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OWEN, Sir Richard (1804-1892)

Identity Statement

Reference code(s): GB 0114 MS0025
Held at: Royal College of Surgeons of England
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Full title: OWEN, Sir Richard (1804-1892)
Date(s): [1831-1873]
Level of description: Collection (fonds)
Extent: 11 boxes and 3 volumes
Name of creator(s): Owen | Sir | Richard | 1804-1892 | Knight | naturalist
Detailed catalogue: Click here to view repository detailed catalogue


Administrative/Biographical history:

Born, Lancaster, 1804; educated, Lancaster Grammar School; enlisted as a midshipman in the Royal Navy; became interested in surgery; returned to Lancaster and became indentured to a local surgeon, 1820; became interested in anatomy; entered the University of Edinburgh medical school, 1824; privately attended the lectures of Dr John Barclay; moved to London and became apprentice to John Abernethy, surgeon and philosopher and President of the Royal College of Surgeons, 1825; member, Royal College of Surgeons, 1826; Assistant Curator, Hunterian Museum of the Royal College of Surgeons of England, 1827 and commenced work cataloguing the collection; set up a private practice in Lincoln's Inn Fields; Lecturer on comparative anatomy, St Bartholomew's Hospital, 1829; met Georges Cuvier in 1830 and attended the 1831 debates between Cuvier and Geoffrey Saint-Hilaire, Paris; worked in the dissecting rooms and public galleries of the Jardin des Plantes, Paris, 1831; published anatomical work on the cephalopod Nautilus; started the Zoological Magazine, 1833; worked on the fossil vertebrates brought back by Darwin on the Beagle; Fellow of the Royal Society, 1834; Hunterian Professor of Comparative Anatomy and Physiology, 1836-1856; gave his first series of Hunterian Lectures to the public, 1837; awarded the Wollaston gold medal by the Geological Society, 1838; helped found the Royal Microscopical Society, 1839; identified the extinct moa of New Zealand from a bone fragment, 1839; refused a knighthood, 1842; examination of reptile-like fossil bones found in southern England led him to identify "a distinct tribe or sub-order of Saurian Reptiles" he named Dinosauria, 1842; developed his concept of homology and of a common structural plan for all vertebrates or 'archetype'; Joint Conservator of the Hunterian Museum with William Clift, 1842, and Conservator, 1849; elected to 'The Club', founded by Dr Johnson, 1845; member of the government commission for inquiring into the health of London, 1847, Smithfield and other meat markets, 1849; described the anatomy of the newly discovered (in 1847) species of ape, the gorilla, [1865]; engaged in a long running public debate with Thomas Henry Huxley on the evolution of humans from apes; member of the preliminary Committee of organisation for the Great Exhibition of 1851; Superintendent of the natural history collections at the British Museum, 1856; began researches on the collections, publishing many papers on specimens; prosector for the London Zoo, dissecting and preserving any zoo animals that died in captivity; taught natural history to Queen Victoria's children, 1860; reported on the first specimen of an unusual Jurassic bird fossil from Germany, Archaeopteryx lithographica, 1863; lectured on fossils at the Museum of Practical Geology; Fullerian Professor of Physiology at the Royal Institution, 1859-1861; taxonomic work included a number of important discoveries as he named and described a vast number of living and fossil vertebrates; 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;] knighted, 1884; died, Richmond, 1892.
Publications include: Memoir on the pearly nautilus (1832); The Zoology of the Voyage of H.M.S. Beagle pt. 1. Fossil Mammalia: by Richard Owen (Smith, Elder & Co, London, 1840); Odontography 2 vol (London, 1840-45); Lectures on the Comparative Anatomy and Physiology of the Invertebrate Animals, delivered at the Royal College of Surgeons, in 1843 ... From notes taken by W. W. Cooper (London, 1843-46); Report on the State of Lancaster (W. Clowes & Sons, London, 1845); A History of British Fossil Mammals and Birds (London, 1846); On the archetype and homologies of the Vertebrate Skeleton (London, 1848); A History of British Fossil Reptiles (Cassell & Co, London, 1849-84); Descriptive catalogue of the Osteological Series contained in the Museum of the Royal College of Surgeons (London, 1853); On the classification and geographical distribution of the Mammalia (London, 1859); Palæontology, or a systematic summary of Extinct Animals and their geological relations (Edinburgh, 1860); Monograph of the Fossil Reptilia of the cretaceous and Purbeck Strata (1860); Memoir on the Megatherium; or, Giant Ground-Sloth of America (London, 1861); Description of the skeleton of an extinct gigantic Sloth, Mylodon Robustus (London, 1862); Inaugural Address .. on the opening of the New Philosophical Hall at Leeds (Leeds, 1862); On the extent and aims of a National Museum of Natural History (London, 1862); Memoir on the Gorilla (London, 1865); On the Anatomy of Vertebrates 3 vol (Longmans, Green & Co, London, 1866-68); Descriptive and illustrated catalogue of the Fossil Reptilia of South Africa in the collection of the British Museum (London, 1876); Researches on the fossil remains of the Extinct Mammals of Australia; with a notice of the extinct Marsupials of England 2 vol (London, 1877); Memoirs of the extinct Wingless Birds of New Zealand (London, 1879); International Medical Congress. On the scientific status of medicine (J W Kolckmann, London, 1881); Experimental Physiology, its benefits to mankind (Longmans & Co, London, 1882).


