7 Geology and the Collector Network

Society structures and relationships produced one kind of collecting, but at the heart of many societies were men who took their science out into the field. Amongst these were curators like John Phillips, Martin Simpson and John Williamson. Not all pursued the same kind or level of science and none matched the achievement of Phillips, but they were all there in the field doing their own kind of geology. In 1829, Phillips produced his great book on the geology of the Yorkshire coast. It demonstrated some of the most rigorous fieldwork then seen in Britain. But it also involved selling geology to coastal philosophers, nurturing collectors, encouraging the discovery of new fossils and new localities, using York colleagues to brainstorm ideas, exploiting dealers and turning the museum into a research tool. The project began life as a broadly defined society objective, though no one then knew in detail how it was to be achieved.

The Yorkshire Philosophical Society’s primary purpose was ‘to elucidate the Geology of Yorkshire’ which was to be accomplished utilising its network of observers. This objective, and the methodology by which it was to be achieved, was suggested to Vernon by his two geological mentors, Conybeare and Buckland. The achievement of such a clear objective would rely upon the presence of an individual or group capable of realising it. The society, however, included few members of the Geological Society of London, and no experienced stratigraphers or experts in the identification of fossils. If it was to elucidate local geology then the project became not just one of research but also of self-education. This was entirely appropriate for a provincial learned society; it was non-exclusive and in providing a purpose for the entire membership acted as yet another of those social bonds so central to its purpose. William Vernon as the dynamo at the society’s heart was sufficiently informed (not least by his guides) to begin his field research and to stimulate the involvement of others.[1] However, he was soon to realise the extraordinary knowledge that gave Smith and Phillips such an advantage in the field and the collection. Vernon remained active not least as the hub of society activity and as a role model for the aspiring society philosopher, but his greater contribution to its geological purpose was to be achieved by his patronage and exploitation of the talents of these practical men. Ultimately, it was by this means that the task was accomplished but at the price that others in the membership no longer saw this as a personal goal. It was Phillips as rigorous field geologist and eloquent scientific communicator, rather than as paid curator as he suggested, which undermined this interest. But if this was the cost to the society of its association with John Phillips, it was more than handsomely rewarded by the scientific products and status it derived from the relationship.

Fig. 7.1 The geology and localities of north-east Yorkshire. The geological formations are those published by Phillips in 1829. They were imperfectly known before that time.
Smith and Phillips’s coastal campaign

Smith was no stranger to Yorkshire. In 1800-1801, he used information gathered on a previous journey from Bath through Yorkshire and into north-eastern England to colour the first manuscript geological map of England and Wales. The germ of what was to become the elucidation of Yorkshire geology, however, can best be dated to October 1817 when Smith returned to the Yorkshire coast, this time accompanied by his assistant, John Phillips. He had just published his Stratigraphical System of Organized Fossils and Phillips’s mind was no doubt full of fossil names, lodged there from the effort of curating Smith’s collection. Their visit had two purposes: to see the coastal section and to examine local collections.[2]

The coast gave a fairly clear and continuous two-dimensional exposition of geological relationships and revealed what could only be guessed at from small and intermittent inland exposures. As William Fitton noted some years later, ‘the range and variety of our coasts unveil the geological anatomy of England with an obviousness and convincing facility’.[3] They were to become the key to understanding its regional geology; the fact that Britain is composed entirely of islands is perhaps as important to its position in the history of geology as the diversity of rocks that history unveiled. However, in 1817 little of this coastline had been adequately charted or interpreted.

To Smith and Phillips, as mapmakers and surveyors, fossil collections gathered from these coastal rocks provided valuable insights into unfamiliar stratigraphy. If a formation’s lithology appeared different from that seen by the two men in southern Britain, these collections might reveal its true affiliations. The two began their trek along the coast at Whitby, where Smith reacquainted himself with John Bird. Smith had first met Bird in 1813 when he was then, as now, exploring the local rocks and collecting fossils.[4] Bird was probably the most knowledgeable ‘geologist’ in the town at this time; Young’s influential History of Whitby, published in 1817, included a detailed account of the coast and its fossils written largely by Bird. The authorship of the later Geological Survey of the Yorkshire Coast being given as the ‘Rev. George Young, A.M. and John Bird, Artist’ has tended to confuse historians, leading to the suggestion that Bird’s role was purely artistic when this was certainly not the case.

Phillips’s role here was to note the species in Bird’s collection taking particular notice of the localities from which they came. The collection, however, lacked anything more than a local stratigraphic designation, if any stratigraphic context at all. Bird could certainly say from which rocks the fossils came but the great problem for the Yorkshire philosopher was that there was little in the way of a shared stratigraphic or taxonomic language. Such information was not available to the Whitby collector, but to Phillips many of these fossils were ‘old acquaintances’, fossils which he had seen in Smith’s cabinet and perhaps in situ elsewhere in England.[5] Knowledge acquired from collections such as this, just as much as the coastal section from which they had been gathered, would ‘lay open the analogy between the dubious formations of this coast and the well recognised rocks of the South of England’. This, they believed, was the challenge facing all provincial stratigraphers and philosophers, but one which few were equipped to meet. The Newcastle botanist Nathaniel Winch, for example, who had presented a paper on the geology of this coast to the Geological Society in the previous year, had failed to draw any such conclusions.[6] For Smith and Phillips the logic of this objective was more than an indulgence in philosophy; their livelihood depended upon it.

Table 7.1 John Phillips’s 1829 arrangement of strata which resulted from the correlation of Yorkshire rocks with those in southern England.

As they walked southwards along the coast they examined the section it exposed through the Yorkshire rocks. In Scarborough, they visited the collections of Thomas Hinderwell and John Hornsey, then two of the most widely regarded collectors then in the county. Hornsey had opened a school in Scarborough in 1782, and his museum of natural objects, created ‘with care and judgement’, was well known.[7] To the men who had assembled these collections, fossils were curious and interesting local antiquities. But there was no stratigraphic framework into which local rocks could be inserted and few local fossils had been described in the literature. Instead they were typologically arranged in the long established tradition of the gentleman’s cabinet. Hinderwell’s History of Scarborough, published in 1811, gives some indication of what the two itinerant geologists may have found:

Petrifactions & c

Ammonites, Round

1. common sort, with smooth circumference.

2. with two furrows on the circumference and the ridges little more than half way down the sides

3. with two furrows on the circumference and with prominent ridges

Nautilus or ammonites, compressed

1. Large with crenulated circumference

2. With waved ridges

3. With sigmoid or curved ridges

4. with bifid ridges and acute circumference

Ammonoides Linnaei: round and including one another

1. with the folds a little oblique

2. with the folds direct

3. with ditto, and more compressed that the two former[8]

Young and Bird in 1817, like Hinderwell, had also used this kind of structured descriptive prose, rather than names, to distinguish the great variety of ammonites found on the coast. It appears from a table drawn up by Smith and Phillips at this time, that Smith’s ammonites were similarly identified with no possibility of assigning names until the publication of his Stratigraphical System of that year. Young and Bird also used the number of teeth in the jaws of marine reptiles to characterise them. In this case they were probably aware that this might not indicate true species, but it was useful in terms of the comparative symbolic and financial value placed on individual specimens. Phillips used vertebrae – a more reliable attribute – as a shorthand means to distinguish marine reptiles.[9] The problem of language, then, not only confounded stratigraphy but also the study of fossils. Without it, collecting could never hope to be representative of these two key aspects of the burgeoning science. Instead collecting was determined by local or personal systems of reference.

Almost universally collectors sought the new, the rare, the strange, the spectacular and the well preserved. Despite this mode of accumulation, Smith and Phillips, who were more interested in ubiquitous and well-provenanced material, found these collections an invaluable source of information. Such collections were not simply intellectual entertainment, but tools of considerable commercial value. Being uniquely equipped to infer stratigraphic position from cabinet fossils, at least amongst workers then in Yorkshire, they saw each fossil as a new patch of colour on the geological map and the key to advising landowners on siting quarries, wells and crops. Each new fossil locality derived from these collections expanded their sphere of operation and their income-making potential. Their motivation, however, was never purely commercial. Their financial difficulties were undoubtedly compounded by an obsession with geological research from interest alone.

Yorkshire had an obvious attraction for the two surveyors, though their removal from Smith’s London home had been an economic necessity. Out of easy reach of London and devoid of geologists of any calibre, this was a huge county brimming with wealthy landowners determined to exploit their holdings for whatever agricultural or mineral treasures they might hold. The county was composed of rocks of familiar age but poorly determined in map or section. That Yorkshire should also give rise to an active network of philosophers so easily converted to the novel pursuit of geology was an important bonus. It allowed the two to indulge themselves in the more academic aspects of the subject and, through the manoeuvrings of Vernon, assured both men, by different means, of the necessary status and financial rewards to make these indulgences a possibility.[10]

In the latter half of 1820, Smith and Phillips returned to the Yorkshire coast and to Scarborough and Whitby to finalise Smith’s geological map of the county which was to be printed in the following spring. While Phillips, at the end of the decade, pointed to the errors he had discovered it to contain (the Inferior and Coralline Oolites were confused, and the Calcareous Grit wrongly inferred), it was Smith’s confusion of the Lias Alum Shale with the younger Oxford Clay which was most readily picked up at the time. According to Phillips, Smith had apparently been thrown by the anomalous character of the Inferior Oolite, which here appeared to have more in common with the much older Millstone Grit and Coal Measures than the Oolites Smith had seen elsewhere. As for the Oxford Clay, fossils from this deposit in southern England were hardly known at this time and, as Arkell noted more than a century later, many of the fossils found in Yorkshire in this rock, and in the Cornbrash and Kelloways, are not found beyond the southern boundary of the county. They were therefore useless for the purposes of correlation. Both Farey and Bakewell were similarly misled by the Yorkshire Oxford Clay. Some 70 years after Smith, another distinguished geologist marvelled at Smith’s achievement, finding the cross-country correlation of sequences still problematic. The most striking feature in the whole of the English Jurassic was, according to Professor John Judd, the ‘wonderful differences’ in thickness, lithology and fossil content of the strata making up these sequences in the south-west and north-east of England.[11]

Phillips was critical of Smith’s failure to make immediate amendments and took on the task himself to reassure the Geological Society literati (Sedgwick, Conybeare, Warburton, Greenough and Buckland) of the quality of his uncle’s work. But the damage had been done.[12] The misidentification of the Alum Shale was quickly picked up by the likes of Conybeare and published in one of the most widely read geological texts of the time. 

Smith’s ‘mistakes’, or more properly the incompleteness of contemporary knowledge as represented by the map, had one positive result. They gave the York philosophers a starting point for their own researches; in the new science of geology, in Yorkshire as in every other part of the country, there was considerable glory to be had in spotting the errors of distinguished workers.[13] In the hands of local observers, the ‘elucidation’ proceeded by the refutation of facts at a detailed level. The social stratum from which the philosophers came was not one intimidated by lowly surveyors or indeed any other reputation built purely upon science. That such a respected geologist could be wrong only encouraged them to further question existing wisdom, and to assert their own opinions. However, Conybeare, through Vernon, left them in no doubt about where work was most urgently required. 

Fig. 7.2 Gryphaea dilatata, Ammonites calloviensis and Ammonites Koenigi. From Phillips 1829.

