Adrian Desmond

Published On


Page Range

pp. 503–530


  • English

Print Length

28 pages

26. Provisions for the Afterlife

  • Adrian Desmond (author)
Intimations of mortality—Saull turned 70 in 1853 and had already been dangerously ill—should have made the search for a posthumous home for the museum paramount. Holyoake was reminding him of the late John Barber Beaumont and Charles Jenkins, whose bequests had not resulted in institutions, as they had intended. Saull still spent his days at the Mechanics’ Hall of Science, and we have first-hand accounts of life here, and its hosting of Chartists from Bonner’s Fields after their skirmishes with the police. Nor had co-operation lost its attraction: Saull could be found at the Co-Operative League; or involved in Aldersgate ward politics, or City politics, in the National Reform Society, and at the Archaeological Association’s congresses. The distractions were endless. Meanwhile the museum continued expanding, with models now being used in his account of life’s rise and socialist promise. (He even tried one last time, in an Essay on the Connexion Between Astronomical and Geological Phenomena in 1853, to convince the Geological Society grandees of his orbital explanations of stratal periodicity.) The museum was still being extolled for its worker-free access, and contrasted with the Great Exhibition’s capitalist appropriation of dinosaurs. Foreigners were turning up: Edward Hitchcock from America, Boucher de Perthes from France. Yet the 20,000 exhibits stood in peril of being lost. After his death they would need a permanent home in a proper working-man’s institution, and a sympathetic custodian. At Thomas Cooper’s suggestion, the John Street activists started drawing up plans for such a home, the Metropolitan Institution.


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)