been able to draw up fossil lists based on those specimens he and his sister had collected in May which showed the mixing of Upper and Lower Ludlow fossils in one bed but with no sign of Caradoc forms. He intended to extend these faunal comparisons to the Wenlock limestone as well.[32]

News of the Llandovery fauna later came from Ramsay who spent much of the summer tracing boundaries and, with Williams’s occasional help, collecting fossils in those areas largely left unexplored by Phillips and the others in the preceding year. To Ramsay’s surprise, normally rather barren strata which the collectors might have overlooked, such as conglomerates, were now generating an interesting fauna. Ramsay, a 28-year-old bachelor, was also able to use his popularity with the native women to organise large informal collecting parties which succeeded in locating ‘Caradoc’ fossils, including new species, where previously none were known. On this occasion there were nine in the group: ‘Miss Williams is a first rate hand, & would make a valuable assistant!! In fact all the ladies deserve an especial vote of thanks for their obliging perseverance & admirable skill. Mrs. Johnes blistered her neck in the good cause.’ Ramsay, however, was able to drag himself away – although a little altered around the edges his ‘stony heart’ was ‘not of the Metamorphic order … With £500 a year, there is no saying what a man might be weak enough to do, but with £150 he must sing dumb.’[33]

Amongst barren layers of flags and grits Ramsay found ‘rocks full of fossil bands’ but few of these would find their way into museum drawers – ‘yet so cut up by cleavage, that I question if it is possible to get a single tolerable specimen out of them.’ As much stratigraphic correlation took place in the museum, specimens such as these were not as useful as they might be. The cabinet remained a partial illustration of such relationships. As with the other wings of the survey, particular days were devoted to fossil collecting when localities known to be productive were revisited.[34] With David Williams’s help these efforts were proving effective, particularly in locating univalves. Each day’s fossils suggested new correlations and seemed to undermine preconceptions. The ‘rolly polly’ geology of the deeply folded and dipping strata, and changing lithology remained a problem. However, Caradoc fossils found here and there proved useful for correlation, much as they did for Phillips in the Malverns.[35]

In August, progress remained slow as Ramsay attempted to maximise field rigour: ‘I have still a good deal to the north to examine critically, & without such examination one might as well geologise this country on the top of the mail.’ It had been by this latter method that Smith had managed to trace the major formations of Somerset geology into Lincolnshire and Yorkshire; the geology of Wales was an entirely different matter. Even in September, Ramsay’s letters continued to exclaim with excitement the surprising nature of the local landscape. ‘The world is surely coming to an end’, he wrote to De la Beche in September 1842, ‘and the whole of fossiliferous nature as heretofore understood gone to universal & everlasting smash.’ Familiar fossils were turning up where they had, according to the past months of survey work, no right to be.[36] Was the stratigraphic range of these fossils greater than previously supposed or were beds which were assumed to be stratigraphically separated actually contemporary deposits? 

David Williams spent the summer flitting between Survey teams using his special fossil-collecting skills to enhance the effectiveness of the work in both South Wales and the Malverns. In between times he was engaged in measuring the Carboniferous Limestone in the vicinity of Bristol, where he produced a measured section totalling a thickness of 2296 feet and composed of 500 beds, a mean resolution of about 4 feet 6 inches. Williams was convinced this could now undergo intellectual translation by means of its fossils: ‘Mr. Phillips will find no difficulty to identify each bed when he comes to put in the fossils, every care has been taken to describe the characteristic of each bed and I have marked such fossils as I am acquainted with, which I hope will be found to be useful.’ Williams’s findings were, however, debated on the spot by Sanders, who preferred fossil evidence to the measured section. The matter was, however, resolved: ‘Mr. Sanders is now willing to admit these beds do belong to the upper limestone grits and shale, he declares after all, there is nothing like the Measured Section, that fossils cannot always be depended on, when questions of Junction lines are to be settled.’[37] Although the Survey relied on Phillips’s fossil statistics to make sense of the strata, it was the accuracy with which the Survey chased geological boundaries that made this possible. The Survey view of the geological landscape may have become more sophisticated but the art of constructing the map had not changed much from Smith’s day. Indeed, the Survey’s pattern of fieldwork was not unlike that which Smith and Phillips had adopted 25 years earlier. 

While the collections gathered by the Survey at this time were largely derived directly from its own workers, it would not resist acquiring material from established collections if the opportunity arose. Thus Benjamin Heywood Bright’s collection at Brand Lodge, his Malverns residence, and at nearby Colwall Green, were made available to the Survey. Phillips selected about half the collection and curated the rest. Also at Tortworth, in the yard of the parsonage of the late Revd George Cooke, they found a ‘vast’ and ‘melancholy’ heap of fossils, ‘but every individual stone was beautiful’.[38] Cooke, a keen amateur geologist, was well known for his collection, having, like Bright, supplied fossils for Murchison’s Silurian System. The Survey’s Capt. Henry James attempted to acquire the collection but found local collectors keen to capitalise on the ignorance of Cooke’s beneficiaries who did not know its value. William Walton, a well-known collector from Bath, for example, tried to acquire the fossils for £20 but, as James admitted, ‘they are well worth a great deal more than that sum’; the offer was rejected. At this time the Survey continued to develop and hold ambitions of a national museum of its own, and as a result rediscovered an interest in collections such as these.

During the early months of 1843 De la Beche and Phillips discussed how the palaeontological side of the Survey could be strengthened to avert the kind of difficulties which had befallen Phillips’s Devon work. The initiative was to be built upon renewed vigour in collecting. As Phillips confirmed with De la Beche: ‘I understand our position thus. We collect fossils more copiously, more carefully, more completely for the aid of scientific reasoning, than ever was done before.’[39] It was also felt that the collections they had already gathered should be used to inform future collecting, and that they might, for example, pursue particular suites of fossils in the field at other localities in order to establish correlation. Phillips planned to go to London to start work on the collections they had assembled there in April 1843 but taking advantage of the speed of railway travel first shot down to the Malverns to complete his work there. He had just a few of the most difficult localities to sort out and he planned to leave the region in no time. However, the visit turned up some exciting finds. ‘A bumper toast to Palaeontology!’, he wrote to De la Beche, ‘I have found! Dug out & obtained! Fossils! Trilobites! From the lowest shales of Malvern below the fossiliferous beds commonly known at Malvern, & below all of May hill & Woolhope.’ These were tiny fossils easily overlooked – indeed he had frequently searched these shales at other localities but had never turned up any fossils. But on this day the sun was shining brightly and threw the tiny Agnostus trilobites in a crumbled bank of shale into sharp relief.  If nothing else it demonstrated the rigour with which Phillips, and Ramsay in particular, approached their task, but also how the Survey’s fossil collectors were constrained in their search by the instructions of their superiors. ‘It is a good point to shew the difference of our work & that of other persons of less leisure, though not less anxiety to gather these very things’, Phillips wrote boastfully. He rushed off an account of the discovery to Philosophical Magazine. It at last showed that these shales provided no apparent correlation with those the Survey had seen in South Wales at St Clears, Meidrim and Llandeilo.[40]

At the end of the month Phillips turned southwards towards Tortworth and Gloucestershire where he joined Ramsay and assistant geologist, Henry Bristow. As they moved from Palaeozoic onto Liassic and Oolitic strata, Phillips questioned the need to continue collecting in the same manner: ‘several years of our search in quarries not so favorable as those near Bath & Bradford [-on-Avon], won’t give us a Collection half as good as Pearce’s, Walton’s, Pratt’s or Jelly’s at Bath, to say nothing at Bristol.’[41]While there was no suggestion that these collections should be obtained there also seemed little point in duplication. He proposed that the Survey cease its ‘fossil days’ while in the area, and simply annotate those seen in sections.