By February 1821 Phillips was beginning to develop his own abilities independently of his uncle. An important event occurred at this time which gave Phillips a boost of confidence. It was a story he related many times throughout his life. In this year Smith showed him three fossils found near Scarborough. Phillips immediately identified these as ‘Ammonites calloviensisA. Koenigi, and a small variety of Gryphaea dilatata’ and as indicative of the Kelloways Rock – or as he referred to it in 1824 ‘the local & limited rock known near Chippenham, Wilts, as “the Rock of Kelloway Bridge”’. This rock with its characteristic fossils, though poorly exposed in the south, proved to be of key importance in unravelling the anomalies of the Yorkshire Inferior Oolites that had so confused Smith. It was not until three years later, after Smith had re-examined the cliffs with Salmond, that he accepted this conclusion. While, in print, Phillips credited the discovery to Smith, it is clear that he felt the achievement had been his. For Phillips, this was a geological rite of passage, a proof of his abilities. Smith, having been tricked more than once by local anomalies, remained cautious, and Phillips celebrated this cautiousness as the mark of a true philosopher. In 1808, Smith had used Gryphaea dilatata to prove the uselessness of an attempt for coal at Brewham in Somerset. He had been happy to believe this fossil a valid indicator over an area of several counties. But he knew his fossil indices were imperfect; thus he sought other supporting evidence, as he did not expect identical fossils to infer identical rocks over the distance of half of England.[14] Though Smith seemed to care about it little, his reputation, and therefore his income, depended upon the reliability of his judgements. But Phillips had become a second-generation stratigrapher utilising, but also building upon, the work of his teacher. If anything, he had greater faith in ‘characteristic fossils’ than his uncle. He had firmly established in his mind a law that the Kelloways Rock was always accompanied by these distinctive species.

The following year, 1822, George Young and John Bird published their Geological Survey of the Yorkshire Coast. While recognising some descriptive merits, Phillips later dismissed its ‘peculiarities of opinion’ as arising from ‘too limited experience … in geological induction’. But Phillips was then commenting on the second edition of the volume published in 1828, virtually unaltered from the first edition and consequently massively out-of-date. The book necessarily referred beds to a local system though not one too far removed from reality as it was understood in 1822. The authors had no experience of other regions where similar strata were exposed; this was the single most important advantage afforded to Smith and his nephew. The book included a geological section of the coast and some fairly crudely executed lithographs of the local fossils. But beneath its speculations and dismissiveness, which grew more unreasonable as the decade progressed, there was a level of observation which showed considerable effort and aptitude. This, however, was undermined by Young’s opinions, a mix of the kind of scepticism which had once affected Greenough and an ‘attempt to refer all such phenomena to the operation of that great flood’. Young and Bird considered all the numerous theories and methodologies then floating in the ether, including what they strangely referred to, given Bird’s knowledge of Smith, as the French method of ordering strata by their fossils. Bird seems to have profited little from his relationship with Smith, though he also knew that Young was not a man to cross. The Whitby men had indeed tried using fossils in correlation but found the method not as universally useful as they hoped. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it did not. Of course, they feared, as did Smith and every other geologist, that a characteristic fossil might subsequently be found not to be so characteristic. With this in mind they rejected the method. William Williamson, like most other commentators with the benefit of hindsight, later referred to the book as ‘prejudiced rubbish’.[15] Other reviewers were rather more generous, admitting that ‘the critic was less disposed, at that period, to question the attainments of the author or the skill of the artist’. It appears that the book was out of print by 30 June 1823.[16]

Smith was invited to lecture to the Yorkshire Philosophical Society late in 1823, Vernon’s invitation offering to help with corrections to the map of Yorkshire. In his reply Smith laid out the services that could be provided if remuneration was sufficient: lectures, curation and publication of Smith’s notes on the county’s geology. The Yorkshire society took up the offer. The nature and content of these lectures was to develop rapidly as the itinerant lecturers began to understand their audiences and their knowledge, and as Phillips’s more systematic approach came to the fore.[17]

 Early in 1824, Smith visited the coast to organise courses of lectures in Bridlington, Scarborough and Hull, and to arrange surveying and mapping work with Sir John Johnstone. Meanwhile, Phillips was temporarily employed to curate the York collections. These he found rather limited in scope but extremely illuminating when organised in accordance with the stratigraphy of the south of England. Here the problems of field correlation were to be resolved on the museum bench without the confusion of lithology and structure. It would then be a simple task to superimpose this museum arrangement on the strata of the coast. The organised fossil collection became an abstract model which simulated stratigraphy in the field; if that stratigraphy was unknown the collection became not simply an illustration but a primary research tool – Phillips’s ‘illustrated solution’. The method was indubitably Smithian. Smith, in his heyday, had no opportunity for recourse to taxonomic information. With no established geological language, The collection had to perform by the visual linking of fossil morphology, locality and horizon. Phillips could now apply these methods against a more established taxonomic background, and apply his zoological knowledge in a way that Smith could not. Having established a methodology which he felt would provide answers to the problems of local stratigraphy, it was now that Phillips resolved to pursue the society’s mission for a ‘Geology of Yorkshire’. In the years that followed, he returned to York and to other collections with the purpose of extending his catalogue of Yorkshire fossils, always relying on his firsthand interpretations of collections rather than the reports of others.[18]

Although Phillips had taken the decision to pursue the York society’s geological goal, he did not visualise this as exclusively his domain. He intended to make a contribution. The York philosophers, however, pinned their hopes on Smith and encouraged him to improve his map. Smith, too, felt that he would meet the society’s objective and promised to publish the documents upon which the map was based. Despite their identical missions, Smith and Phillips were not rivals, though there can be little doubt that Phillips saw this as a route to an independent reputation. At this stage, the intended products of their research were, principally, to be graphical: a map and a section. It was by these means that the two had traditionally treated geology. Phillips was now to work in the vertical; Smith in the horizontal. Each would assist the other. The drawing of Smith’s sections seems to have been a task Phillips had long taken on. [19]

The centre of the geological world

In the autumn of 1824, Phillips began fieldwork for a geological section of the coast, a coast which he walked regularly over the next four years. The Yorkshire coast was a popular fair weather destination for the county’s philosophers and Phillips often met them during these trips. He also undertook his fieldwork in the company of colleagues and friends, including Edward Sanderson George of Leeds, John Dunn of Scarborough, and Chris Sykes of Rooss, near Hull, as well as York philosophers and, in the neighbourhood of Scarborough, his uncle. Coastal visits were also combined with lecture tours, as was the case this autumn when Smith and Phillips gave a course of lectures in Scarborough. Here they first met John Williamson and William Bean, collectors who were to become invaluable allies.

Scarborough provided Phillips with his first opportunity to compare his museum findings with the reality of the field. These were not contradicted and he kept the York philosophers appraised of his and his uncle’s discoveries; they found the coastal succession ‘very clear and well characterised’. But the task was larger than he had anticipated, he could not send back a section as he had perhaps expected: ‘I had hoped to send something better than a mere sheet of paper, I thought to have transported the whole Coast of Yorkshire from Flamborough Head to Whitby.’ There was, however, help at hand. Smith and Phillips’s evangelistic lecturing converted the Scarborough philosophers into enthusiastic amateur geologists, or more precisely, fossil collectors. Their introductory lectures made clear the ‘facilities for acquiring it [geology] in our own country – Inducements to study of geology’.[20] Perhaps it was the local adulation that the two received that convinced Phillips he might accompany his geological section with prose from his own pen.

His lectures in Scarborough were on organic remains. Fossils were to feature strongly in Phillips’s published account, identified as indicators of stratum and environment. His interest was primarily in assemblages of fossils rather than the simple criteria of presence and absence of single indicator species. Assemblages tended to be unique to a formation but certain species were known to extend into other formations. This was particularly true of the Cornbrash, a thin and variable rock band named by Smith. These itinerant geologists rated it as of peculiar importance as a stratigraphic marker which could be traced without interruption (though largely by assumption) across Britain. Identification of this rock relied upon the occurrence of an assemblage of fossils composed of species which were also present in the strata above or below. Nevertheless the fossils were an extremely reliable means of its characterisation.[21]

Fig. 7.2 Scarborough Castle Hill. Taken from Phillips’s published geological section of the Yorkshire Coast. From Phillips 1829.

Phillips also exploited local collectors to create the most comprehensive lists of fossils possible. Conybeare had ‘hinted’ to Vernon in 1822 that the society should list fossils for each bed, as well as create a section and map. Smith and Phillips needed no such advice; they had been listing the fossils of the Yorkshire coast for five years. The Yorkshire Philosophical Society wanted physical representations of these lists, believing that without these the society could never establish itself as a northern centre for research. Phillips’s summer excursions along the coast could not satisfy this need; it was impossible for him to compete with local collectors, and for his own personal research he cared not where the specimens were, provided he could obtain access. Fossils from the Speeton Clay were typical of those essential to any coastal description but in 1824 these were proving particularly difficult to locate: ‘To make any tolerable collection of the beautiful fossils of Speeton requires patience and assiduity; for though they are really not scarce, yet it is only after rains have exposed a fresh surface that they can be found in plenty.’ An easier solution for society purposes was to beg specimens from local collectors, in this case Cooper Preston of Flasby, whose collection held many fine and unique examples. Despite its enigmatic stratigraphy the Speeton Clay was well known to collectors. To John Williamson it was the Kimmeridge Clay and in his opinion it held ‘the most beautiful and interesting fossils of any strata along our coast’. Local fossil collectors had long lived without knowing the exact stratigraphy of the rocks which surrounded them; their interest in the sequence was primarily as a means to locate the most interesting and productive beds, particularly those likely to give new species or specimens of extraordinary quality.[22]

In November 1824, Scarborough became the centre of Smith and Phillips’s geological world: ‘The Castle Hill may rival any hill or mountain upon earth in the extraordinary Section of Strata which it presents round its precipitous sides’. Buckland had told Vernon two years earlier that Scarborough held the key to the stratigraphy of the coast. Between lectures, Smith and Phillips began to piece together the section here for the first time:

1.    Coralline Oolite – No 12 Smith’s Section; 

2.    Calcareous Grit – 13 Do; 

3.    Grey earth, equivalent to 14, Oxford clay of Buckland; 

4. Grit Rock equivalent to 15 containing same fossils as the Kelloways Rock of Wiltshire; 

5.    Grey calcareous rock with fossils; 

6.    Sandstone & shale with coal bands & spotes no fossils; 

7.    Grey calcareous rock with fossils.[23]

Rocks which Smith perceived as barren in fossils, such as the stratum he had determined from position to be analogous to the Oxford Clay, were soon to be productive. The section revealed strata that reappeared along the neighbouring coast, as well as inland, and as such provided a key to the whole succession. A wave of excitement swept through Scarborough’s collectors and latent philosophers; the town was now portrayed as having a fundamental role in discerning the county’s geology. Castle Hill had long been known as a place to collect fossils – common sorts such as ‘gryphites’ and ‘ostracites’ – but Smith and Phillips’s elucidation showed that it held much greater potential.[24] In addition to the presumed Oxford Clay, there were also other anomalies that might be resolved by local research. In particular two distinct calcareous rocks outcropped on the coast in the place of the southern ‘Oolitic series’, the challenge for collectors was to locate fossils which would enable their identification and correlation.[25]

Fossil collecting in Scarborough became a fashion, and took on a new perspective. The collectors became stratigraphically motivated. Each stratum was treated as a discrete repository; their task was to unlock its fauna and flora. Such information was, of course, fed directly into Phillips’s fossil catalogues. With ‘time and perseverance’ the Scarborough collectors could make an important contribution to the understanding of British stratigraphy and organic remains. Collectors were being given a unique opportunity to seek personal fame in science, many saw this as a new mission.

