William Pengelly, F.R.S., F.G.S., Father of the Devonshire Association (1912)
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Author(s): Forbes Julian. Hester; Year published: 1912; Origin: DA Transactions; Pages: 157-191
Topic(s): biography and Pengelly; Location(s):
By Mrs. Hester Forbes Julian (Née Pengelly). (Read at Exeter, 24th July, 1912.)
Having frequently been asked by members of the Association to contribute a paper on the life and work of my dear father, it seems specially appropriate and suitable to do so in this year, which not only marks the Jubilee of the Devonshire Association, but also the centenary of its founder, William Pengelly, and the celebration of the two hundred and fiftieth anniversary of the founding of the Royal Society, of which he was a distinguished Fellow. It seems also specially appropriate that this meeting should be held in our own Cathedral city, for we all feel that in coming to Exeter we are coming home.
Warmly as we acknowledge, and highly as we appreciate the kindness experienced elsewhere, and the friendly feeling which exists between this Association and the different towns visited in Devonshire, yet it is to Exeter as the birthplace of the Association that the members look back with gratitude. It would therefore have been a matter of much regret to us all if we had not been able on this our fiftieth anniversary to hold our meeting in our mother city, and the capital of the county.
William Pengelly was born at East Looe, in Cornwall, on January 12, 1812, in the same year as many distinguished scientific men, and also as Charles Dickens and Robert Browning. He was self-trained, and owed nothing to fortune; in his early years he knew many hardships, yet his abilities and industry, his open mind and genial nature won him a host of friends and a great scientific reputation. Both his parents were Cornish. His father, Richard Pengelly, was captain of a vessel, whilst his mother was a Prout of the same family as Samuel Prout, the celebrated artist.
She came from Millbrook, in the parish of Maker, Cornwall, the birthplace also of Samuel Prout’s father.
When only two or three years old, young Pengelly was sent to the dame’s school in his native village, where his progress was so rapid that at the age of five his mother removed him to a school for bigger boys, kept by Mr. Rundle, though the schoolmaster had been at first rather unwilling to take so young a pupil. Here he remained for a few years, quickly rising to the head of the school, but the only advantage his precocity gained him was to be kept hard at work preparing the lessons of the elder boys, in addition to his own, whilst they were at play. At the age of twelve the future geologist left school for ever, and began his seafaring life on the vessel commanded by his father. Like the great American geologist Dana, he gained some of his experiences “before the mast”.
It was during his first year at sea, in the autumn of 1824, that he went through a storm of unusual severity, to which he alludes as the “great gale of November, 1824, so fearfully destructive of life and property, especially at Plymouth. At the time of this memorable storm”, he continues, “I was a sailor-boy, and we rode out the tempest in one of the branches of Plymouth Harbour. Though the only damage we sustained was the loss of our bowsprit, the fact that it was my first winter at sea, and my first great gale, enabled it to produce an ineffaceable impression on my mind”.
Whilst on one of the voyages in his father’s ship he first learned that there is something more in rocks and stones than is apparent to the non-observant eye. This was his earliest geological experience, and occurred when their vessel was weather-bound on the Dorsetshire coast, and it is interesting to have the account of it in his words.
“I received”, he writes, “my first lesson in geology at Lyme Regis, very soon after I had entered my teens. A labourer, whom I was observing, accidentally broke a large stone of blue lias, and thus disclosed a fine ammonite –the first fossil of any kind that I had ever seen or heard of. In reply to my exclamation, ‘What’s that?’ the workman said with a sneer, ‘If you had read the Bible you’d know what ’tis.’ ‘I have read the Bible. But what has that to do with it?’ ‘In the Bible we’re told there was once a flood that covered all the world. At that time all the rocks were mud, and the different things that were drowned were buried in it. That there’s a snake that was buried that way. There are lots of ’em, and other things besides, in the rocks and stones hereabouts.’ ‘A snake! but where’s his head?’ ‘You must read the Bible, I tell ‘ee, and then you’ll find out why it is that some of these snakes in the rocks ain’t got no heads. We’re told there that the seed of the woman shall bruise the serpent’s head. That’s how ’tis.'”
In 1826, when he was fourteen years old, my father visited the Scilly Isles, and this expedition was naturally a period of intense enjoyment to him.
It is generally believed that the physiography of a man’s birthplace and early home exercises a most powerful influence upon his character and his career. And we cannot doubt that, in the case of William Pengelly, the environment of the boy helped to form the thoughtful, self-reliant man and the geologist.
Having passed all his childhood in the picturesque fishing village of Looe, with the sound of the sea for ever in his ears, it is not surprising that he acquired a passionate attachment to the sea, a feeling which never left him through life, and which was doubtless rendered stronger by hereditary influences, for on his father’s side he was descended from a long line of seafaring men of courage and adventure.
Accustomed to a seafaring life until he was sixteen, during four of his most impressionable years William Pengelly’s habits and thoughts were influenced as well by its bright, cheerful, and inspiriting aspects as by the darkness and dangers of storms, and by the hardships of a sailor’s work. With trusty comrades he weathered the tempests, and his natural gaiety, real good-nature and high moral principles enabled him to be cheerful and upright amongst rough but well-intentioned comrades.
During these years at sea he was exposed to many perils. Soon after joining his father’s ship he had been rescued from drowning, and together with the rest of the crew suffered shipwreck during a violent gale; whilst on two subsequent occasions he was again saved from drowning, once after so long an immersion that animation could only be restored with extreme difficulty, and after prolonged exertions on the part of his messmates. The courage and self-reliance gained at sea, from the discipline and hardships endured, doubtless helped to impart that vigour and energy to his mind and body for which he was subsequently distinguished.
It was his nature to be perfectly honest and straightforward, a hater of oppression or unfairness in any form, and absolutely fearless when convinced in the cause of truth as he saw it. From early manhood his course was marked by consistency of Christian principles, and by unswerving integrity of purpose and action when the path of duty lay clearly before him. Heredity, that biological law by which living beings tend to repeat themselves in their descendants, would probably have kept William Pengelly longer at sea had not this been frustrated by his mother’s earnest desire that her sole surviving son should return home. For the death of his younger brother, who had been mortally hurt in some school games, made the mother anxious about her sailor-boy. In deference to this wish, he gave up his seafaring life and went to live with her at Looe, and his filial piety was rewarded by the success of his efforts in his task of self-education.
Then began a noble struggle with poverty and various disadvantages. When it is remembered how little external instruction or intellectual training he had received from others, literally nothing beyond that given at the dame’s school and from the village teacher of a remote Cornish fishing-place, it may well appear remarkable that he should have ultimately succeeded in winning for himself a place amongst the scientists of the age, and have gained those coveted honours – the Fellowship of the Royal Society, and the Lyell Medal of the Geological Society. For the next few years my father lived quietly at Looe, and records, in a letter to an intimate friend, the history of his difficulties.
“‘I could a tale unfold’ of struggles, long-continued and severe, during my early pursuit of knowledge. I could speak of the intellectual isolation of my early years when panting after information; no one at hand to direct me in my inquiries, to solve my numerous questions, or to cheer me onward in the path I had resolved to pursue. No bookseller’s shop within sixteen miles, and but little money to spend in it if there had been. My only chance of obtaining a book was through an old pedlar who occasionally visited our village, and of whom I bought my first Euclid. Well do I remember the delight with which, on one occasion, I purchased twenty volumes of books at a second-hand bookshop at Devonport – aye, and the pride, too, with which I carried my treasure in a bundle on my shoulder to my village home sixteen miles across the Cornish hills”. He had now begun to study in earnest, working out his fate indomitably, but as yet without inkling of that science which was to become the passion of his life. His mind ran at this period upon mathematics. Now that he was master of part of his own time, he remedied his deficiencies to a great extent by unremitting exertions. He acquainted himself with many branches of learning sufficiently for ordinary purposes, and in mathematics made remarkable progress. He belonged to that slowly diminishing band of men whose early years were passed out of the sphere of educational influences, such as we understand them, and who by sheer force of character and indomitable courage rose to positions of honour and authority in the scientific world.
Many will, as heretofore, rise from poverty to affluence, from obscurity to fame, but circumstances such as the following are happily growing rare.
