Adrian Desmond

Published On


Page Range

pp. 531–552


  • English

Print Length

22 pages

27. Death and Dissolution

  • Adrian Desmond (author)
When Saull died in April 1855, the Metropolitan Institution, destined to house his museum, was still in the planning stage. Saull’s exhibits were stored away in wine-hampers. Unfortunately his will was ambiguous, as to whether his money and museum were to go to the Metropolitan or John Street Institution. In 1859 the courts decided the former. But Saull’s brother dying in 1855, and Saull’s wife in 1860, left no one familiar with the museum’s rationale. And when the Metropolitan Institution was built in 1861, the managers showed no interest in the hampered fossils. This despite the fact that Darwin’s Origin of Species (1859) had kindled public interest in evolution, and T. H. Huxley’s spat with Richard Owen in 1861 over mankind’s ape ancestry was the talk of the town. The atheist John Watts was actually lecturing on the “Origin of Man” in the new hall in 1861, unaware that Saull’s fossils, tailor-made for such an event, were stored in another room. In 1863 the managers ditched the lot, selling off the best for knock-down prices, and watching the rest being carted off in van-loads. With the museum lost to posterity, Saull’s reputation followed. Obituarists, smarting at the criminal enormity of his atheism and socialism, ignored his venue-funding and political campaigning, side-stepped his objectionable evolutionism, and dismissed him as a “crochety” dilettante. The coup de grâce was given by the agnostic-hating Rev. T. G. Bonney, in the Dictionary of National Biography, which sealed Saull’s posthumous fate.


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)