Fig. 11.2 Trilobites. A variety of Trinucleus ornatus was found in the Llandeilo flames, Acidaspis bispinosus at Abberley, to the north of the Malverns, and Agnostus trinodus found throughout Wales. From Phillips 1848.

However, if his own collecting prowess had earlier surprised him, Phillips was even more surprised by that of Richard Gibbs, a Survey fossil collector, who proved that he could even out-collect the seasoned locals – ‘we are getting more fossils by one Gibbs than by any other given means or man, except my very dear old friend & fellow rain-scorner, James.’ Gibbs was a natural collector and fossil preparator and, keen to better himself, was now reading Lyell and De la Beche. Phillips was impressed and asked De la Beche to increase his wage from 2s 6d to 3s. ‘Could you see Gibbs cleaning our fossils you would highly approve his skill & patience … the man is wonderfully good at the business.’ Gibbs continued to be nurtured by Phillips and De la Beche throughout his time with the Survey. At the bottom of the Survey hierarchy, his instructions would be simple or simplified: ‘Pay particular attention to the fossils, and see how far your present district may resemble Builth’ – with no real indication of what might be derived from such collecting or why the two areas might have the same fauna.[42] The skill Gibbs and the other Survey collectors demonstrated was an ability to find fossils. Much of what the Survey collected was not of the quality private collectors might wish to acquire. It was fragmentary and indistinct but yet well localised. Having started by surveying rocks where fossils were difficult to find, the Survey never gave up the belief that any specimen was potentially of key value and all should be gathered. These fossils were numbered and sent to the central depot with a list of their localities for identification and a decision on their value.

Phillips had supposed that this well-worked area, one in which he had grown up, would be rapidly dispensed with. However, the delay in receiving the report of the somewhat uncooperative Sanders caused De la Beche to wonder if this work would need to be redone by Williams. Phillips feared that the delay caused by this would ‘lose forever the grande reconnaissance of Wales, which if not done this year, will be too late the next, & the O.G.S. loses the only remaining Crown which English [sic] Geology can offer.’[43] In August, Sanders’s report was delivered but he continued to have disagreements with Williams where their survey areas overlapped. These were not the only Survey members to come into dispute, as De la Beche found when he came to bring together the results of the different surveys the following year. These revealed that Ramsay and Phillips also had different interpretations of the geology around Box in certain key areas. The Survey might congratulate itself on its rigour but there remained questions about its consistency.

Autonomy and control

During the latter half of 1843 the future of the Survey came under increasing discussion, and for a while the contented Phillips was contented no longer.[44] During protracted negotiations between various parties, Phillips was torn between finding a life outside the Survey, becoming its new Irish director (when the ‘English’ and Irish surveys were joined), or heading the palaeontological work of the Survey as a whole. Phillips had, until now, largely determined the Survey’s fossil-collecting policy and had been selected for the latter role long ago.  But lacking any certainty regarding his future role with the Survey, Phillips took up the professorship in geology and mineralogy at Trinity College, Dublin early in 1844. This, he felt, would still leave him ample time for his Survey duties. But he soon realised that accepting the appointment had been a mistake. The English establishment felt that an Irish professorship would interfere with his Survey role – whatever that role might be. The matter was made worse shortly afterwards in a letter he wrote to De la Beche a few weeks later. Here he made a recommendation which would forever remove control of palaeontology from him. In it he suggested that the 28-year-old Professor Edward Forbes take over his duties with regard to the collections in London. ‘Let him receive, arrange, & catalogue for the use of the Survey & the inspection of the public, the specimens which may be forwarded by the working parties; let him respond to their cry for natural history knowledge, though it be a cry from a distance.’[45]

Phillips probably saw this as a way to avoid museum work; he certainly did not believe he was giving up his chances of superintending the Survey’s palaeontological activities, but perhaps suddenly realised that his letter might be interpreted in this way. He wrote the next day to protect his palaeontological interests. He wished to retain control of palaeontological fieldwork or ‘distributive palaeontology’. ‘The laws of distribution are not to be elicited in a cabinet & should be done by the Director or Lieutenants according to districts.’ He suggested that responsibility for the Survey’s publications should be managed as follows:

Geology               peritive                     – (Geologist) 

                             economic                 – (Chemist & Geologist) 

Palaeontology    descriptive               – (Naturalist) 

                            distributive              – (Geologist)[46]

It was this last role that Phillips had seen for himself. What he wished to avoid was being chained to the museum and descriptive palaeontology. The gentleman stratigraphers relied upon such museum men. But the Phillips of Yorkshire was not the museum man he seemed to be. His heart was in the field where he could apply his knowledge of fossils as he had also seen them in the collection. He was something of a hybrid, a stratigraphic palaeontologist. As a door had opened which offered pecuniary advantages and potential notice, so he walked through it to be seen as a palaeontologist. But in all his time at the Survey his tendency was for fieldwork and stratigraphy, not for describing the minutiae of fossil morphology. Much of 1844 was filled with uncertainty for Phillips and as developments took a turn away from him in favour of Forbes so he grew mildly, but uncharacteristically, resentful. This was a difficult situation for Forbes too, but frustrated by Phillips’s ‘sulk state’ of non-cooperation, he revealed that Phillips’s standing as a palaeontologist was not perhaps as De la Beche perceived. ‘Between ourselves’, he wrote angrily, ‘Phillips’ descriptions of organic remains hitherto published are notoriously defective … among naturalists it is painful to hear the comments made upon them.’ But perhaps Phillips was aware of these comments as he had earlier acknowledge calls for ‘natural history knowledge’.[47]

Phillips’s assertion that distributive palaeontology could not be elicited in the museum, of course, contradicted his working practices involving the Devon material and indeed, contradicted more generally the kind of work he had been undertaking on the Survey collections in the previous winters. It was also a division of labour which the future Survey would not adopt. Phillips had an idea of the kind of work he wanted to undertake and that which he did not – it was as simple as that. His intellectual and managerial arguments were weak. 

The duties of Survey palaeontologist now fell to Edward Forbes. Forbes, a native of the Isle of Man, had studied medicine at Edinburgh where he devoted his time almost exclusively to natural history. He already had considerable practical experience of field botany and dredging, and had travelled widely. His most notable achievement had been in drawing geological inferences from the study of modern zoology, not least from his researches in the Aegean. These he had reported at the meeting of the British Association in the previous year, and in so doing exposed a brilliant intellect. That year had also seen him take up the Chair of Botany at King’s College and curatorship of the Geological Society. While Forbes desired an Edinburgh professorship, he was happy, for now, with the ‘palaeontologist thing’, though he was still committed to contemporary zoology and needed to complete his work on the Aegean. Forbes resigned from the Geological Society curatorship and took up his Survey duties on 1 November 1844. The Society tried with all its power to keep his affiliation but he understood the disputed nature of British geology too well and asserted the need to be independent of outside influences. The crown of British palaeontology which was so nearly in Phillips’s hands had fallen instead on the head of the young pretender.[48]

