3 Geology and the Philosophical Societies

The provincial home of geology during the 1820s and 1830s was, in many regions, the philosophical society. Indeed, the Napoleonic Wars had not long been over before an explosion of interest in these societies hit the country. As Martin Simpson later remarked, ‘The cessation of a long and exhausting war, the energies aroused by that war, and the want of employment before the return of commercial prosperity, all had a tendency to intellectual pursuits, and, no doubt, contributed greatly to the establishment of philosophical institutions and museums.’[1] In these societies geology was debated, collections built and strategies developed for participation in the new science. However, the presence of these collective scientific enterprises further complicated the meaning of fossils. Fossils now had to satisfy the social agenda which underpinned the formation of these societies, as well as meet the needs of individuals and science.

The first societies were formed in Portsmouth and Leeds (1818), then Cambridge, Hanley (the Pottery Philosophical Society), and Cork (1819). These were followed in quick succession by virtually every major town across Yorkshire, and by Belfast (1821), Bristol (1823), Bath (1824), Norwich (1824), Chelmsford, Southampton and Chatham (1828). These societies came to epitomise British provincial science in the 1820s but they were a reawakening of a ‘movement’ begun in the previous century.[2]This passion for society forming was not unique to Britain, it also took hold in North America and throughout the empire.[3] After 1830 the fashion was for natural history societies rather than philosophical societies, though too much can be read into a name. 

During the 1820s many of those philosophical societies established in an earlier era, yet still extant, discovered they were now in vogue and joined in a new desire to form museums. These included the institutions in Canterbury and Bristol. The Bristol philosophical society had first been established in 1805 and had associated with it an Institution founded four years later.[4] Both had made little progress in the intervening years, but in 1820 work commenced on the institution’s building, and with its completion three years later its sister philosophical society was revived, by which time both were seen as entirely new creations of men such as William Conybeare and Henry De la Beche. Most other towns could claim a lineage of similar associations. The Bristol society’s neighbour in Bath had been preceded by three previous incarnations. In Newcastle two earlier philosophical societies had existed, while that in Hull was the most recent of six similar literary associations established since 1794, all prior versions having been rather informal and short-lived but one of which met in a private museum. The philosophical society in Leeds similarly had its precursors. Societies which now became successful were often peopled by the same individuals, or their descendants, who had been involved in earlier attempts at association. As such these societies were as much a representation of the strength of established middle-class family dynasties in urban Britain as they were of that class’s new rich. They did not arise in an urban landscape devoid of such associations but were simply its most successful, and often the only recorded (because they published annual reports) and therefore most visible, manifestation of a long-established form of social interaction within these towns.[5] However, caution is needed when taking an overview. Those societies formed from the late eighteenth century into the second quarter of the nineteenth century may appear a homogeneous whole, a ‘movement’:

The diffusion of a general knowledge, and a taste for science, over all classes of men, in every nation of Europe, or of European origin, seems to be the characteristic feature of the present age (James Keir, 1789). 

The establishment of [philosophical societies] in numerous … towns, within the last few years, forms undoubtedly one of the most distinguishing characteristics of the spirit of the age in which we live (Hull Literary and Philosophical Society, 1825).[6]

But they represented very different worlds. There was no single model. While certain structural elements became de rigeur for the societies established after 1820 – the institutional building, lecture programme, library and museum – these conceal organisations which thrived on their own individuality. They were determined entirely by local context, and in particular by the individuals who peopled them. The concept of critical mass, in terms of the size and make up of the middle-class élite available to the institution, is important in understanding the nature of these organisations and what they attempted to achieve. In Leeds, for example, mercantile interests had long dominated city life; in York, the county gentry were more dominant. The societies in Manchester and the Potteries were unlike each other and unlike those in Leeds, York, Whitby and Scarborough, which again were extremely varied simply by virtue of the character of the town and each society’s leading figures. The society in Manchester had a particular strength in chemists. That in Newcastle had been founded on a mission rooted in local geology and mineral resources, but this was rapidly subverted by members wishing to found a general library.[7] If these societies are to be viewed as a movement then one of their key identifying features was their inseparability from their environment. These nuances become apparent if, rather than examining individual institutions and their generalised structures and discourses, the focus is switched to inter-society communication and particular aspects of the science they shared. Many of the societies discussed here – such as those in Whitby and Scarborough – would, in the isolation of traditional studies, appear rather parochial, contributing little to science. But when their activities are viewed within the wider culture of geology, they become something more. Indeed they become an integral part of that culture and therefore of science.

Fig. 3.1 Some philosophical (P) and natural history (N) societies in England and Wales in the 1820s. Not all survived to the end of the decade.

It is now well established that philosophical societies were principally vehicles for social interaction, an expression of the power of the burgeoning middle classes and a means of legitimising the nouveaux riches. The period after 1815 marked the beginning of a rapid expansion in these classes. They included many who were of dissenting faiths and who were consequently disenfranchised from local political control. Increasing affluence had an impact across the middle classes, affecting not only the new men of commerce but also the lowly shopkeeper and loftier professions. Depending on local context the make-up of these societies included both the risen artisan and the younger sons of the gentry, who formed the élite of the professions. The societies were in this way an embodiment of the social mobility (in both directions) which defined these classes. They also held appropriate elements of the local establishment, whether Wakefield Anglican clerics, the Yorkshire gentry, or rich and powerful Leeds merchants. The culture of urban science in which they participated became a means of social identification. Society structures and processes fulfilled a symbolic function providing ‘the foundation of collective belief’ through a process of ‘circular reinforcement’.[8]

Although perhaps dominated by political liberals, these societies were, like their forebears, wedded to a conservative notion of progress rooted in knowledge, stability and established social and cultural values. Outward looking, their greatest desire was to make an overt cultural statement that would affect external perceptions of the town, or neighbourhood, or indeed themselves. For them, science was to become ‘a mode of cultural self-expression’.[9] These were collective enterprises when viewed from the outside – statements from the ‘hegemony’ – but internally they were rooted in individualism. All held a belief in debate and the value of opinion. Collections were generally at the heart of their operation: as educational resources, the subject matter of opinion, and the products and materials of research, but also having a multitude of other social and cultural functions which reinforced the bond these societies sought to put into place.

Natural history societies were as indicative of the 1830s as were literary and philosophical societies of the previous decade.[10] But the distinction is not as great as it may seem. Both types of society pursued natural history, although there was great variation in the degree to which this formed a central focus. The philosophical societies had chosen a name that gave their organisations a broad and unquestionable status. It inferred lofty and sophisticated intellectual goals with no predetermined constraint on subject matter. But those in York, Hull, Whitby and Scarborough were principally natural history societies. In 1820, ‘natural history’ seemed overly restrictive. The philosophical societies wanted to attract the élite of local society; strait-jacketing discourse would have the opposite effect. By the early 1830s natural history, and particularly geology, were unquestionably fashionable and cultured activities. They had grown respectable.[11] Some long-established philosophical societies were now torn apart by this heightened interest in natural history. As a result the natural history interests of two early philosophical societies were usurped by newer and more specialised organisations: the Manchester Society for the Promotion of Natural History established in 1821, and the Natural History Society of Northumberland, Durham and Newcastle formed in 1829. These new societies had no choice but to adopt a new name to distinguish themselves from their parent bodies. As such they established a trend, just as their parent bodies had done. Ultimately, it was these new natural history societies, rather than their older philosophical cousins, which had most in common with the philosophical societies in Yorkshire in terms of motive and interest.[12]

The natural history societies were themselves to support the growth of more specialist geological, ornithological, botanical, microscopical and entomological societies. This diversification was not simply the product of growing specialisation but also reflected a mixture of political tensions, improved transport and population growth. However, many of these societies were destined to regroup with antiquarian and archaeological societies as interest waned. These also valued fieldwork and collection building. Later in the century a new wave of natural history societies and field clubs were formed and so the cycle continued. The focus here, though, remains on the philosophical societies that were largely responsible for establishing an English provincial museum culture which gathered up the material produce of geology in the age when it became a science.