Towards the end of the year, Smith and Phillips sent a box of fossils to York which illustrated their discoveries. These were for exhibition at the next meeting of the Yorkshire Philosophical Society and were accompanied by a map of the strata coloured to illustrate the results of their recent research. Unlike fossils soon to be sent by Williamson and others, Phillips warned that they were ‘not in such preservation as to be highly ornamental to a Cabinet’, but rather ‘prove interesting as tending to confirm some of the leading doctrines in Geology, and to elucidate the Stratification of Yorkshire’. The fossils were wrapped in numbered papers, each representing one stratum but a number of coastal localities. The appended key gives a rare insight into the type of information Smith and Phillips chose to accompany specimens sent from the field at a time when the stratigraphy they represented remained fluid (note also that the numbers are different from the section given a month earlier):[26]

1.     From the blue clay at Speeton; 

2.    Coralline Oolite, Seamer, Ayton, Brompton; 

3.    Calc Grit, Scarbro’, Falsgrave, Gristhorpe Cliff, &c.; 

4.    A Specimen of the Grey Earth which is contemporary with the Oxford Clay.; 

5.    From a rarely oolitic Sandstone analogous in fossils, geological site & composition with the local & limited rock known near Chippenham, Wilts, as “the Rock of Kelloway Bridge”; 

6.    From a grey frequently oolitic calcareous irony bed of Stone immediately beneath No 5, Scarborough North Cliff, Gristhorp, &c;

7.    From a similar bed but separated therefrom by whitish coal spotted sandstone & shale.

In York, Goldie was excited by the progress being made. Young had just acquired his ‘inestimable crocodile’ but Goldie could boast of his own society’s conquests:

Mr Smith & Mr Phillips are pursuing their researches in the vicinity of Scarbro’ & have made progress in the identification of those strata, by their geological site & organized fossils, with the strata of the South of England. It is to be hoped Mr Smith’s researches will be given to the world & may be the source of some emolument to that veteran labourer in the field of English Geology.[27]

Phillips’s work for the York society, and his lectures and communications from the coast brought him recognition in the annual report: ‘a gentleman with whose attainments the Meeting are well acquainted, and to whose intelligence and industry the society has been greatly indebted.’ As a result he was called upon to give two lecture courses in his own right. However, the society gave Smith the credit of their recent discoveries on the coast and indeed prided itself on having captured him for their cause. It still saw the older man as its champion, yet it was his nephew who eloquently described the results of their studies at the annual meeting in February. He explained that the ‘laws of structure’ were now so well established that geological research was mainly interested in ‘exceptions and variations’. Despite lithological differences their work gave ‘strong confirmation to the geological axiom that “Deposits of equal antiquity enclose analogous fossils”.’[28]

The audience becomes a network

Smith and Phillips returned to Scarborough in April 1825 again focusing on the remarkable section at Castle Hill. ‘Scarborough Castle Hill is surely the finest spot for a geologist that the whole earth contains’, Phillips told York’s George Goldie. However, whilst examining the strata near the drawbridge Smith discovered a fault which placed the Calcareous Grit level with the Kelloways. Phillips recalled Smith’s ‘eagerness on the occasion led him to overstrained exertion’, resulting in paralysis of his legs and confinement to bed for several months. Phillips continued his researches, frequently accompanied by locals excited by the hill’s geological significance, and completed his large-scale geological section of the coast in the autumn of that year, indicating cliff heights and listing fossils. This became his chief visual aid for lectures at Leeds, Hull and York, as well as a tool for explaining the succession to visiting luminaries, including Murchison, during the latter’s investigations of the Brora coal, and the German geologists Oeynhausen and Von Dechen.[29]

In bringing together his ideas on local geology Phillips relied upon notes and memories from his early years, as well as contemporary regional accounts from other provincial observers. It seemed that every region had its own Phillips. People like Nathaniel Wetherell, a specialist in the capital’s London Clay; John Brown of Stanway, who reported on Essex geology; Samuel Woodward, who collected and wrote on Norfolk fossils; Gideon Mantell, the renowned Sussex collector; Etheldred Benett, the Wiltshire observer and fossil collector; and later Edward Charlesworth, a fanatical observer of the East Anglian Crag.[30] These men and women published notes on their districts in Philosophical Magazine, the Magazine of Natural History, and in private pamphlets and books, and also sent reports to the Geological Society. They were rooted in their own locale; in terms of geology their name and the locality became synonymous. These regional observers formed yet another network, which although not formalised, pursued the same geological details and thus enabled wider correlation. Thus from his own memories of the Chalk of Wiltshire, Phillips had little difficulty in understanding that rock as seen at Flamborough. However, it was only as a result of seeing Mantell’s published illustrations of Gault fossils from Sussex and Kent, that he understood the true stratigraphic position of the Speeton Clay.[31]These men were an audience for each other’s work and as such part of the reason for it. The same was true at a local level, within the debating chambers, museums and lecture theatres of the provincial societies. 

In York, during the winter season of 1825-1826, geological discussions centred on the stratigraphic and geographical distribution of fossils. At the October meeting Phillips gave the first showing of his geological section of the coast. His recent survey of the coast from Saltburn to Bridlington, fed in part by the summer excursions of the Scarborough collectors, had raised a number of questions regarding correlation of all the beds recorded with those of the south – particularly those between the Coralline Oolite and the Lias. William Bean, for example, had discovered two beds immediately overlying the Lias in Robin Hood’s Bay which seemed to lack any southern analogy; each had its own peculiar fossil content and differed from the underlying rocks. A total of 60 species had been collected in an attempt to resolve the problem.[32]

In general, though, the fossil content of strata seemed to extend across large tracts of country, it having previously been believed, amongst Scarborough collectors at least, that fossil-producing strata were local. This belief was an inevitable consequence of a period when rocks could not be assigned to continuous strata and the collector’s only reference was the locality. Now Phillips could demonstrate no change in either the productivity or content of these strata for a distance of 15 miles from Scarborough. Indeed two-thirds of the 20 species known from the Bridlington Chalk were also known in the south of England. However, he did not suggest that the same species would be seen in the same strata everywhere. For example, the known fauna of the Yorkshire Chalk was far less extensive than that of its southern counterparts. Such pronouncements fired up local collectors perhaps hoping to prove that ‘their’ Chalk was no less fertile. Such hard information raised the probability of a dedicated search paying off.

William Salmond had begun investigating the Flamborough Chalk in January 1824, after it was identified by Conybeare and Phillips as an area requiring investigation. William Marshall, the York society’s honorary curator of mineralogy, also took an interest in this rock. In October 1825, he donated 83 Flamborough fossils, with Salmond donating a further suite in the following February ‘which complete the analogy presumed between these and corresponding Strata in other parts of England and include undescribed varieties’.[33]

Members were particularly interested in the apparent distribution of fossils in the Chalk, Marshall noting that ‘Belemnites were generally diffused; Echini were very rare; Alcyonites were abundant. The Marsupites occurred high in the cliff, their fragments and scattered plates were plentiful but perfect specimens must be most rare.’ The observations of other members added to the debate. Eustachias Strickland brought observations from Sussex:

A large bed of Green Sand extending from about middle tide to below the lower water mark was completely filled with these fossils. The different species lay in separate more or less compact and extended groups. In the higher part of the bed lay groups of Bivalves, all of the same species (Venericardia planicostata) but of various magnitude. Below them disposed in a similar manner a bed of Univalves tended perhaps a mile or two along the shore from east to west; the smaller and more delicate species lying towards the western extremity, the larger toward the Eastern where some of them were seen nearly a foot long but incapable of being taken up on account of their extreme brittleness.[34]

Other members had seen similar phenomena elsewhere. Indeed it was this type of knowledge which set apart the ablest collectors, but which some, such as William Bean, were unwilling to share. 

Discussion of fossil distribution continued throughout the winter season and included topics of local interest such as the relationship of the white to the Red Chalk, as well as debate concerning rocks arriving from further afield such as from Charles Vernon in Northumberland. These discussions probably helped Phillips clarify his own thoughts on distribution and stratification. In his published account, for example, he remarked how the Yorkshire Chalk abounded in sponges but yet was deficient in other elements of the fauna (as it was known in southern England) such as fish and reptiles.[35] The winter sessions demonstrated that even at a local level geology progressed as a verbal science and through local investigations which sought to answer to local questions.

By 1835 the number of known Yorkshire Chalk species had doubled but these were still only a third as many as had been collected in Norfolk, Wiltshire, Sussex and Kent.[36] Such differences might point to geographical variation in faunal abundance. They might also reflect an incomplete succession of rocks. It was known that some species were restricted vertically in their distribution and if not found in Yorkshire they perhaps indicated a gap in the sequence. Faunal lists might provide answers to such questions, and certainly justified further collecting. 

Protecting supply

Early in 1826, Phillips became Keeper of the Yorkshire Museum at direct financial cost to Vernon and a few others. Vernon was aware that Phillips’s ‘very superior scientific attainments’ could be usefully exploited in the name of the society; indeed, his sponsors were becoming increasingly aware that Phillips was proving vital to the society’s scientific standing. The new post gave him further opportunities to direct the society’s army of observers and to interrogate the material now forming the Museum. These collections provided invaluable comparative material, enabling him, for example, to compare the recently collected fauna of Scarborough’s Lower Calcareous Grit with specimens from Sutherland, Oxfordshire, Wiltshire and Dorset, given by Murchison, Buckland, Smith and Sedgwick respectively.[37]

In May, Sedgwick finally published the results of his 1821 excursion to Whitby and the Yorkshire coast in the Annals of Philosophy. In this paper he correctly identified the link between the Alum Shale and the Dorset Lias, and the oolite of Scarborough and its subjacent sandstone as Coralline Oolite and Calcareous Grit. By publishing now, Sedgwick could at least claim priority for some of these discoveries, though the correct position of the Alum Shale had been described by Conybeare and Phillips in 1822. Phillips saw Sedgwick’s paper as the most important work published on the stratigraphy of the coast to date. While the coast could no longer be considered virgin territory, Sedgwick’s conclusions did little to undermine Smith and Phillips’s investigations, as ‘he has confidently left the subject open to “those who have better opportunities of local ‘information’”’.[38]

However, at this moment talk of establishing a philosophical society in Scarborough, the York society’s most important fossil outpost, caused a wave of concern to sweep through its council and supporters. Fossil collecting from the premier locality on the north Yorkshire coast had rapidly fallen under the control of Young and his Whitby colleagues, to the great frustration of the men of York. Scarborough, however, lay well outside the influence of the Whitby philosophers and while it had no history as an important locality for organic remains, it had under the influence of Smith and Phillips, become central to the larger society’s countywide objectives. For these two men this town had also become the centre of research, both geographically and conceptually, and they formed a useful link between it and its city neighbour. 

Vernon now feared that this section of the coast might become another Whitby. To prevent such an event, but probably in the knowledge that a Scarborough society was inevitable, Vernon undertook a week-long political campaign to win local votes; ‘communicating with the collectors there and urging them to continue their good offices in favour of the Institution.’[39] Accompanied by his geological ambassador, John Phillips, Vernon set off in his pony carriage for the coast early in September 1826. They stopped en route at Malton, another locality that had recently risen to local fossil fame. Almost equidistant from York, Scarborough and Whitby, Malton was another important territory not to be lost.

Fig. 7.4 Bean’s ‘starfish’. From Phillips 1829.

Taking up residence in Scarborough with Vernon’s father-in-law, Colonel Gooch, the York men toured the local collectors, viewing their collections and obtaining promises of specimens. Vernon hoped to win the allegiance of three men in the town; he was already assured of that of a fourth, William Smith. Of the remaining three, John Dunn was the least experienced collector but since he drew his energies directly from the inspirational lectures of Smith and Phillips, he was perhaps the easiest man to recruit. John Williamson and William Bean were, in contrast, proficient collectors, as well as cousins and rivals, ‘naturalists by profession’ who by 1829 were as well known on the continent as they were locally. It was these men whom Vernon most wished to draw into the fold. Bean was the first to give assurances of supplying duplicates; Williamson, however, offered a better prize. He promised to search out an example of the fossil starfish that Bean had recently found and had no doubt proudly displayed to the York men. Vernon and Phillips returned to York with geological notes and the 68 fossils they had collected during the trip. They further consolidated their recent manoeuvres by sending some duplicate material to Bean and Williamson, and then waited.[40]

Of the rocks which most interested the York men, the recently discovered, but poorly fossiliferous, Oxford Clay of Scarborough’s Castle Hill was of particular interest. It could not be localised by its fossils and was only so-called because of its stratigraphic position between two well-determined strata: ‘independently of this circumstance, no particular affinity can be traced between the friable and rather sandy shale of Scarborough, and the tough blue clay of Oxford and Wiltshire’.[41]

Establishing its fauna and stratigraphic relations became an important objective for the York philosophers and the local collectors. Before the end of the month this diplomacy began to pay dividends. Bean first sent 18 Oxford Clay fossils, for which specimens from the York collections were sent in exchange. Thereafter Bean and Dunn continued to send further material including a number of new fossil crustaceans.[42]

Among John Dunn’s gifts were the first fossils he had ever collected and the first discovered in the Oxford Clay of the Yorkshire coast. Dunn had been inspired by Smith’s dismissal of this rock as a barren ‘grey earth’ when lecturing in the town in 1824; Dunn intended to prove this not to be the case. From his recent geological education he understood the stratigraphic potential of fossils, and collected with this in mind. But he also knew the limitations of his own knowledge; he would not act as arbiter of their scientific interest but simply became a local pair of hands and eyes, and left any judgement of value to Phillips. The fossils themselves had not been easy to collect: ‘Beware of removing their antediluvial dust’, Dunn warned, ‘they are as brittle as a man’s good name.’[43]

However, within two years of the discovery of Scarborough’s Oxford Clay, and only two months after Vernon’s tour, the possibilities for extending this collection evaporated through over-exploitation: ‘I am sorry to say’, Dunn told Phillips, ‘it is almost in vain attempting to get a fossil now from the Oxford Clay since the surface is so broken up by Maws[?] men and our indefatigable collectors.’[44] By 1829, Phillips suggested that the list of Oxford Clay fossils from this Yorkshire deposit was probably longer than that attached to its southern relation, a monument to the collecting vigour of the four Scarborough men. The extraction of good local Oxford Clay fossils, however, remained a problem and even in 1835, after 10 years of collecting, they could still not be relied upon to correlate this rock with its counterpart in the south of England.

