Tuesday, November 15, 2022

A hasty sketch of England's female Sociologist.

Whilst there's no online database as comprehensive as the Darwin Correspondence Project for Richard Owen's letters, the Temple university's Owen collection serves as a good starting point.

An interesting feature, particularly of the letters to Owen's wife (Caroline Amelia Clift/Owen) is the occasional drawing. This one caught my attention.

Letter of 1838 August 18

Mostly due to its crude nature, which made me laugh. I assumed it had to be someone specific but there wasn’t any clear attempt to get a good likeness. 

Luckily, the letter presented an answer. 

"The ocean arrived with her cargo of Philosophy, and I ought to add Literature for Harriet Martineau was on board (see the other side) about 3 p. m. "

So, it was Harriet Martineau. And whatever she was holding in her hand which is now lost to time, unless someone else can identify what that is. 

Martineau is regarded as England’s first woman journalist and her books helped form a foundation for modern Sociology. 

As her health declined in 1838, she moved to Newcastle in order to see her brother in law who was a well regarded doctor. 

The letter in which we find this picture is dated to the 18th of August 1838 and the location Owen provides is “Gateshead Rectory near Newcastle”. 

I’m not sure where the boat was coming from, and I don’t have enough resources on Martineau to cite whether or not the dates match up to when she would’ve been travelling, but nonetheless it’s an interesting tidbit. 

Another such item of interest is that Owen and Martineau shared a common acquaintance in Charles Darwin. Although Martineau was more familiar with Erasmus Alvey Darwin (Older brother to Charles) where there were some romantic prospects between them (Be aware racial slurs are used in the passage provided on Wikipedia.), though ultimately nothing came of it. 

Martineau was also impressed with Darwin’s 1859 work “On the Origin of Species” but seems to think his subsequent addition of “the creator” as an entity in the text was a mistake. 

"I rather regret that C.D. went out of his way two or three times to speak of "The Creator" in the popular sense of the First Cause.... His subject is the "Origin of Species" & not the origin of Organisation; & it seems a needless mischief to have opened the latter speculation at all – There now! I have delivered my mind." 


To me it seems as though her support of “On the Origin of Species” may have stemmed primarily from her desire to push more radical ideas into society. Though I consider that fair as Martineau had no particular focus on Natural History that I’m aware of. 

“I should much like to know how large a proportion of our scientific men believe he has found a sound road.”


Although 1838 was 21 years before the publication of “On the Origin” the differing views on the book between Owen and Martineau are interesting to note even if their relevance to one another was brief. 

I ended up learning a great deal that I otherwise might not have from the inclusion of this doodle in a letter 184 years ago. 


Addendum 16/08/2023     

I must amend an error, or at least an oversight on my part, in this post with regard to the curious item Martineau is holding. 
As it turns out, the answer was in a fairly obvious place: Owen's 1894 biography, written by his grandson, "The Life of Richard Owen", directly references this letter, and the author states after quoting the "Harriet Martineau, see other side", part: "(a sketch which represents that lady holding up a huge ear-trumpet) (Owen, 1894)."

So, there's that. I have read this biography before, but it was at the beginning of my prospective studies two years ago and clearly did not stay in my mind.  I am, however, glad that my re-read gave me the answer to what was apparently a burning question. 

Wednesday, September 14, 2022

Ointment pots, their provenance and records thereof.

A semi-recent trip to GB Antiques left me with these ointment pots, no clue when they were from and some interest to find out more. At a glance, the only noteworthy thing about them is that they’re from the same chemist at two different addresses.

My best eyeballed guess was around the 1920’s with no grounding other than estimate based on the font, mould of the ceramics and usage of adhesive labelling. Unsatisfied with that as an answer I did some digging with the resources I had, and some interesting results came of it:

The owner of the pharmacy I traced back to Hedley Egbert Dwelly (1867-1940), (Unfortunately an Ancestry link is the best I could find as my record finding skills aren’t the sharpest) who also appears on pages 7 & 110 of ‘The registers of pharmaceutical chemists and druggists (1919)’ under his Chatteris address, although I can’t find anything similar for the Harlseden address except a court case for murder that took place on the 24th of June 1905 at the Old Bailey which reads: 

“HEDLEY EGBERT DWELLY. I am a chemist, of 41, Acton Lane, Harlesden- on Saturday, February 4th I sold a 4-oz bottle of carbolic acid to the prisoner- he took it away with him “

This tells me that he must’ve been working at the Harlesden address in 1905. I can't ascertain when he moved to the Chatteris address, but it does suggest the Harlesden pot is earlier than the Chatteris one. 