On 17 December 1844, approval was given for the separation of the Geological Survey of Great Britain from the military Ordnance Survey. It was to be placed under the control of the Commissioners of Woods and Forests who already oversaw De la Beche’s Museum of Economic Geology. With De la Beche now in full control of the Survey on both sides of the Irish Sea, Phillips left the Dublin chair and returned to the fold. He was now to direct the survey of Yorkshire and the North where his local knowledge and rich network of contacts could be exploited. He would also complete his memoir on the Malverns, turning his York home into an office fitted with cabinets into which to sort his fossils.[49]

Early in April, Phillips examined the ‘queer’ geology of May Hill and Abberley, the last remaining tract to be covered in the Malvern monograph. As the year progressed he became increasingly satisfied with his return. De la Beche was once again the supportive colleague and master, the Malvern volume was making rapid progress and the survey of the North of England was largely a matter of retreading old and familiar ground. Phillips was now doing what he liked best: descriptive regional geology and distributive palaeontology; he no longer resented Forbes and indeed succumbed to his zoological influences: ‘He is almost the only Naturalist of genius, that I foregather with now-a-days, & I like his spirit of combination.’[50]

De la Beche’s revision of Survey activities at the end of 1842 had led to a refinement in method. Then, the field teams had been small and those undertaking the intellectual interpretation of the strata limited to Phillips, Ramsay and the Director himself. In May 1845, with the Irish Survey at last under his wing, De la Beche felt increasingly distanced from his teams who were now largely under the control of the local directors who had changing workforces. To ensure consistency he issued written guidance for the operation of the Survey: ‘Instructions for the Local Directors of the Geological Surveys of Great Britain and Ireland’.[51] These encapsulated what had been learnt from the Devon and South Wales surveys and moved the Survey’s field practice even further from the Baconian inductivism so beloved of Sedgwick and others. Now workers were to apply their geological knowledge in the field. Phillips had long used his stratigraphic knowledge to determine his field behaviour; these new instructions, however, would go much further. Rather than simply collecting facts, which these fossils and rock specimens represented, fieldworkers were to analyse, understand and interpret these objects even before recording or removal took place. ‘The mere grouping together of a number of beds, collectively known by a particular name, finding the boundaries of the mass, and inserting these on the maps and sections is insufficient in the present state of Geology.’ 

The viewpoint of the observer was to be projected back in time to that in which deposition took place. This was De la Beche’s personal viewpoint on geology. A slate was an ancient clay, and its fossils were its living, breathing, fauna. Indeed, the peculiarities of the two were inextricably linked. A restricted fauna may represent the limitations of an environment and not the true period of existence of a fossil, an important consideration in cross-country correlation. ‘In such rocks as are fossiliferous it is most desirable that the manner in which organic remains occur, as respects the planes of the beds, and their distribution over considerable areas, should be carefully studied and those collecting specimens should be instructed not only to obtain the fossils which may be found perfect, but also every kind of organic remain which may be discovered, noting the abundance or scarcity of the different kinds.’ The pursuit of fragmentary finds was also a policy which both Forbes and Phillips endorsed, knowing too well the consequences omitting them.

The dominance of the vertical succession (time) in stratigraphy was to be supplemented by greater spatial awareness. It was a perspective which the Survey had been developing for some time. Rocks were to be viewed from a causal perspective. Only then could their stratigraphic relationships and keys be fully understood. 

The data so gathered also allowed Forbes, as the Survey’s natural history-oriented palaeontologist, to apply his own peculiar knowledge of modern seas to the interpretation of the past. He could no longer visit every site to direct operations and as a result needed to rely upon the rigour and effort of the fieldworker to a much greater extent. In some respects this appears like a return to the days of using amateur collections, when palaeontological expertise was exploited away from the field and was dependent upon the data collectors chose to send. Phillips had found this collecting model deeply flawed. The Survey inevitably incorporated the same hierarchy of knowledge inherent in contemporary society but it broke from the earlier model by selecting and training its staff.[52] As a consequence collectors were, by the Survey’s process of nurturing, now likely to be highly informed. Through regular discussion with Forbes it was expected that the local directors – Ramsay, Capt. Henry James (now heading the Irish wing) and Phillips – would acquire a knowledge of the ‘distribution of life at different times’. These local directors were then to communicate this to the geologists and assistants under their supervision, ‘to whom such  knowledge is important for the right progress of their work’.[53]

De la Beche’s interest in palaeoenvironments and palaeoecology perhaps showed a more complex understanding of the dynamic processes involved in producing the three-dimensional association of rocks seen in the field. His perspective, however, was not unique. He had surrounded himself with men who shared these views; indeed Forbes embodied this environmental approach perfectly. The Survey’s palaeontologist had spent the summer of 1843 making drawings of every kind of track created by marine animals, in the expectation of finding them useful in geological investigations. He found the trails to be specific to genera and even species.[54] Trace fossils, such as the Stourton Hill footprints, were of widespread interest at this time. Phillips’s Yorkshire work also showed his interest in contemporary environmental processes, though this was greatly strengthened under the influence of De la Beche and later Forbes. Conybeare, Buckland, Dillwyn and many others also demonstrated these interests; Buckland’s Kirkdale treatise, for example, was distinguished by its notion of a fossil community.[55]

De la Beche was largely reflecting the mood of the time. Geology was infused with a belief in uniformitarianism, which complemented the contemporary belief that palaeontology was a zoological rather than geological discipline. The link Lyell and Deshayes’s work made between past and present faunas also emphasised fossils as zoological phenomena. An expansion of comparative anatomy into the realm of ethological inference appears equally logical; the itinerant lecturers of the 1820s often talked of fossils in terms of their ‘natural history’. In 1835 Phillips’s ideas on a definitive fossil volume included discussion of ‘their dependence on physical conditions, & the legitimate inferences from the facts known concerning them.’ Life was continuous, and Forbes’s dredging and fossil-collecting activities were complementary. As he reported from Shetland in 1845, ‘We have knocked 2 more species off the British fossil list, finding them existing.’[56]

Individual perspectives

Despite De la Beche’s instructions, the Survey also reflected the individual skills, knowledge and perspectives of local directors and their staff. Henry James, for example, appears to have harboured a wish to see the Irish Survey regain some of its autonomy, not least in terms of its fossil collections. The best Irish fossils – those collected under Portlock – were in London; all he had to identify his finds were drawings of them: ‘let Salter examine the English collections, McCoy the Irish; they will differ most horribly of course and we shall have a storm in a tub about it, but let Forbes with the two collections before him – give the decision as to the name & c. which is to be adopted as that of the Survey of the United Kingdom.’[57]

He suggested the collection of duplicate sets on both sides of the Irish Sea so that they could be exchanged for the purposes of identification. Frederick McCoy had been taken on as an Assistant in 1845, with instructions that he was to work in the field and not as a ‘fossilist’. On a six-month probationary contract, working six days per week for ten shillings a day, he also had to give up the right to publish in his own name or collect for himself.[58] McCoy, however, became a key member of James’s team and soon took on the palaeontological duties he desired, nurtured by James’s guidance and instruction.