Scope and content/abstract:

Papers of Sir Richard Owen, [1831-1873], comprising papers relating to his scientific research and as Curator of the Hunterian Museum of the Royal College of Surgeons of England.

Papers largely relating to Owens' research and publications, including work on specimens of the Hunterian Museum and other institutions, namely original illustrations for plates published in his works and proof sheets; notes of dissections performed at the Zoological Society; report of preparations in comparative anatomy from animals which have died at the Zoological Gardens, 1831; report on the dugong received by the Zoological Society, 1831; paper on metamorphosis of insects; notes and sketch on python and boa; papers relating to a variety of subjects, including temporal mastoid-mammals; viscera and muscles of the myrmecophaga jubata (anteater); distinction of an animal from a vegetable; animal kingdom; order ophidia; serpents from British Fossil Reptiles, [c1850s]; list of 'Mr Cumming's Mollusca'; notes on birds closest in structure to mammalia; classified list of D Bennet esq's specimens of natural history, [1836]; notes on the hyoid, with sketches on the salamander; illustrations of cetacea; notes on the fore-foot, megatherium (giant sloth); loose notes on generation; notes on homologies; plates and notes on histology of animals; description of a malformed foetal heart; notes on composition of vertebral segments; notes on the dermo-skeleton, operculum and of a lecture on digestion; notes on belemites; memoranda on various subjects, including harpa ventricosa and Ehrenberg's classification with letters from naturalists; description of the skeleton of an extinct gigantic sloth, [c1842], and megatherium; report of preparations in comparative anatomy from animals which have died at the Zoological Gardens; report on the dugong received by the Zoological Society, 1831; notes on the giraffe, 1837; notes and sketches on a dugong, 1838; notes on the incubation and development of the chick; notes and plates on odontography, 1844; printed papers on Dinornis maximus (moa), with annotations by Owen, 1848-1851; memoir of William Clift, [c1850]; report on the dissection of the chimpanzee, 1844; notes taken at the Garden of Plants, Paris, 1847;

papers largely relating to the administration of the museum collection, namely lists of specimens, additions to the collection from other collections and reports to the Board of Curators of the Museum, including list of Hunterian documents handed by Owen to the Museum Committee; list of duplicate specimens in the College; selection from the collection of M Verraux; report to the Board of Curators, 1833; report on the present state of the museum, 1833; list of second selection of specimens from Mr Langstaff's collection, 1835; list of preparations in spirit presented by F D Bennett, 1836; donations from the Army Medical Departments; donations since July [1843]; report on duties of officers and servants of the Museum, 1852; plans for additional museum space, 1831; report to the Board of Curators on the Museum of Comparative Anatomy in the Garden of Plants, Paris, 1831; observations on the state of the College Museum, 1833; general account of specimens of comparative anatomy and natural history presented to the Museum by George Bennett, 1834; list of specimens proposed to be transferred to the British Museum and specimens of osteology proposed in place of the transfers, 1833-1834; report to the Committee on the chimpanzee, and copies of related correspondence, 1840; report on the physiological catalogue, 1840; list of duplicate preparations from the museum of Sir Astley Cooper not desirable for the College Museum, 1843; list of specimens selected for the College from Dr Buckland's series of bones of dinornis, 1844; report on additional space required for the collection, 1845; list of osteological specimens purchased at Steven's Auction Room, 1847; list of donations from Sir Thomas W Wilson, 1852;

papers relating to catalogues of the Hunterian Museum, including sketches and notes for an osteological catalogue, [?1840s]; notes and classifications referring to specimens in the Museum, [1827-1856]; Catalogue of Hunterian Osteological specimens, [?1853]; notes made whilst producing the catalogue of comparative anatomy, ?1831; printed histological catalogue of the Museum, with annotations, 1850; papers prepared for publication of descriptive catalogue of the fossil organic remains of invertebrata in the museum, 1856;

papers relating to the Hunterian lectures delivered by Owen at the College, including museum lectures on the animal kingdom, (Owen's first course of Museum lectures) c1837; notes for lectures delivered at the Royal College of Surgeons, 1830s-1850s; memorandum concerning Museum lectures, 1823-1833; lecture on the comparative anatomy and physiology of the vertebrate animals, 1844; notes, plates and drawings relating to mammalia and Owen's lecture, 1844;

notes taken by William W Cooper on lectures on comparative anatomy delivered at the Royal College of Surgeons of England, 1838-1839, revised and corrected by Owen; notes on lectures on comparative anatomy delivered at the Royal College of Surgeons of England, 1837, in Clift's hand; notes taken by T E Bryant on Owen's lectures on comparative anatomy, 1839; notes taken by Frederick Hoare Colt on lectures on physiology and morbid anatomy by Owen, 1845; Lady Owen's common-place book, [c1835-1873].