As for Williamson’s efforts to obtain an example of Bean’s fossil starfish, this took a little longer. Phillips had expected him arrive with a specimen in October 1826 on his first visit to see the York society’s collections, but he came empty-handed. Bean’s secretiveness was well known, as John Williamson’s son remarked to Phillips some forty years later, when communicating Bean’s death: ‘Your Bean has gone and all his discoveries of localities have died with him, he would never communicate them to anyone and he has left no written record of them behind him. I regret this because it occasions the saying of hard things. Though not a philosopher in the higher sense he was a true worker. Pity he was not a scientific as well as a political liberal.’ However, such harsh words may more clearly reflect inter-collector rivalry. Many had a much higher opinion of the man – ‘a very prince of collectors’. Sir George Cayley, who shared Bean’s and Williamson’s political affiliations, saw him as the discoverer of fossil localities ‘in the same relationship as Columbus with respect to America’ and Williamson as the follower who exploited them.[45] That Williamson, Dunn and other Scarborough collectors expended considerable energy trying to discover the source of Bean’s fossils, tends to confirm this view of Bean as an extremely able fieldworker but one who was also financially better equipped to patronise commercial collectors and dealers working the local cliffs. 

But Bean had good reason to remain secretive. As he explained in his paper of 1839, on the Cornbrash of Scarborough, in which he did give away his localities, he had ‘witnessed with regret the extent to which fossil-making has been carried on in this neighbourhood: and (we say it “more in sorrow than in anger”) such impositions have not always been confined to ignorant and mercenary dealers.’[46] This remark was aimed not least at the Williamsons. As John Williamson’s son later admitted, he and his father had played a role in the over-exploitation of fossils on the coast:

In the course of little more than an hour, we filled our two baskets, as well as converted our handkerchiefs into bags … our burdens were quite as much as our strength enabled us to carry … In more recent times I have travelled over the same ground without discovering a single fossil worth carrying away. On one late occasion, when twitting one of my Scarborough friends with the absence of the geological energies displayed by the townsmen of my earlier days, he retorted very truthfully “It is all very well for you fellows to reprove us in that way, seeing that you cleared the coast so completely that you left us nothing to do”.[47]

In late December 1827, more than a year after his search had started, Williamson finally contacted Phillips about the promised starfish. He had expected this search to last no more than six months; it had taken more than a year. The letter that accompanied Williamson’s specimen was read at the January meeting of the York society. Acting on local intelligence and based on his own knowledge of the strata and also Bean’s collecting habits, he eventually traced their source to a bed exposed at Staithes and Robin Hood’s Bay which Phillips thought equivalent to the Marlstone of Lincolnshire and Bath.[48]

Fig. 7.5 Yorkshire crustaceans. Claw of Astacus mucronatus belonging to Bean and Astacus ornatus belonging to Phillips. Both from the Speeton Clay. Astacus rostratus in the Yorkshire Museum from the Coralline Oolite. From Phillips 1829.

It is probable that both Bean and Williamson exploited local jet workers and artisan collectors in locating these beds. This is particularly apparent in the search for rarer elements in the fossil fauna. Collectors like Bean wished to be seen as connoisseurs of their material. What they valued most were specimens which they perceived as being new in terms of horizon or species, or well-preserved, or rare. A fossil having a combination of these characteristics was particularly prized. Fossil crustaceans, for example, were reasonably well represented in the cabinets of the Scarborough collectors when Vernon and Phillips visited in 1826. Williamson had extracted a nodule containing a ‘prawn’, identical to that ‘which Kendall called a Bettle [i.e. beetle]’, from the Speeton Clay late in 1824. Kendall’s specimen had come from Malton and was engraved on the title page of his book. Bean and Dunn had located examples in the grey shale at the base of Castle Hill, which Smith had determined as barren Oxford Clay. Dunn also found a crustacean not unlike Williamson’s Speeton ‘prawn’, and Phillips added a crab’s claw to the York collections in the following spring.[49] Further examples were supplied to the Yorkshire Museum, following Vernon and Phillips’s promotional tour of 1826. The search for crustaceans became a long-term mission; inevitably the compilation of a representative collection took time.

In 1830 Dunn remained committed to extracting fossils from specific strata in order to support Phillips’s comprehensive fossil lists: ‘I went on the north sands on Saturday afternoon to try to get your society some fossils from the Cornbrash’, he told Phillips. This was a typical field trip, as much a social occasion as one expected to produce material. This, however, turned out be one of those days a collector would long remember and often recount: ‘But!!!! Lo!!! on some fortunate hit, out popped the claw of a lobster, astacus or whatever other name you like to call it. You will conceive my ravishment. Miss Louise Belcombe and Mrs Miller were fortunately beside me (I was beside myself!) I succeeded in persuading the latter to give me a slight sketch of it upon the spot, which I enclose.’[50]

Despite six years’ collecting, Dunn was rather less experienced than his contemporaries; for him this was a real coup. ‘Now what am I to do with it?’ he asked Phillips. Williamson and the Scarborough philosophers suggested that, as this was the first local example from this stratum, it should reside in the native institution. Dunn, however, was of another opinion, despite being secretary of that society. ‘I have surely done my part for Scarborough’, he told Phillips. Here was a means to establish his own reputation as a collector: ‘It is but fair that those who first find should have the benefit of their discoveries, particularly if their discoveries are as limited as mine. And I do not stand here in the position which Bean and Williamson did with each other in the coal plants [i.e. Gristhorpe plants]. My claim is undisputed.’ Dunn had kept the claw and the mould left in the rock. He dithered, intending to send both to York so that Phillips could return a cast of the original, but at the last minute decided to retain the claw, perhaps for his society.

He continued to search for crustacea, apparently motivated by nodules he had seen in Bean’s collection. He may have been directed in this by Phillips. A few months later Dunn discovered a likely source. Rudd, the town’s best known commercial fossil collector, had recently sold ‘a lady’ a crustacean he had found in Cayton Bay, which he said had come out of clay, though it appears not to have been collected in situ. On hearing this Dunn asked Rudd to show him the site; this he agreed to do provided Dunn didn’t tell Bean who had sworn him to secrecy. In June 1830, Dunn and Vernon visited Cayton Bay, locating a shale, which had not previously been distinguished, packed with crustacean-containing nodules: 

we found it was a regular parting of shale (not described) between the Kelloways rock and Cornbrash. The shale is as blue as the Oxford Clay and more laminated. Full of shells and containing many nodules all of which have either blende or astaci. The shale is from 1 to 3 feet in thickness from the floor in the bight of the N extremity of Cayton Bay, and lies about 1 yard or more above the scar in the cliff on the right coming from the mill. The Cornbrash is exposed there underneath it.[51]

Vernon and Dunn returned from the bay laden with specimens for their respective Societies. As yet neither Bean nor Rudd had gathered specimens from the shale. Dunn was especially pleased as these came from a different horizon from those he had found previously, and in July Phillips gave a paper to the York philosophers discussing the significance of the fossil crustacea of the Yorkshire coast.[52]

This new bed seemed strangely positioned to Phillips, and he asked John Williamson to check the details, which Williamson did during the winter. At the heart of Phillips’s scientific method was a constant checking or testing of facts (a trait in part inherited from his uncle’s procrastinations or cautiousness). This time his agent also managed to locate identical strata at the southern end of the Bay. Again, Phillips was given exact details as to how to locate the clay band, later referred to as the ‘Clays’ or ‘Shales of the Cornbrash’: ‘after leaving slip cliff, at the base of the red cliff, you step onto a hard floor of Cornbrash rock full of ostra, etc., and as you advance towards the mill [Cayton Mill] it rises into the cliff, with the Kelloway rock resting on it, now between those two rocks lays a tenacious blue clay not very thick: in this clay, we found the nodules, containing the Astaci.’[53]

The search for crustacea continued, Phillips predicting that Dunn and Williamson would also find crustacea in the Inferior Oolite, which they did. These, the two collectors were encouraged to bring to the inaugural meeting of the British Association in York in September 1831.[54] Phillips later planned a supplement to the second edition of his volume on the Yorkshire coast, in which he would figure these recently discovered species. But these events take us too far into the future.

Opening the Gristhorpe herbarium

In January 1827, Phillips took off to the coast with his friend and colleague the Revd William Taylor. Phillips’s fieldwork varied according to purpose. Sometimes he made rapid progress up the coast simply charting the heights of the cliffs using a barometer; at other times he recorded gross structure. On this occasion he was collecting for the society, the winter being the best time to do this. On 15 January, they were at Bridlington, walking along the shoreline checking cliff falls for fossils but finding none. They also took in the various dealers’ shops and museums. At Cowton’s, Phillips found an Inoceramus from the north cliff of Flamborough. At Wilson’s, they measured the bones making up a subfossil deer skeleton from Hornsea. The following day the two visited the museum at Boynton belonging to Arthur Strickland,[55] making notes on the collections of Recent marine invertebrates and deer antlers, together with the ‘Irish Elk’ recently found at Skipsea. Such information would be useful for identifying the increasing number of subfossil remains from the coast now entering the collections in York.

Moving northwards, with the weather turning to sleet and snow, their luck improved. At Reighton they gathered several ammonite nodules from the Speeton Clay. They continued north to Filey and on to Gristhorpe where Bean was collecting from the Kelloways. They then continued to Scarborough, where Phillips spent several days in the collections of Dunn, Williamson and Bean, before carrying away with them various specimens for the museum. They returned to York on 20 January apparently laden with fossils, many of which had been purchased. Phillips’s accounts showed the following not inconsiderable expenditure, particularly bearing in mind the price paid for Yorkshire’s reptilian fossils at this time: 

Boughtof Maws[?] men25/-
of Carter & Crawford 25+1944/-
of Judd28/-
of Cowton & c4/6
£5.1.6 [56]

In the autumn Phillips returned to the coast, drawn not least by the recent discovery by William Bean of fossil plant beds in Gristhorpe Bay to the south of Scarborough. Bean had written to Phillips claiming the discovery of ‘new & splendid’ fossil plants from Gristhorpe and two or three other localities, and promised to send examples to York. The ‘impressions of several new kinds of cycadiform plants and ferns, from the strata near Scarborough (in some of which the fructification may be discerned)’ arrived in York in October, probably just before Phillips left for the coast.[57] Bean also sent specimens to the Whitby society, again probably to claim priority of discovery, for it was this as much as the fossils themselves which made the finds such a talking point.

