The Unpublished Journal of Gideon Mantell:

1819 Ė 1852


Historians of English society of the early 19th century, particularly those interested in the history of science, will be familiar with the journal of Gideon Algernon Mantell (1790-1852). Whilst not kept on a daily basis, Mantellís journal, kept from 1818, offers valuable insights into not only his own remarkable life and work, but through his comments on a huge range of issues and personalities, contributes much to our understanding of contemporary science and society. Gideon Mantell died in 1852. All of his extensive archives passed first to his son Reginald and on his death, to his younger son Walter who in 1840 had emigrated to New Zealand.

These papers together with Walterís own library and papers were donated to the Alexander Turnbull Library in Wellington, New Zealand in 1927 by his daughter-inlaw. At some time after that, a typescript was produced of the entire 4-volume manuscript journal and it is this typescript which has been the principal reference point for subsequent workers. In particular, an original copy was lodged with the Sussex Archaeological Society in Lewes, Sussex.

In 1940, E. Cecil Curwen published his abridged version of Gideon Mantellís Journal (Oxford University Press 1940) and his pencilled marks on the typescript indicate those portions of the text which he reproduced. About half of the text was published by Curwen. Although the first entry in the Journal is dated January 1st 1818, the entries for that year are all retrospective and were published in full by Curwen (p.1-3). The first entry not in Curwen does not occur until February 5th, 1819. I should add at this point that the last entry in the fourth volume of Mantellís journal is 14 June 1852. It was later discovered that during his last few months (Mantell died in November) he had used a fifth volume, later used by Reginald and thus caught up in his own archives. The entries from these six months have been published in full by Dell 1983.

As one researcher, like many others, who wanted to consult the unpublished parts of Mantellís journal, I was required to visit Lewes to consult the transcript, and at least in my case, was rewarded with a piece of information which would otherwise have eluded me*. My journey to Lewes from Brighton, a distance of a mere 8 miles, caused me no great inconvenience; this is not the case for most, for whom it was a severe problem, and on more than one occasion I was asked to consult this document on behalf of others.

In 1991, in the course of my duties as Keeper of Geology at the Booth Museum of Natural History in Brighton, I was asked to review and report on the geological collections of Norman Norris (1917-1991) who had lived close by and had left his collections to the National Trust. Norris had formerly been the Curator of the Sussex Archaeological Society. Among the substantial personal collections that he, his father and his grandfather had amassed, was a second copy (a modern photocopy) of the typescript of Mantellís Journal, no doubt obtained during his tenure in Lewes. Along with certain fossils, this was subsequently acquired by the Booth Museum.

Disentangling those parts of the typescript which Curwen had published from those parts which he had not, was an arduous business. Following further requests for information from the unpublished portions of the Journal, I decided that it would be beneficial to extract those unpublished parts, thereby producing a far quicker and easier method of consultation. This work began in 1995 and was completed in 1996. The hard slog of typing was ably taken on by the clerical assistant at the Booth Museum then, Josie Buckwell, to whom I owe a huge debt of gratitude.

It quickly became clear that Curwen had, of course, cherry-picked the most important and interesting parts of the Journal. Nevertheless, what remained was a plethora of names and events, any of which could provide a valuable clue, a proven connection or date to a researcher. Of course, rendering this text into a computer document as opposed to a second typescript produced a huge advantage Ė the text became searchable. This meant that within a few seconds I was able to answer many of the queries which came to me; far quicker than if I had had to consult the paper transcript, even with an index. Perhaps it was this fact that mitigated against traditional publication, for no company I approached would consider publishing this document. Only one expressed an interest, but for him, it had to be the publication of Mantellís entire Journal, including that published by Curwen, effectively replacing Curwen as the main source. I might have considered this if Curwenís book was difficult to find, but it is not. And akin to the primacy of Linnean names accorded by their first taxonomist, I did not want to usurp Curwenís fine work, let alone tackle the huge job of typing all of its contents.

But we are now in a new age. Publication of work on the internet is commonplace and this avenue of approach can, with a few keystrokes anywhere in the world, result in access to any document that can be made available. Placing this previously unpublished material at public disposal, provides, I trust a useful resource for colleagues and future researchers, and in this format, it remains searchable.

I want to thank the Alexander Turnbull Library, and in particular David Colquhoun for their kind consent to this publication, and Catherine English, Curator (Collections Knowledge) of the Royal Pavilion & Museums who has made this technically possible.

John A. Cooper, BSc, AMA, FGS.
Volunteer & Training Manager
Royal Pavilion & Museums, Brighton & Hove
October 2010


Cooper, J.A. 1992 The life and work of George Bax Holmes (1803-1887) of Horsham, Sussex: a Quaker vertebrate fossil collector. Archives of Natural History, Vol 19 (3): 379-400.
Curwen, E.C. 1940 The Journal of Gideon Mantell, surgeon and geologist. Covering the years 1818-1852. Edited with an introduction and notes by E. Cecil Curwen. An abridgment. With plates, including a portrait. Oxford University Press
Dell, S. 1983 Gideon Algernon Mantellís unpublished journal, June-November 1852.
The Turnbull Library Record Vol.16: 77-94

* For those who are curious, I discovered that George Bax Holmes of Horsham, had received Mantell as a visitor in November 1835, a fact critical to my researches. (see Cooper 1992)

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