From the Archive: The Great Astrolabe

This blog was written by one of our former volunteers, Sally Pentecost, on June 14, 2018. Sally is the creator of the medieval Scottish history blog, Her Medieval Scotland, and is passionate about sharing stories of the Middle Ages through social media and blog posts. She wrote her dissertation on the nature of earldoms in twelfth-century Scotland and graduated with an MLitt degree in Mediaeval History in December 2018.

The Great Astrolabe is one of the most exquisite items in museum collections at the University of St Andrews. Created by master craftsman Humphrey Cole in 1575, and widely considered to be his greatest work, the large brass piece is the most imposing of the many scientific instruments that Cole made by hand in his London workshop. A typical astrolabe was about 6 inches (15 cm) in diameter and could be attached to one’s clothing for personal use, but the size of the Great Astrolabe (61 cm diameter) would have made it cumbersome to use, and as such was likely designed as a presentation piece for a rich patron.

Great Astrolabe made by Humphrey Cole in 1575. Image courtesy of the Museums of St Andrews University

In addition to their impressive craftsmanship, astrolabes are some of the most versatile instruments ever made: they can be used to tell time during the day or night, determine latitude and cast horoscopes. The origins of the astrolabe can be found more than two thousand years ago and were highly developed in the Islamic world by 800 A.D. Islamic instruments were often equipped for finding the direction to Mecca and for determining prayer times. They were brought to Europe from al-Andalus in the early 12th century, and were the most popular astronomical instruments until about 1650, when they were replaced by more accurate devices.

Astrolabes were one of the basic astronomy education tools in the late Middle Ages and were not typically made for navigation, although the mariner’s astrolabe was widely used in the Renaissance. By adjusting the components to a specific date and time, much of the sky became visible on the face of the astrolabe, making it possible to chart the movement of celestial bodies. The base of the Great Astrolabe is deep enough to hold three plates, but only one of Cole’s plates survives, with a latitude of 52 degrees corresponding to the English Midlands. Another plate was designed for the astrolabe by John Marke of London, probably about 1673 at the request of James Gregory. One of the most prominent scientists of his day and a correspondent of Sir Isaac Newton, Gregory was Professor of Mathematics at St Andrews from 1668-1674. The Great Astrolabe is one of several items in the university collection believed to have been collected by Gregory, who was instructed to ‘goe for London’ and purchase ‘such instruments and utensils as he with the advice of other skilful persons shall judge most necessary and useful’ to equip the planned University observatory. The Marke plate has a latitude of 56°25′, close to the accepted latitude of St Andrews in that period.

Before the birth of Sir Isaac Newton and The Royal Society in the following century, the Elizabethan era witnessed significant scientific progress, of which Humphrey Cole was an important part. A mathematical instrument maker, die-sinker (an engraver of dies for stamping coins), and goldsmith, the first record of Cole (d.1591) is found in 1563, when he is recorded as working at the Tower mint in London. After 1578 he continued to sell ‘Geometricall instruments in metall’ influenced by Flemish designs, at his house near St Paul’s, London. Twenty-six remarkable mathematical instruments by Cole are still in existence, some commissioned by Edward VI and Elizabeth I, and all but one remain in public collections in the British Isles and on the continent.

Very little else is known about Humphrey Cole: reportedly hailing from the north of England, his legacy endures in the beautiful, intricate objects he left behind. The museum is fortunate to have acquired Cole’s masterpiece, an object so integral in the history of scientific research in the British Isles. Customised with the Marke plate displaying the latitude of St Andrews, the Great Astrolabe emphasises the university’s links to past scientific discoveries and its commitment to advancing our knowledge of the world around us. Another astrolabe made by Cole, which can be found in the British Museum, hints at Cole’s similar commitment to his own cause, with the inscription:





Why not find out more and even try making one of your own astrolabe by following instructions at

Dressed to Impress: The Paris Hats

When thinking about Graduation Week we like to take a look back in time to the different traditions, past graduands, and academic dress which makes up this important occasion. This blog from the archive was written in 2014 by our past curatorial trainee, Deirdre Mitchell. In this post Deirdre reflects on the ‘Paris Hats’ which didn’t quite make the cut as traditional graduation garb!   