“I have at this moment” (he writes many years later in a letter to a favourite pupil) “a very vivid recollection of myself at a late, lonely, and humble supper; the little table at which I wrought theoretical and practical mathematics; the very small pile of books (but oh! how valued, and then how really valuable!), the wretched light, the fireless grate, the damp, cold stone floor, the aching head, the swollen feet, the shivering frame, and that which enabled me to bear the whole, the determination to know something of the beautiful and astonishing Universe. I thank God that I was enabled to persevere, that He has crowned my efforts with success”.
William Pengelly had not only an intense desire for acquiring knowledge for himself, but also a great love of imparting it to others, and it was this which decided him to adopt the vocation of a teacher.
While still a youth he removed to Torquay, where he opened a small day school. It was founded on the Pestalozzian principle, which is that of teaching from objects and by graduation, and was one of the first in which the blackboard and chalk were used in giving instruction. This was in the thirties, and the school rapidly increased from six scholars to thirty, and eventually to about seventy. The success obtained seems remarkable when it is remembered that he started with no advantages of birth or education, was supported by no influential connections, and had only such friends as his own merits and abilities attracted. Young, inexperienced, and alone, he commenced his life as a schoolmaster and lecturer, rendering high service to his generation, and giving, indirectly, a powerful impetus to the whole system of education and scientific thought in the south-west of England. The beautiful Devonshire watering-place became his permanent home. Here he passed about sixty years of happy and active maturity, for his life was destined to be preserved until he attained upwards of fourscore years. He thus became a naturalized Devonian, and soon grew warmly attached to the county of his adoption; but still in heart and spirit, in sympathy and social characteristics, he remained a Cornishman. It is said of Macaulay that he loved his country as a Roman the “city of the seven hills”, as an Athenian the city of the “violet crown”; and this applies to Cornishmen in regard to their native county.
But as William Pengelly’s name is always associated with his geological work in the Devonshire caverns, it is as a Devonian that he is generally regarded. One of his earliest friends in Torquay was the late Mr. Edward Vivian, and the similarity of their tastes in literary and scientific matters tended to make the tie between them unusually strong. In 1837 my father was instrumental in re-establishing and organizing the Torquay Mechanics’ Institute, for which he laboured with unabated energy for more than twenty years, contributing greatly to its success by the delivery of gratuitously given lectures, and by affording other valuable services. In 1839 he started evening classes for the working men and lads of Torquay, whom he taught gratuitously after his long day’s professional toil. He was, from the outset, devoted to schemes of usefulness, ever anxious to encourage a love of learning, and eager to assist in every educational work among the people, and in the general dissemination of scientific knowledge. It was about this time that his marriage to his first wife, Mary Ann Mudge, took place. His wife’s health was always delicate, and he suffered great anxiety on this account; whilst the loss of several of their children in infancy was an added grief to him. Of his three sons, only the youngest, my stepbrother, Alfred Pengelly, lived to grow up to manhood. Under these severe bereavements, William Pengelly’s submission and Christian fortitude were strikingly evident. Personal sorrow was never allowed to limit his efforts to give pleasure and instruction to the many who gathered round him. In his holidays he now visited the great scientific institutions of London, and the time spent at the British Museum, the Royal College of Surgeons, and at the Museum of Economic Geology at Craig’s Court was an intense enjoyment to him. He was able also to make long tours in Wales, and through the Northern and Western Highlands of Scotland, and the contemplation of the beauties of nature afforded him unfailing pleasure, a happiness which was greatly increased when shared with others. His love of nature was not only passionate, but it was also thoughtful and imaginative.
Shortly after settling at Torquay his attention had been turned to scientific studies. Astronomy greatly interested him, and many of his earlier lectures were on that subject; but the reading of a chapter on Geology, in a work published by the Brothers Chambers, gave him his first insight into the objects of the latter science, and led him to devote attention to the subject. From that moment, in fact, his career was determined, though some time elapsed before he undertook in the caves of Devonshire those investigations on which his fame chiefly rests.
The neighbourhood of Torquay has always been an interesting locality to the geologist, and when he began his labours it was not long after the founding of the Devonian System by Sedgwick and Murchison, with the assistance of Lonsdale. And the results of important researches in South Devon had also been published by De la Beche and Godwin-Austen. When William Pengelly’s interest had once been excited, he prosecuted his geological studies with vigour and enthusiasm. Whilst on one of his early holiday visits to Scotland he made the acquaintance of the late Professor Jameson, who showed much kindness to the young geologist, and finding it was his intention to visit the Isle of Arran, gave him some important information respecting its geology, and parted from him with these words: “On your return I hope you will call on me again, when the first question I shall ask will probably be, ‘Did you write your notes on the spot, or at the inn at the close of the day?’ If you reply, ‘On the spot’, I shall be glad to have them, but if not, I am afraid I shall not think them of much value”. My father never forgot this hint, and as time went on love of scrupulous accuracy in scientific work, accuracy both of observation and of statement, became a passion with him. To what nicety he carried his own precision of statement may be judged from his paper entitled, “Is it a Fact?” written for the Devonshire Association Meeting in 1872.
From about the year 1840 onward, my father worked assiduously at the rocks and fossils of Cornwall and Devon, in sympathy and correspondence with Hugh Miller, Charles Peach, and many eminent scientists. The geological structure of the county, and the fossil fishes of Polperro and elsewhere, excited his scientific energies, and his researches being trustworthy in their exactitude soon gave him a high standing amongst the intellects of the day. Gifted with a spirit of research and clear reasoning powers, he attained comparatively early in life to considerable eminence as a man of science, and was brought into intimate intercourse with many of his most distinguished contemporaries, including Sir Roderick Murchison, Dr. Bowerbank, and Professor Huxley, Sir Charles Lyell, Sir Richard Owen, Professor Sedgwick, and Professor Milne-Edwards, of Paris. One of William Pengelly’s earliest published papers was on the Ichthyclites of East Cornwall; his friend Charles Peach had, in 1843, first identified certain remarkable fossil remains as being those of fishes. And my father wrote and worked in support of his friend, in spite of the contradiction of Professor McCoy and other geologists. But after twenty-five years of opposition, he and Peach had the satisfaction of seeing the correctness of their conclusions confirmed by Professor Huxley in 1868.
In 1844, with the assistance of Mr. Vivian, Dr. Battersby, and a few other friends, William Pengelly founded the Torquay Natural History Society, and it was largely due to his untiring efforts and never-abating energy that its success was established. He was unwearied in his work of contributing to its permanent usefulness, by assisting with gratuitously given lectures, papers and gifts of fossils, and for nearly forty years of his busy life he was the hard-working and indefatigable Honorary Secretary of the Institution. From a small gathering, first assembled at 5 Higher Terrace, the Society, under his guiding hand, became a well-known body.
It was mainly through his great exertions and influence that the commodious building in Babbacombe Road was erected, and equipped with a valuable library of standard works in many branches of science, as well as in general literature and philosophy – a library such as can seldom be met within a town of the size of Torquay. The museum, with its collection of Devonian types, was the outcome of his zeal and interest in all departments of Natural History, and is of unique value and surpassing interest in illustrating the antiquity of man, as evidenced by the geological deposits rescued from Kent’s Cavern by his labours, and arranged with loving and disinterested care by his own hands.
Though others were associated with him in founding the Society, which was, and still remains, the intellectual centre of Torquay, yet on his shoulders rested the whole scheme of its inception and completion, and manfully he bore the burden of its management through many long years. The Torquay Natural History Society may be said to have originated through his eager wish to associate with himself those of his neighbours who were interested in the study of the rich local treasures of geological remains which revealed themselves to his searching gaze. How much has since been done, through the agency of this Society, which for so many years enjoyed the founder’s care and supervision, need not be mentioned here.
My father’s private pupils had become so numerous in 1846 that he finally gave up his school and became a tutor of mathematics and the natural sciences, and this, as far as bread-winning was concerned, was destined to be his work for nearly forty years.
His services in this respect were called for by some very illustrious families, the Russian Imperial family amongst them, and by members of more than one other Royal House. His pupils were indeed representatives of all classes, from Royalty downwards, and many of them afterwards attained distinction and became well known in different spheres of life. The lucidity and power of arousing and retaining attention which he displayed, coupled with the attachment he often inspired in his pupils, made him remarkably successful as a teacher.
One of the earliest of the many testimonials which he received was a valuable microscope, presented by his pupils as a mark of their regard. He had now a little more time for social engagements and general society, and this was a great pleasure to him, for he was extremely fond of intellectual companionship.
