The University of St Andrews cares for over 112,000 objects and artworks. Some of them are fairly new, some of them are literally millions of years old. We often think about objects in terms of how they were used, who created them or where they came from, but we rarely think about the stories behind them. Imagine, however, what objects could tell us if they could talk. If objects had eyes, what would they have seen?
Our first story in this series of blogs comes from an object that did once have eyes, but alas! No longer. This portrait, painted by Arthur Lemon in the late 19th century, did show Lewis Campbell, the University’s Professor of Greek between 1863 and 1892. As you can see, however, the distinguished Professor has since lost his face.
You may think he was inspired by John Travolta and Nicolas Cage, but you’d be wrong. Professor Campbell was left in this sorry state by an act of cruel vandalism carried out in the 1990s. At the time the portrait was hanging on a staircase in Swallowgate, the School of Classics. Our records state that the damage occurred in 1990. Some dispute this, however. Another painting that one Professor believes to have been damaged at the same time, in Lower College Hall, didn’t enter the collection until 1995 and another Professor of Classics who remembers the event thinks there were staff in the department at the time of the vandalism who were not at the University in 1990.
This cannot be the case, however. A letter from May 1993 states that the portrait was already damaged by this time and again dates the damage to 1990.
There is disagreement over what time of day the damage was discovered too. One Professor believes that the School secretary entered the building early on a Monday morning and was “freaked out” on seeing the faceless portrait staring down at her (or not, as the case may be). This, he says, would mean that the attack took place over the weekend and was done by someone with a key, or that it had happened after the Friday evening research seminar. Another member of the department says that Professor Campbell’s predicament was discovered mid-morning and that he had walked past the portrait already that day. Had the damage occurred during the day or had our witness been too busy pondering the finer details of Socrates and not noticed our poor Professor?
If objects could talk, and if Professor Campbell’s face were ever discovered, he might be able to tell us when the damage took place, and indeed share with us the identity of the culprit. The truth is, we’ll never know who did it or when.
By a stroke of luck, a photograph of the painting was requested by an American researcher in August 1990, not long before the damage occurred, and a visual record of the artwork was thus made for the first time, allowing us to see what Professor Campbell looked like before his face was so viciously attacked. The photograph really was a stroke of luck given that the researcher in question was looking for images of works by John McLure and was under the mistaken belief that our Professor of Greek was the work of this artist, which, as we know, he wasn’t. Sometimes mistakes can have happy endings. (Though not for the researcher, who published the mistake in a book. Oops!)
Ever heard of Charles Darwin? What about A.R. Wallace? Although he is the lesser-known of the two, A.R. Wallace made significant contributions to the field of natural science and the theory of evolution. Volunteer blogger, Vanessa Silvera, writes about his life and work, and where you can find his personal collection of taxidermy birds of paradise.
The Bell Pettigrew, St Andrews’ natural history museum, is home to several splendid specimens including, but not limited to, fossil fish, glass sponges, Narwhal tusks, and a plethora of extinct species. Visitors may also notice a handful of exquisitely colourful birds on display, acquired by the museum in the late nineteenth century. Unbeknownst to many, these ‘birds of paradise’ originally belonged to scientist Alfred Russel Wallace whose contributions to evolutionary biology remain largely overlooked.
A.R. Wallace was an extraordinary individual, a man of great talent and strong convictions. He is best remembered as an influential naturalist, explorer, collector, and most significantly as the co-founder of the theory of evolution along with Charles Darwin.
Born in 1823 in the Welsh countryside, A.R. Wallace was one of nine children, and his appetite for learning began at a young age. As a boy his family moved to Hertfordshire, England where he attended school until he had to leave at the age of fourteen. Despite this setback, Wallace was determined to continue his education. He read treatises, studied maps and attended lectures by social reformer Robert Owen, all of which played a role in shaping his beliefs. In the meantime he worked at his eldest brother’s surveying business for a few years until 1844 when he accepted a teaching position in Leicester. He quickly befriended fellow amateur naturalist Henry Walter Bates who introduced Wallace to entomology, the study of insects.
