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Victorian Resources

An Introduction to Nineteenth Century Resources Available in Special Collections

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Science and Natural History


The Nineteenth Century was a particularly strong period when it came to the fields of science and natural history. The industrial revolution, and all that it encompassed, meant that science and technology was brought to the forefront of everyday life, from improved means of transport and advances in medical technology, to safer and more efficient methods of construction. Similarly, the rapid increase in interest of the natural history of the earth sparked debate about the accuracy of religion when compared to science, and again brought new and radical views to the forefront of social thinking.

The Special Collections Department holds a vast amount of material relating to these topics and, as usual, this material can be found spread throughout our holdings.  However, there are a few collections of particular relevance to these themes:

  • Kelvin Collection - comprising around 100 books relating to physics, 3500 pamphlets and offprints concerning general scientific matters, and over 1100 of Kelvin's personal letters and papers
  • Walker-Arnott Collection - comprising 970 volumes of botanical literature, including many illustrated flower books from the Eighteenth and Nineteenth centuries
  • Old Library Collection - comprising all the books acquired by the library before 1800, but augmented by later additions from other libraries such as the Anatomy and Medical Class, and the Mathematical and Natural Philosophy Class.

Below is a selection of items chosen as examples of the resources that are available from our collections in this subject area.

Please click on any of the pictures in the following page to see an enlarged version of the image, and click 'back' to return to the main page.

Architectural plan of the centre section of Partick Bridge (Plate 8)

On the Design and Construction of Partick Bridge

Sp Coll Mu25-d.30

Published in 1878, this work follows the building of the modern day Partick Bridge across the River Kelvin, from it's inception in an Act of Parliament through to its design and construction. The project is examined from both an architectural and an engineering point of view, and gives a wonderful insight into the work of such industries at the height of the industrial revolution. The volume contains a number of fold-out plates, ranging from the design of the bridge's iron cornices, to detailed architectural plans showing the placement of the bridge in relation to the old road across the river.

To see a full length plan of Partick Bridge, please click here.

Head-on view of a Rigid Suspension Bridge (Plate 1, Figure 7)

On Suspension Bridges and Arches, and Particularly a New Form of Rigid Suspension Bridge

Sp Coll Kelvin 125

The Kelvin Collection contains a large number of essays, pamphlets and offprints, chiefly on scientific matters, and together they provide a valuable resource on the progress of science and engineering in the late Victorian period. This particular item is an essay by T. Claxton Fidler; it was taken from The Transactions of the Royal Scottish Society of Arts, before being republished here in 1874. The work introduces a new form of rigid suspension bridge, allowing engineers to build longer, safer bridges which could bear a heavier load.  It also explains that this new form is allowing engineers to build bridges of up to 1600 feet span, not particularly impressive by modern standards, but a vast and almost inconceivable achievement within Victorian design.

A cast iron strut from a double bar rafter roof (Plate 9, Figure 7)


Iron Roofs: A Series of Examples

Sp Coll a1-a.7 (Atlas)

This short text volume details examples of iron roofs and their uses, together with notions about their structure and composition; it is accompanied by a large atlas volume containing ten plates illustrating iron roofs of various spans with information on how they can be adapted to fit different types of building.  Written by George Drysdale Dempsey, a British construction engineer who worked for a large part of his career on implementing railway systems, the item is quite technically minded, yet provides an excellent insight into the new engineering practices of the industrial revolution.

Please note that the text for this item is kept in the Library Research Annexe, (I2-a.20)

Title Page from Volume 1

On the Origin of Species By Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life

Sp Coll 650-651

Published in 1859, this is a first edition of Charles Darwin's famous treatise on evolution and natural selection.  The book was a culmination of over twenty years of experiments and study, and was originally published as an abstract to Darwin's final results, which he did not believe would be ready before 1861.  The work was purposely written in a non-scientific way, so as to make the findings as widely available as possible; it is easily understood by those with little or no technical knowledge of the theories of evolution. It was highly controversial at its time of publication as it contradicted the commonly held religious beliefs that all species were created distinctly from each other and by a greater power than man.  Darwin himself openly acknowledges in his introduction that he himself used to entertain such views, until his research began to create other possibilities behind the origin of species; instead he states that he is now 'fully convinced that species are not immutable; but that those belonging to what are called the same genera are lineal descendants of some other and generally extinct species, in the same manner as the acknowledged varieties of any one species are the descendants of that species.'