Meanwhile, Ramsay’s team was investigating North Wales, reaching for that last crown of ‘English’ geology. The work was productive particularly in terms of collecting fossils: ‘That boy William is a very devil for finding fossils. He has been getting such quantities since I was here, but they are for ever lingulas, lingulas, lingulas.’ The young William Davis had been appointed fossil collector this year. The policy of unrestricted collecting ensured that such local perspectives would not cloud judgement of what was important – and these Lingulas became increasingly important as the year wore on. Sedgwick was also in North Wales in the summer of 1846, examining the collection of John Edward Davis, who had found fossil brachiopods, subsequently named Lingula davisii, in the previous year. The so-called ‘Lingula Beds’ then became of key importance in Sedgwick’s attempts to establish the disputed Cambrian. At the time Sedgwick’s system of rocks was losing ground to Murchison’s overlying Silurian. Murchison wished to extend his boundary down to encompass all the older fossiliferous rocks. But he would give way if the Cambrian could be proven to have its own distinctive fauna. Phillips encouraged De la Beche to support Sedgwick in this, but he urged caution: ‘About Tremadoc, you will find or hear of Lingula Lewisii, or something like it. If it be that species it must indicate Upper Silurian, but perhaps it is our large species from Marloes Bay.’ The Lingulas were dangerous fossils from which to make inferences in the field. As Phillips remarked on seeing these fossils in November, ‘Ramsay has sent me the Lingula. It is not the species once shewn me from Tremadoc, but I always doubted that. This is like a Llandilo one.’ Phillips had seen these around Meidrim five years earlier. Sedgwick now began to see this fossil as potentially indicative of far older rocks and began to reinterpret the South Wales slates he too had recently been willing to call Upper Silurian.[59]

Fig. 11.3 Lingula granulata – Phillips’s Llandeilo Lingula. From Phillips 1848.

In the taking of sides in the Cambrian-Silurian debate the Lingula Beds became an important territory. De la Beche told Murchison that if sufficient distinct species could be found in them it would probably justify the re-establishment of the Cambrian. This no doubt encouraged collecting by Salter and Ramsay, and the extension of the list of species these beds contained. In 1848, following yet another discovery, Salter could exclaim: ‘I have ‘Eurypterus’ now from the Lingula flags! and perhaps I told you a capital Anomourous crab from Ludlow. Wonders will never cease and if we don’t find Ichthyosauri in the Cambrian slates …’. Such discoveries, however, inevitably undermined any notion that a truly distinct Cambrian fauna existed.[60]

When at Bala later in 1846, Ramsay worked to extend the level of stratigraphic control over fossil collecting. Here he traced fossiliferous bands extensively over the surrounding landscape ‘like contour lines’. This revealed that the fossil-collecting teams had been determining the positions of their finds wrongly. Now Ramsay could give them maps with each fossiliferous bed delineated and numbered. The survey was making good progress and under Forbes’s supervision the palaeontological work was set to establish new standards: ‘He is doing splendid work writing, drawing, making out species & lists in a way that has never been done for any part of the country before.’[61]

Forbes’s position at the centre of the Survey’s fossil collections gave him a unique perspective on British palaeontology. Discoveries in one part of Britain could, through Forbes, direct collecting elsewhere. Indeed, it was Forbes’s role to find such links. His experiences at Bala allowed him to interpret the Irish collections in a new light; fragmentary fossils from the Irish Courtown Limestone indicated an age contemporary with the Rhiwlas Limestone in Wales.[62] He had assistant geologist, Patrick Flanagan, sent out immediately to collect more specimens to prove the point. Forbes also found similarities in the starfish fauna.

However, Forbes, like Phillips, also had considerable experience in the field. Both knew the limitations of collections – these alone could not fulfil the needs of publication. Forbes had to get out of the museum and in doing so his field objectives would be identical to those which drove Phillips into Devon at the beginning of the decade. Thus Forbes undertook fieldwork to discover the ‘relative abundance, state, associations & fragmentary condition of the fossils on the spot’ of the Irish Silurian fossils. Even in the refined collecting system of the Survey, some things required insights only the field could give. In the case of the early sea lily (cystoid) Pentremites, for example, fieldwork would give him an insight into its anatomy as he found a limestone full of weathered specimens – ‘just such specimens as collectors reject’. Forbes, who had a particular interest in groups generally poorly represented in the fossil record, wished to take in all possible sources of material and asked that Salter draw up reports on known private collections of Silurian fossils for future use. In 1848 he would at last lay the Kildare and Bala collections side by side to reveal their ‘synchronism’.[63]

The new rigour extended fossil lists even in areas once favoured by numerous gentlemen geologists. Forbes quadrupled the list of Purbeck fossils. Ramsay later worked the same area, and brought in Richard Gibbs to gather material for the Museum and to instruct the failing Gapper ‘& astonish him’. As Ramsay told De la Beche, ‘I want under my own eye to have a full set of Museum rock specimens marine and freshwater with all their modes of accumulation &c. &c. &c. A glorious set can & must be made here – Also to get a full & perfect set of the fossils worked systematically and numbered bed by bed.’[64]

Literary products of collecting

Following publication of Palaeozoic Fossils in June 1841, Phillips and De la Beche discussed how they should cover the fossil fauna revealed during the survey of South Wales. Phillips was now against continuing the policy of figuring all recorded species, as 350 Silurian fossils and 430 Mountain Limestone fossils had already been figured and he doubted that many of these could be surpassed. A good number of these had been published by Phillips himself in the second of his Yorkshire monographs, and doubtless he did not wish to undermine its importance.[65] Plans for the volume, however, were delayed due to funding uncertainties, and a desire to create a truly complete record of the fauna; the Devon volume had been published rather hurriedly and numerous new fossils had come to light as it went to press.[66]

Fig. 11.4 The ‘”MSS”cheivious’ bivalve Orthonota triangulata. From Phillips 1848.

Despite the lack of a publication deadline Phillips began work on the figures of new Pembrokeshire fossils in the following winter, showing as much structural detail as possible and restricting these to one species per page. This gave greatest possible flexibility in the final arrangement, and allowed for changes in nomenclature and later finds – a lesson learnt in Devon. Once again progress was slow not due to conflicting calls on his time but from the want of assistance; he could find no artist capable of figuring the material to his satisfaction other than himself.

It was not until April 1846 that the first Memoir of the Geological Survey of Great Britain was published. Here, De la Beche gave a long account integrating the products of the Survey’s work to date, from the same causal perspective which he had encouraged his local directors to adopt a year earlier. Rocks were described as evidence of dynamic processes, the products of contemporary submarine and fluviatile processes. Black shales became black muds infused with the carbon of decayed plants, the fossils they contained were not simply stratigraphic markers or taxonomic units, but ‘inhabitants’ of this former environment. They allowed the extrapolation of detailed habitat, such as animals dwelling in the cavities of Ann Phillips’s Malvern conglomerate, and included elements unrecorded in the rock record – cliffs, breakers and seaweeds. De la Beche could draw on the idea, which Phillips expressed in his Devon volume, of animal populations diffusing from a centre of geographical distribution and superimpose this on his palaeoenvironmental model.[67]