In 1848, the two men decided to venture overseas to the Amazon to observe and collect the region’s flora and fauna. Wallace studied and gathered an impressive collection, primarily beetles, butterflies and birds. Tragically, on his return home, his ship sank and nearly all his research was lost. Undeterred, however, Wallace embarked on another voyage, but this time to the Malay Archipelago (present-day Malaysia and Indonesia).
From 1854 to 1862, he collected more than 125,000 specimens, over 5,000 of which were previously unknown to the western world. One night in 1858, while ill, Wallace had an epiphany: that natural selection is the driver of evolution. Within populations, variations are found among individuals. Individuals with traits better suited to their environment survive, reproduce and pass those traits to their offspring. This was a highly controversial theory because it was at odds with the Bible, which states that the Earth and its species remain unchanged since creation. Shortly thereafter, Wallace wrote to his hero Charles Darwin about his discovery. Darwin, impressed with Wallace’s work and similar to his own, included his paper in his publication On the Origin of Species (1859).
Following his departure from the Far East, Wallace went back to England as an esteemed member of the scientific community. He continued to devote himself to his scientific and social pursuits. Over the span of his lifetime, he published 21 books as well as over 1,000 articles and letters. What set him apart from his contemporaries was that he was a spiritualist and social critic. He disagreed with the notion that natural selection accounted for human intellect and supported unpopular causes including women’s rights and land nationalization. Though he was outshone by Darwin, Wallace did receive recognition for his work. He was granted a number of awards and honorary doctorates from the Universities of Dublin and Oxford in 1882 and 1889 respectively.
Around 1885, some of Wallace’s most prized taxidermy treasures made their way to St Andrews. Dr. Albert Günther, Keeper of Zoology at the British Museum, presented samples from Wallace’s private collection to William McIntosh, the Director of the Museum. McIntosh acquired 46 ‘birds of paradise’, including the stunning Quetzal, multiple bright-feathered Pittas, parrots, hummingbirds, and many others, which are accessible for public view.
The Bell Pettigrew Museum is part of the Museums of the University of St Andrews and it is located in the Bute Building in St Mary’s Quadrangle on South Street.
At the Bell Pettigrew we have a number of rare and extinct animals. It is crucial that we safeguard these specimens for any potential research opportunities. Respecting the museum by only consuming water and monitoring the environmental conditions, means that the specimens stand a better chance of maintaining their good condition. We wanted to share a few of the interesting oddities in the collection with you.
Starting small, we have the St Kilda House Mouse (Mus musculus muralis). This specimen was found on the remote St Kilda archipelago off northwest Scotland, 41 miles west of North Uist in the Outer Hebrides. It is thought that St Kilda was first inhabited about 4000-5000 years ago due to the presence of stone tools and the common house mouse was most likely established in human spaces at that time. The St Kilda Mouse, now extinct, evolved from these introduced mice. It was larger than the common house mouse and is an example of the phenomenon of island gigantism. The human population of St Kilda fell to 36 individuals in 1930 and they requested to be evacuated. After 8 years of survival the St Kilda Mouse became extinct because of their reliance on human habitation for food.
The Resplendent Quetzal (Pharomachrus mocinno) is found at high altitudes in Central American cloud forests and is extremely rare. The great taxonomist Albert Günther , who was Keeper of Zoology at the Natural History Museum in Kensington, presented the striking specimen to the Bell Pettigrew Museum.
Spotting the difference between male and female quetzals is simple because during breeding season the males grow a pair of tail feathers that can be 1 metre in length. Sadly, due to their beautifully coloured feathers, quetzals are hunted resulting in a severe decline in numbers and this is not helped by a continued loss of their cloud forest habitat. It is almost impossible to keep a quetzal in captivity as they tend to die quite quickly upon capture and for this reason, quetzals are used as a symbol of liberty in the Americas.
Moving to the other side of the world across Australia and New Guinea is where one would have found the Thylacine or Tasmanian wolf/tiger (Thylacinus cynocephalus). Thylacines were the world’s largest marsupial predator, but their numbers went into decline with the arrival of humans 40,000 years ago. By the time Europeans arrived the Thylacine was extinct in New Guinea, almost entirely eradicated from Australia and was largely confined to the island of Tasmania.