The Yorkshire explosion

The movement to establish philosophical societies took hold in Yorkshire at the very beginning of the decade. Leeds Philosophical and Literary Society led the way. It was founded in 1818, but really only became fully operational when its new building was completed in 1821. Although official dates of establishment vary, the Yorkshire Philosophical Society, and the literary and philosophical societies of Whitby, Hull, Bradford and Sheffield all date from November 1822.[13] Of these, only the Bradford society failed. Wakefield Literary and Philosophical Society was established in 1826 and the Scarborough society in 1827. Societies were also established in Halifax and Doncaster but not until 1830 and 1834 respectively. Inspiration for this rapid explosion of interest had come from the older philosophical societies in neighbouring regions, particularly those in Manchester, Liverpool, Birmingham and Newcastle. As enthusiasm broke out in one Yorkshire town so inevitably its neighbours found cause to pursue their own plans. Civic rivalry was rife in the county, and barely concealed in society mission statements. As the Whitby society proclaimed ‘We may fairly presume, that the most liberal support will be given to an Institution, so well calculated to promote the credit and advantage of the town, and the intellectual improvement of its inhabitants, not only in the present day but in future ages.’[14]

The timing of this explosion can be closely related to the laying of the foundation stone of the Newcastle philosophical society’s building on 2 September 1822. The ceremony was performed by the Duke of Sussex, brother to the King. The civic commotion – or ‘bustle’ as The Times reported it – was enormous. ‘A grand Masonic procession’ to the site, which was surrounded by four thousand ticket-only seats, gave all the weight to the occasion the city could muster. Followed by a public dinner in one of the largest assembly rooms in the country, this was the grandest of grand civic occasions, which the middle classes of other towns would be keen to emulate.[15] It was as if a gauntlet had been thrown down. York already had a strong link to William Turner, the Newcastle society’s secretary. His son was a student of York’s Manchester College. He, Charles Wellbeloved, the college’s principal, and John Kenrick, a senior tutor and Wellbeloved’s son-in-law, were early and important members of the York society.[16]

Grand openings aimed to establish an identity. This was something which societies also pursued by other means. Each society relished high social and scientific status, and monitored its progress by constant reference to its neighbours. Status could be read from its lists of members and their placing within the upper echelons of science and society, from the size and quality of their collections, and from the magnificence of their institutional buildings. In these burgeoning institutions collections became monuments to scientific advance; the buildings themselves symbolic of cultural identity. In an age when wealth and status were universally and jealously regarded, it was inevitable that these societies chose material and enduring symbols to mark their achievements. They were simply and subconsciously representing themselves with metonyms of high culture and sophistication, an objectification of their collective identity.[17] The relationship was inevitably reciprocal and the fossils they held in their collections became imbued with considerable cultural importance.

The towns and cities of Yorkshire held all the diversity of nineteenth-century urban politics, development and control. York, the county capital, was respected for its long and self-evident history. With a population of just under 20,000 it remained attached to the county establishment. The wool capital of Leeds, just 25 miles away, was three times larger and growing rapidly. With more than 20,000 people engaged in manufacturing and trade alone, it contrasted remarkably with its city neighbour. On the coast, Whitby, at 46 miles from York, was ‘close, irregular and unpleasant but the environs … romantic and beautiful’. To Sedgwick it was ‘a dirty stinking town in a very picturesque situation’. An important seaport, it had grown with the alum trade, which occupied 600 people in 1818. Its shipbuilding had been strengthened with the rise of the Greenland whaling industry. A vibrant commercial centre, it was only then beginning to consider how it could be made more attractive to visitors. By the middle of the century Whitby was building elegant terraces in imitation of Scarborough, its coastal neighbour. Scarborough, at a similar distance from York, was an elegant spa town whose shops offered every luxury to the visitor. The popularity of the town as a spa was, like that of other spas, in decline. But here Scarborough had an advantage, for as the spa declined in the eighteenth century, so the fashion for sea bathing grew. Indeed it has been claimed that the English seaside holiday began at Scarborough. In 1819, Scarborough was slightly bigger than Whitby, but was already building grand lodging houses above its two bays. It grew considerably as the fashion for the seaside holiday took hold; in contrast, the population of Whitby remained relatively static. The town of Hull was nearly twice the size of York and 38 miles distant. It was the fourth most important port in England (after London, Liverpool and Bristol). A major whaling centre, it also had a diverse manufacturing base. Although some distance south of Whitby, being tucked at the eastern end of the Humber estuary it had, and still has, the same air of self-contained isolation.[18]

Intensely proud, communities of all sizes across Yorkshire exerted their individuality; civic pride dominated regional politics. In the rivalry between these towns, architectural statements were of key importance, something which embarrassed the Hull élite considerably: ‘To the deplorable want of public buildings in Hull, the attention of its inhabitants has of late been strongly directed; and it can only be hoped that some means may speedily be discovered of removing the stigma which attaches to the town on this account.’ Similarly, Whitby apparently had no public buildings of note. Scarborough, however, looked the part of the spa, noted for its beautiful gardens, accessible by subscription, and its stylish architecture. The London season and the spa towns formed long established elements in the geography of leisure for the provincial élite. In the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries many provincial towns and cities set in motion schemes for improvement, not least the elegant and competing spas of Bath and Cheltenham. Competition between the burgeoning manufacturing towns also encouraged improvement schemes. The desire to establish philosophical institutions as imposing architectural and cultural statements shared this vision. It was also expressed in monumental courtrooms, town halls, market halls, mills, corn exchanges and other commercial buildings. The middle classes wanted towns and cities which spoke of their aspirations and achievements. Those in Leeds, for example, began to project themselves in images of ‘their public buildings and their collective commercial, cultural and philanthropic institutions’. These images adorned all manner of ephemera and contrasted greatly with the canvases of smoke and grime captured by touring painters. Leeds and its close neighbour Bradford were keen rivals, expressing this rivalry in their buildings. But this investment in towns and cities can also be seen as an attempt to fill ‘a dangerous cultural void’ in the civic infrastructure.[19] Expansion of the population had been so rapid in cities like Manchester that civic administration and control had been unable to keep pace. The result was a rise in crime.

The philosophical movement wished to banish any preconceptions of provincial towns as unsophisticated and uncultured commercial centres. As grand provincial edifices of science, their buildings rose up from the private funds of their supporters; physical representations of civic co-operation and self-improvement. However, this appearance of selfless combined effort was largely a façade; societies were principally social means to satisfy the disparate needs of individuals. Outwardly the movement projected a romantic image of its proceedings: ‘science, with a secret moral charm, allays the animosity of parties, and pours a friendly feeling over the most discordant minds’. This was not entirely a statement of fact, more one of desire. At times it accurately described the structure of social interaction but these might also be seen as words of mediation. In reality the movement was based as much on often intense and bitter rivalry, as on bonhomie. A few months after the above statement was made the York and Hull societies were in conflict over the possession of fossil finds from an excavation at Bielsbeck, a feud further inflamed by the claims of Cambridge philosophers. A decade later the Whitby society also came into conflict with Cambridge University over the loss of local fossils, and its officers expressed their fury with quite remarkable vitriol. Widespread political upheaval throughout the period also spilled over into society affairs. This was apparent in Whitby in the early 1830s: ‘And your Council rest satisfied, that, within their walls, at least, as within a neutral territory, all asperities of party feeling, where arising from political or other differences will die away, and be forgotten, and the same lively interchange of the courtesies of life be resumed and continued as heretofore.’ The society in Newcastle banned discussion of politics from its proceedings; in Wakefield neither religion nor politics could be discussed. In Leeds the society buildings became the city’s most important neutral territory for the city’s élite. While this might suggest a sense of egalitarianism, membership was controlled. In York, it had been decided early on that applicants could be blackballed if two members objected to them joining. In Bradford political and religious suspicions arrested the establishment of a philosophical institution entirely.[20]