Amongst his friends at this period may be mentioned Sir John and Lady Shelley, at whose house he met many distinguished scientists. Also Sir Culling and Lady Eardley, who were very anxious for him to accompany their son to Palestine; but this attractive invitation he had regretfully to refuse. Other very valued friends were Lord Hatherton and his son-in-law, Viscount Newark, who greatly enjoyed attending the lectures that the young geologist was delivering at Torquay; and the Duchess of Manchester also took much interest in his scientific pursuits, and showed him great kindness and hospitality. Her death, in 1848, was a great loss to him. “She was”, he writes to a friend, “an excellent woman, eminent for her piety and good works; it was really a treat to have a chat with her, as I had three times a week during the winters of 1846 and 1847”.
With the abandonment of his school, the great chapter of William Pengelly’s scientific life may be said to have opened. Henceforth he was less tied to routine work, and was consequently more free to apply himself to geological investigations, and to the advancement of scientific knowledge. It is interesting to find that in 1846 he and his friends, Mr. Vivian and Dr. Battersby, received a small grant from the Torquay Natural History Society to enable them to make some investigations in Kent’s Cavern, which had long been known and already partially explored by the Rev. J. MacEnery in 1825, and Mr. R. A. C. Austen, afterwards Godwin-Austen, in 1840. The results of these fresh investigations by William Pengelly and his colleagues were communicated to their own Society, and to the Geological Society of London; and an account of all the earlier work done at the Cavern has been given by my father with his usual patient care in the Transactions of the Devonshire Association. Although interesting results were obtained, and it was proved that the flint “implements” and the remains of extinct animals did occur together in the same deposits, public opinion was unprepared to accept some of the most striking conclusions, and it was not until nearly twenty years had passed that, through my father’s exertions aided by the influence of Sir Charles Lyell, a Committee was appointed in 1864 at the Bath meeting of the British Association for the regular and systematic exploration of the Cave.
William Pengelly was now contributing geological papers to different scientific societies, but it was more as a lecturer than as a writer that his activity was manifested. He was indeed a born lecturer. While still a youth he had been a welcome speaker at local institutions, in his native village and at Torquay; and as his reputation grew he frequently lectured at different towns in Devonshire, Cornwall, and elsewhere.
His winter courses on geology and astronomy at Torquay attracted crowded audiences. His speech was fluent, lucid, and incisive, whilst his genial presence and exuberant humour made him a general favourite. He had the magnetic gift of attracting his hearers, and his own scientific enthusiasm always proved contagious. His knowledge was widely sought for and freely imparted to all earnest workers. Few men have served their generation better. As a Natural Science lecturer he placed his ever-growing knowledge unreservedly at the disposal of the many, and was ineffectually remonstrated with when friends urged that he could not afford to be always working without fee. An attentive audience was, he felt, sufficient payment, and always gave him great encouragement. He writes to a friend in December, 1849: “I should like you to be at Exeter when I lecture there; it would do you good to see how cordially they receive me, how attentively they listen, and how heartily they applaud”. Soon after we find him writing: “I accidently met the Earl of Wicklow and Lord Hatherton to-day, who asked me whether I delivered the lectures, on which I am at present engaged, on my own account, or am engaged by the Natural History Society. On being informed that I delivered them gratuitously, they thought me wrong in doing so. Lord Hatherton advised me to pack up and settle in some larger town, where I should doubtless do better than I am doing here as a lecturer, adding, that no man in Torquay is so underpaid as I am, and though it might be all very well to preach down money in the pulpit, it nevertheless is a good thing and a necessary one in this world. I said I quite thought it a valuable thing, that I was very well satisfied with Torquay, that the public had been very liberal to me, and that it became me to be liberal in return”.
So highly were his lectures esteemed by his large circle of friends, that in December, 1850, he was presented, at a conversazione held in his honour, with a valuable telescope as a mark of their regard; the document accompanying the presentation sets forth their sense of his high scientific attainments, and of the value of the lectures which he had delivered during a long course of years at the rooms of the Torquay Natural History Society and the Mechanics’ Institute at Torquay, and at the same time expresses the esteem in which they held him personally. The signatures affixed to the document include those of the Earl of Beverley, Viscount Newark, Lord Hatherton, Lady Sinclair, Sir John Morrenden, Sir Culling E. Eardley, Lady Eardley, Lady Shelley, Dr. Sutherland, Rev. D. Pitcairn, Mr. E. Vivian, Mr. March Phillipps, etc.
My father, after warmly thanking his friends for their gift, concluded his speech in the following words: “This telescope is a really magnificent instrument; I prize it highly, it is to me most valuable. But I prize this paper much more, and attach a still higher value to it. It contains the expression of your esteem. Happen what may, I will never part with it, but regard it as a valuable heirloom in my family. The list speaks, too, as with a voice from the tomb. The death of Lord Newark – one of the subscribers – is not without significance. It reminds me that the most prosperous earthly career must terminate, and that there are subjects infinitely more sublime than science, which should pre-eminently occupy the attention of every human being. Once more, allow me to thank you most sincerely for so kindly enabling me to ‘consider the heavens’. I hope and believe that the effect will be to impress me more deeply with the greatness of God and His infinite condescension and benevolence in visiting man and being mindful of him”.
The spring of 1851 was saddened by the death of Mrs. Pengelly, who had long been an invalid, and after this bereavement he lived very quietly, helping forward the educational institutions of Torquay, attending to his private pupils, and steadily pursuing his course as a geologist.
He had already been elected a Fellow of the Geological Society of London; and in the work both of that and of the Palaeontographical Society he took the warmest interest.
His enthusiasm and industry soon brought him the notice, and the familiar friendship, of famous workers in the same field. His letters from them show how opinions were matured on questions of geological difficulty or doubt, whilst his published correspondence with Sir Charles Lyell proved what influence William Pengelly’s experience and philosophical acumen had on the establishment and progress of geological science, and that he was an adviser in whom the author of The Principles of Geology and the Antiquity of Man placed a large and generous confidence. From this time onward his scientific life and studies were intertwined and bound up with the work of this great geologist, his intimate and valued friend and constant correspondent. And though so greatly their junior in years, he was a correspondent and fellow-worker not only with Lyell, but also with Murchison and Sedgwick, those great geologists who did so much in the nineteenth century to revolutionize the ideas of the history of the earth and of man.
It was almost at the same period that he formed two of the other great friendships of his life, with Canon Kingsley and the late Lord Lister, friendships to be severed only by death. Early in the spring of 1854 Charles Kingsley came with his wife to Torquay for the benefit of her health. My father had long admired his noble character and warmhearted enthusiasm in the cause of popular education, and a strong and lasting friendship soon sprang up between them. They had much in common, not only as enthusiastic students of Nature, but also from the great interest both took in furthering the well-being of the working classes.
My father may be aptly described as a friend of the people and a lover of truth, in the widest sense of the terms. His advice and help were ever at their service; not to flatter them, but to render them true and real assistance, to elevate their condition if he could, to endeavour to raise them to a higher standard and a happier life. In addressing some young men as to self-help on one occasion, he concluded his remarks with these words: “Let them be their own best friends, for he that does not succeed by self-application deserves no success at all”.
Joseph Lister, then quite a young man, was often at Torquay at this period with his father, Mr. Jackson Lister. The interest of his scientific researches, and the earnestness of his efforts to relieve human suffering, greatly endeared him to William Pengelly and created a strong friendship between them, an attachment which grew stronger by recurring intercourse. “I cherish his memory with affectionate admiration”, wrote the great surgeon in a letter to me after my father’s death.
This was his first connection with the Society of Friends, for the Listers and Mr. Robert Were Fox, of Falmouth, and his daughters, Anna Maria and Caroline Fox, with whom my father now became intimate, and the Burlingham family, all belonged to the Society of Friends, and he soon afterwards made the acquaintance of Mr. and Mrs. Spriggs, to whose youngest daughter Lydia he became attached. Mr. Spriggs was descended, both on his father’s side and on that of his mother (who belonged to the Savory family), from Quaker ancestry. One of his mother’s favourite nieces was the beautiful Hester Savory, so much admired by Charles Lamb that on her death he composed the following well-known lines:—
“When maidens such as Hester die,
Their place ye may not well supply,
Though ye among a thousand try,
With vain endeavour.”