Due to issues with sheep farming, the Tasmanian government introduced a bounty of £1 for every Thylacine killed with the last recorded wild Thylacine being shot in 1930. The last captive Thylacine died in 1936 in Hobart Zoo and despite being quite a common animal at one time, little is known about the biology of this fascinating animal. Despite almost certainly being extinct, there have been numerous reported sightings of ‘dog-like creatures’ in Australia and in September 2016 a team of British investigators from the Centre for Fortean Zoology released a video of a potential Thylacine sighting in Adelaide.
The Bell Pettigrew Museum is a fantastic place where you can learn about a variety of wildlife both great and small – and everything in between. But we don’t need to tell you how great it is; Sir David Attenborough visited in 2011 and commented: “Packed full of treasures and wonders, the Bell Pettigrew is a spectacular reminder of how important a museum can be in the study of the natural sciences”.
On Monday 16 April 1838, a group of men met in the University Library at St Andrews, with Robert Haldane, mathematician, theologian, and Principal of St Mary’s College, chairing the meeting. By his side was David Brewster, the Principal of the United College, and although these two men did not always agree on matters of religion, they, along with 35 other “Gentlemen connected with the University and the City of St Andrews” paid half a guinea each to support the foundation of a new Literary and Philosophical Society, to promote research and to found a museum in the university.
What kind of museum?
The first meeting appointed the first curator for the new museum, John Adamson, a physician and pioneer of early photography. The Society quickly got to work, and by the time of the first general meeting of the Society in the Library on 7 May, there had already been “numerous donations” to the museum by members. On 4 June David Brewster reported that the United College would provide a room to be fitted out and used as a Museum, and by October of the same year the Society’s meetings had moved there. Soon, with a rapidly-growing collection, members of the Society began to think about the possibilities for access to the museum, including for university classes to be held in there in the future. They weren’t yet clear whether it would be (as the minutes put it) “more of a character of a University, than of a Private, museum”, but whichever it was, in the first few years it didn’t seem that the Society had a clear sense of the potential public audience for the collections and displays.
Fishermen and tradesmen
By the 1850s, the Museum was open to members of the Society, to professors and their classes, and to students studying the collection, and it also opened on Saturdays in summer for the public. Evidently relishing the way public access had brought interesting things to him for the collection, Curator John Adamson reported in 1855 that since the Museum had been “thrown open to the fishermen” the Society had been given some interesting specimens for the collection. The same year, he proudly noted that as many as 247 people had visited on one afternoon, and that “many tradesmen” had as a result begun to study natural history. The following year, in summer 1856, interest was similarly strong but the curator’s report had a note of caution: there had been damage done, by accident, because of the number of visitors. They were in future to be asked to leave sticks, parasols, and umbrellas outside rather than bringing them into the museum to protect the Museum and its collection.
A penny or two
All was not, however, well with the Society’s finances despite this growing public interest in the Museum. The University had already had to contribute to the costs of taking care of the collection, and from 1857 the Society introduced admission fees for the Museum. Members of the Society were still admitted free with up to five guests, students of the University were admitted free on Saturday, and special arrangements were made for professors and their classes to use the museum. School pupils were welcome on Wednesdays and Saturdays, as long as they were accompanied by a teacher or tutor, and they paid 1 penny each, with general admission for the public charged at 2 pence each.
Fast forward to today
Fast forward more than 150 years, and the Museums of the University of St Andrews no longer charge entry fees, and the Wardlaw Museum and Bell Pettigrew Museum are currently temporarily closed due to the impact of coronavirus Covid-19. This April, the Museums team are celebrating the birthday of the Literary and Philosophical Society and its museum. Whether you are a student, fisherman, tradesman, school pupil, or anyone else, we look forward to welcoming you to the Museums when we’re able to reopen. But we might still ask you to leave your umbrella at the door, to protect the collections and objects on display, among them some of the ones that were acquired by the Literary and Philosophical Society for its collections 182 years ago.
The first volume of the minutes of the Literary and Philosophical Society (1838-1861) has been digitised by the University of St Andrews Library. If you would like to learn more about the society, click here to view the minutes online.