Not that dissent was to be discouraged; argument and debate were the tools of the philosopher, a means to the truth. They became a central activity of these societies. William Turner, founder of the Newcastle society in 1793, distinguished ‘viewers’ who supplied information on geological phenomena from ‘speculative philosophers’ who might, for example, suggest means of removing dangerous gases from mines. Although speculative science was widely condemned, it was surely at the heart of the debate these societies engendered. Members, however, too often became attached to their own personal visions, determined to win rather than simply participate. ‘Il aime beaucoup la disputation, peut-être qu’il vent triompher coûte que coûte’, Phillips noted of  Revd J. Bowman of Hull and his uncle William Richardson of Ferrybridge. Both York’s William Salmond and Whitby’s George Young became fierce defenders of their own views on the Kirkdale Cave fauna. The differing degrees to which provincial geologists saw the Bible as a literal record of the formation of the earth also led to conflict. George Young could not divorce his ideas of the natural world from biblical interpretations. Both Young and York’s Vernon became staunch defenders of their own institutions. Having modelled these in their own image they rapidly became aware of the impressive and enduring monuments they had built to themselves. The Scarborough society had other difficulties, not least in bringing together the town’s fossil-collecting interests. William Bean, its most prominent naturalist, was notoriously secretive and competitive. John Dunn, the society’s secretary, like others in the town, considered putting personal fame before the welfare of his own society.[21]

York claims the county

In constructing provincial monuments to science and culture, York, the county town, pursued the grandest plan. Hatched by three fairly mature residents: William Salmond, 53, a former inspector-general of taxes, and later parliamentary commissioner, James Atkinson, 63, a surgeon, and Anthony Thorpe, 63, a solicitor, the Yorkshire Philosophical Society at once embodied the professional classes which were to be its life blood.[22] These men also shared a common interest in Kirkdale Cave and each held important collections of material gathered during its excavation. These collections alone formed a significant cultural monument when united, and became the foundation stone of the Yorkshire Philosophical Society.

If the society was to achieve success it also required a leader of social standing, high intellect and vigour. Such a man was the 33-year-old Revd William Vernon, a son of the Archbishop of York. A member of a large and influential family, as its first president, he rapidly turned the York society into a powerful philosophical force. Within a few years it could celebrate his achievements: ‘The President … has nursed it and watched it and raised it to its present high station; to whom rather to any individual the society feels deepest obligation’. However, Salmond came into public conflict with Vernon in 1831 over the authorship of the York society. Vernon claimed the idea had been suggested to him by Buckland, and that Vernon had then suggested it to Thorpe. But Salmond claimed that it was he who had put the idea in Buckland’s head in the first place. Shortly afterwards Salmond resigned from the society.[23]

Fig. 3.2 Yorkshire Philosophical Society Museum. From Anon. 1852.

By December 1822 a printed prospectus was in circulation. Over the next few years the aspirations of the society grew with its membership. Were they to build ‘a great Northern Museum’ or a more modest county institution? In the end the latter view prevailed. However, even this was considerably more ambitious than that adopted by its neighbours, some of whom would see such interests as threatening. Raising funds by subscription, and making do in the meantime with inadequate rented accommodation, the society’s premises were completed in May 1829 and opened the following February. Perhaps the grandest of all the county’s museums, the Yorkshire Museum, with its eight apartments for the display of collections, ten other rooms and lecture hall, was set to dominate the region’s philosophical scene.[24]

The society, in its prospectus, expressed two clear primary objectives: to establish a library and ‘a more particular object … to elucidate the Geology of Yorkshire’. It recognised the county’s extraordinary wealth of rocks, fossils and minerals ‘so imperfectly and doubtfully determined’. Vernon, from his time at Oxford, had strong links with Conybeare and Buckland, and they advised him how to begin his investigations. Conybeare provided a geological research strategy, while Buckland told him how to collect.[25] The prospectus also clearly stated the means by which this ‘elucidation’ might come about. The society was to place itself at the centre of a countywide network: ‘the combined observation of many individuals, in their respective neighbourhoods, and by a contribution of specimens from every part of Yorkshire to a Central Museum.’ In this way collecting, arrangement and display alone would illustrate the county’s geology, though members were not slow to publish the results of their discoveries.

The approach mirrors that adopted by Buckland just two years earlier. Buckland, who epitomised the networking geologist, had, in 1821, issued instructions for both conducting geological observations and collecting specimens. In this he was in imitation of Alexandre Brongniart, who had issued instructions for collecting, labelling and transmitting fossils and associated rocks back to Paris. Both published these instructions in America knowing that the New World held great potential for answering questions and confirming answers in the Old. This was not the first time instructions for collecting had been issued but they show a greater degree of specialisation on those issued by John Woodward in 1696, John Walker in 1793 and Robert Jameson in 1817, who sought, respectively, ‘natural things’, ‘natural curiosities’, and ‘objects of natural history’.[26] Buckland’s network extended not only to America but across Europe and into the colonies. The approach was similar to that adopted by the Geological Society of London, except for a much greater emphasis on specimens. 

Geology, to a collecting institution in the early nineteenth century, primarily meant fossils and these became the most sought-after acquisitions. Material was being added to York’s Kirkdale collection even before the prospectus was printed. ‘Specimens of the Ichthyosaurus, Plesiosaurus, Ammonites, and other Fossils of the Alum Shale, and of the various Vegetable Impressions, from the districts of the Iron Stone, and Coal’ were now entering the collections. This was no random list of wants. It revealed those elements of the fossil world then considered most significant. The Alum Shale was theoretically capable of producing fossils as varied and spectacular as those now being recovered in the richest of all British localities, Lyme Regis. Vegetable impressions were also prized fossils. The origins and stratigraphic limits of coal deposits were hotly debated and unlike most other fossils they gave rare glimpses of lost antediluvial landscapes (other fossils being primarily from marine environments). The Yorkshire Philosophical Society’s prospectus embodied a collecting and research policy which was pursued with vigour, and given priority over other interests, until 1835 at least. Unlike a number of its contemporaries which, perhaps in reaction, were founded on a policy of protectionism, the Yorkshire Philosophical Society became, from the very beginning, a geological research school.

Geology dominated the new museum’s exhibits. Other collections had to wait until funds became available before they too could be suitably displayed. The new museum immediately exhibited 10,000 fossils and rocks, stratigraphically arranged, and 2000 minerals, arranged in chemical series. The extreme domination of geology within the society’s affairs is apparent from its lists of acquisitions. The proportion of different kinds of object acquired in 1826 is typical for the period:[27]

Geology (i.e. primarily fossils)1600   specimens
Natural History79

Such single-mindedness was essential if a society was to establish a national profile. ‘Our geologists have done themselves and the County great credit by their labours’, the society could claim in 1835. ‘They have provided us with one of the very best Geological Rooms in the United Kingdom. I believe there is not another room in the kingdom where the student of Geology with an elementary book in his hands could with equal facility become acquainted with the science of Geology.’ An impressive claim but one every other society in Yorkshire would soon make. However, many York residents saw no attraction in these rather pretentious gatherings, and still less in geology. They told the Revd William Taylor, ‘Oh! I care not for stones and bones!’[28] The Yorkshire Philosophical Society was becoming a geological clique. ‘Local circumstances and advantages have made geology a leading object among us’, explained Vernon. The reasons ‘were to be found in the poverty of the subject and the facility of accumulating specimens. Other branches of natural history were somewhat more expensive perhaps – and it may be difficult to find curators who will work or collectors who will give.’ An earlier version of the prospectus gave equal weight to the collection of antiquities from the city but this objective was less easily realised as such objects were valued as private property. Outside the purview of natural history, the arts more generally remained too closely in the possession of those with wealth, ‘locked out of public circulation’. In Wakefield geology also dominated acquisitions for the same reason – because it was cheap. Phillips, who of all the York society’s members could most accurately be called a geologist, felt that one could not pursue this field of interest without also understanding other aspects of science. ‘Let them call us as they please a “Geological Society” still we must have extensive views.’[29]

Whitby digs in

In Whitby, York’s countywide ambitions were a cause for concern; its expressed collecting priorities were most easily met from the coastal town’s hinterland. Whitby had little hope of competing with York in terms of size, class or wealth, but its ammonite emblem signified a town abounding in that most important of philosophical commodities, fossils: ‘the facilities offered for establishing the museum in Whitby are such as few places enjoy, especially in the fossil department. Whitby is the chief town of a district abounding in petrifactions’. Whitby was the Yorkshire capital of what we would today call geotourism. Sedgwick, Buckland, Smith, Phillips, Cumberland and many others experienced the draw of its immense fossil wealth.[30] York, the county’s true capital, wished to be its centre in science also but, by comparison, it lay in a palaeontological desert.