William Williamson later recalled the considerable impact of this small estuarine deposit of plants, discovered at a time when the vegetation of the ‘Oolitic period’ was very poorly known. One hundred and fifty years later the 300 or so species subsequently obtained from the coastal plant beds of Yorkshire formed the world standard flora for the Middle Jurassic.[58] Extremely localised, each plant bed contains its own peculiar combination of species. The modern flora relies upon some 500 localities of which many only produce a few species. 

Even the famous localities of Saltwick, just south of Whitby, and Heyburn Wyke, just north of Scarborough, have produced only 30 species in all the time they have been known. They were already being actively exploited in 1825 when they were considered amongst the county’s most important fossil treasures. Here Buckland’s, Vernon’s and Young’s networks became entwined as the York society gathered specimens for Count Kaspar von Sternberg in Prague, author of Flora der Vorwelt. The York men used their Whitby contacts to meet this need, sending money to Young so that he could entice Whitby’s main collector and dealer, Brown Marshall, to undertake a search. But Young did not send some specimens because they were unique; he would only pass on duplicates. Those that he did send were simply thrown into a box, and at the York society’s request larger and more perfect specimens were omitted as they would be difficult to pack and send to Prague. Both the York and Whitby societies were purchasing plants at this time. In all York acquired 98 specimens for 26 shillings. They were not well stratified or labelled, however; ‘I did not think it needful to label them’, Young told George Goldie, ‘especially as I cannot give names to all the different plants’.[59] A few years later, Vernon eagerly acquired a large collection of fossil plants which had belonged to the late John Bird. Again these specimens appear to have been unlabelled.[60]

In 1826, the York philosophers received a letter from Sternberg giving definitive names for the plants sent to him. It is ironic that these determinations were based on specimens which had already been through three pairs of hands, and had been seen as expendable duplicates by both the Whitby and York societies.[61] Sternberg did not even see the rarer species, which remained captive in Whitby.

The French palaeobotanist Adolphe Brongniart was another important stimulus to the collection of Yorkshire’s fossil plants at this time. He visited York on his way to Scotland in August 1825. Phillips showed him the society’s extensive collection of plant fossils. Among some of the poorer examples, which may have been specimens overlooked by Young, Brongniart distinguished what he thought were seeds. This Phillips was able to confirm by further collecting of more perfect material from Heyburn Wyke. Brongniart also visited the Newcastle Literary and Philosophical Society but found the collections disappointing.[62]

The plant beds at Saltwick and Heyburn Wyke thrust Yorkshire into even higher profile in the summer of 1826. The Brora coalfield in Sutherland in Scotland had attracted considerable interest from geologists across Britain, the latest of many mines had opened in 1810. Its stratigraphic position was, however, anomalous. Coal was thought to be stratigraphically restricted, to occur only in the older rocks of the coal measures. But Buckland and Lyell considered the Brora coal equivalent to the plant rich beds found on the Whitby and Scarborough coast, and well above the true coal measures. Brora was one of the major puzzles of the time and one Roderick Murchison aimed to resolve. In June 1826, Murchison arrived in York and with Smith sailed along the coast viewing the sections which he and Phillips had correlated with the more familiar strata of the south. He was also shown Phillips’s fossil lists, sketches and sections. This was seen as a particularly important event for local geology and provided a springboard for Murchison’s correlation of the Brora coal with the Yorkshire oolite.[63]

Fig. 7.6 Fossil plants from Gristhorpe and other Scarborough localities in the collections of Bean, Murray and the Yorkshire Museum. From Phillips 1829.

But it was the discovery of the plant beds at Gristhorpe in 1827 that were the greatest cause for local celebration. They were to Scarborough’s reputation what the great saurians were to Whitby’s. These beds extended the known flora considerably and, because they were superbly preserved and had the potential to generate new species, became particularly attractive to collectors. The plants further enhanced Bean’s reputation as a discoverer of fossils, or at least they would have done had his claim not been immediately disputed by John Williamson. Williamson may have found the plants independently, though past practice suggests against this. He certainly gave Gristhorpe specimens to the society in Whitby in this year, though appears not to have given any to the Yorkshire Museum until 1830. Even Williamson’s son was uncertain or unwilling to admit who should have received the credit: ‘There have always been discussions respecting the share which the two cousins, William Bean and my father, were entitled to claim in this discovery.’ George Cayley, speaking at the opening of the Scarborough Museum in 1829, was in little doubt as to how the injustice occurred:

Touching upon this subject, I cannot but express my regret, that Mr Bean’s fair title to the original discovery of certain new fossil vegetables has been superseded on the Continent by Mr Williamson, who, without any unfair intentions, having given them publicity, as I find in M Brongniart’s late invaluable work on fossil vegetables, they are named after him … I wish that some gentlemen, qualified by local information, would give to the public a proper line of demarcation between two most valuable men; all I wish is, that each should have his due share of public applause; a man’s fair fame ought to be as much his own as his estate.’ [64]

Four of Adolphe Brongniart’s new species carried the name ‘williamsonis’.[65] One aim of Phillips’s visit in October 1827 had been to make drawings of ‘some remarkable plants’ for Brongniart. The York men also acquired further duplicates which they sent off to the Frenchman; by this time, the Yorkshire Philosophical Society had established a strong relationship with him – he was much like Phillips, similar in age and in talents.[66] The degree to which Brongniart was dependent upon the collecting and collections of others became apparent to Phillips when he visited Paris in August 1829. He noted in his private journal: ‘certainly if his materials were to be wholly derived from his own drawers we might conclude that he had undertaken a most difficult task with inadequate means.’[67]

The first public notice of the Gristhorpe discovery in Britain appeared in the Gentleman’s Magazine in November 1827. But here they were mistakenly ascribed as belonging to the true coal measures rather than the Oolite formation called ‘Coaly Grit’ by Smith and later ‘Carboniferous and Oolitic Formation’ by Phillips. The language used at the time was confusing, but Scarborough philosopher, Peter Murray, was like others in the town quite clear about its position, it was a ‘pseudo coal-field far above the coal measures’. The plants were some of the finest yet found on the coast. ‘They occur in slate clay alternating with clay, ironstone, and a thin seam of coal, about half way below the high-water mark; and are principally stems and leafy impressions of tropical ferns … of large and uncommon beauty’.[68]

In the months following the discovery, Cooper Preston, Joseph Rowntree and others donated examples to the York society. Williamson’s son recalled the laborious task involved in collecting from these beds which were only exposed for a few hours at low tide. Pickaxes and wedges were rapidly put into play to remove the overlying sandstone, then large blocks of shale were lifted and split with hammer and knife. Occasionally particularly fine specimens were also found in nodules.[69] Given the speed with which the commercial market was developing around Scarborough it is likely that dealers were soon exploiting the new deposit and selling specimens on to the local gentry; it is unlikely that the donors collected the specimens themselves. 

Among the private collections of these plants in Scarborough that of Dr Peter Murray may ultimately have surpassed even that of Bean. Certainly when Charles Bunbury came to review some of the species in the 1850s, he made particular use of Murray’s collections as these enabled the description of ‘the most remarkable of these plants’. However, Bunbury was reliant on Phillips to arrange access to Bean’s collection and as such may have found using it more problematic. Murray was the first of the local collectors to take the discovery to publication in an article almost contemporary with that of Brongniart’s book of 1828. By this time the known flora was thought to already exceed 50 species; ‘additional species are detected almost daily’.[70]

The interesting deposite at Gristhorpe Bay may be considered as a vast herbarium, of which the leaves opening to the readiest observation, offer every facility and pleasure in the examination; and not, as is the case with the generality of coal plants, surrounded with dirt, and darkness, and perils, imbedded in the roofs and sides of mines; and they resemble so many fine drawings in Indian ink, or the shadows of delicate foliage by moonlight cast upon a smooth and white ground or wall.[71]

Murray made no reference to how the plant beds were discovered; he mentions no other Scarborough collector. The Gristhorpe fossils became important evidence for the stratigraphic localisation and environmental analysis of these floras. On Lonsdale’s arrival at the Geological Society of London, they were immediately put on the society’s list of wants.[72]

From collection to illustration

In the early summer of 1828 Phillips undertook his last field season before the publication of his book, Illustrations of the Geology of Yorkshire or, a description of the strata and organic remains of the Yorkshire Coast accompanied by a geological map, sections, and plates of the fossil plants and animals, almost exactly a year later. This season’s work progressed much as it had done before, with Phillips arranging it to coincide with lectures given in Hull. Moving northwards along the coast, he again stopped at Bridlington to examine the dealers’ shops and exhibitions including Cowton’s, Wilson’s and Oxley’s exhibition of birds and curiosities, sketching some of the specimens on sale. At Scarborough, he met his friend John Edward Lee with his family who were visiting from Hull, as well as a colleague from York and the circle of local philosophers most engaged in fossil collecting. He met his uncle too who was now well and, under the patronage of Johnstone, looking like ‘a happy farmer’.[73] Just two years earlier, Vernon felt Smith was heading for death in the poorhouse and had been instrumental in ensuring that this was not his fate. 

Staying at Ling’s cottage on the cliff, Phillips spent the next few days again examining local collections and drawing fossils for his forthcoming book. In payment he provided identifications, including those of Bean’s and Williamson’s insect collections, before moving on to examine collections in Whitby. Here he was sought out by locals interested in making a sale and who knew Phillips as a client. At Ripley’s he drew fossils in his collection, and also called on Pearson, the collector, ‘who sold me 12/6 fossils and shells including Glycimeris which I packed up for Mr Bean as a present.’ He also took the opportunity to revisit the museum, its superb Lias fossils surrounded by generally undistinguished collections. At Staithes, ‘a collector of fossils came to offer his Scrapiana’; the next day he paid eight shillings for five ammonites and one bivalve. This dealer had told him of once seeing five specimens of the brittlestar, Ophiura, below Cowbar Nab which he promised to get for him.[74] It was this locality which had provided Bean’s starfish specimens.

By the middle of the summer Phillips was hard at work turning the collections and localities of the Yorkshire coast into a book.[75] This was to be dedicated to his uncle, in part an obvious acknowledgement of Smith’s influence. But Phillips perhaps also feared that without such notice his ideas might be rejected as those of a mere local observer. The association of his uncle would at least give his work credibility just as other authors listed their honorary memberships of scientific societies. He also went to great pains to demonstrate that his book was built on extraordinarily rigorous fieldwork and personal observation, built on ‘inductive’ as opposed to ‘speculative’ geology. He had drawn more than 400 of the nearly 600 known species of Yorkshire fossil and received the co-operation of all the coastal collectors and most of the county’s geologists.[76] Phillips’s book became particularly noted for its treatment of fossils, but his purpose was to illuminate local stratigraphy: to define the position, composition and context of rocks. The fossils were simply the key to this.

Phillips’s statement that his book listed all known fossil species from the coast caused a surge of interest in collecting. There had previously been nothing available to enable collectors or museums to identify their finds. It was now that John Williamson’s son set out to add names to his father’s collection. Illustrations provided local collectors not simply with a means to curate their museums but more importantly a baseline against which to collect. They would attempt to extend these lists, but also to answer Phillips’s queries regarding the distribution of species. Within less than a year of publication Phillips had another 10 species awaiting description. Bean, in 1839, boasted that he had extended Phillips’s list of 37 Cornbrash species to 134.[77]

The first edition of Illustrations began with an account of the ‘Principles of Geology’ as he saw them. The science was sufficiently new to his philosophical audience to warrant this. In later editions this was omitted. He suggested it was no longer needed. But as this book took him to national prominence, he began to view his audience differently. Illustrations had been written for the consumption of his philosophical friends. It would afterwards be viewed as the epitome of descriptive regional geology, a work of national significance. Phillips altered its content accordingly. His more general comments on geology were not wasted, however, and were tailored for mass consumption in such works as his Guide to Geology, published almost simultaneously with the second edition of Illustrations.

The style of Phillips’s prose, however, remained unaltered throughout the three editions. He wrote with the eloquence of one who had lived and breathed geology all his life, who had seen rocks throughout Britain and who wanted to combine this with a love of language. It was geology at its most accessible. As Playfair and Lyell were to the work of James Hutton, so Phillips took the methodology of Smith, the non-theorist, intellectualised it and placed it in the framework of contemporary geological knowledge.[78] Smith’s much promised geological notes from his Yorkshire mapmaking never appeared. 