For the first of our “From the Archive” series, we will be flashing back to 2017 when one of the most iconic objects from the University’s collections, The Mace of St Salvator’s College, underwent some conservation work at the University of Glasgow’s studio in Kelvinhall. Dr Helen Rawson, then Co-Director of Museum Collections, writes on the conservation process and the surprising discoveries that were revealed!
To view the mace, or explore more of our collection, click here to view the museums online catalogue!
The Maces of the University of St Andrews
The University’s maces represent its authority. The University has seven maces: three dating from the 15th century, and four from the modern period. The earliest, the Mace of the Faculty of Arts, was commissioned in 1416, just a few years after the University’s foundation. The most recent, the Six Centuries Mace, was made to celebrate the University’s 600th anniversary and completed in 2014.
The maces have been used in formal ceremonies, such as graduation, since their creation, and provide a direct connection to the experiences of past generations of students and staff.
The Mace of St Salvator’s College
The Mace of St Salvator’s College is the most spectacular of the maces. It was commissioned by the College founder, Bishop James Kennedy, and created in Paris in 1461 by the goldsmith Johne Maiel. It is made of silver, partly gilded, with an iron core.
The mace head takes the form of an open shrine, containing at its centre the figure of St Salvator, Christ the Holy Saviour, on a globe representing the world. He bears the wounds of the crucifixion. Three angels carry three emblems of the Passion of Christ: the pillar, cross and spear. Below these are three dungeon entrances, each containing a chained wild man with shields representing the see of St Andrews, Bishop Kennedy and St Salvator’s College. The figures of a king, a bishop and possibly a merchant probably represent the Three Estates of medieval society.
The rod has three knops, consisting of an arrangement of pulpits and balconies. On the highest are three angels and three scholars with books. The lowest features three scholars or preachers with scrolls and three figures looking upwards towards the Saviour in adoration. The emphasis on the number three in the design relates to the Holy Trinity.
Conserving the Mace
The mace was conserved in June 2017, to ensure that it remains in the best possible condition, and can continue to be safely used in ceremonies. A specialist independent conservator, Richard Rogers, identified various issues, including a slight looseness, or wobble, to the head; a bent pinnacle on the mace-head; loose fixings for the angels on the highest knop on the rod; and tarnishing of the silver.
For the first time since 1866, the mace was dismantled. It was inspected and cleaned, while loose elements were stabilised and small repairs carried out. As the bent pinnacle on the mace-head was in danger of being lost, it was detached, straightened and carefully re-bonded: the weakness was found to result from a flaw in the original medieval casting. Throughout, the focus was on ‘conservation’, not ‘restoration’: respecting the historical integrity of the mace and the original craftsmanship, not making it appear as ‘good as new’.
The work was carried out in the University of Glasgow’s new conservation studios in Kelvinhall, generously made available for this purpose, instead of Richard Rogers’s usual lab in England. This enabled specialists from the University of St Andrews and National Museums Scotland to oversee the conservation and to take crucial decisions and make exciting discoveries as it progressed.
The conservation work provided invaluable insights into the original design and structure of the mace, and later repairs, through revealing the hidden interior. Previous work on the mace is known to have been carried out in 1685, by the goldsmith Michael Ziegler of Edinburgh, and in 1866, by the Edinburgh silversmiths G. and M. Crichton. Unfortunately, the exact nature of this work was not documented.
Dismantling the mace revealed how the various decorative elements are fixed together, and how the original structure has been altered in the past. Medieval wedges still hold fast after nearly six centuries, sometimes augmented by resin added later. The iron rod at the centre of the mace was found to have been adjusted, almost certainly in 1866, with the addition of screw turnings, securing the head and foot more firmly: precise measurements revealed these to be 5/8” Whitworth threads, a system devised in 1841 and in widespread use by the 1860s.
Close inspection of the angels on the top knop revealed that one appears to be medieval, one probably 17th century and one 19th century. This corresponds with the known dates of work on the mace and that missing angels had been replaced. Excitingly, a medieval maker’s mark was discovered on the mace rod.