Phillips began work on his Malverns volume in March 1846. The 26-year-old John Salter, who had recently been working in North Wales with Sedgwick (he had made trips into Wales for the past four years), joined the Survey at this time and was appointed Phillips’s correspondent on palaeontological matters. A keen naturalist in his youth, he had began his career as an apprentice to James de Carle Sowerby, and had engraved plates for Murchison’s Silurian System and other works. Since 1842 he had assisted Sedgwick in arranging the Woodwardian Museum; at the Survey he was Forbes’s assistant in all that the latter undertook.[68] He now worked on Phillips’s fossil lists adding localities which Phillips had not seen and updating his nomenclature. Salter, with Forbes and De la Beche, also proof-read the final script to ensure it was accurate; the tentative species and rather thin descriptions of Palaeozoic Fossils would have no place in this new work. Phillips had long known what he wanted to achieve with fossils but only now were the resources at his disposal to carry this through. By November the first part of the monograph was complete and Phillips began work on fossil distribution. In the following month he agreed to amalgamate all the new species which had been recently determined including those of Forbes and Salter. Salter’s constant questioning of what he saw as dubious species proved essential to the success of the final work. Progressively Salter’s correspondence become somewhat playful. As he told Phillips in April 1848, ‘Again your wonted logic fails my dear Sir, for if Meristomya be an airy abstraction, how can you find him in a rock … yet as Meristomya is only a “MSS”cheivious nonentity we must perforce say for “Meristomya” read Orthonota triangulata and for “layers of Meristomya, etc.” read “layers of O. triangulata etc.”’ Phillips claimed such questioning was driving him ‘mad’, that if he ever did another fossil catalogue it would be on the safer territory of the Mountain Limestone and he would do it alone. But beneath it all he recognised and greatly appreciated Salter’s meticulous work examining comparative collections, delving deep into the literature and extending Phillips’s tables. Ironically it was Salter who was heading for insanity.[69]

Phillips’s The Malvern Hills compared with the Palaeozoic Districts of Abberley, Woolhope, May Hill, Tortworth and Usk was published in 1848. It marked his return to form, an echo of his Yorkshire treatises where geology rather than palaeozoology held sway. The fossil collecting it represented had not been motivated simply by the need to reveal new species or well-preserved specimens; the approach was neither that of the palaeozoologist nor the museum curator. It aimed to acquire examples of all the species from all the strata from as many localities as possible for the purposes of numerical estimates and comparative tables of the distribution of life in the ancient sea. This perspective did not simply reflect his own and his master’s biases but was also coloured by what he had learnt from Forbes:

In consequence of … the exposure at points so distant as Malvern and Marloes, of Silurian strata which were formed in the same oceanic basin, we are able to survey the distribution of organic life in several successive Palaeozoic eras, with as much certainty and completeness as can now be attained by the most persevering dredging operations for one surface and one epoch of modern life.[70]

As fossils were collected, the details of their discovery had been recorded in a journal and they had been viewed en masse at local stations in Tenby, Dale, Haverfordwest, St Clears, Llandeilo, Llandovery, Usk and Malvern. However, it had been impossible for Phillips to totally re-examine the collections. They were now too vast, and indeed largely inaccessible. This volume was based on the analysis of 200 drawers.

Phillips exploited many of the same facts used by De la Beche in the first Memoir but the difference in style is striking. Phillips’s ‘Malvernia’, as he called it, reveals the development of a new professional style embodying the scientific rigour of Forbes in the fossil descriptions and Phillips’s own systematic geological perspective. In contrast De la Beche’s prose was that of the eloquent storyteller which owed much to earlier romantic philosophy and the previous geological age. That is not to suggest that he lacked scientific rigour (though perhaps the rigour he enforced upon his workers derived as much from his lieutenants – Ramsay, Phillips and Forbes – as from himself), but that conjecture and imagination were keys to his powers of communication. His was a very readable argument infused with images of the past and was unlike most geological treatises. If De la Beche saw rocks as muddy rivers and seas, Phillips viewed the same rocks from the present. To him they remained rocks. While he could appreciate contemporary processes he was steeped in traditions of geology built on stratigraphy and commercial exploitation. He recounts facts in clear and elegant prose, without a hint of romanticism. This was not a model for the more limited, dry and factual descriptive sheet memoirs developed by the Survey later in the century but one for descriptive texts in geology well into the 1960s.[71]

In a general comparison of the districts under consideration the identity and mode of occurrence of fossils provided key stratigraphic indices. Phillips used whole faunas to make his point where this allowed, but the ‘banded’ nature of occurrence of individual species or families was from Survey work elsewhere known to be universally characteristic of Palaeozoic rocks in Britain.[72] Mineralogy, stratigraphy and palaeontology all supported the view that these were the deposits of the same subsiding sea basin.

A comparison of fossils in each of the districts was used to support four distinct research projects, some of which were influenced by contemporary discoveries in the biological realm. The first considered ‘systems of co-existent life’ – ‘Palaeontology and biology thus become inseparably united as parts of one great science.’[73] The aim here was to understand or make inferences regarding the biology of fossil animals from a knowledge of their affinity to modern species. All the classes of animal existing in Silurian times (Cephalopoda, Heteropoda, etc.) also exist today.

A second investigation concerned the geographical extent of life and the centres from which it spread. Modern species were known to have originated in one location. In geological terms this could mean that rocks at the centre of a species’ distribution might be older than those at its periphery. Fossils of this species should be expected to be more numerous and extend throughout more layers at the centre of distribution, and show a wedge-shaped pattern of distribution away from this centre reflecting the currents which aided dispersion. Those littoral life forms which dispersed themselves as ‘germs’ were expected to be more contemporaneous over large areas than pelagic forms which dispersed by swimming. These ideas were to be tested using thirteen localities.[74]

A third level of interpretation considered fossils as traditional stratigraphic indices – the temporal or stratigraphic range of life. Fourthly, he hoped to draw inferences concerning species adaptation to ‘peculiar conditions’ as demonstrated by Darwin, amongst others, in a recent discourse on coral reefs which might be used to determine periods of subsidence and elevation of the seafloor.

Tables gave the faunal richness of each district, and the abundance and geographical spread of each species. They tended to show, though there are many exceptions, that those species which had the greatest vertical range were also the most widespread. This Phillips saw as evidence of the natural dispersal of ‘germs of life’ by sea currents. It may equally, however, have revealed an artifice of the fossil record. As Phillips remarks: ‘no district yet discovered exhibits all the Silurian formations in full development’.[75] In these circumstances, probability suggests that those fossils with greatest stratigraphic range are most likely to occur at the largest number of sites. 

Phillips’s tables attempted to make sense of variation, for it was variation in form, distribution, lithology, and so on, which he recorded. But the tables were not a reliable means of generalisation. Phillips was aware of the peculiarities of each species: 

Neither its geological duration nor its geographical distribution can be deduced from any general law affecting all the species of the class, order, group or family, or the geological assemblage to which it belongs; each species has, in fact, its own law, because the organic constitution of each stood in a definite and peculiar relation to the conditions in which it was placed.[76]

Phillips’s analysis clearly reflected the causal mode of thinking now adopted by the Survey but he was aware that the peculiarities of physical conditions might determine species presence. He also understood the vagaries of preservation and collecting, and yet he was still willing to dismiss this in order to support ideas on dispersion.[77] The achievements of the Survey, particularly in terms of its collecting, gave Phillips a rather optimistic belief in the potential of the rock record. In other ways the tables proved more useful to him, allowing Phillips to make inferences about the nature, complexion and succession of life in Silurian times, for these were tables of the type he first drew in 1817. Set in the increasingly inter-linked worlds of palaeontology and stratigraphy, these tables now raised questions about species centres and dispersion in Palaeozoic times. These were questions not for regional surveys but for collecting on a national scale.

The role of the collector was, again, not forgotten, even though private collections no longer featured as an important means of geological advance under Survey methods. ‘By turning to the west, and descending the road towards Brockhill, the collector may add to this list Fucoids …’.[78] Phillips’s tables showed the stratigraphic and geographical range of species which set challenges for collectors. They also told collectors where and how easily species could be found. Phillips occasionally indicated variations in the completeness of specimens; the trilobite Dalmannia caudata, for example, occurred as hundreds of separate heads and tails, but never as complete individuals, in the limestone of Malvern. This might stimulate a search to find the exception but would perhaps encourage the cabinet collector to go to Llandeilo where numerous specimens could be found in their entirety. A comprehensive list of localities was given to aid the collector’s search.