Phillips followed a general introduction with an examination of the geographical distribution of the Yorkshire strata, a description of the coast and an introduction to fossil preservation. There then followed details of the stratigraphic distribution of fossils, which gave the provincial philosopher and collector the essentials of Smith and Phillips’s most arcane and hard-won knowledge. Phillips made it seem so simple:

The coralline oolite formation … appears to me to differ from all the formations above, by the presence of ammonites perarmatus, mya literata, and clypeus clunicularis, and by the absence of ostrea delta, hamites, and anachytes; and from all those below, by the presence of spatangus ovalis,? and ammonites perarmatus, and the absence of productae, axini, ammonites Walcottii, nerita costata, astarte minima, and terebratula digona.[79]

His use of the personal pronoun clearly identifies these conclusions as his own, and not those of his uncle, but the methodology as shown in his tables was an imitation of what Smith had, in a less refined way, attempted to achieve with his collection. Indeed, as has already been mentioned, this kind of fossil characterisation had been used for the Cornbrash, in which Phillips appears to claim no personal achievement. 

With this book the stratigraphic framework of the south had been superimposed on Yorkshire. It was built upon an advanced knowledge of fossil distribution based on just half a decade of collecting. Indeed, the key element of the book was its attempt to determine fossil indices. Another territory had been civilised for the geological layman and savant, many of whom had participated in the process. Phillips would not have succeeded without the support of his Scarborough colleagues. One reason why the book took so long to produce was the need to establish collections of sufficient quality and quantity. The Kelloways Rock, for example: ‘everywhere, characteristic fossils accompany it, and establish the agreement between this rock and that so named in Wiltshire, which had been already inferred from geological position.’[80] Such generalisations even Smith had been unwilling to admit not many years earlier. Complete lists of fossils were given for each stratum. These gave localities, sources of published illustrations, and distinguished those species also found in other strata. In addition, Phillips  included many fine fossil illustrations of his own, together with his geological section of the cliffs which had been the starting point and the raison d’être for the book. From his fieldwork inland, he recognised the incompleteness of the coastal sequence; the geologist who wanted to see all of the county’s Oolitic rocks would also need to examine inland watercourses and quarries.[81]

The book was to begin Phillips’s meteoric rise in geology. Almost inevitably the prominence of fossils made Phillips appear a desirable palaeontological ally for the stratigraphic battles which lay ahead. Sedgwick, remarking on the book’s content, clarity and accuracy, referred to it as ‘one of the most valuable and instructive Essays in our language … On the coast of Yorkshire Mr Phillips has left us nothing to desire.’ With the publication of Illustrations he had at last established his independence. In August he left with Taylor on his first tour of Europe seeking an opportunity ‘to mix with the panorama of continental science’.[82] His scientific horizons now had two foci: zoology and geology; his aim was to measure his own knowledge against that of science on the continent, in terms of field geology and collection building. Only by this means could geology further advance. 

A second illustration

In 1831 Phillips announced his next subscription volume which would describe older rocks exposed in the north-west of the county. This new project held even greater potential rewards. He knew it could provide a palaeontological key to the stratification of even older rocks, known generally as the Grauwacke or Transition strata, which were then attracting considerable attention. These indistinct folded and faulted strata exposed in Wales and a few parts of England were seen as the great stratigraphic challenge of the time. Murchison and Sedgwick, at first jointly and then as rivals, sought to order them. In 1835 Murchison called the rocks he was working on ‘Silurian’ while Sedgwick’s became the ‘Cambrian’.[83] Initially Murchison’s strata were thought to overlie Sedgwick’s but increasingly this boundary formed a battleground and by the end of the period covered by this book the word ‘Cambrian’ had almost been erased. It did, however, return and become established as a major geological system, but this takes us far into the future.

In the 1830s Phillips, amongst others, was also expected to make a contribution to the exploration of these older rocks. When Henry Witham heard from Murchison, who had just begun working on the Grauwacke and was now finding fossils, he urged Phillips to investigate. Increasingly fossil evidence and the peculiar fossil skills of curators, such as Phillips, were seen as keys to solving the stratigraphic problems raised by fieldwork. In his investigation of the Welsh borders, Murchison cultivated the same kind of local network of collectors Smith and Phillips had used in Scarborough. A group of eight or so local collectors, built around Thomas Lewis, gathered the materials for Murchison’s great book, The Silurian System, published in 1839.[84] This pattern of working was wholly like that which had produced Phillips’s great work. Perhaps Murchison had learnt more than simply geology on his visit to Scarborough. 

Phillips performed the same repetitive and meticulous summer fieldwork through the early years of the 1830s. Simultaneously, the Yorkshire Philosophical Society began to collect Mountain Limestone and Transition Series fossils in support of this project and received a great number from many parts of Britain and Europe; indeed the society actively called for them, not simply to enrich the museum ‘but set at rest some important theoretical questions’.[85]

This material proved crucial to Phillips’s research, since in this project he could not call on the resources of the growing network of dealers and artisan collectors who now peopled the coast. One ‘unrivalled’ and ‘magnificent’ collection, however, belonging to William Gilbertson of Preston, provided virtually all the material needed for the plates. Murchison had come across Gilbertson during his summer tour and was surprised to find that he intended to be present at the first meeting of the British Association in York in 1831: ‘… the prices must be modest. I was surprised to find that a little druggist of Preston (who has a splendid collection of the limestone fossils by the bye) intended to join us.’ In an impromptu lecture at this meeting Murchison ‘brought out my little druggist with all the éclat he merited’. Gilbertson was one of a number of natural history collectors calling for the exchange of material, and published a notice to this effect in the Magazine of Natural History in this same year. This also acted as a thinly disguised advertisement for his collection: ‘I may mention the crinoidal remains and other fossils from the Mountain Limestone, so rarely to be met with in collections, many unfigured species of which I possess in sufficient number to furnish all the empty cabinets in the kingdom.’ He repeated his request in 1835 by which time he could mention Phillips’s involvement in describing his finds. Between 1828 and 1833 Gilbertson had made his collection available to James de Carle Sowerby by whom it was illustrated in his Mineral Conchology. In 1833 Phillips was acting as a middleman between collector and illustrator in this arrangement, perhaps safeguarding what he needed for his own work.[86] The ‘little druggist’s’ connoisseurship had produced a collection of quality cabinet specimens perfectly cleaned and prepared, and all collected from a fairly restricted area. It was a vital discovery for Phillips’s sequel volume, Illustrations of the Geology of Yorkshire: Part II The Mountain Limestone District,which appeared in the spring of 1836. This gave a much wider treatment of geology and provided him with an opportunity to consider structural factors also. But this was no simple provincial gap filling. Phillips was aware that work was already beginning on much older rocks which could only be understood by comparing their poorly known fauna with that of the Mountain Limestone. His book was to be an important foundation for the work that lay ahead.

Phillips’s two volumes of Illustrations, despite their wide treatment of provincial geology, were most noted for the descriptions and stratigraphic context of fossils. In this he relied particularly upon the efforts of the York society’s, and increasingly his own, networks of collectors and observers. These men saw Phillips as building their reputation. But Phillips, despite his lifelong relationship with them and dependence upon them, was quite dismissive of the simple fact collecting in which they participated. He treated collections as raw data, ignoring the philosophical contributions of the collector. Observations needed to be his own:

For many and obvious reasons it is desirable that the task of combining local truths (the first order of inferences in geology) should be attempted by the same person who has ascertained them. To him gradations and variations are often known too minute for description yet necessary to the train of argument, and influencing rightly his own conviction; the relative value of the observations has due weight with him in clearing up discrepancies and correcting results; and thus data are made available which would be too incomplete or apparently disagreeing for other men to employ with safety. Besides it happens in geology as in other sciences, that few persons but the observer will be at the trouble of necessary discussions, and thus vast collections of facts become almost useless, and years of labour end with no important result.[87]

In gathering his own observations, Phillips was protecting himself from the errors of others. Fossil collections, for example, held locality information that had once assisted him in his former career as surveyor; now such information was to be treated with extreme caution. The resolution of geology was increasing and was beginning to challenge the utility of the traditional cabinet collection:

Nothing is less easy than to determine positively on the identity of a fossil species by merely looking at a single specimen, while hastily reviewing a whole collection; still less is it safe to quote from carelessly executed engravings, or negligently recorded localities; and it would be utterly subversive of all accuracy to copy the names which are ostentatiously placed on the specimens of ill-arranged private or public collections.[88]

This second volume of Illustrations was his last on ‘topographical geology’: ‘I have neither the health, spirit, nor hope of leisure to try any other ground.’ Phillips was now professor at King’s College in London and his career aspirations were moving away from provincial geology into the larger arena.[89]The first volume had established him as a previously unrecognised geological force; the second placed him at the cutting edge. His only constraint was inadequate personal finance.

For the Yorkshire Philosophical Society, this was the end of its most illustrious chapter: ‘thus one great object proposed by the society at its foundation will have been partly accomplished.’[90] By the mid-1830s it had established itself as a major centre for geology and held collections giving extensive illustration to subjects of contemporary geological interest. In amassing its collections it had incurred few expenses. While geology would often return to the fore, other areas such as zoology, botany, archaeology and even the fine arts were now given greater emphasis. It was no longer simply a ‘geological society’.

As Phillips went on to explore the mainstream of geology, locals continued to refine the stratigraphy of the coast. Given the broad framework which correlated rocks across Britain – and Phillips was really only interested in the big stratigraphic story – these locals could now pursue fossil distribution at a higher resolution. The larger rock formations of Phillips and Smith were now broken down into smaller units and individual beds. One strand of this research showed the increasing significance of ammonites as fossils capable of characterising strata at a much higher resolution than the broad formations designated by Phillips and his uncle. Louis (or more properly Lewis) Hunton, son of a local alum maker, appears to have recognised the particular importance of these fossils early on, and had a short paper read to the Geological Society in May 1836 which also showed that he restricted his list of fossils to species collected in situ. Here he displayed a geological section illustrating the distribution of the fossils. Hunton’s emphasis on ammonites reflected much wider interest in these fossils amongst local collectors, but he was never a member of the Whitby society. The most important local collector of ammonites at this time was undoubtedly Whitby’s Richard Ripley who from the mid-1820s was giving these fossils to Whitby and York, and loaning material to Phillips and to Martin Simpson. His collection, which was noted for its rarities, was a distillation of vast numbers of ammonites then being found. The species list was growing daily and in the Ripleys’ list of fossils for sale, produced in November 1840, only the ammonite species include significant numbers ‘lately discovered’.[91] Simpson was also noted for his in situ collecting and use of ammonites, and it seems likely that Ripley was also an important influence here. Simpson went on to record the geological succession of the Yorkshire coast in minute detail.[92]

The younger Williamson, now a Manchester curator, was also investigating fossil distribution at a higher resolution and had, in 1834, presented a paper to the Geological Society on the distribution of Lias fossils and in November 1836 one on Oolite fossils.[93] They show that the source of many of the vertebrate and invertebrate fossils was now known in detail. Williamson’s papers show a similar approach to that used by Phillips in his Yorkshire volume. While this classic book provided the core cross-country correlation, its detail was already being surpassed by Phillips’s imitators.