Access & Use

Language/scripts of material:

System of arrangement:

The records are arranged as outlined in the scope and content.

Conditions governing access:

Open to bona fide researchers by written appointment.

Conditions governing reproduction:

At the discretion of the Librarian.

Finding aids:

Catalogue of Manuscripts in the Library of the Royal College of Surgeons of England (1928) by Victor G Plarr.

Archival Information

Archival history:

Richard Owen's papers were distributed after his death by his executors/Charles Davies Sherborne to the various institutions in which he worked. Those which related to his work at the Royal College of Surgeons of England were deposited at the College.

Immediate source of acquisition:

Deposited by Owen's executors.

Allied Materials

Related material:

Correspondence and papers (Reference: L OC) and letters (31) to Albert and R.W.T. Gunther, 1861-1880 (Reference: L MSS GUNTHER COLL (16)) held by the Natural History Museum; correspondence and papers, 1828-1889 (Reference: Add MSS 33348, 34406-07, 39954-55, 42579-82, 49978), correspondence with Benjamin Dockray, 1845-1860 (Reference: Add MS 33348), correspondence with WE Gladstone, 1861-1887 (Reference: Add MSS 44397-501 passim) and correspondence with Sir Robert Peel, 1842-1848 (Reference: Add MSS 40518-600 passim), held by the British Library, Manuscript Collections; correspondence and papers (c400 items), 1826-1889 held by Temple University Libraries, Phildadelphia, USA; correspondence, 1838-1889 and letters to Sir George Stokes, 1853-1889 (Reference: Add 7342, 7656), held by Cambridge University Library, Department of Manuscripts and University Archives (Reference: Add 5354); correspondence (11 items), 1834-1855, held by St Andrews University Library; correspondence and papers, 1835-1889, held by the American Philosophical Society Library; miscellaneous correspondence, 1841-1884, held by the National Library of Scotland, Manuscripts Division (Reference: MSS 9715, 10290, 10522, 10777-10780 Passim); correspondence and papers and letters (34) to Roderick Murchison, 1837-1868 (Reference: M/O 7) held by the Geological Society of London; correspondence and papers, held by the Linnean Society of London; annotated copy of Origin of the species, held by Shrewsbury School Library; correspondence with Sir Henry Acland, 1844-1890, held by Oxford University: Bodleian Library, Special Collections and Western Manuscripts (Reference: MSS Acland); correspondence with Blackwoods, 1851-1887, held by the National Library of Scotland, Manuscripts Division (Reference: MSS 4095-4507 passim); letters (18) to Henri Ducrotay De Blainville, 1824-1849, held by the Maison D'Auguste Comte, Paris; letters (20) to William Buckland, 1834-1849 and correspondence with Sir John Herschel (11 items), 1844-1862 (Reference: HS), held by the Royal Society; correspondence with Sir Edwin Chadwick, 1842-1889, held by University College London (UCL) Manuscripts Room (Reference: CHADWICK); letters (18) to Sir Henry De la Beche, held by the National Museum of Wales; letters (18) to Sir William Hooker, 1839-1863, held by the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Library and Archives; letters (26) to Henry Lee, 1868-1887 (Reference: Mss 5389/1-24, 5392/23-24) and letters (1 vol) held by the Wellcome Library for the History and Understanding of Medicine; letters to Sir George Cornewall Lewis, 1849-1860, held by the National Library of Wales (Reference: Harpton Court); letters (25) to Gideon Algernon Mantell, 1835-1848, held by the National Library of New Zealand: Alexander Turnbull Library, (Reference: MS Papers 83 Folder 77); letters to Sir Norman Moore, 1876-1890, held privately; correspondence with Sir Charles Murray held by the National Archives of Scotland (Reference: GD261); letters (copies) to John Phillips, held by Oxford University: Museum of Natural History (Reference: John Phillips Archive/Folder 8); letters (45) to William Whewell, 1837-1860, held by Cambridge University: Trinity College Library (Reference: Whewell MSS).

Publication note:

Description Notes

Archivist's note:
Sources: Dictionary of National Biography (Smith, Elder and Co, London, 1895); Plarr's Lives of the Fellows of the Royal College of Surgeons of England (John Wright and Sons Ltd, Bristol, 1930); University of California, Berkeley Museum of Paleontology website:; Historical Manuscripts Commission On-line National Register of Archives; British Library Public On-line Catalogue. Compiled by Julie Tancell as part of the RSLP AIM25 project.

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:
October 2002

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