The Survey’s fieldwork during the early 1840s had transformed the nature of geology. The memoir produced by Phillips, with Salter’s help, marked the epitome of contemporary geological publication. In terms of resources directed at investigation, collection, research and publication, no gentleman geologist could compete, particularly as the Survey had also acquired men of considerable talent. The provincial collector still had his or her uses – in contributing quality specimens for the museum or fine specimens for the palaeontological monograph – but the new enterprise of geology laid greater emphasis on collecting first-hand. Fossil collecting was now integrated into the Survey approach to science, as juniors in the team followed boundary chasing with cask filling. The Survey’s team building ensured that all shared a mission, deficiencies in rigour could be monitored and corrected, and research would direct both data and fossil gathering. 

The Survey’s approach to collecting, as to anything else, was suffused with ‘theoretical’ views concerning the formation of rocks. There was no longer a place for bald inductivism, if such a thing had ever existed. Phillips, for example, applied his long-held belief that species diversity could act as an important stratigraphic key. At Usk, for instance, he had noted changing numbers of Lower Palaeozoic species in rocks beneath the Old Red Sandstone. As the survey progressed it became more efficient at collecting, this reflected not only a general improvement of method but also the development of a connoisseur’s understanding of the nuances of local strata. A discovery of fossils in one rock type generated a search at other localities where this rock was exposed, particularly if this was seen as a potentially reliable lithological marker horizon (as seen in the pursuit of black shales in South Wales). This search might also be stimulated by a suite of fossils from one location which might usefully enable correlation with other locations. Effort was also applied where it seemed a particular stratum might enable the extending of a species list, especially if there was political capital to be made from this (as in the Lingula Beds). There was also an underlying perception that characteristic fossils, in one form or another, existed and should be pursued. In this Phillips’s ‘Cypridiform Crustacea’ in the Lower Limestone Shales of Wales and Avon was not unlike his discovery of Pecten papyraceus in the coalfields of Yorkshire decades earlier.[79] This is also seen when Salter later revisited South Wales. His language is clear: in the Carboniferous strata ‘one or two characteristic forms of which after much hammering have been detected’ and in trying to correlate these with Devon, ‘all the fully characteristic shells are absent’.[80] Finally it was also perceived that the individual species of certain widely distributed  genera might be of key stratigraphic value in correlation between distant places. Thus Turbinolopsis and Lingulacame to mirror contemporary interest in ammonite species, all ammonite species then being placed in one genus. 

Phillips’s distributional tables were thus a continuation of work he had been committed to for more than 30 years. It became Phillips’s personal mission to understand the laws determining his uncle’s characterisation of strata by fossils. Being Smith’s nephew had both its benefits and its costs which he both exploited and mitigated through his pursuit of distributional tables. These both showed the wisdom of Smith’s premise but also Phillips’s own attempts to understand and refine it. Phillips remained in the family business and protected his inheritance by building upon it. However, the practical use of these tables in stratigraphy was never clearly demonstrated. They instead became further theoretical investigations of fossil distribution for its own sake. Their one great product was to indicate characteristic forms. This personal mission, which mixed his past with contemporary methodologies developed by Lyell and others, shaped the Survey’s approach to collecting. Throughout, he resisted conversion into the taxonomic specialist others saw him to be. While he long harboured plans for a fossil treatise – perhaps encouraged to think in this way by others – he was probably incapable of satisfactorily achieving this until he had been tutored by Salter and Forbes during the arduous task of writing the Malvern memoir. 

As Secord has shown, the impact of the Survey on the geology of an area was transforming. What was left to followers was, to all intents and purposes, Bulwer-Lytton’s second-class science or what Murchison called ‘pottering times’.[81] Fossil lists continued to be extended and the role of what would increasingly be seen as ‘the amateur’ would be directed at providing materials for new and increasingly sophisticated palaeontological monographs. In this the amateur was indispensable as the richness and diversity of a fossil fauna would always correlate with the earnestness of the search.

[1].         For discussion of Phillips career development, Herries Davies (1983) and Morrell (1988a). For analysis of the Survey’s early years see Secord (1986b) and Cumming (1985); more descriptive accounts can be found in Geikie (1895), North (1934;1936), Flett (1937), Bailey (1952) and Wilson (1985). Proposal to enter field, Phillips, Taunton to De la Beche, 27 April 1840 [second letter], NMW.

[2].          ‘I cannot …’ and ‘of founding …’,  Phillips, York to De la Beche, 30 January 1841, NMW. See chapter 13 for more on motive.

[3].          Details of Phillips’s contract, Morrell (1988a: 21). ‘Immediately …’, Sedgwick to Murchison quoted by Rudwick (1985: 171).

[4].          ‘James’s …’, Phillips, Usk, to De la Beche, 2 April 1841, NMW. An ‘inlier’ is a patch of older rocks exposed within and surrounded by younger strata. Phillips, to De la Beche, 1, 2, 8, 9, 15 April 1841, NMW. Trevor E. James, joined the Survey 14 May 1840, BGS GSM 1/4 letterbook 1845-46.

[5].          His visit to Lee had to be postponed as Lee’s fossils were still in packing crates. For content of collection, Lee, to Phillips, 10 April 1841, OUM Phillips Lee/5. For Conway’s collection, Phillips, to De la Beche 15 April 1841, NMW.

[6].          Phillips, Usk, to De la Beche, 2 April 1841, NMW.

[7].          Phillips, [Tenby] to De la Beche, 27 April 1841; 10 January 1843; 23 August 1845.

[8].          Phillips to De la Beche, 21 May 1841, NMW.

[9].          Phillips, Tenby, to De la Beche, 28 May 1841, NMW. Ramsay (1814-1891), Secord (1986a:145).

[10].        Phillips, Tenby, to De la Beche, 22 May 1841, NMW. Turbinolopsis, Phillips to De la Beche, 16 and 25 June 1840, 22 and 31 May 1841, 18 March 1842, NMW.

[11].        ‘Possibly as …’ and colouring, Phillips, Tenby to De la Beche, 28 May 1841, NMW.

[12].        Phillips, Dale to De la Beche, 18 June 1841, NMW.

[13].        On the finding of the crustaceans, Phillips, Bristol to De la Beche, London, 18 August 1841, NMW. Phillips (1842b).

[14].        Phillips, Bristol to De la Beche, London, 22 August 1841, NMW.

[15].        For Bala, see Secord (1986a: 70-1); ‘whether …’, Phillips, Bristol to De la Beche, London, 22 August 1841, NMW; ‘to collect …’ Phillips, Bristol to De la Beche, [August 1841]. NMW.

[16].        James, St Clears to De la Beche, Haverfordwest, 31 August 1841, NMW 793.

[17].        On remapping, Phillips, Carmarthen to De la Beche, 16 and 21 October 1841, NMW. Quality of James’s work, Phillips, St Clears and Carmarthen, to De la Beche, 4 and 16 October 1841, NMW.

[18].        Phillips, Llandovery to De la Beche, 19 December 1841, NMW.

[19].        Phillips, Malvern to De la Beche, 6 May 1842, NMW.

[20].        Phillips, St Clears to De la Beche, 11 October 1841, NMW. In the event William Salter re-logged the coastal sections of Pembrokeshire for the Survey in the 1850s and collected considerable quantities of fossils.

