Adrian Desmond

Published On


Page Range

pp. 443–468


  • English

Print Length

26 pages

23. Reforming Scientific Society

  • Adrian Desmond (author)
The museum’s archaeology gallery was filling up, and Saull’s progressive sequence of Celtic cultural stages was in place. So much spadework on ancient huts and Roman salvage brought him increasingly into learned society. But this was still the radical reformer, campaigning in local and national associations for suffrage and triennial parliaments. The learned bodies, many with “rotten borough” patronage practices, which rated rank above research, were now seeing an influx of earthier trading and dissenting members. Yet the old guard remained resistant to reform. We examine the campaigns in the Zoological Society, Royal Society, British Museum and medical corporations. These allow us to appreciate the fight against “Old Corruption” inside our special case, the gerontocratic Society of Antiquaries (where the president had been in post since 1812). Saull’s republicans even tried to stop the society’s continuing observance of Charles I’s “Martyrdom”. Frustrated, and exasperated by its armchair approach, the reformers founded the more excavation-orientated British Archaeological Association, with its revolutionary governance, unprecedented among learned societies. We also look at how Saull’s Owenite Celtic schema fitted in at the new Ethnological Society, given its Quaker Christianizing aspect.


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)