Like other societies then establishing themselves, Whitby’s would-be philosophers began canvassing for support in November 1822. This came immediately, and the first meeting took place in the Town Hall the following January. The inducement to early action came in a statement suggesting that collections already existing in the town were available ‘on very reasonable terms’. These were the collections of George Watson (which proved too expensive), Henry Weatherald, John Bird and George Young. Each collection was independently inspected and the latter three purchased ‘at reduced prices’.[31] It was not unusual for local collectors to sell rather than donate collections to these embryonic societies. Traders in fossils were already well established in all the main coastal towns. The collections of gentlemen invariably represented considerable financial investment, material having been purchased from dealers or the many faceless men and women who worked the cliffs for jet, alum, lime or building materials, or supplemented some other livelihood by selling fossils. Even those naturalists who undertook fieldwork themselves, such as William Bean and John Williamson, still saw the collection as a financial asset. They too regularly purchased specimens. With the formation of new local societies, many collectors seized the opportunity to place these investments in the marketplace. Competition for such collections was high, particularly in a town known for its fossils. The local society needed to act rapidly: ‘On this account the sooner such an institution is set on foot, so much the better; for if the business be delayed, some of the collections at present existing in Whitby, may be sold to enrich the institutions of this kind now forming at Hull, York and other places.’[32]

The Yorkshire Philosophical Society had risen from a desire to further understanding; in contrast, establishment of the Whitby society was reactionary and territorial. In this Whitby would not be alone. Motivation for all the Yorkshire societies contained at least some element of protectionism. In Whitby, however, this was to be taken to the extreme and even extended to fossils still interred in the cliffs. While the society was keen to promote the value of its collections for study and amusement, these activities were by-products of its protectionist stance. By keeping the best finds in the town, it sought to attract scientific ‘strangers’ and the nobility, and by this means ‘make it rank among the towns which patronise literature and the arts.’[33] In 1847, George Young, the society’s guiding light, died knowing this objective had been achieved.

Many strangers have been brought here by the attractions of our Museum, and when it is elevated to its high rank now in prospect, as possessing one of the finest sets of fossil organic remains of Saurian animals in the world, its attractions will be doubly powerful, and the advantages resulting to the Town and neighbourhood proportionally great.[34]

Other keen geologists supported the museum, in particular John Bird and Richard Ripley.[35] Bird, an artist and keen fossil collector, was co-author with Young of A Geological Survey of the Yorkshire Coastpublished in 1822, a book which may also have stimulated action. He was also one of William Smith’s earliest acquaintances on the coast. Ripley was a surgeon who increasingly derived an income from dealing in fossils as the Whitby market developed in the 1830s and 1840s. With his brother, John, he donated numerous important fossils to the museum. It was Young, however, who secured the museum’s reputation in fossils and who was a perfect match for William Vernon’s voracious collecting.

Fig. 3.3 Whitby Baths, Museum and Library. From an image by John Bird, from Browne 1946.

The town’s maritime connections meant that it had no difficulty in attracting exotica, but such items would never surpass the society’s interest in local fossils. Like other Yorkshire societies, the Whitby society was in danger of becoming a geological clique. Locals had been given a single opportunity to see the museum not long after its establishment, in order to decide whether to join. But with inappropriate apartments, and inadequate and poorly organised collections, the initiative backfired. They were given a second chance following the opening of the purpose-built Baths, Museum and Library in January 1827, in which the museum occupied the second floor. Visitors to the new museum had no difficulty discerning the museum’s singular strength: ‘Museum half-filled, his birds execrably stuffed. Shells few. Insects paltry. Fossils of the Lias superb. Minerals good.’[36]

One further method was used to gain support for the museum. This was to publish a critique of the museum, blaming its problems on those who failed to support it and taking the opportunity to publicise its assets. The letter was printed in Young’s magazine, the Whitby Panorama, from ‘a proprietor of the museum’ quoting a widely held view that the ‘“Museum” is only a useless collection of rubbish, cobble stones stolen from the highways, and knick knacks, &c &c.’ The letter was probably written by Young himself – it was a common literary device. Such arguments were to be countered by reasserting the museum’s strengths:

a fossil crocodile, the delight and envy of antiquarians; an Ichthyosaurus, in fine preservation; organic remains of the quadruped and finny tribes, a positive proof if one was wanted of the deluge; an excellent collection of ammonites or snake stones of every kind; marine shells, fossilised, found in Glaisedale quarries, 15 miles from the seashore; a complete series of geological and mineralogical specimens, offering every facility to the student. [37]

Even if such a list meant nothing to readers ignorant or questioning of the philosophical merits of such assemblages, ‘who now attempt to “laugh us to scorn”’, they would have little difficulty in understanding the language of money. They would ‘express no trifling degree of astonishment, that such a collection should have been made in so short a time and which may now be fairly estimated to be worth £400 to £500.’

The society’s desire for increased support continued. In 1841, it made a trial of free admission, but with 100 people turning up in one day this proved too popular. A private society could not cope with such numbers.[38]

Hull’s lost momentum – Leeds’ late arrival

Hull Literary and Philosophical Society was also founded in an attempt to prevent the loss of a local collection. Others in the town saw this as an opportunity; William Hey Dikes almost immediately sold his collection of fossils, shells, birds and other items, to the society at a cost of £100. Dikes, a prime mover in the society’s formation, then became its curator and thus maintained control over his own collection.[39]

Despite an early interest in geology as demonstrated by the number of geological lectures given, Hull was not well placed to become a geological power. Natural history dominated its interests with many of its most important acquisitions being derived from seafaring locals. Amongst its geological lecturers were the locals, John Alderson and Dikes. The society was also keen to book itinerant lecturers such as Dr John Harwood who, exploiting the widespread interest in comparative anatomy, gave a course of lectures on extant and extinct vertebrates. In 1824, Smith and Phillips lectured on the study of geology using the local collections. They arrived in Hull having converted Scarborough to the cause; their effect in Hull was equally inspirational.[40] These lectures were so popular that door receipts and new memberships alone covered the fees.

In January 1825 Phillips also arranged the society’s collections stratigraphically. This too caused considerable excitement amongst local philosophers; as if by magic, Phillips could create order from chaos. The derivation of stratigraphic order from organic remains had considerable novelty. The philosophers of Hull and the other Yorkshire towns had never before seen the practical implications of this. By its own reckoning the Hull society in 1826 believed its local geological collections, strengthened by recent purchases, ‘very excellent’. These collections were, however, severely restricted stratigraphically. Strengths lay in Chalk fossils and those from the Jurassic rocks of South Cave and Scarborough; most other parts of the stratigraphic column remained only poorly represented. 

Phillips returned in successive years to lecture on coal and on the natural history of fossil animals, but despite the quality of delivery – they could ‘scarcely be spoken of in too high terms’ – by 1826 such lectures met with financial loss. Without the earnest geological mission of Whitby or York, or a colony of enthusiasts, geology could not retain its popularity. As lecturers’ fees rose, the society could no longer afford to commission courses for fear of making a loss. There was certainly no wish within the society simply to put on ‘mere popular lecturers’ of ‘ an inferior class’ or supply the public with ‘cheap knowledge’; they had deeper élitist social motives typical of their class’s pretensions. They aimed to draw ‘men of acquirement’ into the town.[41] Without the external input which fired up that initial enthusiasm the study of local geology went into decline.