[21].        Trilobite in black shales, Phillips, St Clears, to De la Beche, 11 October 1841, NMW. Narberth graptolites, Phillips, Narberth to De la Beche, 28 November 1841, NMW. Asaphus, Secord (1986a: 81). ‘Think of that …’, Phillips, Carmarthen to De la Beche, 29 November 1841, NMW.

[22].        Phillips, Carmarthen to De la Beche, 29 November 1841, NMW.

[23].        Phillips asked Vernon Harcourt, who knew Peel from his Oxford days, to lobby the government for its continuance. Vernon Harcourt’s letter, however, focused more on the need to make Phillips’s appointment to the Survey permanent, Vernon Harcourt, Bishopthorpe to Peel, 6 November 1841. See also Phillips to De la Beche, 26 October 1841, NMW. Buckland also sought to sway Peel’s decision, Phillips to De la Beche, 8 November 1841, NMW. For assurances, Phillips, Llandeilo to De la Beche, 13 November 1841, NMW. ‘You will hammer …’, Phillips, Malvern to De la Beche, 14 & 18 April 1842, NMW. ‘It is a sort …’,  and Murchison, Phillips, York to De la Beche, 31 March 1842, NMW.

[24].        On the train, Phillips, York to De la Beche, 28 March 1842, NMW. On the post, Phillips, York to De la Beche, 18 March 1842, NMW.

[25].        Phillips. Llandovery to De la Beche, 1 January 1842, NMW. David Hiram Williams (c.1812-
15 November 1841), like his father formerly a mineral surveyor, he rapidly rose to colonial service only to die tragically in India, [W. Theobold] Calcutta to De la Beche, 7 December 1841, NMW 2025. Torrens (1999) for the Williams as practical men. Aveline (1822-12 May 1903), assistant geologist, joined Survey 24 August 1840, BGS GSM 1/4 Letterbook 1845-46.

[26].        For ‘thus finally …’, Phillips, Malvern to De la Beche, 23 May 1842, NMW. For debate concerning universal systems see Morrell (1988a) and Rudwick (1985). For ‘at that place …’, Ramsay, Llandeilo to De la Beche, 20 June 1842, NMW 1711.

[27].        Phillips, York to De la Beche, 15 and 28 March 1842, NMW (quote from second letter).

[28].        Phillips, York to De la Beche, 22 February 1842, NMW.

[29].        Not collect, Phillips, Malvern to De la Beche, 8 April 1842; ‘Fossils abound …’, Phillips, Malvern to De la Beche, 14 April 1842; ‘These I …’, Phillips, Malvern to De la Beche, 17 April 1842; ‘This is …’, Phillips, Malvern to De la Beche, Saturday 7 May 1842, NMW.

[30].        Phillips, [Malvern] to De la Beche, 10 May 1842, NMW. ‘My sister …’, Phillips, Staunton, to De la Beche, 5 August 1842, NMW. Phillips (1842a).

[31].        For ‘all clear …’, Phillips, Malvern to De la Beche, 27 April 1842; ‘It is rich …’, Phillips, Malvern to De la Beche, 27 May 1842; ‘they will …’, Phillips, Malvern to De la Beche, 2 & 8 July 1842; ‘reputed skill …’, Phillips, Malvern to De la Beche, 21 July 1842; ‘upon the whole …’, Phillips, Malvern to De la Beche, 7 August 1842, NMW. A few gaps in some lines remained in heavily wooded country and under drift which could be investigated in the following year. Phillips, Malverns to De la Beche, 10 October 1842, NMW. Phillips, York to De la Beche, 24 December 1842, NMW.

[32].        ‘This is very …’, Phillips, Malvern to De la Beche, 17 July 1842; on faunal comparisons, Phillips, Malvern to De la Beche, 13 July 1842, NMW. The Ludlow beds marked the top of the Silurian, above these was the Old Red Sandstone or Devonian. The Wenlock Limestone was beneath the Ludlow and the Caradoc or Bala beds were even lower in the Silurian sequence. The Tremadoc Slates and Lingula Flags were lower still.

[33].        ‘Miss Williams …’, Ramsay, Pumsaint to De la Beche, 2 August 1842; ‘stony heart’, Ramsay, Pumsaint to De la Beche, 30 August 1842, NMW 1712 & 1717. Secord (1986b: 241) suggests that De la Beche kept wages low in order to stem their marital desires. As social status was in large part proportional to income, the financial costs of marriage became the dominant factor in determining whether it was desirable. ‘The real fear was that the available financial resources were inadequate to sustain the burden of social expectation’ (Bourne 1986: 93). Edward Forbes made just this point, in 1850, when Joseph Beete Jukes (10 October 1811-29 July 1869) hoped to take the Chair at Trinity College, Dublin, which paid only £250: ‘I quite see that Jukes could not hold a gentlemanly position as a married man without the joint incomes, but trust that will be effected.’ Forbes, Dublin to De la Beche, 19 September 1850, NMW 579. However, Ramsay would soon earn his £300 per year and a large number of Survey workers would take wives.

[34].        For ‘yet so …’ and fossil days Ramsay, Pumsaint to De la Beche, 5 and 10 August 1842, NMW 1714 and 1719 respectively.

[35].        See Secord (1986a) for significance to stratigraphic debate.

[36].        ‘I have …’ and ‘The world …’, Ramsay, Pumsaint to De la Beche, 30 August and 15 September 1842, NMW 1717 and 1720 respectively.

[37].        ‘Mr Phillips …’, ‘Mr Sanders …’, Williams, Lower Redland to De la Beche, 26 July 1842, NMW 2123.

[38].        Benjamin Heywood Bright (14 August 1787-26 March 1843). On Bright’s collection, Bright, Bath to De la Beche, Brand Lodge, 24 August 1842, NMW 109. On Cooke’s collection, Phillips, Gloucester to De la Beche, 6 December 1842, NMW Phillips; James, Wotton under Edge to De la Beche, 8 December 1842, NMW 747; Cleevely (1983: 87, 301).

[39].        Phillips, York to De la Beche, 23 January 1843, NMW.

[40].        Use of collections to inform collecting, Phillips, York to De la Beche, 1 February 1843; trip to Malverns, Phillips, York to De la Beche, 10 February & 9 April 1843; ‘Bumper toast …’, ‘It is a good …’, Phillips, Ledbury to De la Beche, 12 April 1843, NMW. Phillips (1843).

[41].        Phillips, Wotton under Edge to De la Beche, 29 April 1843, NMW. Referring to the collections of J. Chaning Pearce (18 July 1811-10 May 1847); William Walton; Samuel Pearce Pratt (1789-1863); Harry Jelly (b.1801). Torrens (1997) shows that Bath had long had a community of collectors.

[42].        For ‘we are getting …’, Phillips, Wotton under Edge to De la Beche, 19 May 1843; ‘Could you see …’, Phillips, Wotton under Edge to De la Beche, 18 & 19 May 1843 NMW. In March 1845, his wage was raised from 4s to 6s per week, De la Beche, London to Gibbs, 19 March 1845; ‘Pay particular …’, De la Beche, London to Gibbs, 17 January 1845, HST. Gibbs remained in his lowly position until his death in 1878, Secord (1986b: 235).

[43].        Phillips, Wotton under Edge to De la Beche, 14 May 1843, NMW; Secord (1986a: 164).

[44].        Herries Davies (1983) gives a detailed account, see also Knell (1997).

