Part Three: A high point and a lost opportunity pg.2


Part Three: A high point and a lost opportunity (continued)


The enthusiasm for the BAAS event in Swansea gathered financial support from all over the Principality as illustrated by a published list in an edition of the Cardiff and Merthyr Guardian dated 29 July 1848, which lists individuals, their status in society, their place of residence and the amount they contributed to ‘The Fund for defraying the expenses for the visit.’ There was enthusiastic support in Swansea itself with advertisements in the Swansea newspaper, the Cambrian, using the event to promote their merchandise by urging residents to get themselves and their houses in order in readiness for the ‘Assembly of these Notables.’ When these ‘notables’ and their visitors arrived in Swansea they attracted large crowds at the Mumbles point where they arrived by sea and along the route to the Royal Institution. The lack of a rail network to Swansea necessitated arranging special steamers from Bristol with small carriages and omnibuses ferrying the visitors into town. Lewis Dillwyn notes the arrival of De la Beche on such a steamer in a diary record of 9 August 1848;

I drove down to the Mumbles to meet De la Beche who was to come by one of the steamers- He did not come by the early one which arrived about ½ past 5 – I waited for the County of Pembroke which got in about 9pm.

More than eight hundred visitors arrived for the BAAS annual meeting, which although less than figures attending previous meetings at larger academic venues was a successful number to argue against those who were critical and disapproved of Swansea as a venue.

An important aspect of scientific society meetings was the exchange of information between scientists, and this was achieved by papers being presented and read at meetings and later published in the society’s journal. The publication and distribution of work was only one of the benefits derived from attending these events, it also gave local members the chance to meet and socialise with distinguished national and international scientists thereby enhancing their own local status. There was certainly a collection of distinguished visitors to the 1848 Swansea meeting of the BAAS as most of Britain’s eminent scientists attended as well as fifteen scientists from across Europe and the wider world, notably the French photography pioneer Francois Jean Claudet, the Pennsylvanian geologist Professor Henry Darwin Rogers and G Mateucci the Italian physicist and researcher of electricity. Grove’s friend and associate C, F, Schoenbein was absent as he was attending a similar scientific conference in Switzerland, and for his absence received some teasing from Grove:

Why did you not come to Swansea. You constantly come to British Association meetings & yet you avoid the native place of your friend Grove where there is as much practical chemistry to be seen as in any place in Europe... We had Faraday Graham Phillips Percy Playfair & all the chemists here but no Schoenbein. You ought to be ‘hoist with your own petar(d)’ i.e. blown up with gun cotton.’

Scientific papers presented at Swansea covered a comprehensive range of disciplines from mathematics and physics, geology to statistics, with lectures from eminent scientists such as Professor Wheatstone and Strickland. Wheatstone lectured on ‘a means of determining the apparent Solar Time by the Diurnal Changes of the Plane of Polarization at the North Pole of the Sky.’ There was also considerable input from RISW members with John Gwyn Jeffreys reading his paper, ‘On the recent Species of Odostomia, a Genus of Gasteropodous Mollusks inhabiting the seas of Great Britain and Ireland,’ a paper that was published in its entirety in the 1848 edition of the Annals of Natural History. De la Beche not only gave a two and a half hour lecture on the geology of the South Wales coalfield, he also chaired the geology sessions. There was also experimentation which Grove used to support his paper ‘On the peculiar Cooling Effects of Hydrogen and its Compounds in cases of Voltaic Ignition.

A detailed account of the transport made available for the visitors and the arrangements made for their accommodation including entertainment and sightseeing was written in 1971 by Margaret Walker a local historian, which clearly illustrates the effort that the people of Swansea went to in ensuring the event was a success. How the event was judged by those involved in its organisation is effectively described in the words of the RISW’s Honourable Secretaries, J, G, Jeffreys and D, Nicol in their report for the ninth annual meeting of the RIAS Council:

The visit of the British Association to Swansea in August last, will form a prominent and honourable era in the history of this Institution, since by the zealous and indefatigable agency of its members, aided by a liberal subscription from the general population of the district, the most ample accommodation was provided for the sectional meetings, and for the temporary domestication of strangers, whilst the enlarged and generous hospitality which was manifested by all classes was not less cordially acknowledged, and must be long remembered by our illustrious visitors.

Yet, it must be noted that many Swansea citizens were unable to participate as most of the sessions took place in the day when they were at work, a problem that was highlighted early in August 1848 by a resident’s letter to the Cambrian. However the populace of Swansea benefited from the BAAS visit and not just from the decorous slate street-names signs erected for the event, but also financially as hundreds of visitors used the facilities of the town. An interesting footnote to the financial benefit of the visit was the donation to the local National Schoolsthat was given from the sale of the published pamphlet of the speech given by Thomas William Booker, High Sheriff of Glamorgan at the BAAS visit.


Next Page, A high point and a lost opportunity, pg. 3