In 1830 a large-scale version of Phillips’s geological section of the Yorkshire coast adorned the walls above stratigraphic displays in Scarborough’s Rotunda. In 1917 Sheppard suggested that this was the work of Phillips himself but in fact it was produced at a cost of £3 by a Mr Todd, painter and bookseller responsible for publishing the society’s reports. This original section was, rather curiously, painted in reverse – ‘as if viewed from the land’. This probably reflected the arrangement of the fossils in the cases beneath. By being painted in reverse, the fossils could be arranged and read, oldest to youngest, from left to right. The arrangement of the collection had initially been overseen by Smith and Phillips. The section was completely repainted in 1906, at a cost of ten guineas, by a firm then undertaking refurbishment of the building. Geological Survey colours were used and the section reversed. In both cases the production of the section was casually arranged by the society’s council and so cannot be viewed as a Phillipsian icon. York had Phillips’s original section on display at this time, and in 1838 Simpson created a geological section for the Whitby museum but this was not a copy of that produced by Phillips.[94]

In addition to the creation of a paper account and supporting institutional collections, Smith and Phillips’s work also transformed local perceptions of the coast. Communities of collecting philosophers had become established, each supported by a burgeoning trade in fossils. Scarborough headed a list of new localities, each revealing previously unknown suites of fossils. Its birth can be dated to November 1824 when the lectures of Smith and Phillips confirmed the central place of the Castle Hill not just in the county’s geology but in providing the key linking northern rocks with those in the southern Britain. The consequence of the fashion for fossils which these lectures engendered was the rapid discovery of new species, strata and localities. Discovery, however, was rapidly followed by over-collecting and a depletion in the available resource. If science was subsequently to take advantage of the discoveries of these collectors it would often only be able to do so by utilising the collections themselves. In later years, both science and local communities bemoaned the ultimate effects of this fashion for fossils: ‘The coast from Redcar to Bridlington was ransacked for its palaeontological treasures, then much more abundant than now.’[95]

The importance of Scarborough’s plant fossils long outlived this, the most active period in Scarborough’s fossil collecting. The young William Williamson soon benefited from the finds. In 1832, at the age of 16, he was asked, via John Dunn, to contribute figures and descriptions of the Gristhorpe flora to John Lindley and William Hutton’s The Fossil Flora of Great Britain. In later life he made the study of the internal structure of coal plants something of a personal speciality. Dunn also planned an elementary work on this topic called The First Steps to a Knowledge of Fossil Botany. In the years that followed, the complexity of palaeobotanical specimens and the inadequacy of contemporary monographs allowed considerable scope for the re-examination of collections. Thus in 1850 Charles Bunbury examined the Scarborough collections, describing new species and clarifying the identity of many of those described by Phillips, Lindley and Hutton, and Brongniart. In 1855, Professor Achille de Zigno of Padua, having a number of undescribed plant species of ‘Oolitic’ age from Northern Italy in his possession, wished also to include described but unfigured species of other authors in a work of his own.[96] Bunbury’s earlier article had failed to figure what he saw as an Oolitic Calamite, Calamites beanii; De Zigno sought a drawing of this, which Bunbury attempted to obtain using his friend Phillips to extract the loan of the specimen from Bean. Such complexities in networking between source and elucidator were an integral part of early nineteenth-century geology, and explained the vital need to keep the collectors content.

The flora of the Yorkshire coast commemorates in its species names both the collectors and the taxonomists who worked on it. Many of the names are those used by the collectors themselves prior to any description, names which were respected in publication. As for localities, Gristhorpe caused such a sensation that its name may well have been recorded on the specimens it produced – this was unusual for plant fossils from this coast. Those in the collections in Scarborough Museum, for example, merely state the localities where such plants occur rather than the specific site where each specimen was found. In the century to come the failure to record this one immutable fact would severely inhibit the science which could be drawn from the extensive collections which had been formed.[97]

[1].          On Conybeare and Vernon, Morrell (1989: 322ff). See also Conybeare and Phillips (1822), and Gillispie (1951: 113) on this volume.

[2].          For Yorkshire visits of Smith see Phillips (1839: 215; 1844), Judd (1897), also Joan M. Eyles in Edmonds (1975a: 410-11), Hemingway and Owen (1975). Edmonds (1982) for work prior to their coastal visit. Chapter one for more on Stratigraphical System.

[3].          Presidential address, 15 February 1828, Proc. Geol. Soc., 1, 59.

[4].          Phillips (1835: vii-viii); OUM Phillips Box 82 folder 19, 1828 Draft of Illustrations.

[5].          For ‘old acquaintances’, Smith quoted in Eyles (1985: 44). See also OUM Phillips Box 82 folder 19, 1828 Draft of Illustrations; OUM Phillips Box 82 item 1, Notebooks and Journals 1817.

[6].          For ‘lay open …’ and Phillips’ dismissal of Winch, Phillips, OUM Phillips Box 82 folder 19, 1828 Draft of Illustrations. Winch (1821).

[7].          Baker (1882: 448-9) and Conybeare and Phillips (1822: 270).

[8].          Hinderwell (1811: 235).

[9].          Phillips (1860) gives this table of ammonite distribution arranged by morphological characters which dates from 1817. For the Whitby men’s nomenclature, Young (1817: 782). For Phillips’s use of vertebrae see, for example, 2 February 1825, Phillips’s notebook, OUM Phillips Box 81 folder 12, Yorkshire Coast 1824, 1825, 1826. Arkell (1933: 8) also notes Smith’s lack of names; p. 3 for Smith’s stratigraphical terms.

[10].        On Smith’s financial difficulties, Judd (1898: 102), Eyles (1969: 157), Grayson (1983: 23), Morrell (1989: 320) and Sheppard (1917). On Vernon’s patronage of Smith, see Morrell (1989: 324-5).

[11].        The map was The Geology of the County of York (in four sheets). Judd (1898: 103) refers to this as one of Smith’s finest works. Phillips’ criticism, OUM Phillips Box 82 folder 19, 1828 Draft of Illustrations; the published version is more generous to Smith, dismissing the whole episode as unimportant (Phillips 1829: xii). Arkell (1933: 338). Professor John Wesley Judd (18 February 1840-3 March 1916), Professor of Geology at the Royal School of Mines, quoted by Fox-Strangways (1904: 4).

[12].        OUM Phillips Box 82 folder 19, 1828 Draft of Illustrations. Conybeare and Phillips (1822: 197).

[13].        See YPS Scientific Communications Volume 1.

[14].        For ‘the local …’, YPS Scientific Communications Volume 1, 14 December 1824.Smith’s re-examination, OUM Phillips Box 82 folder 19, 1828 Draft of Illustrations; Phillips (1829: xii, 142). Not expecting identical fossils, Phillips (1829: xii); this is also apparent in Smith’s Stratigraphical System (1817). Brewham, Torrens (1998c: 113). Towards the end of the century there was much debate concerning the correlation of Phillips’ Kelloways Rock with its Wiltshire counterpart, then called by the preferred name of ‘Kellaways Rock’, this is discussed by Arkell (1933: 363).

[15].        For ‘peculiarities …’ and ‘the attempt …’, OUM Phillips Box 82 folder 19, 1828 Draft of Illustrations. Phillips crossed this through and reworded it in pencil to mean much the same thing but expressed slightly more generously. In publication he would express no strong opinion. Young and Bird (1822: 300) on characteristic fossils. Williamson (1896: 56).

[16].        T. (1830: 424) for ‘the critic …’; ‘of which no copies are now to be bought’, Fitton to Webster, 30 June 1823, (Challinor 1964-1965: 3: 60).

[17].        For services, see Smith to Vernon, 23 January 1824, quoted by Edmonds (1975a: 375). For Phillips’s influence on the lecture programme compare, for example, the syllabus for York in February 1824 and that for Sheffield in May 1826 (Edmonds 1975a: 379, 395) and see Edmonds’s comments on p. 401.

[18].        Smith’s visit to coast, Phillips (1835: ix), Edmonds (1975a: 381). See also Morrell (1989: 327).  He was not successful in arranging lectures in Bridlington. Phillips (1844: 113) talks of John Johnstone’s wish to convert the ‘geological and botanical truths which he knew to have been established in the museum and the laboratory’ to practical effect. Resolution, see, example, Phillips (1836: vi). OUM Phillips Box 81 Item 10, Notes on fossils 1824 & c. subsequently published in Phillips (1829).

[19].        Smith’s documents are mentioned in HL&PS (1824) Annual Report1 & 2; Morrell (1989: 324-5). Smith and Phillips’s earlier sections, see Judd (1898: 102), Sheppard (1917: 144-6) and Cox (1942: 9, 59).

[20].        For ‘very clear …’, Phillips, Scarborough to Goldie or Copsie, York, 1 November 1824 in Melmore (1943a); OUM Phillips Box 81 folder 12, Yorkshire Coast 1824, 1825, 1826. For ‘facilities …’,  syllabus to York lectures figured in Edmonds (1975a: 379).

[21].        Phillips (1829: 41, 87, 145); Morrell (1989: 329). Smithian technique is discussed in chapter one.

[22].        Conybeare’s hints, Morrell (1989: 322). ‘To make …’, Phillips (1829: 76). Cooper Preston donated material from Yorkshire to the Geological Society in 1818 and 1826 – the latter included fossil crustacea from Speeton. For confusion between the Kimmeridge and Speeton Clays, Phillips (1829: 125); the two clays were believed to form a continuum in Yorkshire. Phillips lists 66 different types of fossil (mainly species) from the Speeton Clay but only four from the Kimmeridge Clay. For ‘the most beautiful …’,  Williamson to the YPS, 28 December 1824, YPS Letter Book; read January 1825, YPS Scientific Communications Volume 1; YPS (1826) Annual Report for 1825; [Kendall] (1816).

[23].        Phillips, Scarborough to Goldie or Copsie, York, 1 November 1824 in Melmore (1943a). In Phillips’s published section these are identified and renumbered – these are given in parenthesis: 1 (6) Coralline Oolite; 2 (7) Lower Calcareous Grit; 3 (8) Oxford Clay; 4 (9) Kelloways Rock; 5 (10) Cornbrash Limestone; 6 (11) Upper Sandstone & Coal; 7 (12) Impure Limestone (Oolite of Bath) (Phillips 1829: 32). ‘The Castle Hill …’, Phillips, Scarborough to Goldie or Copsie, York, 1 November 1824 in Melmore (1943a). Buckland’s intelligence, Morrell (1989: 323).

[24].        Young (1817: 785) gave Castle Hill as a fossil locality; Cumberland used this book on a visit in th emid-1820s, Cumberland to Webster [n.d.] Fitzwilliam Museum Q8. ‘Gryphites’ etc. are oysters.

[25].        On two distinct rocks, Phillips, Scarborough to Goldie or Copsie, York, 1 November 1824, in Melmore (1943a). This letter for ‘time and perseverance’ below.

[26].        Phillips & Smith to Goldie, 14 December 1824, YPS Scientific Communications Volume 1. Also ‘not in such preservation …’ from here.

[27].        Goldie to Young, 29 December 1824, NYRO ZW IV 14/5/1-138.

[28].        YPS (1825) Annual Report for 1824, for ‘a gentleman …’. Coastal report read 8 February 1825, YPS Scientific Communications Volume 1. By laws of structure, Phillips meant natural order of the strata. See also YPS minutes of general meetings for 6 January 1823. 

[29].        ‘Scarborough …’, Phillips, Scarborough to Goldie or Copsie, York, 11 April 1825, in Melmore (1943a); Phillips (1844: 107). On Smith’s injury, Phillips (1829: 84) footnote. Phillips’s section, Phillips (1829: xiii; 1835: ix). Karl August Ludwig von Oeynhausen (4 February 1795-1 February 1865) and Ernst Heinrich Carl von Dechen (25 March 1800-15 February 1889) (Lambrecht and Quenstedt 1938: 109, 318). They took a copy of this section on 1 May 1827, OUM Phillips Box 82 folder 19, 1828 Draft of Illustrations. Also George William Featherstonhaugh who would return to America with the information (for this and more see Eyles 1978: 382-3; Torrens 1990b). See Morrell (1989: 325, 330) on Murchison and Brora, and also below.

[30].        Nathaniel Thomas Wetherell (6 September 1800-22 December 1875), a North London medical man; John Brown (1780-1859), a stonemason; Etheldred Benett (1776-11 January 1845), member of the gentry living near Tisbury (Elliott 1970: 334, Cleevely 1983, Spamer et al. 1989). 

[31].        Phillips (1829: 76). The Gault correlation was determined by Vernon in 1823 according to Morrell (1989: 323) (Vernon to YPS, 3 November [1823] in Melmore 1942: 320-21); it was also known to Buckland.