[45].        ‘Their’ here refers to the fossils, Phillips to De la Beche, 3 February 1844, OUM Phillips Carbonic Book/NMW.

[46].        This quote and ‘The laws …’, Philips to De la Beche, 4 February 1844, NMW.

[47].        ‘Between …’, Forbes, to De la Beche, 17 December 1844, NMW 544; ‘let him …’, Phillips to De la Beche, 3 February 1844, NMW.

[48].        For ‘palaeontologist thing’, Forbes to De la Beche, 17 December [1844], NMW 544. Edward Forbes (12 February 1815-18 November 1854) Presidential address (1855), QJGS11, xxvii. For severance of links to the Society, Forbes, to De la Beche, 11 November 1844, NMW 543. Secord (1986a: 271) referred to this as the ‘star position in British palaeontology’.

[49].        For move of Survey department, Copy of Treasury Minute BGS GSM 1/4 Entry letter book – in/out 1845-1846. For Phillips’s moves, Phillips to De la Beche, 6 March &18 April 1845, NMW. Phillips resigned his post before De la Beche had acquired funds to pay for his employment. De la Beche to the Earl of Lincoln, Wednesday 19 March 1845, BGS GSM 1/12 Correspondence of the Director General 1836-1847/65.

[50].        The queerness of May Hill was to have considerable implications for the battle over Palaeozoic nomenclature in the next decade. Secord (1986a: 242-75) discusses this in detail. ‘He is …’, Phillips, Buxton to De la Beche, 7 June 1846, NMW.

[51].        De la Beche, 22 May 1845, BGS GSM 1/4 Entry letter book – in/out 1845-1846.

[52].        Secord (1986b: 237) discusses the social structure of the Survey. Salaries in 1845: De la Beche, £800; H. James, Ramsay, Philips, £300; Williams, £250; Bristow, Aveline, T. James, 9s 7d per day; Gibbs, 6s per day. BGS GSM 1/4 Letterbook 1845-46.

[53].        De la Beche, 22 May 1845, BGS GSM 1/4 Entry letter book – in/out 1845-46.

[54].        Forbes to De la Beche, 11 November 1844, NMW 543. Forbes published the results of these studies in two ground-breaking papers, Forbes (1844a; 1844b).

[55].        Rupke (1983b: 7).

[56].        Forbes, Zetland [Shetland] to De la Beche, 1 August [1845], NMW 549.

[57].        James, Dublin to De la Beche, 27 April 1846, NMW 769. Frederick McCoy (1823-May 1899).

[58].        On duplicates, James, Dublin to De la Beche, 30 April 1846, NMW 771. On McCoy, James, London to McCoy, 22 May 1845, BGS GSM 1/4 Entry letter book – in-out 1845-1846. Orders had been issued in the Irish survey in 1837 warning that any individual retaining, giving away or selling specimens without Portlock’s knowledge would be thrown off the Survey (Herries Davies 1983: 101).

[59].        ‘That boy …’, Ramsay, Dolgelli [Dolgellau] to De la Beche, 30 June 1846, NMW 1741. Secord (1986a: 187-8) for Lingula Beds, John Davis and Sedgwick’s change of view. The Survey did not inspect Davis’s collection until the following year, BGS GSM 1/219 Palaeontology Department Reports and Lists of Fossils 1846-1863/4. ‘About Tremadoc …’, Phillips, York to De la Beche, 6 October 1846; ‘Ramsay has …’,  Phillips, York to De la Beche, 4 November 1846; earlier reference to Lingulas see Phillips, Llandeilo to De la Beche, 4 December 1841, NMW. In this year Salter was seconded to assist Sedgwick for two months in North Wales. Phillips was keen to see his ‘dear S.’ [Sedgwick] supported in this way, Phillips, York to De la Beche, 20 December 1846, NMW. Lingula Lewisii had been described by James de Carle Sowerby some years earlier and was indicative of the Upper Silurian (Ludlow).

[60].        Secord (1986a: 189) for re-establishing Cambrian and p. 212 for loss of its distinct fauna. Salter, London to Phillips, 28 April 1848, OUM 1848/10. Ramsay, Dolgelli to De la Beche, 30 June 1846, NMW 1741. Flett (1937: 244)  says William Davis was appointed in 1846 and was certainly collecting Lingula with Ramsay and Selwyn. His participation in this survey is recorded in BGS Geological Survey Catalogue A.

[61].        For ‘contour lines’, ‘He is …’, Ramsay, Bala to De la Beche, 8 November 1846, NMW 1752.

[62].        An area surveyed by McCoy and ‘bungled’, Forbes, Dublin to De la Beche, 9 & 31 March [1847], NMW 557 & 558. See Secord (1986a: 155, 210) for significance of Rhiwlas.

[63].        For ‘relative …’, Forbes, to De la Beche, 31 March 1847; reports on collections, Forbes, Kingston to De la Beche, 5 September [1847 FJN]; ‘synchronism’, Forbes, to De la Beche, 2 June 1848, NMW 558, 560, 568.

[64].        Gapper and Gibbs in Edward Forbes, West Lulworth to De la Beche, 8 November 1849, NMW 575. Gapper was also a fossil collector. ‘I want …’, Ramsay, Swanage to De la Beche, 27 April 1851, NMW 1806.

[65].        Phillips to De la Beche, 24 June 1841, NMW.

[66].        Phillips, York, to De la Beche, 31 March 1842, NMW.

[67].        Animal dwellers, De la Beche (1846: 38). Phillips (1848: 66). ‘Centres of creation’ was a widely held concept in contemporary biology (Rehbock 1983: 336).

[68].      John William Salter (15 December 1820-2 December 1869). He was to rise to the position of Survey Palaeontologist, before a tragic decline in the manner of so many early professionals (Secord 1985). Presidential address (1870), Quarterly Journal of the Geological Society26, xxxvi-xxxix.

[69].        On Meristomya, Salter to Phillips, 28 April 1848, OUM 1848/10; some examples of this genus crept through into the published account to be picked up as errata. For ‘mad’, Phillips, Baslow to De la Beche, 3 October 1847, NMW. 

[70].        Phillips (1848: 2).

[71].        Challinor (1971: 119) states that Phillips’s Malvern work has never been superseded. De la Beche’s prose was also a vast improvement on his earlier works.

[72].        Phillips (1848: 205).

[73].        Indeed the study of trilobites was now within the realm of the entomologist! (Phillips 1848: 208, 335).

[74].        Phillips (1848: 216). Sedgwick had considered the progressive introduction of species in 1846, Secord (1986a: 178-80).

[75].        Ibid. p. 217.

[76].        Ibid. p. 318.

[77].        Ibid. p. 320, Phillips notes that the Survey had been more successful at fossil collecting than Murchison.

[78].        Ibid. p. 65.

[79].        Pecten discovery, see chapter 5.

[80].        Salter to De la Beche, 8 November 1854, NMW 1854. In 1865 Salter drew up characteristic fossils of the Cambrian for Sedgwick and for sale, Salter to Phillips, 2 May 1865, OUM 1865/10.

[81].        Secord (1986a: 204) for the impact of the professionalisation of geology represented by the Survey, and for ‘pottering times’. Bulwer-Lytton (1830: II: 186).

From: Simon J. Knell. The Culture of English Geology, 1815-1851: A Science Revealed Through Its Collecting (Aldershot/Burlington USA/Singapore/Sydney: Ashgate Publishing, 2000).