Collecting the new, rare, and curious
Letters selected from the correspondence of the Cornish mineralogists Philip Rashleigh, John Hawkins, & William Gregor
Edited with an introduction by RJ Cleevely
Mineral collectors made a significant contribution to the development of Mineralogy as a science, and the rich variety of specimens found in the South West peninsula enabled Cornish collectors to participate in improving knowledge of their occurrence, paragenesis, chemistry and variety.
he correspondence of three eighteenth-century Cornishmen – Philip Rashleigh, the Reverend William Gregor and John Hawkins – provides evidence of their involvement in the progress in this branch of geology throughout that period as a result of their collaboration with British and European researchers. A selection of these letters illustrates the motives of collectors and the gradual manner and sequence by which improvements in identifying minerals were made. The fashion for making protracted tours throughout the UK or Europe facilitated the spread of geological knowledge in enabling direct contact with those involved. The initial stage of acquiring and exchanging specimens is typified by letters between Rashleigh and his nephew Pole Carew, during such a tour. Other letters between this Cornish ‘trio’ reveal the nature of their contribution to the later stages of cataloguing or refining classification systems, through providing material for analysis and continuing to supply specimens to eminent collectors. A Chronological List of all relevant letters in these archives (more than 500 in number) from which 168 have been selected, provides a unique reference source. The Introduction to the volume discusses the archives, the letters, the relationships of the ‘trio’, historical and political events of the period, aspects of mineral collecting, and the gradual development of a satisfactory mineral classification system. Extracts from the letters are used as evidence in each of these. Reference is also made to some earlier theories of 18th century geology.
RJ Cleevely was a Senior Scientific Officer in the Department of Palaeontology at the Natural History Museum, London, where he spent 30 years associated with the collection of fossil mollusca until his retirement in 1991. In addition to publications on fossil mollusca, he has written accounts of past collectors and their significant natural history works, and in 1983 published the general reference World Paleontological Collections. He contributed 26 items to the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, including research on eighteenth-century collectors in the South-West.
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