Mr. and Mrs. Spriggs were both warmly interested in philanthropic and charitable undertakings. They felt that the benefits they received were supplies granted for the good of others, and never to be thoughtlessly expended in self-indulgence. Their assistance was ever at the service of the poor and needy, and such as had no helper. In earlier years they had been brought into friendship and intercourse with the great abolitionist, Thomas Clarkson, and the saintly social reformer, Elizabeth Fry, whose efforts purified the foul prisons not only of England, but of all Europe. William Pengelly’s second marriage added greatly to his happiness. In all his undertakings he was now sustained, encouraged, and assisted by the loving and ever-ready help of her whose help is of the highest value to a hard-working, energetic man. Whether in the way of making diagrams and drawings, or copying and translating manuscripts for him (for she was a good linguist and amateur artist), or as hostess to familiar friends and the numerous persons of distinction who visited their house, my mother was ever her husband’s stay and support. His work she looked upon as her work, and her enjoyment also. Although she was many years his junior and, like all her family, a consistent Conservative, whilst he was a Liberal, neither the difference in age nor in political opinion ever occasioned the slightest diminution in the warmth of their attachment.
My mother afterwards joined the Church of England, but her family had been members of the Society of Friends for nearly two hundred years, and this circumstance probably gave rise to the statement, which frequently appeared in print, that William Pengelly came of a good old Quaker stock. This is, of course, entirely erroneous, for neither on his father’s side, nor on that of his mother (who was a Prout), had he any connection with the Society of Friends. It is a mistake, therefore, to describe him as of Quaker origin or ancestry. In fact, he had little regard for ancestry of any sort. It is generally believed that he belonged to the same family as Sir Thomas Pengelly, a Cornishman, who rose to be Chief Baron of the Exchequer in 1726. In answer to the numerous letters which he received on the subject, he invariably replied, “I don’t care to claim any connection with him”, and when asked by correspondents if he had visited the parish of Whitchurch, where many of the Pengelly family had resided, he wrote: “It appears to have been a great home of the Pengellys; and the church, I am told, is rich in their monuments, but I have never seen it”.
Soon after his second marriage, and mainly through his wife’s persuasion and influence, he began, in 1856, to attend the meetings of the British Association, and also to pay more frequent visits to London to be present at the gatherings of the Geological Society. He writes to her describing one of the Geological meetings: “Two papers were read, one by Mr. Moore on the Rocks of Wigtonshire, which was discussed by Col. Portlock, Murchison, and Salter; the other was by the famous Babbage on the formation of sedimentary outliers, etc., which called up Portlock, Lyell, Salter, Stephenson the engineer, Prof. Tyndall, Huxley, etc. It was a magnificent meeting, and made me wish for a town residence. I renewed my acquaintance with many old friends”.
From the Cheltenham meeting of the British Association, he writes as follows: “Aug. 11th, 1856. – Then came Vivian with Kent’s Cavern, and introduced his own views as to the formation of the Cavern, which gave me an opportunity of replying, and this I did at some length. Robert Chambers took up the theme, so did Professor Rogers of America. Beete Jukes, the Chairman, pronounced in my favour, and Vivian acknowledged very handsomely that he thought me right. There were two other papers and the sitting ended”.
“Aug. 12th, 1856. – Five o’clock. My paper has been read (on Beekites). Tennant considered Beekites as one form of silicious concretions, and thought the fossil character of the nucleus purely accidental. I am coming home tomorrow, if all be well. My home is very, very dear to me”.
He attended all the meetings of the British Association from 1856 to 1889, with the exception of that held in 1884 in Canada, and began almost immediately to take a prominent part in the proceedings of the Geological Section. He was very soon placed on the General Committee of the Association, and was also for many years on the Council. In 1877 he was President of the Geological Section at the Plymouth Meeting, and he presided at Anthropology at the meeting held at Southport in 1883.
Those who were not quite satisfied with the educational system of the nineteenth century were much interested in a speech, showing considerable insight into the problem, which he delivered at the opening of the Abbey Road Public Schools at Torquay during January, 1857. After a long and able speech by his friend Sir Culling Eardley, the Chairman, William Pengelly, briefly addressed the meeting, and expressed his belief that the present age was not one “of education – it was an age of instruction; the difference was momentous… The fact was, that the majority of scholars of the present day were taught to be rather passive recipients of knowledge than active inquirers. What was required was to teach comparatively few things, but to teach them thoroughly. Parents should be less concerned about the rapid passing over of a great number of rules in arithmetic than that what their children learnt should be thoroughly learnt, so that when they left school they should be in a position to acquire knowledge for themselves. It was true that vast improvements were constantly being made in the various departments of science; but he did not think that public enlightenment had kept pace with the progress of science. People were surrounded on all hands by wonders, and what was wanted was to get them to think. Once successful in that respect, the love of acquiring knowledge naturally followed”.
William Pengelly was at this time President of the Torquay Mechanics’ Institute, and a testimonial was presented to him, by the members, of a copy of the volumes of the Encyclopedia Britannica. He had already received several public testimonials, but he was much gratified by the form which this one took.
It is worthy of note that he was one of the first to give cordial support to the early closing movement, which was just then beginning to arouse public attention. In July of this year he delivered an address at Torquay on “Early Closing” in connection with “Mental Improvement”, and his able advocacy gave increased impetus to a movement which attracted many sympathetic and thoughtful minds.
The friendship between the Baroness (then Miss) Burdett-Coutts and my parents began soon after their marriage. In the autumn of 1856 my mother writes frequently to her family of the pleasant evenings they spent with Miss Burdett-Coutts at Torquay; they were often also her guests in London. It was at a party given at her town house in Stratton Street, Piccadilly, that my father first met Charles Dickens, with whom he afterwards became well acquainted. He writes home from London, in 1857: “…At length the guests began to arrive; first came a clergyman named Stookes, I had met his sisters at Miss Coutts’ at Torquay; then Charles Dickens, beard, white waistcoat, fancy shirt and all – he is splendid company certainly, but strikes one as being altogether an actor; then came my friend Captain Gordon, and then Wheatstone; Sorby was to have been there, but did not turn up through some mistake. At dinner we talked of Education, Extension of the Electoral Franchise, etc. Dickens talked with good sense on all topics. Dinner over, puns and riddles flew thick and fast…”.
Later in the year my father, accompanied by his wife’s brother, attended the British Association at Dublin, visiting Belfast on the way. This was the first of his tours in Ireland, a country which he often revisited. His letters to my mother show how thoroughly he always enjoyed being on the water, and also give some account of the scenery of the Giant’s Causeway and of the scientific gathering in Dublin. “…We reached Fleetwood a little after time”, he writes,
“but as the steamer always waits the arrival of the train, that did not matter. We were taken by the train quite to the steamer’s side, and in a very few minutes found ourselves on board. W., and not a few other landsmen, looked gravely at the sky and feared a rough passage, and when they found the boat pitching more freely than they had expected, they believed their fears fully realized; some of the old salts, on the other hand, talked of a ‘nice breeze’, of a ‘splendid passage’, and in reply to the remark that ‘it was rough’, said that ‘were it always smooth all the old women in the country would be sailors’. …I got up finally at half past four and went on deck, hoping to catch a glimpse of the Isle of Man, which I had failed to do last night, but I was again disappointed. I found Ireland ahead, and Scotland on the weather-bow, and it seemed to carry me back to my sea-boy life to watch the gradual coming on of day, the steady development of the land we were approaching, the various craft we passed, and the seabirds that floated and wheeled around and by us. Soon after six we entered Belfast Lough, and one by one the passengers came on deck, all looking more or less seedy. About half-past seven we landed at Belfast, which we found having all the appearance of prosperity, activity, wealth, and taste; it did not come up, or come down, whichever you like, to my idea of an Irish town, and it was not possible to believe it Ireland…”.
