Karmen's Dissertation - Conclusion




It is clear that the energy and vision of industrial families like the Vivians and scientific families such as the Dillwyns were central in shaping the future of Swansea in the nineteenth century. Successful entrepreneurialism plus the providence of site and geology resulted in the growth of Swansea into Wales’s premier industrial town, which in turn promoted wealth and civic pride. The Vivians’ grasp of the link between scientific education and industrial progress and their enthusiasm to implement this made them unique in early nineteenth century Wales. As early as 1804 John Vivian studied at the University of Freilburg, one of only two British men studying at one of the few places in Europe that offered advanced scientific education. Scientific connections that extended to Europe conveyed new industrial developments that were of commercial benefit, a prime example being the Gerstenhöfer furnace. Its installation was also of social benefit as it resolved the pollution from copper smoke for the factories it was fitted in, a solution to an industrial/social problem that John Vivian had invested a lot of time and money trying to remedy. It was also an example of how the connections between scientists worked during this period, as Dillwyn used his friendship with leading British chemists to visit the town to research the problem. Social connections were obviously an essential part of the network that operated between industry, science and society, and were also a part of the application of science, as illustrated by hiring the eminent geologist, Henry De la Beche to investigate public health problems in the Health of Towns project of 1845. Industrial scientific research was also clearly being undertaken in Swansea to further commercial capacity, as is evident from industrial patents and the archaeological evidence of a purpose built industrial laboratory at Landore Siemens’ steel works. What is evident is the apparent ease that men of industry co-operated and worked with men of science and were often practitioners of science themselves.

The national enthusiasm for scientific knowledge in the first part of the nineteenth century and the desire to further knowledge and build scientific networks led to the establishment of the British Association for the Advancement of Science. This enthusiasm led to the formation of a number of provincial Literary and Philosophical Societies and Swansea’s thriving industrial and culturally minded society had an appetite for such an organisation. The transformation of the Swansea philosophical society into a thriving scientific organisation, which was honoured with a Royal Charter and equipped with its own impressive building is due to the efforts of a couple of visionary young men. George Grant Francis and John Gwyn Jeffreys worked tirelessly to establish the organisation of the Royal Institution of South Wales, and attracted the commitment of men like William Edmond Logan, Henry De la Beche and William Robert Grove. This core group of exceptionally talented young men went on to further their individual paths in science, and who became involved in national scientific societies while establishing their own prestigious national and international reputations. The backing of older, respected and influential members of Swansea society, notably John Henry Vivian and Lewis Weston Dillwyn with their political and national connections attracted leading national scientists to visit, research and experiment in Swansea. By assessing primary sources of letters and diaries it is clear that Dillwyn was very much at the centre of this scientific community, socially and professionally and he extended the society’s reach by his correspondence with influential scientists of the day. Throughout the nineteenth century the donation of private collections from RISW members consolidated the museum and library housed in the RISW building, which regularly attracted large numbers of public visitors. These facilities including the laboratory and the lecture hall with its regular lectures are indicative of the RISW fulfilling its remit of promoting scientific knowledge to the community. The diversity of Swansea’s scientific community is evident from the wide range of scientific fields that were explored, researched and lectured upon, and from the important field work of the geological survey led by De la Beche supported by innovative work from Logan.

The recognition of the scientific work and the influence of the Royal Institute of South Wales and the pinnacle of its status was the 1848 visit by the British Association for the Advancement of Science, and it was also an illustration of how much Swansea scientist William Robert Grove was respected. Regardless of the misapprehension by some BAAS members and questions about the suitability of Swansea, Grove’s ambitious plan to bring the BAAS to Swansea was rewarded by a successful event that brought internationally renowned scientists to an industrial town in South Wales. Its success can be measured not only by the enthusiasm, commitment and generosity displayed by Swansea’s scientific community in arranging the event, but also by the financial benefits of having some 800 visitors staying in a town that eagerly welcomed them. The 1848 visit was a high point for the RISW, as over the next few decades the inspirational leading lights of this tightly knit and productive community had moved away or had died. While the scientific legacy of both John Vivian and Lewis Dillwyn continued with these families next generation, the role of community amateur science was fading as the increasing professionalization of the sciences into paid specialists removed science from the public forum. The specialization of science brought the need for higher scientific education, which was in short supply nationally and completely absent in Wales. A situation highlighted by Swansea M.P. Hussey Vivian in parliament, which in turn instigated political intention to site a university college in South Wales. After much research regarding the bids from Cardiff and Swansea the independent arbitrators finally decided to site the college at Cardiff, a decision that mostly illustrated the lack of financial commitment from both local industrialists and the corporation in Swansea. This disappointment was later lessened for Swansea by the establishment of a Technical School in 1895, yet one can only speculate as to whether a Swansea University College could have been set up in the nineteenth century if the most progressive and industrious individuals of the earlier Swansea scientific community had been active in the later period.


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