Hats designed for the Faculties of Medicine, Art and Law. Image courtesy of the Museum of the University of St Andrews

Last week we were celebrating Graduation at the University of St Andrews and it was a great opportunity to see lots of different types of academic dress. However, this academic dress we see today is actually very different from what would have originally been worn when the University was founded in the early 1400s.

The University seal from 1414-18 shows students (left) wearing the original academic dress. Image Courtesy of the Museum of the University of St Andrews

When St Andrews was founded it largely followed the model of the University of Paris, which had been founded in the 1200s, and adopted many of its regulations regarding dress. St Andrews was also, like all the first Universities, founded by churchmen and as a result the early academic dress of the University was heavily influenced by the types of ceremonial dress worn in the church of the time.

However, after the Scottish Reformation much of this academic dress fell out of fashion because of its close association with the Catholic Church. While undergraduate dress made a quick comeback in the form of the red gowns, which I looked at in my last blog, most other types of academic dress did not.

Eventually, in the 1800s, in line with a restructuring of the degree system at St Andrews, the University decided to reinstate a comprehensive system of academic dress. From this decision we get the black gowns and different coloured hoods for different degrees which we are familiar with today, but also some more unusual types of academic dress which you might not have seen before!

Medicine Cap designed by BOSC. Image courtesy of the Museum of the University of St Andrews

Knowing that Paris regulations had formed the basis of academic dress in St Andrews in the 1400s, the University looked back to Paris for inspiration when designing their new system of academic dress. They eventually ordered some samples from Paris, but what they got back was perhaps a little bit more glamorous than they were expecting!

In 1868 Bosc of Paris created hats for all of the different faculties at St Andrews, including Arts, Sciences, Divinity, Medicine and Law. They came to be known as the ‘Paris hats’ and they were probably intended to be worn by the Deans, or heads, of departments but, sadly, they never really caught on. The University eventually decided that they were too grand ‘even for occasions of high ceremony.’

While this may be true, it does seem a shame that these colourful headpieces were never seen on the streets of St Andrews!

From the Archive: Sir James Irvine, The University’s Second Founder and Pioneering Carbohydrate Chemist

This post is based on an archive blog written in 2011 by guest blogger, Jo Rodgers, a former student and staff member, who reviewed our previous Sir James Irvine Exhibition! When thinking about the University’s long history (607 years long to be precise!) we often take time to think about those individuals who have had a resounding impact upon its future. One such individual is Sir James Colquhoun Irvine, who was Principal of St Andrews for over three decades – from 1920 to 1952.

Portrait of Sir James Colquhoun Irvine by Oswald H. J. Birley, 1933. Courtesy of the Museum of the University of St Andrews

Sir James Irvine was born in Glasgow on 9 May 1877, and was the son of John Irvine, a manufacturer of light iron castings, and Mary Paton Colquhoun, of highland descent. Irvine began his journey as a scientist when he entered the Royal Technical College (now Strathclyde University) at the age of sixteen, and in 1895 he attended at the University of St Andrews and worked under the notable twentieth-century Scottish chemist, and future friend and colleague, Professor Thomas Purdie. It was at one of Scotland’s oldest, and fairly unheard-of, Universities that Irvine acquired an enduring love for the coastal town and for the University which he would serve as a lecturer, professor, and principal for much of his life. Throughout Irvine’s education, he was influenced by several exceptional scientists. For example, after he graduated from St Andrews in 1898, he was awarded an ‘1851 Exhibition scholarship’ in 1899 and attended the University of Leipzig, while working towards his PhD, he worked alongside notable German pioneers of science including Johannes Wislicenus and Wilhelm Ostwald.