With the work complete, the Mace of St Salvator’s College will continue to be carried in ceremonies, as it has been for so many centuries. When not in use, this beautiful and powerful emblem of the University’s authority and history will be displayed in the Wardlaw Museum.
This International Women’s Day I’m thinking about what it means to try to write about, and on behalf of a group, a form of feminist practice that historically, was received, if not without criticism, at least with a sense that to do so was to try to improve things or prevent them from getting worse. To intervene, in other words: to become involved intentionally in a difficult situation or debate to try to make it better or prevent it from worsening.
Once upon a moment in history, it seems to me anyway, we accepted more readily that a voice, attempting to speak on behalf of many other voices–some silenced, some less inclined to noise, some unable or even unwilling to articulate the problem–was a positive intervention. Now, with the immediacy of social media, even a voice mediated by an awareness of intersectionality is often savaged by anonymous trolls, and left as so much carrion, to be picked over by journalists, who wonder out loud what it is about the internet that so provokes a dark desire to hurl abuse at strangers.
I was asked if I would write a blog post about Willa Muir’s Women: An Inquiry for International Women’s Day, as the University holds a first edition copy which will feature in the new thematic galleries of the Wardlaw Museum when it opens in April. Willa Muir (1890-1970) studied Classics at the University of St Andrews, and Educational Psychology at Bedford College, before becoming a teacher, translator, novelist, cultural commentator, and latterly memoirist. She (with her husband Edwin Muir) would become the first translator of the fiction of Franz Kafka into English.
Muir is sometimes remembered as the wife and literary help-mate of the aforementioned poet Edwin Muir, a designation she struggled with, as recorded in her journal, letters, and memoir, Belonging (1968). An oft-quoted passage of her journal reads:
I am a better translator than [Edwin] is. The whole current of patriarchal society is set against this fact however and sweeps it into oblivion, simply because I did not insist on shouting aloud: ‘Most of the translation, especially Kafka, has been done by ME. Edwin only helped.’ And every time Edwin was referred to as THE translator, I was too proud to say anything; […] I am left without a shred of literary reputation. And I am ashamed of the fact that I feel it as a grievance. […] I seem to have nothing to build on, except that I am Edwin’s wife and he still loves me. That is much. It is more in a sense than I deserve. And I know, too, how destructive ambition is, and how it deforms what one might create. And yet, and yet, I want to be acknowledged.
Here is a familiar voice: a woman writer who worked hard her whole life to support herself and her husband, and who sacrificed much of her personal presence to that project. A woman whose commitment to the feminist cause was repeatedly circumscribed by the circumstances she found herself in, professionally and personally.
Her publication, in 1925, of Women: An Inquiry, with Leonard and Virginia Woolf’s Hogarth Press, met with almost no critical response, and very little press attention. Since then it hasn’t gained much by way of a recuperation either, and there is good reason for this. Kirsty A. Allen begins her introduction to Imagined Selves (1996), an edited collection of Muir’s two novels and three cultural essays, by explaining that Women: An Inquiry is ‘entertaining’ if ‘unconvincing’, and that, in light of modern feminist thinking, it ‘seems sadly dated and misguided’.
I am inclined to agree with Allen that Women: An Inquiry is not Muir’s finest work. If published today it might slot neatly into what has been dubbed the ‘tradwife’ movement, a social-media-driven trend whose hashtags include: #tradwife, #tradfem and #vintagehousewife. Allen elaborates: ‘ the work is an unconscious endorsement of the patriarchal system which had kept women in the home–and in the submissive position against which Muir constantly rebelled’.
It could, therefore, appear to be an odd choice of text to highlight on International Women’s Day, except that Muir’s essay, like her commitment to feminism, is a sum of contradictory parts, some progressive, some remarkably not. And so it seems like enough of an intervention, to me, on International Women’s Day 2020, for us to listen to a little heard voice; to remember a ‘forgotten’ piece of feminist writing; and to acknowledge the literary work of Willa Muir.
