Bate, Charles Spence

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

Charles Spence Bate

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 Bate Bovisand Sand-Beds 1 pt 1 42-44
1864 C. Spence Bate Progress and Growth in the Association and at Large (Presidential Address) 1 pt 2 9-30
1864 C. Spence Bate On some Roman-British remains Found near Plymouth 1pt 3 123-133
1864 C. Spence Bate On a Cornish Kjökkenmödding [shell mound] 1 pt 3 138-139
1864 C. Spence Bate On a Barrow in Constantine Bay 1 pt 3 140
1866 C. Spence Bate An Attempt to Approximate the Date of the Flint Flakes of Devon and Cornwall 1 pt 5 128-136
1867 C. Spence Bate On a Cornish Kjökkenmödding 2 pt 1 283-284
1871 C. Spence Bate On the Prehistoric Antiquities of Dartmoor 4 pt 2 491-516
1871 C. Spence Bate On the Clitter of the Tors of Dartmoor 4 pt 2 517-519
1871 C. Spence Bate A Contribution towards determining the Etymology of Dartmoor Names 4 pt 2 520-535
1872 C. Spence Bate On the Original Map of the Royal Forest of Dartmoor, Illustrating the Perambulation of Henry III, 1240 [includes a version ‘traced’ from the original] 5 510-548
1872 C. Spence Bate Researches into some Ancient Tumuli on Dartmoor [includes Hammeldon Down and the illustration of the bronze dagger and the amber pommel, the latter in colour] 5 549-557
1873 C. Spence Bate Researches into some ancient Tumuli on Dartmoor 6 pt 1 272-275