[32].        11 October 1825, YPS Scientific Communications Volume 1 mentions these two beds but gives no discoverer. YPS (1826) Annual Report for 1825 is ambiguous: ‘the peculiar shells discovered by [Bean] in a bed [sic] above the Alum-shale, which had not been previously distinguished.’ Bean donated 30, mainly shells, from these beds at this time. He had probably noticed what Arkell (1933: 222) denotes as the Blea Wyke Beds.

[33].        Salmond to Goldie, 12 January 1824, in Melmore (1943b); Conybeare and Phillips (1822: 56); ‘ which complete …’, YPS (1826) Annual Report for 1825.

[34].        ‘Belemnites …’ and ‘A large …’, 11 October 1825, YPS Scientific Communications Volume 1. Eustachias Strickland (9 June 1787-4 May 1840).

[35].        Phillips (1829: 120).

[36].        Phillips (1835: 46).

[37].        For ‘very superior …’, Vernon Harcourt to Lord Milton, 18 January 1831. Published in Morrell and Thackray (1984). Lower Calcareous Grit correlation, Phillips (1829: 137).

[38].        Sedgwick (1826); ‘he has …’, OUM Phillips Box 82 folder 19, 1828 Draft of Illustrations.

[39].        YPS Daybook of John Phillips, 6-11 September 1826, OUM Phillips Box 82 folder 16, Journal 1826-1827.

[40].        For ‘naturalists by profession’, George Cayley speaking at the opening of Scarborough Museum, for which Anon. (1829: 475). Report of Scarborough trip at the October meeting, YPS (1827) Annual Report for 1826. Duplicates, YPS Daybook of John Phillips, 18 September 1826.

[41].        Phillips (1829: 86;1835: 57).

[42].        Oxford Clay fossils, YPS Daybook of John Phillips, 25-26 September 1826; YPS (1827) Annual Report for 1826.

[43].        Dunn, Scarborough to Phillips, York, 15 December 1826, YPS Letterbook.

[44].        Ibid. The indistinct name ‘Maw’ appears to refer to the same individual from whom Phillips purchased specimens.

[45].        Williamson’s first visit recorded in OUM Phillips Box 82 folder 16, Journal 1826-1827, 25-26 October 1826. This visit occupied Phillips three hours; he was no doubt demonstrating the Museum’s value as a repository for the provincial collector, YPS Daybook of John Phillips, 26 October 1826. ‘Your Bean …’, William Crawford Williamson, Manchester to Phillips, 7 October 1868, OUM Phillips 1868/73. Macmillan & Greenwood (1972: 155) for ‘a very prince …’ quoting Dr George Johnson of Berwick-upon-Tweed. For ‘in the same …’, George Cayley speaking at the opening of Scarborough Museum, Anon. (1829: 476).

[46].        Bean (1839: 58).

[47].        Williamson (1885: 301; 1896: 54).

[48].        Phillips notes sending £6 10s to Williamson at this time, this may have included a sum for this fossil or perhaps Smith’s rent. OUM Phillips box 82 folder 17, Notebook 1827, 11 & 14 December 1827. John Williamson, Scarborough to Phillips, York, December 1827 recorded in YPS Scientific Communications for 1 January 1828. The specimen was named as Ophiura milleri (Phillips 1829).

[49].        Revd Frederick Kendall (1790-1836); [Kendall] (1816). Torrens and Getty (1984: 60). For ‘prawn’, Williamson to YPS, 28 December 1824, YPS Letter Book; read January 1825, YPS Scientific Communications Volume 1. YPS (1826 and 1827) Annual Report for 1825 and 1826.

[50].        Dunn, Scarborough to Phillips, York, 1 March 1830, OUM Phillips 1830/6.

[51].        Dunn to Phillips, 27 June 1830, OUM Phillips 1830/19; YPS (1831) Annual Report for 1830.

[52].        YPS Scientific Communications Volume 1, 6 July 1830.

[53].        Williamson, Scarborough to Phillips, 21 February 1831, OUM Phillips 1831/27. Arkell (1933: 338) later included these shales in the overlying Kellways Beds.

[54].        BAAS, Dunn to Phillips, 25 June 1831, OUM Phillips 1831/8. By the beginning of the next century these crustaceans had still not been properly determined (Fox-Strangways 1904: 22).

[55].        Phillips’s record of this coastal trip, OUM Phillips Box 82 folder 16, Journal 1826-1827. On the Stricklands, English (1990: 25).

[56].        OUM Phillips Box 82 folder 16, Journal 1826-1827. Lapidaries: John Carter, Long Room Street and Alexander Crawford, Newbro’ Street, Scarborough and the latter a watchmaker. Judd is probably Rudd.

[57].        The exact location of the plant producing beds is given in Phillips (1829: 79) figured in ‘No 8 Enlarged sections’ ‘At the Island’. Bean to Phillips, undated, OUM Phillips nd/125 for ‘new & splendid’. Also YPS (1828) Annual Report for 1827.

[58].        Williamson (1885: 306;1896: 35) and Kent (1980: 60).

[59].        Count Maria Graf von Sternberg (6 January 1761-20 December 1838). See also Winch (1821: 556). For plant purchases, Young to [Goldie?] 1 February 1825, Melmore (1942); YPS (1825) Annual Report for 1824; WL&PS (1825) Annual Report2. ‘I did not …’, Young to Goldie, 22 & 28 February 1825, Melmore (1942); YPS (1826) Annual Report for 1825

[60].        Bird’s collection, Ripley to Phillips, 21 July 1829, OUM 1829/15.

[61].        YPS (1827) Annual Report for 1826.

[62].        Brongniart in York and seeds, Brongniart to Goldie, 17 October 1825, in Melmore (1843b); YPS Scientific Communications Volume 1, 9 November 1825; YPS (1826) Annual Report for 1825. Brongniart in Newcastle, from circular of 1829 reprinted by Goddard (1929: 31).

[63].        YPS Scientific Communications Volume 1, 9 November 1824, 12 July 1825, 5 December 1826; YPS Daybook of John Phillips 1-2 June 1826; Phillips (1844: 112). Williamson was also involved and became a correspondent of Murchison. Smith was recommended to Murchison by Vernon who described him as having ‘done perhaps more than any other for the science’, Vernon to Murchison, [n.d. autumn 1826 given by Morrell and Thackray but probably late spring 1826] in Morrell and Thackray (1984: 19); see Morrell (1989: 325, 330) and Secord (1986a: 59). Arkell (1933: 319).

[64].        On dispute, Dunn, Scarborough to Phillips, York, 1 March 1830, OUM Phillips 1830/6. Williamson (1896: 35). ‘Touching …’ Anon. (1829: 476). Brongniart’s work was his Histoire des Végétaux Fossils (1828) – one of the most important works in the history of palaeobotany.

[65].        ‘Williamsonis’, Williamson (1885: 306).

[66].        Brongniart gifts, OUM Phillips Box 82 folder 17. Notebook 1827; OUM Phillips Box 81 folder 12. Yorkshire Coast 1824, 1825, 1826; Phillips (1829: ix); YPS (1828) Annual Report for 1827

[67].        On Brongniart’s collection, OUM Phillips Box 82 folder 19a. Journal 1829, 23 September 1829.

[68].        Phillips (1829: 35). Murray (1828). ‘They occur’, Anon. (1827g: 449).

[69].        YPS (1828) Annual Report for 1827; WL&PS (1827) Annual Report5; YPS (1829) Annual Report for 1828. Williamson quoted in Baker (1882: 22).

[70].        (Sir) Charles James Fox Bunbury (4 February 1809-17 June 1886), pioneer palaeobotanist and brother-in-law of Lyell; ‘the most …’, Bunbury (1851: 179). Murray (1828: 312).

[71].        Murray (1828: 312).

[72].        Report upon the Museums and Library, 19 February 1830, Proc. Geol. Soc. Lond., 15, 174.

[73].        For ‘happy farmer’, OUM Phillips Box 82 folder 19. 1828, 15 June 1828. On Smith’s likely death in a poorhouse, Vernon to Murchison, [n.d. but probably spring 1826], in Morrell and Thackray (1984: 20).

[74].        OUM Phillips Box 82 folder 19. 1828, 27 June 1828.

[75].        Ibid., 26 July 1828.

[76].        Ibid., Draft of Illustrations.

[77].        Williamson (1896: 12). On distribution, see Phillips’ (1829: 133) discussion of the fauna of the Calcareous Grit and Coralline Oolite. On species awaiting description, Phillips, York to De la Beche, London, Saturday 13 March 1830, NMW Phillips. Bean (1839: 58).

[78].        Phillips (1829: 4); See Morrell (1989: 329) for the boost given to Smith’s reputation by this book.

[79].        Phillips (1829: 116).

[80].        Phillips (1835: 13).

[81].        Phillips (1829: 85).

[82].        For ‘one of …’, Sedgwick, Presidential Address, 19 February 1830, Proc. Geol. Soc. Lond., 1, 199-200. For ‘to mix …’, OUM Phillips Box 81 folder 14(i) Tour of Scotland with tour of continent, 9 August 1829.

[83].        Secord (1986a: 90ff) for a discussion of the origins of these terms.

[84].        Announcement, YPS (1832) Annual Report for 1831. Murchison, Presidential Address, February 1832, Proc. Geol. Soc. Lond., 1, 365. Henry Witham, Newcastle, to Phillips, 2 September 1831, OUM Phillips 1831/75. For the relationship between Lewis and Murchison, Thackray (1979). Thomas Taylor Lewis (1801-1858).

[85].        YPS (1931) Annual Report for 1830.

[86].        William Gilbertson (1789-10 February 1845). For ‘prices …’, Murchison, Denton near Otley [staying with Sir Charles Ibbotson], to Vernon Harcourt, Wheldrake, 15 August 1831. For ‘brought out …’, Murchison, York to Whewell, Cambridge, 2 October 1831. Both in Morrell and Thackray (1984: 44, 78). See also Orange (1973: 37). For the suggestion of a depot for fossil exchange, Gilbertson (1831: 72-3). For Sowerby link, Cleevely (1974: 423).

[87].        Phillips (1836: 174).

[88].        Phillips (1836: 244).

[89].        ‘I have …’, Phillips, to Vernon Harcourt, Bishopthorpe, York, 3 February 1836 – written as he finished the final pages – in Morrell and Thackray (1984: 224); Orange (1973: 50).

[90].        YPS (1835) Annual Report for 1834.

[91].        Hunton (1837); Louis Hunton (1814-18 February 1838) is discussed by Arkell (1933: 14-15) and Torrens and Getty (1984). Ripley donated ammonites to York in 1828, 1838, 1839 and to Whitby in 1826, 1827, 1841, 1850. His collection is mentioned in Young to Phillips, 4 March 1830, Ripley to Phillips, 11 October 1834, 10 November 1838 (OUM 1830/8; 1834/25; 1838/56). R. and J. Ripley (1840) Fossils of the Vicinity of Whitby, 1p. 

[92].        Simpson’s sections, NYRO ZW VII 3/1/7.

[93].        Williamson (1837).

[94].        For view as Phillipsian icon, Sheppard (1917: 170), Osborne (1998: 320). Arrangements for painting and repainting, SL&PS Minutes of Council, 1 March 1830 and 26 November 1906; SL&PS Annual Report for 1906. The original can still be detected under the 1906 version – I am grateful to Ros Palmer for bringing this to my attention. For Whitby imitation, WL&PS (1838) Annual Report16.

[95].        Baker (1882: 456).

[96].        Dunn’s proposal in Dunn to Murchison, 6 July 1833, GSL D.30. De Zigno (14 January 1813-15 January 1892) published the results of this work in Flora Fossils Formationis Oolithicae (1856-1885). Arrangement of the loan is discussed in Bunbury to Phillips, 25 November and 8 December 1855, OUM Phillips 1855/32 and 1855/33.

[97].        Fox-Strangways (1904: 7).

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).