Promoting observation, free range exploration, sense of place and citizen science, through the field notes of a naturalist.

Thursday, 27 December 2012

Thank the Lord for Darwin

I was thrilled to have been able to get my grubby paws on a copy of the First Annual Report (1867-68) of Cardiff Naturalists' Society. Why? Because this, to the best of my knowledge contains the first documented evidence that naturalists were active in the south Wales valleys at the height of the industrial revolution. Contained therein is a report of one of the earliest outdoor events of the society, a joint walk with the Woolhope Naturalists' Field Club of Hereford and the newly formed Cardiff Naturalists'. Interestingly both these natural history societies remain in existence today. 

Representatives from both learned societies arrived by train, meeting at Crumlin Station for a walk that would take them through the Crumlin Viaduct over the upland landscape towards Pontypool for an evening meal in the Three Cranes public house. En route the group, that included a high percentage of Reverends, stopped for a lunchtime presentation about local geology delivered by an attendee with a large map, before heading on towards Pontnewynydd about a mile from Pontypool.  Here they noted the presence of red backed shirke and a dead common shrew.

The report is stuffed full of historical insights, not only into the flora and fauna that occurred nearly a 150 years ago in south Wales but also includes some telling reminders as to the social make up and priorities of the time. I've already hinted at how religious preachers we activity involved in Victorian natural societies, an association that today is at best tenuous given current irrefutable evidence that God didn't create the earth and all things on it. It seemed that some of the essential attributes on the job description of Victorian clergy, was obviously to believe in creationism but to join a natural history society and show a healthy interest in the finer points of Cricket.

This deluded link to creationism is further evident on page 20 of the report. Rev Professor Gagliardi in his address about the Natural System to a General Meeting of the society on 3rd February 1867 opens his presentation and sets out his view.

'Each moss, each shrub, each shell, each crawling insect, holds a rank important in the plan of Him who form'd it;......'

The Rules of Cardiff Natuarlists' from this time also makes for interesting reading. The fact the society felt the need to state within it 'That Ladies be eligible as Members'  tells us much about equality and the status of women at the time. However, new aspiring members would need to be proposed and balloted in, but excluded by 'one black ball in three'. 

I am pleased to have been able to obtain this report (all for the princely sum of £2.49) as I'm sure other than those held in libraries in Newport and Cardiff University, few will now have survived into modern times. Moreover the National Museum of Wales project to digitise back issues of the Transactions of Cardiff Naturalists' Society doesn't appear to go back this far.

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