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Report on SHNH Spring meeting: Bicentenary of Henry Gosse, 1810-1888 Torquay Museum, 14-15 May 2010

Report on SHNH Spring meeting: Bicentenary of Henry Gosse, 1810-1888 Torquay Museum, 14-15 May 2010

The Torquay Museum, near Gosse’s home in Marychurch,  in the later years of his life, was the venue for the 2010 Spring meeting and AGM, and welcomed 36 delegates to their Pengelly Hall for two days in a somewhat unseasonably cool May.

The keynote speaker, Ann Thwaite, author of Glimpses of the Wonderful, the life of Philip Henry Gosse 1810-1888, explained how she came to him through writing a biography of his son, Edmund Gosse. She outlined Gosse’s links with Torquay, and also the use of “Henry” in referring to him, continuing to summarise his life and achievements in natural history. She was followed by John Hodges, of the U3A group associated with the museum, for further clarification of the use of “Henry” Gosse when referring to him as well as the use of the term “aquarium”.

This lead naturally on to John Rundle, senior aquarist at the Marine Biological Association, who introduced us to the world of aquaria, past and present, remaining with marine life  and the possible impact of the Victorian marine aquarium craze  in a presentation by Keith Hiscock, an Associate Fellow of the MBA, who gave us the result of his surveys of some of Gosse’s key sites, revealing that generally much the same species were present, apart from  sea anemones and serpulid reefs. Possible resins were suggested for this. The afternoon session closed with a joint paper by the President,  Geoff Moore, co-authored with Ray Williams, on the art of the zoologist, T. A. Stephenson.

The first day session concluded with an opportunity to see both the permanent collections in the Museum and a visit to behind the scenes of the Natural History Store, with the curator, Barry Chandler, managing to give everyone an opportunity, despite the limited space! Drinks and a superb conference dinner of home cooked food in Pengelly’s café, were rounded off by a masterly reading of At Marychurch by the poet Anthony Thwaite,  and a vote of thanks to the Torquay Museum Society, the helpful and accommodating staff and to those of Pengelly’s café.

Saturday morning  started with a beautifully illustrated presentation by Catherine Levy on Gosse’s time in Jamaica, showing us the landscapes there as well as specimens collected by Gosse and pictures of the living birds, and some of his other illustrations of insects. Gosse’s beautiful images were a key feature in Chris Meechan’s presentation which showed how they served as sources for exquisite glass models of marine life by the Blaschka family.

The last of the formal presentations, by Ray Williams, unravelled the complex printing history of  Gosse’s Actinologia, revealing its true publication date to be 31 December 1859 and also identified the source of mysterious pirated copies of his plates. Thanks were expressed to all who had contributed to making the meeting a success.   

Gina Douglas, SHNH Meetings Secretary