Adrian Desmond

Published On


Page Range

pp. 175–200


  • English

Print Length

26 pages

6. Founding the Museum

June 1831

  • Adrian Desmond (author)
In 1831 Saull moved his business to larger premises at 15 Aldersgate Street. That April he bought James Sowerby’s fossils, added them to his own, and in June declared his wine-depot museum open. In these months, Reform Bill fever was running high. Henry Hetherington started his class-conscious Poor Man’s Guardian, and the museum fossils, arranged stratigraphically, were to show Hetherington’s dispossessed “scum” how life’s perfecting principle promised a brighter future. Accordingly, where Sowerby’s museum had had a hefty entrance fee, Saull’s was free; nor were letters of introduction needed. He invited radical artisans (men and women), Rotunda dissidents and Trades’ Union activists. Thus the museum, in its clientele and accessibility, broke all precedents, while in its rationalist explanation of life, to ready the “productive classes” for power, it was unique. Meanwhile Saull’s political lobbying, at the Guildhall and in the National Political Union, continued in support of the Reform Bill. To coincide with the museum opening, Saull, still on bail and under threat of prosecution for blasphemy, stopped publicly attacking Christianity, but continued it under the rubric of his newly-started geology lectures. He now moved completely into Robert Owen’s camp. Saull helped establish Owen’s Labour Exchange, and sat on the council of Owen’s “Institution of the Industrious Classes”, where he delivered geology courses.


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)