Excerpts from Women: An Inquiry:
“Men and women share jointly in what is called human nature, and are alike capable of courage, fear, cruelty, tenderness, intelligence, and stupidity. When exhilarated by power and responsibility they display the more dominating qualities, and in subordinate positions they manifest a ‘slave psychology’”.
“In a masculine civilisation the creative work of women may be belittled, misinterpreted, or denied: but if it is a reality, its existence will be proved at least by the emotional colour of the denial”.
“Every great man has been inspired by some woman. The hand that rocks the cradle indisputably rules the world. A woman was the first cause of original sin, but a woman was the Mother of God. What does this mean? Half of the picture is tinged with vague contempt, and the other half with vague reverence. Apparently the average man sees woman alternately as an inferior being and as an angel”.
“One must conclude that he is looking at her through a distorting medium. His conception of her as an inferior being is natural, in a man-made State, and were she really inferior it would stop there. His vague reverence for her remains to prevent this conclusion: it is certainly a compensation for something, a distorted recognition of some half-guessed-at power in women. It looks as if man knows that the inferiority of woman is a fiction, that his domination of her and his refusal to admit her to his own level are not justified. In the background there lurks a fear of reprisals. The distorting medium contains fear as one of its elements”.
“It can be inferred that a fearless attitude towards human life is the first essential quality of a free woman, and that conventional morality is imposed with such emphasis upon women because the creation of moral values is their own peculiar vocation. Men are more concerned to prevent women from having untrammelled judgment and action in affairs of morality than from having access to the possession of wealth. In other words, women are hindered not only from external power, but from the inward power of creating independent moral and religious values. It is precisely this power which is exercised by creative women in their treatment of others, and the conventionalised ideal of the ignorant good woman is the deepest disability laid upon women in a men’s State”.
“The first condition that is required from women is that they shall know themselves. A woman who is ignorant of her own weaknesses cannot help others, for she is incapable of correcting distortions caused by her own fear or anger. The conventional woman hangs conventional ideas between herself and her own nature, thus negating her deepest instincts. She despises and represses part of her own humanity; consequently she has a repressive instead of a fostering effect on other people. Women must therefore be frankly sincere with themselves if they are to be creative, and must make allowances for their own faults in dealing with others”.
“The whole world needs creative women, and seems to be unaware of its need. Women themselves do not know how necessary they are. The result is that many waste themselves in trying to be men, and many are content to justify their existence by simple drudgery”.
“It looks as if during the next few generations the really creative New Woman will emerge, for conventional morality is no longer so powerful among women, and they are gradually deserting the blind alleys into which they rushed in their first efforts at self-assertion”.
“Even to-day, especially in politics, men find it difficult to rid themselves of the uneasy suspicion that women are dangerous”.
Dr Helena Goodwyn
Lecturer in English Literature
School of English, University of St Andrews
A new University Museum
St Andrews was Scotland’s first University and there have long been artworks and collections displayed in spaces across the campus. A dedicated University Museum was set up in 1838 in Upper College Hall, but by 1912 it had outgrown that space and the collections and displays were moved to the newly-built Bell Pettigrew Museum. Almost 100 years later, the Museum of the University of St Andrews (MUSA) opened on the Scores, but within a decade it, too, had reached capacity and needed to be expanded and extended.
Since 2018, the Museums team have been working on a major project that builds on 10 years of success as MUSA, but also takes the opportunity to reimagine our work and our approach to it. When it reopens in spring 2020, the Museum will have four new thematic galleries, a temporary exhibitions gallery, and new and renewed spaces to welcome visitors and expand our events and programmes.
Marking this transformation, we decided to change the name from MUSA to the Wardlaw Museum, after Bishop Henry Wardlaw, who played a critical role in founding the University of St Andrews. In 1413, Wardlaw secured a document from the Pope that officially marked the foundation of the this as a university – this Papal Bull, which arrived in St Andrews to much celebration in 1414, will be one of the star objects when the Wardlaw Museum opens. It reflects the 600-year history of the University, but will be displayed alongside contemporary objects and artworks that remind us that this is an ancient university that has always looked to the future, and always been groundbreaking.
We’ll share more details of our upcoming exhibitions and events programmes on our blog and website, as well as stories and features about objects in our collection that will be on display.