“Portrush, 20th Aug., 1857. – Yesterday we started pretty early from Bush Mills and walked a second time to the Causeway. Arrived there, we courageously declined the services of the guides who prowl about. We were quite prepared, from reports, etc., to be disappointed, and so indeed we were, but then it was a most agreeable disappointment. To attempt description would be to display my weakness. Whether regarded as a geological phenomenon, as a subject for a picture, or rather a series of pictures, or as a great Cyclopean terminus, the Causeway is a singularly splendid object. Having penetrated as far as possible under the cliff, we retraced our steps, and then I rambled on the margin of the precipice to a much greater distance, and as point after point opened I became sensible that we were leaving much, too much, unexplored, so that we agreed to alter our plans: to remain in the North until Saturday, and to reach Moyallen that evening, to give up Killarney and the West, and consequently to hope for a second Irish trip. After breakfast we started by boat for Ballycastle, a distance of nearly twenty miles. I was much pleased to find lias with ammonites in contact with trap, by which it is much hardened, yesterday, on the beach here. This is a most charming spot; there is a splendid sea-walk with a glorious open sea, having no land nearer than America…”.
“Dublin, 28th Aug. – After breakfast I called on W. and then repaired to the Section rooms, where I met sundry old friends. I took my specimen from Cornwall, which, in spite of McCoy, I have always pronounced to be a portion of a fish, and showed it privately to sundry bigwigs; they all individually, and without knowing the opinion of either of the others, pronounced me right, and without hesitation too. Moreover, they all regarded it as a triumph and a great fact in geology. You will not wonder at my being overjoyed about it. I showed it to Phillips, Bowerbank, Bailey, Jukes, and Lord Enniskillen (to whom R. Were Fox introduced me). Next to Sir P. Egerton, who is not here, Lord Enniskillen is the highest authority we have on fishes. The papers yesterday were not without interest, but were not likely to be popular. …In the evening came a soirée in the museum rooms of the Royal Irish Society, and a brilliant scene it was. Science, fashion, beauty, ugliness were met in one room. There I saw Sedgwick and Rogers, who had not appeared before. I met, amongst others, Mr. Pim, his wife (J. J. Lister’s daughter), and her brother, my old friend Joseph Lister.* They wish me to dine with them to-morrow. It involves a short journey by rail; still, I think I may go. I was promoted at the Association, being placed on the General Committee, and also on that of the Geological Section”.
* Afterwards Lord Lister.
It was in 1858 that my father’s detailed researches in the Devonshire Caves may be said to have commenced. In that year the Windmill Hill Cavern was discovered at Brixham. He at once visited the spot to enter into negotiations for its thorough investigation. This was undertaken finally by the Royal and Geological Societies, through a Committee, of which he was a member, and the actual superintendence fell entirely to him. Of the value of his work and of the results gained to Science, I prefer to employ independent testimony. In the report of the exploration we read: “It is to Mr. Pengelly that the Committee are indebted for the active and constant superintendence of the work, and for the record of each day’s proceedings. [He], in fact, saw personally to the execution of the whole work, noted all the physical features, and arranged and tabulated all the specimens found in the cave, devoting to the investigation an amount of care and time without which it would have been impossible for the London Committee to have obtained the exact record” which was presented and read to the Royal Society. (See Philosophical Transactions, clxiii, p. 483.)
Professor Bonney, the distinguished geologist, writes thus of the work at Brixham: “The results proved that in Devonshire a race of men in a low state of civilization had been contemporaneous with a fauna which has now disappeared from Britain, and in some cases is actually extinct”.
Professor Boyd Dawkins, the eminent authority on Cave Explorations, writes in Nature for April, 1894: “The result of the exploration established beyond all doubt the existence of Palaeolithic Man in the Pleistocene Age, and caused the whole of the scientific world to awake to the fact of the vast antiquity of the human race. From this time Pengelly’s energies were mainly directed towards cave exploration”. In his valuable book on Cave Hunting, the Professor also writes: “The discovery in 1858 and the exploration of the now famous cave of Brixham by the Royal and Geological Societies, marked the dawn of a new era in cave-hunting. Under the careful supervision of Mr. Pengelly, flint implements were discovered underneath stalagmite and in association with the remains of the hyaena, woolly rhinoceros and mammoth, in undisturbed red loam under conditions that prove man to have been living in Devonshire at the same time as those animals. This singularly opportune discovery destroyed for ever the doubts that had overhung the question of the antiquity of man, and of his co-existence in Europe in company with the animals whose remains occur both in the caverns and river-deposits”.
A paper on the cavern, which William Pengelly communicated to the British Association at Leeds in the autumn of 1858, was received with much interest by his scientific colleagues. He writes to my mother, in September, 1858: “I have read my paper (on Brixham Cavern) to a crowded house – all the great geologists came in apparently. Owen followed in very eulogistic strains, characterizing the exploration of the cavern as the only satisfactory and good attempt of the kind that ever had been made. I was very much complimented at the close by sundry persons. Robert Chambers introduced himself, and proposes having a chat with me on the question…”.
Early in the following summer, on May 27th, 1859, my father gave an evening lecture at the Royal Institution of London, on “The Ossiferous Caverns and Fissures of Devonshire”, concluding the discourse with an account of the flint knives of human manufacture and remains of extinct animals found together in the Brixham Cave, and the remarkable evidence these facts afforded of the antiquity of man. This question was warmly debated at the meeting of the British Association at Aberdeen in the autumn of the same year. And here we are carried back to the atmosphere breathed by Lyell, Murchison, Owen, Phillips, Huxley, and Ramsay, and with their help William Pengelly fought for the infant doctrine against all the forces of bigotry and intolerance. It is mainly due to their efforts that more enlightened opinions are now held. It was a steady light, replacing the gloom.
In letters home he describes to my mother some of the heated discussions which took place at Aberdeen.
“Aberdeen, 17th Sept., 1859. – Yesterday was a great day here; I speak as a member of section ‘C’ (Geology); the fourth paper was by Rev. Dr. Anderson (author of a book in my library under the title of The Course of Creation), on Human Remains in Superficial Drift, in which he attacked all the evidence which has recently been produced of Man amongst the Mammoths, and a very great deal which no one ever regarded as bearing on the question. After wading through a great amount of rubbish, he boldly attempted to castigate Lyell for his opening address; next, he ridiculed Horner’s argument of the pottery, etc., in the silt of the Nile. … Then he ran off to Germany to cudgel Bunsen; then back again, pitched me into Brixham Cave, and did his best to bury the cave and myself in ridicule, and finally he gave us a yard or two of bad pulpit. There was a considerable amount of orthodoxy in the room, and he got a very undue share of applause. And now per contra. Lyell handled him as a gentleman, and a philosopher alone can do it. Next Phillips, having rubbed his hands in oil, smoothed him down, but in such a way as to scarify him; then Ramsay seized him by the button-hole and informed him of a fact or two connected with caverns, and finally handed him over to me, upon which I seized him by the collar, dragged him into Brixham Cave and showed him its facts and their whereabouts. Then came Symonds (Rev. W. Symonds, Rector of Pendock) and pulpited him. A few papers followed, and then I read my paper, which was well received. … Last night Sir Roderick (Murchison) delivered a lecture on the Geology of the North of Scotland – a very able performance…”.
“Aberdeen, September 21st. – …At the soirée Anderson and I had a somewhat long and animated discussion on the flint knives. He informs me that Professor Macdonald is to lecture on ‘Man’ to-night (Wednesday), and is intending to ‘pound me to dust’ …”.
The year 1859 was memorable for the publication of Darwin’s great work on the Origin of Species, and was, indeed, a period of surpassing interest to geologists and naturalists, “the morning twilight which heralded the dawn of modern science”.
My father was one of the earliest converts to the theory of creation by evolution, as well as a champion of the doctrine of the antiquity of man, and he laboured as a pioneer of that doctrine through all the burden and heat of the battle.
Prince Albert was President of the Association at Aberdeen, and the gathering was most interesting and was well attended. Writing home, my father says: “The meeting is a very large one; this is doubtless partly owing to the Prince, and truly he does seem to be very amiable and intellectual”. During the progress of the meeting William Pengelly was one of those members honoured by Queen Victoria and the Prince Consort with an invitation to Balmoral.
On September 25th, 1859, Mrs. Pengelly writes to her mother:
“William returned home last night, tired out with his long journey from Aberdeen, but he seems thoroughly to have enjoyed the British Association papers and discussions. At the reception at Balmoral he was close to the Queen and Prince Albert and the Royal children during all the time of the Highland games, which were got up for the special entertainment of the savants. Prince Albert was in full Highland costume. William says Balmoral is the most beautiful spot…”.
