Reign of the Beast: The Atheist World of W. D. Saull and his Museum of Evolution - cover image


Adrian Desmond

Published On





  • English

Print Length

676 pages (xii+664)


Paperback156 x 35 x 234 mm(6.14" x 1.38" x 9.21")
Hardback156 x 37 x 234 mm(6.14" x 1.46" x 9.21")


Paperback937g (33.05oz)
Hardback1120g (39.51oz)

OCLC Number



  • NHD
  • RBX
  • QRYA5
  • NHB
  • JNB


  • HBLL
  • HRQA5
  • JPF
  • JPA


  • HIS015060
  • SCI054000
  • REL004000
  • HIS037060
  • POL042040
  • EDU016000


  • Evolution theories
  • W. D. Saull
  • Science Museums in London
  • Geology
  • 1830s radical thinking
  • Atheism
  • Co-Operation
  • Fossils
  • Dinosaurs
  • Prehistoric Archaeology

Reign of the Beast

The Atheist World of W. D. Saull and his Museum of Evolution

  • Adrian Desmond (author)
In the 1830s, decades before Darwin published the Origin of Species, a museum of evolution flourished in London. Reign of the Beast pieces together the extraordinary story of this lost working-man's institution and its enigmatic owner, the wine merchant W. D. Saull. A financial backer of the anti-clerical Richard Carlile, the ‘Devil's Chaplain’ Robert Taylor, and socialist Robert Owen, Saull outraged polite society by putting humanity’s ape ancestry on display. He weaponized his museum fossils and empowered artisans with a knowledge of deep geological time that undermined the Creationist base of the Anglican state. His geology museum, called the biggest in Britain, housed over 20,000 fossils, including famous dinosaurs. Saull was indicted for blasphemy and reviled during his lifetime. After his death in 1855, his museum was demolished and he was expunged from the collective memory. Now multi-award-winning author Adrian Desmond undertakes a thorough reading of Home Office spy reports and subversive street prints to re-establish Saull's pivotal place at the intersection of the history of geology, atheism, socialism, and working-class radicalism.


In this spell-binding book, Adrian Desmond tells the compelling story of political radical, wine merchant, and evolutionist, William Saull, and of the museum of evolution he ran in London from the 1830s to the 1850s. Using an astonishing range of new sources and drawing on an unrivalled knowledge of the politics of evolution in this pivotal period, he takes us to the very heart of British radicalism and freethought, yielding compelling new insights into the remarkable potency of evolutionary ideas in the decades before the Origin of Species.

Jon Topham

Professor of History of Science at the University of Leeds



(pp. 1–12)
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5. Perfectibility

(pp. 159–174)
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9. Damned Monkeys

(pp. 239–246)
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14. Satires on Saull

(pp. 289–308)
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17. Halls of Science

(pp. 337–356)
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19. Backlash

(pp. 385–396)
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20. Peace and Harmony

(pp. 397–404)
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22. British Aborigines

(pp. 417–442)
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Adrian Desmond


Adrian Desmond was educated at University College London and Harvard University, where he was Stephen Jay Gould's first history of science PhD student. He has two MSc's, one in history of science, another in vertebrate palaeontology, and a PhD for his work on radical Victorian evolutionists. For twenty years he was an Honorary Research Fellow at University College London. He is the multi-award-winning author of nine books, which include: The Hot-Blooded Dinosaurs, Archetypes and Ancestors: Palaeontology in Victorian London 1850-1875, The Politics of Evolution: Morphology, Medicine, and Reform in Radical London, Darwin, Huxley: The Devil’s Disciple, Huxley: Evolution’s High Priest, Darwin’s Sacred Cause (with James Moore)