Bate, Charles Spence

Cists, Caries and Crustaceans: Charles Spence Bate (President 1863)

Charles Spence Bate
© The Natural History Museum

Two of the three Founding Fathers of the Devonshire Association were elected to Fellowship of the Royal Society, the mark of outstanding scientific excellence in Britain. William Pengelly is widely recognised as a geologist and a pioneer of Palaeolithic archaeology, but Charles Spence Bate, the Association’s equally distinguished second President, is far less well known today.

Bate was a Plymouth dental surgeon, the most respected outside London. He published prolifically in dental journals, and his classic book on the pathology of tooth decay is now available online. He was a President of the British Dental Association and of the Odontological Society – the first from outside the capital.

But his FRS was not awarded for dentistry. He was in his time the foremost authority – possibly in the world – on Crustacea, the immense animal group that ranges from tiny planktonic copepods to giant crabs via shrimps, woodlice, and barnacles, on which latter he corresponded with Darwin, a specialist in the group. His mammoth report on 2,000 specimens from the Challenger expedition of 1873-6 took him ten years, and his two volume monograph, with the entomologist J. O. Westwood, on the British sessile-eyed Crustacea was the standard work for more than a century.

His contributions to the Transactions reflect other interests: archaeology, particularly that of Dartmoor, and geology and evolution. His Presidential Address, given just three years after the publication of Darwin’s On the Origin of Species, addresses with great erudition the highly topical issue of the evolution of man, and is fascinating reading.

Spence Bate practised dentistry until his final illness. A year before his death in 1889 he assisted Sabine Baring Gould (DA President 1896) in the early stages of the latter’s folk song collection by introducing him to two singers of traditional Devon songs in South Brent; another small contribution to scholarship by this remarkable, versatile man.

Robin Wootton
(first published in DA News, Spring 2019)

Papers published in DA’s Transactions

1863[Chas] Spence BateBovisand Sand-Beds1 pt 142-44
1864C. Spence BateProgress and Growth in the Association and at Large (Presidential Address)1 pt 29-30
1864C. Spence BateOn some Roman-British remains Found near Plymouth1pt 3123-133
1864C. Spence BateOn a Cornish Kjökkenmödding [shell mound]1 pt 3138-139
1864C. Spence BateOn a Barrow in Constantine Bay1 pt 3140
1866C. Spence BateAn Attempt to Approximate the Date of the Flint Flakes of Devon and Cornwall1 pt 5128-136
1867C. Spence BateOn a Cornish Kjökkenmödding2 pt 1283-284
1871C. Spence BateOn the Prehistoric Antiquities of Dartmoor4 pt 2491-516
1871C. Spence BateOn the Clitter of the Tors of Dartmoor4 pt 2517-519
1871C. Spence BateA Contribution towards determining the Etymology of Dartmoor Names4 pt 2520-535
1872C. Spence BateOn the Original Map of the Royal Forest of Dartmoor, Illustrating the Perambulation of Henry III, 1240 [includes a version ‘traced’ from the original]5510-548
1872C. Spence BateResearches into some Ancient Tumuli on Dartmoor [includes Hammeldon Down and the illustration of the bronze dagger and the amber pommel, the latter in colour]5549-557
1873C. Spence BateResearches into some ancient Tumuli on Dartmoor6 pt 1272-275