In 1832 the society at last acquired a sizeable hall for its museum in the newly erected Hull and Sculcoates Public Rooms, and appointed a subcurator to look after it. An office and lecture room were appended. Ten years after its founding the collection was still largely uncased, a cause of such concern that an inquest was convened and a paid curator appointed. The fossil collections remained a priority and were the first to be displayed in glazed cases, but even these only had two cases allocated (filled with Kirkdale and Bielsbeck material).[42] According to Richard Owen, Professor of Comparative Anatomy at the Royal College of Surgeons, who saw the collection in the late 1830s, the institution’s most important specimens were its remarkable skeletons derived from the town’s whaling industry. But even minor geological collections could turn up important specimens – or so it seemed. Edward Charlesworth, for example, located a fossil shark’s tooth in the collections which he wished to figure in his London Geological Journal. However, it should be recognised that Charlesworth selected specimens for this purpose not so much on the object’s scientific merit as on the ability of the owning organisation to contribute to the costs of publication. ‘I am obliged generally to select those subjects for illustration in which I receive some assistance’, he told collectors.[43]

In 1829, the circumstances surrounding the death of its treasurer thrust the society into a debt of more than £156 – a considerable sum for a private society. John Alderson also died in 1829. Alderson had dominated public life in the city, as a contemporary put it, ‘almost exhausting the whole system of hobby-horseism’. Only in 1854 were funds found for a museum building. But when this came, in the form of the Royal Institution which it shared with a library, it was one of the most impressive scientific buildings in Yorkshire.[44]

Leeds Philosophical and Literary Society has been portrayed principally as a cultural centre, ‘dipping into the national and European stream of culture’, removing from the town any trace of parochialism. Despite an early link with James de Carle Sowerby and lectures from Phillips, it also appears to have had less vigorous geological interests. This changed in the mid-1840s when the society acquired the collections of the Geological and Polytechnic Society of the West Riding of Yorkshire. This, it is said, gave it one of the best coal plant collections in northern Britain. Later in the decade it also gathered up numerous ichthyosaurs and an ‘Irish elk’, no doubt taking advantage of the then greatly expanded market in these fossils. Like that of every other society in Yorkshire its museum was soon proclaimed by its supporters as being ‘equal, if not superior, to that of any other provincial institution in the Kingdom’ in its geological collections. However, in 1861, this collection contained just 7000 specimens.[45]

Allies in Scarborough

Scarborough Literary and Philosophical Society was not founded on the first wave of interest as it swept through the county. The situation in the town was more complex, and the society’s formation was confounded by internal indecision, individualism and politicking from the county’s men of influence. The first attempt to found a society came in 1820 when Smith and Phillips were in town. Smith had returned to Scarborough for the benefit of his wife whose mental health had deteriorated. He attended a meeting at John Dunn’s house, together with Thomas Hinderwell, the antiquarian owner of the county’s most important fossil collection, William Travis, a keen botanist and medical partner of Dunn, and William Bean, the town’s most noted naturalist. The meeting had been called in the hope of forming a museum around Hinderwell’s collection. Hinderwell, author of The History and Antiquities of Scarborough, was then 76 years old and there were concerns over the future of his collection. Its fate, however, had already been determined. It was to be left to his nephew, the Scarborough solicitor, Thomas Duesberry. With this failure, the York men moved in and patronised Hinderwell in the hope of enticing away his hoard, and also patronised other Scarborough collectors. As the geological importance of the town was established in the middle of the decade, it became the most important outpost in Vernon’s fossil-collecting network.[46]

In 1822, Scarborough was not seen as a particularly noteworthy locality for organic remains. The Speeton Clay was unexplored, the Gristhorpe plant beds unknown, the stratigraphy of Castle Hill uninterpreted. Indeed many beds, later avidly exploited by fossil collectors, were then thought barren. Like Whitby, Scarborough had also produced an early account of local geology. Frederick Kendall’s Descriptive Catalogue of the Minerals and Fossil Organic Remains of Scarborough and Vicinity had been published anonymously in 1816.[47] However, it was simply a connoisseur’s guide, containing no geology as such, but several finely executed coloured engravings.

The situation changed in 1824 when Smith and Phillips presented a series of inspirational lectures on geology at the Town Hall. As a direct consequence fossil collecting took off. However, without the presence of a society the collections remained in the hands of individuals. Between lectures the two men spent their days geologising along the Scarborough cliffs often in the company of locals, as well as examining and identifying their collections. In the process they introduced a mode of philosophical enquiry which had largely been missing from the town. ‘A spirit of geological research began to spread among the residents and visitors of Scarborough that promised the happiest fruits.’ John Dunn became a fossil collector overnight. William Bean, who had been collecting British shells since 1814, now began to take an interest in fossils. His cousin, John Williamson, was probably the locality’s most dedicated fossil collector: ‘when it was too wet for him to work at his trade, in his employer’s gardens, he used to set off fossil hunting!’ His time for fossil collecting increased when Bean, his employer, sold his gardens; he then became a free-lance gardener. As well as fossils he also collected shells, insects and birds – an all‑round naturalist.[48]

Nevertheless, it seemed only proper that a town so embroiled in fossil collecting should have a museum to display its finds. Talk of the formation of society in 1826 caused alarm in York and much high-level political manoeuvring aimed at protecting the interests of the county society. Fears that the establishment of a society in Scarborough might undermine the York society, by removing its access to this rich source of fossils, led to pressure being put on locals to prevent a society from forming. Some of this pressure must have been felt by Sir John Johnstone,[49] of Hackness Hall, a supporter of the Yorkshire Philosophical Society but who was also to become patron to the new society.

Despite this Scarborough Literary and Philosophical Society was established. The late Thomas Hinderwell’s collection, passed on by Duesbury, formed its foundation. Bean and Williamson also agreed to donate material to the value of £50. However, Williamson sold his whole collection to the society for £75, returning £25 of his profit to the society’s coffers; he was immediately made Keeper. Bean became a shareholder by payment in kind – the donation of a collection of shells. He was the only shareholder to do so. In contrast to Williamson, Bean remained his own man and had increasingly less to do with the society. ‘I have no connection with our philosophers and know nothing about the meeting you mention’, he told Phillips in 1831. Why should he give important material to a collection which could not match his own, was in the care of his rival, and would simply confer a reputation on others when it was he, more than any other, who was recognised as the town’s great gentleman collector? Bean’s collection maintained its own status despite the rivalry of societies and their networks of collectors. Phillips’s Guide to Geology, for example, listed collections of assistance to the student; Bean’s was the only non-institutional collection cited in Yorkshire, and one of very few of sufficient importance nationally. Bean’s museum, which was regularly made available for public inspection, also featured in the local tourist guides.[50] He also managed to establish his own network of scientific contacts and thus intercepted the train of geological research as it passed through the larger public collections in Yorkshire.

Fig. 3.4 Scarborough Museum. Detail from an 1832 lithograph of ‘The Crescent’ by permission of Scarborough Museums.

Smith and Phillips were regularly in Scarborough during this period. Smith and his ‘eccentric wife’ stayed with the Williamsons for two years from 1826, and it seems likely that they attended the first meeting of the Scarborough Literary and Philosophical Society in the following year. Having been slow to establish itself it made up for this with the rapid erection of a purpose-built museum; within a year £1000 had been subscribed towards the building.[51] Like its counterpart in York, the building was constructed of Hackness Stone, donated by Johnstone. The diminutive Scarborough Museum was designed to achieve the most perfect stratigraphic arrangement of fossils. William Smith had suggested that a circular building would best suit this need, and thus the remarkable Rotunda was constructed, 32ft in diameter and 36ft high.