Many years later Mr. Pengelly had the honour of receiving a visit at his residence, Lamorna, Torquay, from the Queen’s grandsons, Prince Edward and Prince George (now His Majesty King George V), who greatly enjoyed seeing the geological collections.
On other occasions the Emperor Napoleon III, with the Prince Imperial and the Queen of Holland, visited my father at his Torquay home, and manifested much interest in the fossils and scientific specimens shown to them. Her Imperial Highness the Grand Duchess Marie, sister of Alexander II of Russia, daughter of the Emperor Nicholas and widow of the Duke of Leuchtenberg, was at Torquay with her family in 1859. Her sons studied several branches of science with Mr. Pengelly, and became much attached to him, and invited him to accompany them on their tours in Scotland and elsewhere. This he was unable to do, owing to his numerous engagements, but they joined him on short geological trips. Prince Nicholas, the eldest of the princes, took much interest in geology. He was afterwards appointed by his uncle, the Czar, Inspector of the Mines in his dominions, and said, “the work often made him think of Mr. Pengelly”, to whom he sent warm and affectionate messages by the Russian Ambassador, Baron von Brunnow, whom my father frequently met at the house of the Baroness Burdett-Coutts, and he describes in letters to my mother (who was visiting her parents) his first impression of his pupils and of one of their geological expeditions. “…I started off in proper time for the rush on the Russian princes. I saw them in the Apsley Grounds shooting with Mr. Stuart, the surgeon. The boys soon came to me, and I began with the younger, a nice chatty little fellow, so very chatty indeed that had I felt inclined I might have known how many pairs of stockings he had, or anything else in his power to communicate, but of course I checked his loquacity.
“I only remember that his mother is expected here next month. The eldest boy is equally agreeable, but less chatty. This engagement promises to be very pleasant, they are thoroughly simple…”.
“June 22nd, 1859. – I arranged some fossils and reached Apsley House as appointed at three o’clock. On arriving here I found two carriages, into one of which the Princes, Dr. Tillner (who speaks English and is probably a German), and I got. In the other carriage were Col. Rehbinder and Prof. Bauer. We were about an hour in the Brixham Cave and saw it pretty thoroughly, and the whole party were pleased. We then proceeded in the same order to Anstey’s Cove. …From Anstey’s Cove we took different routes; the Colonel and Professor returning directly home, whilst our carriage drove round to drop me at my own door…”.
We get some glimpses of the Russian Imperial family in letters from Mrs. Pengelly to her mother:
” Aug. 17th, 1859. – This morning we had a two hours’ visit from the Princess Eugénie, the Countess of Tolstoi, and one of the tutors; we were extremely pleased with them all. The Princess is not pretty, rather small features, a very good forehead, and evidently very intelligent, and extremely interested in what is told her. They looked at the corals and fossils, etc., which they seemed to understand thoroughly; and asked leave to come again and bring the younger ones, who were much disappointed at not coming with them this morning. …I had a good deal of conversation with the Countess Tolstoi; she told me the eldest Princess was on a visit to the Queen at Osborne, with her mother, the Grand Duchess, and that they were greatly pleased with the Isle of Wight. She said the young princes and princesses were so happy here. I said, ‘I suppose on account of being so near the sea.’ ‘Oh ! no’, she said; ‘they have a palace on the seashore, a very magnificent one, but they enjoy being here and living in a plain, simple way’. The Grand Duchess telegraphed to the Emperor the day after her arrival here, ‘This is Paradise’…”.
Mrs. Pengelly to her mother: “William went yesterday to Newton with the Russian party, to a little picnic in the Bradley Woods valley; they seemed to enjoy it very much, and the little Princess kept saying, ‘Oh ! it is so nice! I am so happy’. She had a hammer which the tutor had brought for her and which soon broke. ‘Oh!’ she said, ‘this is too fine, too pretty. I must have a large one like Mr. Pengelly’s’. William says she is a witch, for he never found so many good fossils before. Like so many of his pupils, she enjoys her lessons greatly and is much attached to him. Countess Tolstoi says she keeps running to the window to see if he is coming. One day he had a very pleasant interview with the Grand Duchess. The Princess Eugénie said the other day after leaving us, ‘I would rather have Mr. Pengelly’s fossils than all my diamonds’.”
A little later, the Prince of the Netherlands (brother of the King of Holland) with the Princess and their daughter, the Princess Mary, visited Torquay, and wrote asking my father to read geology with the young Princess. He was at that time very closely occupied, for in addition to his other pupils he was giving the Russian princes and their sister, Princess Eugénie, several lessons a week. Princess Mary, however, was so anxious to have his instruction, that she agreed to take her lessons before eight in the morning, and proved a most intelligent and interesting pupil.
Mrs. Pengelly to her mother: “I went on Friday to see the Grand Duchess by invitation, and we were introduced to the Princess Mary, who has now arrived here and is very nice. We paid a most pleasant visit, but, I am sorry to say, the Princess is not at all well; she is certainly a most interesting girl…
“…William has been with the Prince and Princess of the Netherlands and the Russian princes to the Cavern. He is much pleased with the latter, especially Prince Nicholas, the eldest, who is reading Dr. Kane’s Arctic Travels with him with great interest. They are coming to us one evening to look through the telescope”.
Mrs. Pengelly to her mother: “April 13th, I860. – We had such a nice pleasant visit from the Princess Mary of the Netherlands, who is a pupil of William’s now, and a most agreeable one; she is about eighteen, an extremely simple, open-hearted girl. To-day we have had a visit from Miss Coutts and her party, and William is gone there to dine to-night. The last time we went the Prince and Princess Waldeck were there, and Sir Charles and Lady Lyell, etc. … Princess Mary and Mademoiselle von Doom often walk down to town to meet William, when he is on his way to give lessons there, though it is before eight in the morning…”.
How pleasantly the Princess remembered her lessons with my father will be seen from the following letter, which he received from her some time later.
Princess Mary of the Netherlands to Mr. Pengelly: “Huis de Parar, near The Hague, April 1st, 1865. – Princess Mary of the Netherlands thanks Mr. Pengelly for his letter and for the beautiful volume of Lyell’s Geology, which she has received through the agency of Mr. Murray. The Princess recalls with much pleasant recollection the delightful months which she spent at Torquay, and the many geologizing and jollygizing hours for which she was indebted to Mr. Pengelly. Miss von Doorn desires to be kindly remembered to him”.
My father’s pupils now literally included all ranks, from the prince to the peasant. A little later my mother writes of those whom he taught gratuitously at the night school, after his hard day’s work:
“William is much interested in many of the young men; they seem so much in earnest, and take such pains to get on. One who only knew his letters when he came three weeks ago, can read words of three syllables now. They come so nicely dressed and so neat, and everything is made comfortable for them”.
Mr. Pengelly thus records an incident which amused him: “One youth had apparently such an insuperable amount of difficulty in mastering the mysteries of the alphabet, that it seemed likely he would never be able to learn to read. The boy’s father was, however, very anxious for him to be put into the writing-class, and when met with the remark that ‘it was useless to teach anyone to write who could not read what he had written’, replied, ‘You teach ‘un to write, and I’ll get somebody to read it safe enough’.”
When on his geological rambles my father frequently had rather curious experiences, some of which I can fortunately give in his own words. One day he had reached a lonely wayside inn, about midday, and inquired from the rather forlorn-looking landlady if she could get him a simple lunch.
“Can’t ‘ave it, zur”, was her reply. “Why not?” “‘Cause me and my old man’th vailed out”. “I’m sorry for that, but what has it to do with my having refreshment?” “I tell ‘ee, we’ve vailed out, and he’th carried away the kay; so you can’t ‘ave it. You may have some of they there orts – whortleberries – if you like; but there’s nort else”. I declined the “orts”, and proceeded on my journey, which after a walk of twenty miles brought me to an inn where the host and hostess lived amicably. Finding that a bed was obtainable, I ordered tea with ham and eggs. Slipping off my collecting-basket, but leaving my hammer in the belt in which it was carried, I took a seat on the kitchen “settle”, and thereby joined three men, apparently masons, who had just “left work” and were enjoying a glass and pipe before going home. They all eyed me intently; but for a time no one spoke. At length one of them took the pipe from his lips and emitted the accumulated smoke in that long, thin thread which seems to betoken a desire to make the most of a good thing.