"Rifle Made and Shot by Ezekiel Baker; 34 Shot at 100 Yards" (Plate 6)

Twenty Two Years Practice and Observations with Rifle Guns

Sp Coll Farmer 9

A wealth of information about the technical advancements in guns during the late Eighteenth and the early Nineteenth Centuries is found in this work. Published in 1803, it was written by Ezekiel Baker, a master gunsmith after whom the famous Baker Rifle was named - the gun which became the mainstay of the British army during the Napoleonic Wars. The text provides precise instructions on how to assemble, load, fire and dissemble the weapon, by what the author calls 'Baker's Practice', a serious of techniques perfected over several decades of gun use.  Also included are several colour plates depicting the different ways in which a rifleman can present, from lying on his back or stomach, to crouching or even fully standing.  Baker graphically displays the accuracy of his technique by showing two colour plates of a human target and where they would have been hit using his own method of firing.  The results show over 90% accuracy, whether the gun is fired from 200 or 100 yards distance, a very high figure for the early Nineteenth Century.

"Group of Ponies - The Sheltie, The New Forest Pony, The Horse Pony" (Plate Opposite Page 56)

Modern Practical Farriery; A Complete Guide to all that Relates to the Horse

Sp Coll RF 821

This 1885 manual for the horse owner discusses such matters as their 'history, varieties and uses - breaking, training, feeding, stabling, and grooming - how to buy, keep and treat a horse in health and disease.'  The work is split into four sections with an opening index for each: 'The History of the Horse' examines such matters as horse law, the distinction between horses and their close relatives, and the different varieties of horse bred in Britain; the section entitled 'The Structure and Anatomy of the Horse' deals with such matters as their skeletal make up, their muscular motion and the ability of their sensory organs; 'The Practice of Veterinary Medicine' section was not intended to replace the qualified vet, but rather to give farmers and other horse owners a general idea of what illnesses may affect their animals and what treatment a vet is likely to suggest; and, finally, the section entitled 'History of Horse Racing' discusses the different types of racing, the role of the jockey and the best breeds to use.  The volume is illustrated throughout with etchings and diagrams relating to the material, many of which are in colour.

"Garrulus Lanceolatus" - the Lanceolated or Black Headed Jay (Plate 40)

A Century of Birds from the Himalaya Mountains

Sp Coll N2-a.6

This beautiful worlk, published in 1832, was written by John Gould, the then Superintendent of the Ornithological Collection of the Zoological Society.  It contains information on one hundred of the most important and rarest birds from the Himalayas, providing details such as their Latin genus, their individual characteristics, a physical description of each bird, their preferred habitat, and their nesting behaviour.  What makes this item so special however, are the folio sized colour lithographs of each of the birds, drawn by the authors wife Elizabeth. Many of these illustrations depicts the actual size of the bird, and all are drawn to scale, highlighting every detail of these hitherto unseen specimens.  Gould and his wife compiled the work themselves in the late 1820s but, failing to find a publisher, undertook to publish the work themselves - it appeared in twenty monthly parts, four plates to a part, and was completed ahead of schedule.  This item was the first of nearly fifty such works that Gould compiled in his lifetime, describing birds from all corners of the world in the same informative and beautiful format.

See also the book of the month article on Gould's Birds of Australia.

"The Birch Tree at Brooke House" (Plate Facing Page 244)

The Eastern Arboretum, or Register of Remarkable Trees, Seats, Gardens, &c. in the County of Norfolk

Sp Coll RB 64

Published in 1841, this work was written by James Grigor, a nurseryman and botanist with over twenty years practical experience who lived and worked in Norfolk.  In the preface, he states that its composition was not a part of his day to day work, but was rather 'undertaken chiefly as an amusement, and that it has been hurriedly written in the hours of relaxation from business.' Unusually for an item of its size (over 350 pages), it does not contain a contents page delineating its chapters; however, it does contain an index.  It begins with an introduction to trees in general, before devoting a chapter to each of around fifty trees which themselves are landmarks of the Norfolk scenery; for example, rather than talking about the oak or the elm as individual specimens, Grigor discusses the 'English elm of Cossey park' and the 'oak of Brooke Hall.' The book is adorned by over fifty etchings of trees by the artist H. Ninham, who won general high praise for the quality of his work throughout the volume.

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This page was created by Toby Hanning: March 2007.