Part Two: Setting the stage for a scientific community

 

Part Two: Setting the stage for a scientific community

 

It was concern regarding the future of science that led to the establishment of the British Association for the Advancement of Science in 1831, with one of its leading founders, Sir David Brewster investigating how scientists on the Continent developed connections between science and the public. Brewster proposed in a letter dated February 23, 1831 to John Phillips, the secretary of the Yorkshire Philosophical Society, that the Association should be based on the German model, he wrote;

It is proposed to establish a British Association of Men of Science similar to that which has existed for eight years in Germany, and which is now patronised by the most powerful Sovereigns in that part of Europe.

Brewster then continued in the same letter;

The principle objects of the society would be to make the cultivators of science acquainted with each other, to stimulate one another to new exertions-to bring the objects of science more before the public eye and to take measures for advancing its interests and accelerating its progress.

The ‘German module’ met annually and each year patronised a different town and had been significantly successfully in promoting the value of scientific research, this was the blueprint that scientists such as Brewster and Baggage (1791-1871) aimed for in Britain. The establishment of the British Association for the Advancement of Science was at the centre of a fundamental change that took place during the first half of the nineteenth century on the availability of scientific knowledge and technological expertise for increasing numbers of interested members of the public. The society was established in 1831 at a meeting of the York Philosophical Society who after deciding there was a need for cooperation between the numerous related societies invited their members to attend the York meeting, and in doing so initiated a sense of fraternity that encouraged the establishment of Literary and Philosophical Societies in many towns. While Literary and Philosophical Societies were principally organised and attended by gentlemen, the establishment and functions of the Mechanics Institutes were important to other sections of society as explained by the naturalist Alfred Russell Wallace in an essay of 1845;

Mechanics’ Institutions are societies which have of late years been established in many towns in the kingdom for the purpose of applying the principle of combination in affording scientific instruction to all persons, and especially to the working classes. They are distinguished from Literary and Philosophical Societies, principally by attempting to diffuse information on the various branches of practical science.

The drive to establish a Literary and Philosophical society in Swansea was amidst industrial and technical advancement in the area, and was initiated by a young intellectual, George Grant Francis (1814-1882) who drew up a prospectus and obtained the support and donations of over 50 annual subscribers. Other fervent supporters in establishing the society included a young Swansea lawyer and amateur conchologist, John Gwyn Jeffreys (1809-1885) and his mentor, the local M.P. and botanist, Lewis Weston Dillwyn. The part that Francis played within the society was quite significant, as he went on to become the librarian from 1839 and then took on the role of secretary to the Building Committee from 1840-41. The Society was founded after two general meetings that were held at the Town Hall in Castle Bailey Street with the following goals:

The Cultivation and Advancement of the various Branches of Natural History, as well as the Local History of the Town and Neighbourhood, the Extension and Encouragement of Literature and the Fine Arts, and the general Diffusion of Knowledge.

 

Next Page, Setting the stage for a scientific community, pg. 2