The fossils, which are very numerous are arranged on sloping shelves, in the order of their strata, showing at one view, the whole series of the kingdom. A horizontal shelf below sustains the generic arrangement of fossil shells … the collection of fossils … is one of the most perfect in England.[52]

Smith was not the architect as such but undoubtedly the Scarborough philosophers made the best possible use of Smith’s ‘stores of knowledge, readiness to communicate, and estimable private character’. The Rotunda is a physical representation of Smith’s law of strata identified by fossils, and forms the most impressive monument to his life and to his belief in a science wedded to the concept of the museum. Initially the displays were arranged under the guidance of Smith and Phillips. Local tourist guides referred to it as ‘This neat and beautiful repository of the remains of a former world’. Subsequently, Johnstone also became patron to Smith as well as to the society. For many, the Scarborough museum became the architectural paradigm for the construction of a geological museum, so much so that the Yorkshire Geological and Polytechnic Society considered the erection of an identical building in Wakefield.[53]

John Dunn, representing the Scarborough society at the opening of the Yorkshire Museum, quelled concerns that his society posed any threat to the objectives of the York philosophers. Unlike the York society’s relationship with the Whitby philosophers he felt these two societies could work together: ‘I would have the Yorkshire society pre-eminent; but when I desire to see it pre-eminent, I would not have it exclusive.’ He went on: 

Many persons are not aware of the extensive means of supply which we possess at Scarborough; they may not be aware, that our resources in ancient history are as boundless as the ocean which reaches our shores. The neighbourhood of York is very deficient in geological specimens, and must depend on its extremities, on the assistance it derives from the provinces.[54]

In return for access to its fossil wealth the Scarborough society asked only for ‘productive labour’ to disinter and interpret the organic remains.

Philosophers further afield

Across Britain societies were being founded around the fashionable science of geology. Bath Literary and Scientific Institution was established in 1824, and with William Lonsdale as curator had produced a small geological museum. Previous incarnations of the society had shared an interest in natural history and geology, indeed this fashionable resort had established itself in the annals of geology in the previous century as the proving ground of the likes of William Smith, John Walcott and others. It continued to feed a large community of highly proficient gentlemen collectors in the early decades of the nineteenth century. The collection of the Bristol Institution for the Advancement of Science had grown up around the donation of a fine fossil ichthyosaur skeleton contributed by its members on the basis ‘that it should be received back “if no museum be formed”’. Amongst its supporters were William Conybeare, Johann Miller, William Sanders and Henry De la Beche.[55] The specimen was the first of many acquired from Mary Anning. If York was to look to Whitby to fill its fossil cabinets, Bristol looked in part to Lyme. The Manchester Society for the Promotion of Natural History formed in 1821 in an attempt to preserve an important local collection of insects and birds, which was purchased by subscription. In 1823 there was talk here of the new society establishing a museum in a proposed Royal Manchester Institution. 

Other societies were more strongly rooted in the local economy;[56] the Newcastle Literary and Philosophical Society, the Geological and Polytechnic Society of the West Riding of Yorkshire and the Manchester Geological Society, for example, each expressed a keen interest in developing knowledge to support safe and effective mining. In Newcastle there was a latent desire for a museum of natural history: ‘the advantages of a public collection of natural history, on an extensive scale, have long been appreciated in this district.’ The philosophical society had, in 1822, acquired one of the most noted collections in the country – that formerly owned by Marmaduke Tunstall. But resistance in the society against growing agitation for a stronger natural history presence within its affairs ultimately resulted in a split. The new natural history society immediately acquired a substantial and notable membership. Amongst its other attributes was an early experiment with public admission, becoming the first such museum to do so. Like Whitby it also found the crowds too large, but the society had a genuine desire to educate the masses.[57] It continued to serve the working classes and local schools in this way and became a model for the free public museum, one which many wished to see replicated in the national collections in London. By 1843, the museum was receiving 15,000 visitors a year; in 1845 the number had risen to 30,000, and to 44,000 in 1848. In 1849 a penny charge was introduced and according to Russell Goddard several museums contacted the Newcastle society in this year and threw open their doors.

Eminent metropolitan geologists, such as Roderick Murchison, looking to the provinces and particularly to the North, saw the emergence of a valuable provincial network of institutions peopled by knowledgeable curators, and containing collections ordered according to the latest stratigraphic principles. One no longer needed to rely upon raw data in the field in order to discern local geology. A scientific traveller could simply compare the museums of Whitby and Scarborough with similar institutions in Bath and Bristol. Together they formed an index to the geology of England. As such they fulfilled the collecting objective the Geological Society had established for itself many years earlier; that society’s collection had originally been organised by county.[58]

[1].          Simpson (1884). Simpson (20 November 1800-31 December 1892), Whitby curator, see chapter five. Also quoted by Sheppard (1918: 303-4).

[2].          These societies could trace their origins back to the seventeenth century, McClellan (1985). Establishment dates for eighteenth-century and early nineteenth-century philosophical societies: Peterborough (1730), Edinburgh (1737), Bath (1779), Manchester (1781), Derby (1783), Perth (1784), Newcastle (1793), Birmingham (1800), Glasgow (1802), Liverpool and Plymouth (1812).  But see also discussion below of earlier incarnations in other towns. For discussion of possible inhibition in their development caused by the Seditious Meetings Act 1817, see Inkster (1979) and Weindling (1980). There were earlier enactments of this legislation in 1795, 1799 and 1809.

[3].          See, for example, Kohlstedt (1976) for the Boston Society of Natural History, and Oleson and Brown (1976) for other North American examples, and Finney (1993) for developments in Australia. In addition to a few examples in Yorkshire, Cheltenham (1834) and Aberdeen (1840) established philosophical societies sometime after the boom.

[4].          The Institution was founded but not built, Taylor (1994: 180).

[5].          Torrens (1990a;1997: 226) for Bath; for Bristol, Hume (1853); for Newcastle, Orange (1983); for Hull, Frost (1831); for Leeds, Morris (1990). The museum scene existed before the rise of these societies, see Altick (1978), Brears and Davies (1989) and Credland (1978; 1991). These would co-exist with their new urban neighbours. Inkster (1983) and Morrell (1985) identify the social and economic factors which affected the growth of urban science in this period.

[6].          Keir quoted in Perkin (1969: 13). HL&PS (1825) Annual Report1 & 2.

[7].          On Pottery philosophical society and society diversity, Shapin (1972: 313). Kargon (1977: 5-14) discusses the social makeup of the Manchester society. On Newcastle, see Orange (1983: 212-13). Also Alborn (1996: 92) for importance of local circumstances.

[8].          Bourdieu (1977: 167) for ‘foundation …’ and ‘circular …’. For legitimisation and social identification, see Inkster (1983: 13-20, 41) for overview, and original work by Thackray (1974) on the Manchester society, and Berman’s (1972, 1974, 1978) work on the Royal Institution. Weindling (1983: 122,  132-7) believes the social legitimisation factor may be overstated, suggesting that the practical utility of science should not be ignored as an important force within science culture. Morrell (1985: 23) rightly warns against ‘mono-causal explanations’. The social make up of these societies is discussed in greater detail in the next chapter. For growth of the  middle classes, Perkin (1969: 213ff).

[9].          Thackray (1974: 678).

[10].        Natural history society establishment dates: Manchester Society for the Promotion of Natural History (1821), Belfast Natural History and Philosophical Society (1821), Zoological Society of London (1826), Ashmolean Natural History Society of Oxfordshire (1828), Natural History Society of Northumberland, Durham, Newcastle Upon Tyne (1829), Gloucester Natural History Society (1830), Berwickshire Naturalists Club (1831), Geological Society of Dublin (1832), Royal Entomological Society (1833), Worcestershire Natural History Society (1833), Edinburgh Geological Society (1834), Leicester Literary and Philosophical Society, Natural History Society for Salop and North Wales (1835), Natural History Society for Nottingham (1836), Botanical Society of the British Isles (1836), Botanical Society of Edinburgh (1836), Yorkshire Geological and Polytechnic Society (1837), Orkney Natural History Society (1837), Londonderry Natural History Society (1837), Manchester Geological Society (1838), Dublin Natural History Society (1838), Royal Microscopical Society (1839), Devon and Cornwall Natural History Society (1840), Dublin Microscopical Society (1840), Dudley and Midland Geological Society (1842), Cotteswold Naturalists Field Club (1846), Worcestershire Naturalists Club (1847), Huddersfield Naturalist, Photographic and Antiquarian Society (1850).

[11].        Allen (1976: 158). Russell (1983: 181); See Lyell (1826a) for a contemporary overview of the movement. Gillispie (1951: 29) also detects this dominance of natural history.

[12].        The name of the Manchester society also came from the previous century, The Society for Promoting Natural History was founded in London in 1782. On this society see Torrens (1997). Watson (1897: 150, 306) and Orange (1983: 214) for Newcastle developments. It is interesting to note that the Newcastle philosophical society was built on the Manchester model, and both split in similar crises concerning natural history.

