Part Two: Setting the stage for a scientific community pg.3


Part Two: Setting the stage for a scientific community (continued)


De la Beche was considered the first professional geologist, as he advanced the gentlemanly interest in the new science of geology towards a trained and qualified profession by publis Lewis Weston Dillwyn was a keen naturalist and an enthusiastic botanist who recorded and classified plants and animals, and who counted amongst his many intellectual and scientific friends some of the eminent naturalists of the day. They included Sir Joseph Banks (1743-1820) who was President of the Royal Society and William Jackson Hooker (1785-1865) who Dillwyn addressed as ‘My dear Hooker’ in their correspondence. Nineteenth century natural history correspondence between personal contacts often developed into networks, these networks also evolved from introductions by friends and incorporated travelling collectors and paid natural history posts. Correspondence with renowned naturalists had an added value for skilled workers, as they were often considered evidence of an individual’s scientific knowledge and would give that person acceptance into the wider scientific community. Letters between Dillwyn and a young Alfred Russell Wallace regarding Wallace’s extensive collection of Coleoptera make clear the advantages that could be incurred from the practice of correspondence. Dillwyn would go on to acknowledge Wallace’s expertise of the local coleoptera in his work, ‘Materials for a Fauna and Flora of Swansea’ he wrote;

I have been favoured by Mr. Alfred Wallace with the following list of Coleoptera which he has added to the Catalogue I printed in 1829 and which are now placed in the Museum at Neath.

The exchange of information regarding specimens or collections was sometimes accompanied by the giving of these specimens as a gift, which was considered a gentlemanly act in the nineteenth-century scientific world. The act of giving was also considered a clear declaration of a lack of personal acquirement for the pursuit of science. As a consequence of gift giving which was often reciprocated, information and natural history objects were in circulation throughout the scientific community and the wider community. There was significant co-operation between collectors which is clearly expressed in a letter dated 20 August 1852 from H E Strickland (1811-1853) to Lewis Weston Dillwyn, regarding a collection of birds from Borneo obtained from a Mr. D, W, Mitchell by Dillwyn who was due to publish descriptions of some of them. Strickland writes;

As I should be very glad to procure any specimens from that island to add to my collection, I write to ask whether you <profres> any duplicates, as in that case I should like to make an exchange with you. I have by now a large stock of duplicate birds, from India, Guatemala and other localities, any of which are at your service.

Strickland was a prominent natural history scientist who was especially interested in the study of geology and ornithology leading him to collect thousands of specimens and to devise the Strickland Code of Zoological nomen-clature, which established conventions for naming animal species which are still in use today. Collecting was a popular activity and continued throughout the nineteenth-century so that by 1900 there were hundreds of scientific collections in Britain, and although there was limited access to many collections in private hands and institutions this would change. During the later part of the nineteenth-century there was an increase in collections being transferred to municipal ownership via the establishment of increasing numbers of museums. Swansea was no exception in offering the facilities of a museum, with the establishment of a new purpose built building for the RISW and rooms that incorporated collections which were divided into specific scientific departments each with their own curators. Contributors to the museum included their own secretary, Logan, who on taking up his post in Canada donated his vast collection of fossils and minerals, including the fossil trees he discovered in 1838 near Coelbren.

De la Beche was considered the first professional geologist, as he advanced the gentlemanly interest in the new science of geology towards a trained and qualified profession by publishing a textbook supporting his belief in the theory of empiricism, and the necessity for accumulated evidence to support theoretical frameworks. The textbook, ‘Sections and Views illustrative of geological phaenomenon’ published in 1830 detailed illustrations of varied geological features, sections and maps. De la Beche recognised the economic importance of the South Wales coalfield and the need for a professional and well funded geological survey in South Wales. A sum of £3,000 was allocated from the treasury for the 1837/38 season enabling De la Beche to set up headquarters in Swansea, and with permission from the Board of Ordnance to employ a group of talented full-time assistants who Buckland wrote of;

He (De la Beche) has collected about him a little staff of the most talented young men he has found in England, and has educated them in a way that renders them especially qualified to assist in carrying on the survey over the most important mining districts.

While the geological survey was in progress it had been arranged by De la Beche that the fossil or palaeontology evidence would also be gathered. This integrated method of research coupled with the sharing of information and the professional application of chemistry and physics to rock and mineral analysis changed the character of geology. The Modern Geological Survey had begun to take form and its origin was in South Wales.


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