When his lips were at liberty he said: “Ax your pardon, sir, for making so bold; but what trade be you?” “I can’t say I have a trade”. “‘Cause of your hammer, sir, I took the liberty”. “Oh, my hammer! I can only say I break stones on the road”. The trio exclaimed in a chorus: “We won’t believe that”. “If you’ll open my basket, you’ll see the stones I’ve broken”. I had spent the day before in a richly fossiliferous greensand district, and had collected many very fine specimens; whilst the rocks of the locality in which the inn stood were, so far as was known, utterly destitute of fossils. Taking me at my word, one of the masons opened the basket and took out the first stone that came to hand. It proved to be a piece of greensand, with an unmistakable shell firmly embedded in it, yet standing out in bold relief. Instantly their pipes were snatched from their lips, their mouths fell open, and they all stared at the specimen as if they would at once penetrate the mystery connected with it. Never had I seen looks in which ignorance, wonder, and admiration were so obviously blended and so thoroughly pronounced.
At length one of them exclaimed: “Why, how did thekky “– a provincialism for that –” shell get there?” Obviously fossils, with their wondrous teachings, were new to them. My attempt to reply to their question eventuated in a sort of conversational lecture; and, so far as my experience goes, no audience was ever more attentive or more interested. The next morning the landlord appeared after breakfast, remarking: “The men was very much pleased with what you told ’em last evening”. “I thought they were interested”. “Oh, ees – uncommon, I ‘sure ‘ee. I hope no offence, sir; but if you’d stop ‘ere for a few days, or a week, and talk to the men in the evenings, you shud be welcome to meat, drink, washing, and lodging free gratis. I’m sure lots of men wud come an’ hear ‘ee, and I should zell an uncommon zight o’ beer”. “Your offer is extremely handsome, and most tempting; and I am much obliged to you for it. But my plan was to reach M– to-night, and I don’t like to make any alteration. Thank you very much; but I must get on”.
William Pengelly had, I think conspicuously, that special mark of a fine nature that no surroundings made the slightest difference to his demeanour. He was equally happy in his expositions when chatting with the rustics, whom he met at country inns on his geological rambles, as when engaged in learned discussions with eminent scientists, or explaining points of interest to Royal personages. All classes, from the highest to the lowest, seemed glad to gather round him and listen to his instructive conversation. And from the early days when as a sailor boy he was accustomed to read aloud to entertain his shipmates, until the time when, as a scientific lecturer, he had the power of holding the attention of large audiences by his eloquence, his first thought seemed ever to be the pleasure and instruction he was able to afford to others, his last consideration the personal benefit he might derive for himself. Early in the year 1860 my father completed the formation of a fine collection of Devonian fossils, which, under the name of the “Pengelly Collection”, was presented to the Oxford University Museum in connection with the Burdett-Coutts Geological Scholarship.
The following resolution was passed in a congregation of the University on February 16th, 1860:
“The collection of Devonian fossils presented by A. Burdett-Coutts shall be named ‘The Pengelly Collection’, in honour of the gentleman whose scientific knowledge has enabled the foundress to make the collection”.
In the summer of 1860, and again in 1861, my father gave geological lectures at the Royal Institution of London, and writes home in May, 1860: “The subject was too large, yet it seemed to give satisfaction, and I was frequently applauded. The specimens were greatly admired after the lecture. The audience contained a great number of truly great men – Babbage, Faraday, Murchison (in the chair), Tyndall, Grove, Bigsby, Daubeney, Wheatstone, and others…”. A few weeks later he attended the British Association at Oxford, and was present at the historic duel between Professor Huxley and Bishop Wilberforce. So many accounts of this controversy have been given already elsewhere that I need only quote a sentence from one of his letters concerning it, in which Mr. Pengelly says: “Then left section C and went to D (Zoology) to hear a discussion on a paper which has direct reference to Darwinism. The room was densely packed. The Bishop of Oxford, Huxley, Professor Beale, Lubbock, and others spoke on it. The excitement was intense, quite as great as at a political meeting…”.
Professor Bonney, in his interesting summary of my father’s scientific work, divides it into three groups: one dealing with the investigations of the Bovey Tracey deposits, another with the examinations of caverns, and the third including his miscellaneous geological labours, which were carried on for a long period of years. The work at Bovey was undertaken and concluded early in the sixties, after the exploration of Brixham Cavern was finished, and before the beginning of the extensive operations at Kent’s Hole. Miss Burdett-Coutts, with characteristic liberality, assisted the work at Bovey. My father’s scientific colleagues considered that his systematic examination of the deposits proved of great interest, and induced him to communicate a paper to the Royal Society on the work. It was entitled, The Lignites and Clays of Bovey Tracey, and was supplemented by an account of the Fossil Flora of Bovey Tracey, by Dr. Oswald Heer, of Zurich, the eminent fossil botanist. It will be remembered by geologists that Mr. Starkie Gardner’s subsequent studies modified opinions as to some of Professor Heer’s conclusions, but Mr. Pengelly’s work has always been held to be of great scientific value by experts. In answer to a letter from Mr. Starkie Gardner, in 1879, my father writes: “I am afraid it is not within my province to give an opinion as to the Miocene or Eocene age of the Bovey lignite. The question seems to be one for you and Professor Heer to settle”.
Writing to a friend, in 1880, of Mr. Starkie Gardner’s opinions, Mr. Pengelly says: “He has already, and more than once, published the opinion that Dr. Heer made sundry errors in the specific identification of the plants, and that he erred also in assigning a Miocene age, instead of an Eocene age, to the Bovey formation. Dr. Heer, I believe, maintains all his positions”.
It is very interesting to know that the recent investigations at Bovey by the eminent geologist, Mr. Clement Reid, confirm Dr. Heer’s conclusions. I had the privilege of hearing Mr. Clement Reid’s remarkable paper on the subject at the Royal Society in June, 1910. The President, Sir Archibald Geikie (late Director-General of the Geological Surveys of the United Kingdom), spoke most favourably of Heer’s work, and paid an eloquent tribute at the same time to my father’s work and memory. I wished that he could have lived to know that half a century after he had concluded the Bovey investigations, the conclusions of his valued Swiss friend and colleague would be so favourably reviewed.
Bovey Heathfield is a district of great interest to geologists; it is, in fact, the bed of an ancient lake, which extends for a considerable distance.
Professor Bonney, in describing it, gives this short summary of my father’s elaborate and painstaking treatise on the subject:
“The upper part or ‘head’ in the section of the Bovey Tracey basin differs much in character from the underlying mass, which it covers uncomformably. At the top usually come a few inches of peat, which is succeeded by a fine white sand, and this by a mass of sand with clay rather irregularly interstratified. At the bottom comes a sandy clay containing rock fragments, which are usually angular and subangular, and are sometimes rather more than a foot in diameter. These evidently have been derived from the neighbouring hills. On the western side of the basin they are mostly granite or fragments of the rock through which it has been extruded. On the eastern side flint and chert from the cretaceous strata, as might be expected, become more common.
“The ‘head’ was generally fossiliferous, but some leaves were found in one of the clays. Among these Professor Heer recognized the willow – perhaps three species, one being Salix cinerea, another probably Salix repens, and the dwarf birch, Betula nana, which still lingers in the Scottish Highlands and is so common in more arctic regions. These plants fully confirm the idea, which had been suggested by the rock-fragments just mentioned, viz. that the ‘head’ had been formed when the climate of Devonshire was much colder than it is at the present day, and ought therefore to be referred to some part of the so-called glacial epoch. This discovery at Bovey Tracey is especially interesting, because trees of that epoch are so rare in the south-west of England.
“The underlying deposit, which, as already stated, is evidently much the older of the two, yielded a far more ample series of plant-remains which, however, were not to be obtained from all the beds. The mass consisted, for a thickness of about seventy-two feet in descending, of beds of clay, lignite, and sand; the last, though one layer was thicker than any of the deposits, being the least common. The remainder of the mass was formed of clay and lignite only, and the whole was free from stones. Thirty-one beds of lignite were cut through in the principal section, varying in thickness from a few inches to rather more than six feet. Thirteen of these yielded distinguishable plant-remains, and these were also obtained from two of the beds of clay. From the collection which was sent to him, Professor Heer determined fifty species; among them were ferns, conifers, figs, cinnamon trees, an oak, and a laurel, with vines, andromedas, a bilberry, a gardenia, a water-lily, and sundry leguminous plants – the commonest specimens being a fern, Pecopteris lignitum, and a conifer, Sequoia Couttsiae. Professor Heer, as the result of his examination, referred the lignitic group of Bovey Tracey to the lower Miocene period”.