[13].        Leeds Philosophical and Literary Society held its first meeting on 6 April 1821 (Clarke 1924: 152). A preliminary meeting was held on 11 December 1818 and the foundation stone laid 9 July 1819 (Mayhall 1861: 274). See also Brears and Davies (1989). Porter (1922: 10) gives details of the Sheffield society. Whitby, for example, would record this as 1823 (see Browne 1946), but all were involved in planning meetings in the previous November. Most had been discussing the formation of such organisations for some time. On Bradford, Morrell (1985: 9).

[14].        WL&PS (1826) Annual Report, 3.

[15].        Watson (1897: 72); The Times, 3 September 1822, 2c.

[16].        William Turner (1761-1859). For the Turner link, Orange (1983: 223). Brears and Davies (1989) suggest that the opening of the Leeds society’s building in 1822 stimulated action within the county.

[17].        For the use of metonyms in the sociology of science, Turner (1990); for objectification (in this case the representation of identity through objects and buildings) in anthropology, Miller (1987: 169) and Thomas (1991: 216). For the rights and obligations of culture built on private capital, Shelston and Shelston (1990: 112).

[18].        Briggs (1968: 33ff) for the diversity in urban development and administration. For ‘close …’, Sedgwick to Ainger, 2 September 1821, in Clark and Hughes (1890: 228). Rees (1819) articles on ‘Leeds’ (published 1812), ‘Whitby’ (1818), ‘Scarborough’ (1815), ‘Hull’ (1811), ‘York’ (1818). For beginnings of seaside holiday, Hern (1967) based on evidence of a 1735 print. Young (1817: 646) also comments on Scarborough’s elegance. Herne (1967), Cannadine (1980: 63), and Whittaker (1984) for decline of spas. For population of Whitby, Young (1817: 516) and Dowson (1854).

[19].        For Bath and Cheltenham and improvement schemes, see Eastwood (1997: 68). For schemes in Leeds and Manchester, Arscott et al. (1988: 201-206). Urban expansion in northern manufacturing towns and cities was at a rate of 40-65% for the years 1821-1831 (Briggs 1968: 45). For the importance of civic pride in Yorkshire and elsewhere, ibid. and Shelston and Shelston (1990: 119). ‘To the deplorable …’, HL&PS (1825) Annual Report1 & 2. Rees (1819) ‘Whitby’. For ‘their public …’, Morris (1990: 22, 229). Briggs also for Leeds-Bradford rivalry. For ‘a dangerous …’, Thackray (1974: 679-80) and also Shapin (1972: 315).

[20].        ‘Science…’, YPS (1829) Annual Report for 1828, probably Vernon who repeated a similar view at the BAAS in 1839, drawing his inspiration from Thomas Sprat’s seventeenth century History of the Royal Society (Brooke 1997: 61). Such expressions were universal and often borrowed; Sir Benjamin Heywood made an almost identical statement in 1823 (Thackray 1974: 702). Loudon (1828: 7) writing on natural history, for example, emphasised ‘its tendency to universal intercourse, civilisation and peace’. Thackray (1974: 693) refers to this as the ‘value-transcendence’ of natural knowledge (that is, unlike politics or religion); Shapin and Barnes (1977: 37) use the term ‘value-neutrality’. Rudwick’s (1985: 437) study of geological controversy led him to adopt Latour and Woolgar’s notion of ‘an agonistic field’ or competitive argument ‘pervading the whole process of scientific work’. ‘And your Council …’ from WL&PS (1831) Annual Report9. For Newcastle, Watson (1897: 26). Blackballing, YPS Minutes of General Meetings 1822-1839, 6 January 1823. For Bradford, Morrell (1985).

[21].        On Newcastle, Watson (1897: 36). ‘Il aime …’, OUM Phillips Box 82 folder 19, 30 May 1828. Colonel William Salmond (20 October 1769-15 December 1838) of York was involved in the excavation of Kirkdale Cave. Salmond’s background, Charles Henry Parry, Memoirs ms, p. 184, Bodleian Library, Oxford, Burke’s (1921) Landed Gentry, p. 1545 and Torrens, pers. comm.,  see also Orange (1973: 12); Pyrah (1988: 17) is incorrect about Salmond’s occupation. George Young (15 July 1777-8 May 1848). For 42 years up to his death he was minister of the United Presbyterian Chapel in Whitby (which had links to the Secession Church of Scotland). He held fundamentalist views on religion which he applied in his A Geological Survey of the Yorkshire Coast published in 1822 with John Bird as co-author. Young also produced various works on the history of Whitby. He was a favourite student of Playfair at Edinburgh university (1792-1796). See Browne (1946: 18-24); Cleevely (1974: 469; 1983: 320). William Bean (1787-22 December 1826) of Scarborough, self-sufficient conchologist and fossil collector, cousin of John Williamson (but not of William Smith (Torrens pers. comm.) as suggested by Woodward (1904: 265); Cleevely (1983: 51)). See also Macmillan and Greenwood (1972); Lambrecht, Quenstedt and Quenstedt (1938: 27); Pyrah (1988: 85). John Dunn stalwart of the Scarborough society. He was reported drowned in the summer of 1834, while in Norway, Dikes to Phillips, 26 July 1834, OUM Phillips 1834/11. Yet he remains active in his society at least until 1848.

[22].        James Atkinson (1759-1839), who in 1833 wrote a Medical Bibliography, and became surgeon to the York County Hospital. See also Barnet (1972), Orange (1973: 13), and Pyrah (1988: 17). For Anthony Thorpe (1759-1829), see Orange (1973: 12) and Pyrah (1988: 18).

[23].        William Venables Vernon (1789-1871) to which the name Harcourt was added in 1830. See Owen (1972), Orange (1973: 13), Cleevely (1983: 143), Pyrah (1988: 18) and Galton (1874: 50-51). ‘The President …’, Francis Cholmeley’s toast at dinner following the general meeting of Tuesday, 7 March 1826, OUM Phillips Box 82 folder 13, Diary 1825-1826. Rift, Orange (1973: 10); Harcourt to Milton, 11 November 1831, NRO, Fitzwilliam papers; Salmond to Milton, 16 November 1831, Sheffield Public Library, Wentworth Woodhouse Monuments, G32/5. Also local press. Morrell and Torrens pers.comm. Salmond’s resignation, Pyrah (1988: 17).

[24].        YPS prospectus, 6 January 1823. Subsequently reprinted in YPS (1824) Annual Report for 1823, as well as in Orange (1973: 39) and Pyrah (1988: 23). See also Morrell (1989: 322) on Conybeare’s letter of 27 December 1822. Museum aspirations and building, YPS (1826 and 1830) Annual Reports for 1825 and 1829.

[25].        Morrell (1989: 322) gives an interesting perspective on the role of Conybeare in developing the York society’s mission to fill the geological desiderata exposed by his book.

[26].        For instructions for collectors, see Buckland (1821), Brongniart (1819) and Sweet (1972) (also Boylan pers. comm.).

[27].        On the new museum, Anon. (1830a). Acquisition statistics from YPS (1827) Annual Report for 1826.

[28].        ‘Our geologists …’, Thomas Allis speaking at the YPS Annual General Meeting in 1834, quoted in Orange (1973: 40). ‘Oh! I care …’, from Phillips’s record of speeches at a YPS dinner, 7 March 1826, OUM Phillips Box 82 folder 13.

[29].        York society members’ comments from Phillips’s record of speeches at a YPS dinner, 7 March 1826, OUM Phillips Box 82 folder 13. For an earlier prospectus see YPS Minutes of General Meetings, 1822-1839, 14 December 1822. Wakefield from Rules and Regulations of the Wakefield Museum to which is Affixed Address of Rev M.J. Naylor being installed President (7 Oct 1829) (Wakefield Local Studies Library). For ‘locked …’, MacGregor (1997: 9), see also Pomian (1990: 131) on art collecting.

