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Owen, Sir Richard: Letters to Sir Astley Cooper and the Royal College of Surgeons of England

Identity Statement

Reference code(s): GB 0114 MS0249
Held at: Royal College of Surgeons of England
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Full title: Owen, Sir Richard: Letters to Sir Astley Cooper and the Royal College of Surgeons of England
Date(s): 1837-1863
Level of description: Collection (fonds)
Extent: 2 items
Name of creator(s): Owen | Sir | Richard | 1804-1892 | Knight | comparative anatomist and palaeontologist


Administrative/Biographical history:

Sir Richard Owen was born in Lancaster, in 1804. He was educated at Lancaster Grammar School and then enlisted as a midshipman in the Royal Navy. He became interested in surgery He returned to Lancaster and became indentured to a local surgeon, in 1820. He entered the University of Edinburgh medical school, in 1824 and privately attended the lectures of Dr John Barclay. He moved to London and became apprentice to John Abernethy, surgeon, philosopher and President of the Royal College of Surgeons, in 1825. He became a member of the Royal College of Surgeons, in 1826. He became Assistant Curator of the Hunterian Museum of the Royal College of Surgeons of England, in 1827, and commenced work cataloguing the collection. He set up a private practice in Lincoln's Inn Fields. He became lecturer on comparative anatomy at St Bartholomew's Hospital, in 1829. He met Georges Cuvier in 1830 and attended the 1831 debates between Cuvier and Geoffrey Saint-Hilaire, in Paris. He worked in the dissecting rooms and public galleries of the Jardin des Plantes, Paris, in 1831. He published anatomical work on the cephalopod Nautilus, and started the Zoological Magazine, in 1833. He worked on the fossil vertebrates brought back by Darwin on the Beagle. He became a Fellow of the Royal Society, in 1834; Hunterian Professor of Comparative Anatomy and Physiology, in 1836-1856; and gave his first series of Hunterian Lectures to the public, in 1837. He was awarded the Wollaston gold medal by the Geological Society, in 1838; helped found the Royal Microscopical Society, in 1839; and identified the extinct moa of New Zealand from a bone fragment, 1839. He refused a knighthood in 1842. He examined reptile-like fossil bones found in southern England which led him to identify "a distinct tribe or sub-order of Saurian Reptiles" he named Dinosauria, in 1842. He developed his concept of homology and of a common structural plan for all vertebrates or 'archetype'. He became Joint Conservator of the Hunterian Museum with William Clift, in 1842, and Conservator, in 1849. He was elected to 'The Club', founded by Dr Johnson, in 1845. He was a member of the government commission for inquiring into the health of London, in 1847, including Smithfield and other meat markets, in 1849. He described the anatomy of the newly discovered (in 1847) species of ape, the gorilla, [1865]. He engaged in a long running public debate with Thomas Henry Huxley on the evolution of humans from apes. He was a member of the preliminary Committee of organisation for the Great Exhibition of 1851. He was Superintendent of the natural history collections at the British Museum, in 1856, and began researches on the collections, publishing many papers on specimens. He was prosector for the London Zoo, dissecting and preserving any zoo animals that died in captivity. He taught natural history to Queen Victoria's children, in 1860. He reported on the first specimen of an unusual Jurassic bird fossil from Germany, Archaeopteryx lithographica, in 1863. He lectured on fossils at the Museum of Practical Geology, and he was Fullerian Professor of Physiology at the Royal Institution, during 1859-1861. His taxonomic work included a number of important discoveries, as he named and described a vast number of living and fossil vertebrates. He campaigned to make the natural history departments of the British Museum into a separate museum, leading to the construction of a new building in South Kensington to house the new British Museum (Natural History), opened in 1881; [now the Natural History Museum]. He was knighted in 1884. He died in Richmond in 1892.


Scope and content/abstract:

Papers of Sir Richard Owen, 1837-1863, comprising an autograph letter from Sir Richard Owen to Sir Astley Cooper, 9 Jan 1837. Relating to the purchase of John Flint South's collection. Cooper's reply is also written on the letter; an autograph letter from Richard Owen of the British Museum, to the President and Vice Presidents of the Royal College of Surgeons of England, 28 Jan 1863. Accepting an invitation to the Hunterian Oration and dinner on the 14 Feb 1863.

Access & Use

Language/scripts of material:

System of arrangement:

As outlined in Scope and Content.

Conditions governing access:

By written appointment only.

Conditions governing reproduction:

No photocopying permitted.

Finding aids:

Archival Information

Archival history:

Immediate source of acquisition:

Purchased from Francis Edwards for 32.00, in 1975.

Allied Materials

Related material:

Papers of Sir Richard Owen. (MS0025)

Publication note:

Description Notes

Archivist's note:
Compiled by Anya Turner.

Rules or conventions:
Compiled in compliance with General International Standard Archival Description, ISAD(G), second edition, 2000; National Council on Archives Rules for the Construction of Personal, Place and Corporate Names, 1997.

Date(s) of descriptions:
Sep 2008

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