My father was a geologist, and, of course, never claimed to be considered also a fossil botanist. That he was a remarkably accurate observer is shown by Sir Charles Lyell writing thus to him in September, 1861: “I was surprised to hear that Professor Heer could be two hours in your collection and find no additional species. It shows how well you chose the set you sent to Zurich, and how good an eye you had acquired for nice botanical distinctions”. Again, a few days later, Sir Charles writes: “It is very remarkable that Professor Heer failed to detect any new species in your collection, which you had certainly mastered the contents of very thoroughly”. Sir Charles communicated my father’s paper on The Lignites and Clays of Bovey Tracey to the Royal Society, and writes, “I need not say that I shall be honoured by having to communicate such memoirs”. He also voluntarily undertook all the active work of my father’s candidature, and in 1863 Mr. Pengelly was elected as a Fellow of the Royal Society. Several very distinguished scientists were amongst the fifteen candidates admitted in that year, of whom, I believe, only two now survive, my father’s friends Sir William Crookes and Sir Henry Roscoe.
My father was very busily engaged with pupils and lectures at this time (1863), but managed to visit London. He writes:
“I find I must go to town next Thursday, the 18th, to be presented (admitted is the right word) to the President of the Royal Society. My intention is to go up on Thursday and back on Friday. Miss Coutts, finding that I must be in town, asked me to go there, and be present at her ball on the 11th, to-night. I should have liked it, and have no doubt it will be a brilliant affair. The Princess Mary and the Duchess of Cambridge are to be there; brave moral courage! Remember these facts. State in my epitaph that I was proof against the discussion on the Abbeville jaw, and Miss Coutts’ ball, yet, that I could have enjoyed both”.
Not the least of Mr. Pengelly’s services to his adopted county was the foundation of the Devonshire Association for the Advancement of Science, Literature, and Art, an enterprise which some of those to whom he at first proposed it, and who afterwards became his colleagues, pronounced to be hopeless. He, however, was determined to persevere, and received great assistance from his valued friends Sir John Bowring, Mr. J. Brooking Rowe, and the Rev. W. Harpley. Mr. Spence Bate, though willing to support the undertaking, took a gloomy view of the prospect of a successful gathering, as will be seen by the following letter:
“C. Spence Bate to W. Pengelly.
“8 Mulgrave Place, Plymouth.
“Tuesday, April 15th, 1862. – My dear Pengelly. – The scheme had better vegetate a little longer. I see nothing but failure shining brightly. You can call the meeting, if you like, for Plymouth at two or three o’clock, but I fear the Devonshire Association will be made up of Plymouth members, and what a farce it would be to have our first meeting in Exeter and no Exeter men there. It is your baby, and my advice is that you nurse it still a little. But whenever it is ready to be weaned, I shall be happy to assist you in getting it to run.
“C. Spence Bate.”
The first meeting, held at Exeter in 1862, proved, however, remarkably successful, under the able presidency of Sir John Bowring. My father contributed a paper on The Lignites and Clays of Bovey Tracey, and one on The Age of the Dartmoor Granites.
The second gathering was held at Plymouth, and the third, in 1864, at Torquay; whilst a year or two later my father was President at the meeting held at Barnstaple in 1867, of which we read in the Report of the Council that “it was the most successful hitherto held”.
One of his oldest friends and colleagues who attended writes thus of his presidency: “In the year 1867 Mr. Pengelly, who had recently been elected a Fellow of the Royal Society, filled the office with considerable éclat; his inaugural address, being mainly a brilliant and lucid review of the then existing knowledge of the Geology of Devonshire, was listened to as the demonstration of a master with unmistakable interest”. At the close of his address he referred to some of the unsolved geological problems within the county, and concluded with these words: “The solution of at least many of these questions must be reserved for another generation of inquirers, and to the young men of the present day I earnestly commend them”.
One of his successors in the “chair”, in 1871, was his intimate friend Canon Kingsley, whose acceptance of the office was conveyed in the following characteristic letter to my father:
“…Many thanks. I accept joyfully the honour which is offered me, and the date thereof. I only feel a dread at so great a pleasure, so far off, and at what may happen meanwhile. For ‘life is uncertain’, say fools. ‘Life is certain’, say I. Because God is educating us thereby. But this process of education is so far above our sight that it looks often uncertain, and utterly lawless. Wherefore fools (with M. Comte) conceive that there is no living God, because they cannot condense His formulas into their small smelling-bottles. I am just sending off my eldest son, who has learnt his trade well at Cirencester and in the River Plate, to try his own manhood in Colorado, U.S. You will understand, therefore, that it is somewhat important to me just now whether the world be ruled by a just and wise God or by 0. … P.S. – It is also an important question to me with regard to my own boy’s future, whether what is said to have happened to-morrow (Good Friday) be true or false. But I am old-fashioned and superstitious, and unworthy of the year 1870”.
The Association took firm root, and has now continued flourishing for half a century. In 1872, another of my father’s friends, Archbishop Temple, then Bishop of Exeter, presided at the second meeting held in his own Cathedral city. In 1886 the gathering met at St. Mary Church, the important parish adjoining Torquay. Mr. Pengelly, who had long been the Honorary acting Treasurer, and who had been in many other ways closely associated with the work of the Society for nearly a quarter of a century, now felt that the time had come when age and increasing infirmities forced him to take a less active share in connection with it. The success and prosperity of the Association bore witness to the wisdom of his financial management, for both in public and private affairs he made it a rule never to allow expenditure to exceed income.
Up to the last my father continued to take the warmest interest in the Association which he had founded, and for which he had worked so long and so unremittingly.
In July, 1893, the meeting was again held at Torquay, and although Mr. Pengelly was at this time a confirmed invalid (and died in the following spring of 1894), it afforded him great pleasure to receive visits from the leading members, including his old friends Dr. Brushfield (the President),Lady Bowring, Monsignor Brownlow (afterwards Roman Catholic Bishop of Bristol), the Rev. W. Harpley, Mr. Brooking Rowe, Colonel Amery, and others.
In a letter to my mother, Lady Bowring, the widow of the first President of the Devonshire Association, expressed the great pleasure this visit gave her.
Monsignor Brownlow often visited my father at Torquay during his illness, and endeavoured to cheer him by chatting on those antiquarian subjects to which he had devoted so much attention, and on which, at Mr. Pengelly’s request, he lectured at the Torquay Museum. His volume on Slavery and Serfdom in Europe, published in 1892, is an important contribution to the subject, and is dedicated to my father.
During the fifty years of its existence the Association has met continuously in Devonshire, with the exception of the one meeting held, in 1909, at Launceston, in Cornwall, the native county of the Founder, William Pengelly, who was a link uniting Devonshire and Cornwall. But as I believe the Rev. W. Harpley is preparing a paper for the Jubilee Meeting dealing with the past history of the Association, I gladly leave the subject in his able hands.
These rough notes for a biographical sketch of my father were written just before Easter, when my dear husband, Henry Forbes Julian, started on the ill-fated Titanic. I had intended revising them, and concluding the paper with a description of Mr. Pengelly’s most important work, the exploration of Kent’s Cavern. But since the great change which has altered all my life, and my recent illness, I must leave the notes as they are, and beg the indulgence of the members.
My husband took much interest in the approaching Jubilee Meeting, and hoped to return from America in time to attend it at Exeter, and to receive and entertain all the members of the Devonshire Association and of the Torquay Natural History Society (the two Societies founded by my father) at the Pengelly Memorial Hall in the Torquay Museum, to enable the members and our other friends to inspect the fossils there, to meet together and visit Kent’s Cavern and celebrate my father’s centenary. Alas! that such a wish must remain for ever an unfulfilled desire. Touching tributes to my husband’s heroism in sacrificing his life to secure the safety of the women and children have reached me from Their Majesties the King and Queen, from Queen Alexandra, and from many hundreds of people, including the poor as well as the rich.
His self-sacrificing death was a noble culmination to a strenuous and upright life. Of the loss to metallurgical science it is not for his wife to speak. Of the loss to herself she cannot speak.