[30].        For ‘the facilities …’, a letter circulated to Whitby residents dated 28 November 1822, reprinted in Browne (1949). OUM Phillips Box 82 folder 19, 1828 Draft of Illustrations of the Geology of Yorkshire volume 1.

[31].        WL&PS Minutes of Council, 23, 30 January, 8 April 1823.

[32].        John Williamson (1784-15 July 1877), a gardener and keen fossil collector of Scarborough who became the local society’s curator. Father of William Crawford Williamson (24 November 1816-23 June 1895) who rose to become a Manchester professor and leading biologist and palaeontologist. ‘On this account …’, from a circular letter to Whitby residents, November 1822, reprinted in Browne (1949).

[33].        Ibid.

[34].        WL&PS (1847) Annual Report25. ‘Strangers’ were defined as visitors from more than 10 miles distant, see WL&PS (1825) Annual Report2.

[35].        John Bird (1768-February 1829), Richard Ripley (5 June 1788-1857), see Browne (1946: 128-9).

[36].        Phillips’s notes from a visit to the Whitby Museum on 26 June 1828, OUM Phillips Box 82 folder 19.

[37].        For letter, see Anon. (1827d: 251-2). For exploitation of the local media in this way by museum activists, see, for example, Gill and Knell (1988) and Knell (1996).

[38].        WL&PS (1841) Annual Report19.

[39].        The collection was that of Mr W.W. Hyde which was put up for sale in 1822 at a price of £100. William Hey Dikes (1792-10 January 1864) of Hull and then ‘a banker of Wakefield’. Dikes’s appointment was some compensation for the speed with which he was paid – after seven year’s he had received just over £17, for which see HL&PS (1832) Annual Report7 (for 1830).

[40].        John Alderson (c.1757-16 September 1829), senior physician at Hull General Infirmary who published ‘Geological observations in the vicinity of Hull and Beverley’, Nicholson’s J.(1799). Died aged 72. Not to be confused with his son, James Alderson (1794-1882), physician and president of the local society who took on many of his father’s roles (Sheahan 1866: 643). John also had an elder brother named James (Luffingham 1995). The Aldersons were of such note as a scientific lineage that they were discussed by Galton (1874: 41-3). Dr John Harwood MD FLS FRS (c.1794-1854) in 1829 was Professor of Natural History at the Royal Institution, but also made a living as a peripatetic lecturer. Both Harwood and Alderson published on whales. Inspirational impact of Smith and Phillips can be judged from Phillips, Hull to Goldie or Copsie, York, 7 January 1825, in Melmore (1943a: 23).

[41].        On the excellence of the society’s geological collection and on the quality of Phillips’s lectures, HL&PS (1826) Annual Report3. On élitism in the society’s lecture programme, see HL&PS extraordinary meeting, 7 May 1834, HRO DSL 2 Minutes 1834-1852.

[42].        On the state of the museum, HRO DSL 1 Minutes 1822-1833, 6 May 1831, 13 June and 23 August 1832.

[43].        Edward Charlesworth (5 September 1813-28 July 1893), curator and dealer in fossils with a particular interest in Tertiary fossils, who wrote and edited a number of pamphlets and magazines. For financial motive, see Edward Charlesworth, York to H. Davey, Beccles, 22 November 1847, BGS IGS 1/785 Davey letters.

[44].        For debt,  HL&PS (1832) Annual Report6 (for 1829). For the Royal Institution, Brears and Davies (1989). For ‘hobby-horseism’, Luffingham (1995: 21).

[45].        Also known as the Yorkshire Geological and Polytechnic Society, established in 1837, later the Yorkshire Geological Society. This museum’s primary objective was the stratigraphy of the coal districts and the collection of coal plants, (Morrell (1983; 1988b). Mayhall (1861: 274).

[46].        For Smith’s return, Phillips (1844: 94). Thomas Hinderwell, antiquarian (17 November 1744-1825), for whom see Cole (1826). For 1820 meeting see also Edmonds (1975a: 380). Young (1817: 787) clearly believed Hinderwell’s collection as ‘perhaps the best in Yorkshire’. For the fate and influence of the Hinderwell collection see also Anon. (1829: 474), Williamson (1896: 11) and  Sheppard (1917: 169). See Morrell (1989: 323) for Conybeare’s thoughts on the importance of Scarborough.

[47].        [Kendall] (1816). Buckland, for example, appears not to have known the name of the author.

[48].        ‘A spirit …’, Phillips (1844: 107). In a letter from Bean to Phillips, 20 September 1833, Bean recalls that he had been collecting for 19 years, OUM Phillips 1833/9. For ‘when it was too wet …’, William Williamson, Manchester to Phillips, Oxford, 8 November 1865, OUM Phillips 1865/220. For more on Williamson, Baker (1882: 456).

[49].        Sir John Vanden Bempde Johnstone (28 August 1799-25 February 1869), ‘Liberal’ MP for Yorkshire from 1830 and for Scarborough for most of the period from 1832 to his death in a hunting accident. He had previously been MP for Weymouth and Melcombe Regis. ‘A sincere friend’ to geology and natural history. See also Boase (1892) and Baker (1882: 448). 

[50].        Bean and Williamson donation, Anon. (1828a: 126) and Williamson (1885: 307). ‘I have no …’, Bean, Scarborough to Phillips, 1 July 1831, OUM Phillips 1831/9.1. Bean’s gift, First Report of the Scarborough Philosophical Society, August 1829. Phillips (1834). Bean’s museum, Theakston’s Guide to Scarborough (1861: 131) and also Macmillan and Greenwood (1972: 155).

[51].        First meeting took place on 16 October 1827, OUM Phillips Box 82 folder 17, Notebook for 1827. Williamson (1885: 307) for ‘eccentric wife’.

[52].        Anon. (1829: 475). Brears and Davies (1989: 24) suggest that Smith’s idea for a circular arrangement of fossils may have come from the Leverian Museum which had stood by Blackfriars Bridge, London, at the turn of the century.

[53].        For ‘stores of …’, SL&PS Minutes of Council, 14 October 1839. After Smith’s death, and with the collections growing rapidly, Phillips consented to a change in this arrangement. ‘This neat …’, Theakston’s Handbook for Visitors in Scarborough (Theakston 1859: 22). Smith acted as land steward on Johnstone’s estate at nearby Hackness from 1828 to 1834. William Travis had been instrumental in getting Smith and Phillips to survey Johnstone’s estates in 1824. William Travis to Smith, 7 June 1824, quoted by Edmonds (1975a: 380). For testimony of Johnstone’s wish to enable Smith to complete his life’s work and the faith locals had in his stores of knowledge see quoted materials in Sheppard (1917: 205-6). For indication of the Rotunda as a model museum, Thomas Wilson to Phillips, 16 March 1838, in Morrell (1988b: 166).

[54].        John Dunn, 2 February 1830, reported in the Yorkshire Gazette, undated cutting in the YPS Daybook of John Phillips.

[55].        William Lonsdale (9 September 1794-11 November 1871), a proficient palaeontologist and field geologist who went on to work for the Geological Society in various capacities. See Torrens (1990a) for Bath’s philosophical societies. For geology in an earlier era, Torrens (1997). For ‘that it should …’, Anon. (1836: 555). See also Taylor (1994). Torrens (1995: 262) gives the origins of this specimen. William Sanders (12 January 1799-12 November 1875), honorary curator of the Bristol society for many years, a corn merchant in partnership with his brother.

[56].        The collection which the Manchester philosophical society sought to preserve was that of its member, John Leigh Phillips, which was purchased at auction for more than £5000 by Thomas Henry Robinson. It was around this that the new society was formed, see Thackray (1974: 704). Also Thackray, p.702, for Institution. Morrell (1988b) on the West Riding society; but see also Versey (1975: 338).

[57].        For ‘the advantages …’, Reprint of circular of 1829, Russell Goddard (1929: 28, also 12-14) and p. 44 for public admission in Newcastle. See also, Credland (1991: 66) on Tunstall.

[58].        Murchison, Presidential Address, 17 February 1832, Proc. Geol. Soc. Lond.1, 378. Organisation of Geological Society collection, Moore et al. (1991: 54).

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).