The contents of the Chatteris pharmacy appear to have been auctioned off in 1987 according to the information on this photograph. Which is presumably why I found these at the big antiques shop I went to. Also, why cursory google of the name mostly brings up Ebay listings for other bottles, pots and pharmaceutical bits originally held by the pharmacy.

On looking, the aforementioned photograph seems to predate 1917 with the Victorian looking jars on display as well as the colourful carboys in the window, which in the 19th century were used to show a Chemists competency by the ability to mix vivid colours. This translated their skill in a visual medium to shoppers who may not be able to read the signage due to illiteracy.

This interior seems outdated for 1917, to me. Although there could've been many reasons for it to stay so old fashioned. Possibly out of historical interest, it's definitely somewhere I would've been interested in visiting had it not been auctioned.

A page on the website of Cambridgeshire's archive shed some further light on the pharmacy itself:

“A Pharmacy since around 1800, 33 Park Street was owned by pharmacist Hedley Dwelly from 1917. From his death in 1940  his son Egbert ran the shop without  pharmacy registration selling patent medicines and agricultural medicines until around 1985. The contents and furnishings were as they were in 1917 and the building complete with contents was bought by a Dr Guy of Ely around 1985 who auctioned everything in 1987. This photo could be early 1980s.”

Perhaps the interior remained similar since it's founding in 1800 and Dwelly, being born in the 1860s, felt some interest in preserving it.

With the information from the CCAN website, the Chatteris pot can be dated from between 1917-1940. Which almost fits my initial estimation! No further luck on the Harlesden besides ‘at least 1905, before 1917’. But that’s better than an eyeballed estimate. 

I'm glad to have done the research, even if it didn't precisely answer my question it revealed an interesting piece of history I would otherwise not have known.

Further images of the ointment pots:

I have no idea what the numbering could represent. Odd that it's the same on both pots. 

Interestingly, the Chatteris pot looks older even though the dates of pharmacy ownership suggest otherwise. Though this could be my naivety in ceramics. 

Direct transcript of text on the pots: 
Pharmaceutical Chemist
33, Park St., CHATTERIS, Cambridgeshire 

Pharmaceutical Chemist 
41, Acton Lane. 
Harlesden. N.W. 

If anyone with more knowledge on the subject can offer further details about either the pots themselves or the pharmacy, that would be most welcomed.

Saturday, June 4, 2022

Possible Portrait of Professor Owen

This painting by an unknown artist, painted in an unknown year is labeled on both Art UK and the Wellcome Collections library as “Sir Richard Owen (?)”. Though I have some doubts as to the identity of the sitter.

Wellcome Library no. 45766i

When consulting the references portion of the Wellcome Library entry I was only able to find one source for this painting being acknowledged and that was in the rather wordily titled

“Christopher Wright et al., British and Irish paintings in public collections, New Haven and London”

And sadly this is both out of print and I have not been able to gain access to it online. I suspect, however, that it wouldn’t answer my main concern about the provenance of this painting.

Which is that it doesn’t look much like Sir Richard Owen at all.

In fact, to me, it resembles Robert Owen the welsh philanthropist more than it does the biologist. Though I have no further grounds for thinking it's Robert Owen than that I've seen the two confused before.

(I was unable to find a definite source or bigger version of this painting. Although it was done by John Cranch)

(Natural History Museum, London)

(‘Portrait of Sir Richard Owen As a Young Man’ - Lancaster City Museum)

With examples of younger portraits of Richard Owen there are some notable differences in facial features to that of the unknown portrait, the hair is also seemingly lighter. Though this does not match younger paintings of Robert Owen either.

And the skull being held does point in the direction of someone involved in the medical field or natural sciences. Richard Owen was likely professor of comparative anatomy at St. Bartholomews at the time the portrait was painted. If it is indeed of him.

Without the artist's name and further examples of their work, there is no way to know if the sharp highlights in the hair are representative of the individual painter's style or if they just weren’t particularly good at drawing likenesses. So without more detailed information, I can’t come to a solid conclusion.

I would love to know the reasoning behind why this is thought to be Sir Richard Owen, as I may be missing insight that someone more well versed in identifying portraits has.

But as it stands, I suspect the portrait is of a different individual.