However, it is during his career as a chemist and lecturer at the University of St Andrews, that he made a name for himself. Some of the most striking discoveries Irvine made, alongside Purdie, was through his research into the complexities of sugar molecules. During the First World War, numerous University chemical laboratories across the UK were utilised by the government to produce chemicals for warfare. While working with a team of nearly one hundred staff at the St Andrews Chemical Laboratory, Irvine developed a pure medicinal sugar called Dulcitol.

Research Laboratory, the Irvine Building (the Old Chemistry Lab), taken 1907. Image Courtesy of the University of St Andrews Library, ID 2012-12-16

To develop this drug, Irvine relied on the natural sugar source of Inulin found in plants such as dahlia tubers and seaweed. In fact, Irvine made a national war-time request in several newspapers for dahlias, with many being transported by train to St Andrews station and then, with the assistance of local Boy Scouts, wheelbarrowed to the laboratories. This manufactured Dulcitol was then used to treat British troops suffering from fever and meningitis in the Balkans, saving thousands of lives. In 1917, at the request of the Chemical Warfare Department, Irvine also assisted in analysing a new German chemical weapon used in trench warfare: Mustard Gas. Pressed to produce their own mustard gas, the War Office instructed Irvine to manufacture large quantities of the chemical. Lastly, during wartime he oversaw the creation of Novocaine, a valuable anaesthetic for frontline surgeries.

A selection of sugar samples produced by Sir Irvine during his research into naturally-occurring sugars. Image courtesy of the Museum of the University of St Andrews.

His contributions to science did not end there however, during peacetime, Irvine continued to make significant contributions within the field of chemistry through his research on carbohydrates. Irvine enhanced our understanding of the ‘ring structures’ of carbohydrates, which in turn, helped to inform developments in biology such as the discovery of the structure of DNA. In recognition of his scientific achievements and his research in carbohydrate chemistry, Sir James acquired a number of honours including: being elected a FRS (Fellow of the Royal Society) in 1918, knighted in 1925, and being awarded a number of national and international medals, such as the ‘Longstaff medal’ of the Chemistry Society of London in 1933.

Lafayette Studio portrait of James Irvine in the St Andrews gown of his Doctor of Science degree which he was awarded in March 1903, this photo was taken c. 1911. Image courtesy of the University of St Andrews Library

During his long service as Principal, Sir James oversaw extensive modernisation of the fairly outdated and financially limited University, earning him the appellation “St Andrews’ Second Founder”. First and foremost, Irvine focused on revitalising the University’s community and reestablishing it as a residential University. To the benefit of St Andrews, Irvine oversaw the expansion of student halls of residence, revived old University customs and traditions, improved many buildings and the accessibility of scientific equipment for research, and secured donations for the renovation of St Salvator’s Chapel and the restoration of St Leonard’s Chapel. These changes to the University attracted increasing numbers of students to St Andrews, in addition, when combined with his emphasis on the importance of both Carbohydrate and wider academic research, the University drew international acclaim. After Irvine’s death in 1952, he certainly left the institution with a legacy of excellence in research which endures to this day.

Some of the objects in the Museum’s collection provide a selection of fascinating insights into Irvine’s professional and personal life in St Andrews. The Wardlaw Museum holds over nine hundred sugar samples which attest to his extensive research on sugar molecules and his contributions to science. Meanwhile, photographs of him with his family, his wife Lady Irvine and their three children, illustrate the role which they played at the University. One especially evocative photograph shows Mabel Irvine and their daughter Felicity being cheered by then-rector of the University, J.M. Barrie in 1922. It seems clear that even during our sixth century as a University, we owe many thanks to this interesting and great man.

Photograph of Lady Irvine and their daughter, Felicity Irvine, being cheered by then Rector, J. M. Barrie in 1922. Image courtesy of the Special Collections of the University of St Andrews


From the Archive: Inspiration from the Bell Pettigrew Museum of Natural History

The Bell Pettigrew Museum is one of several venues the Museum Collections Unit cares for. The museum first opened in 1912, and in 2011 one of our guest bloggers and University students, Gillian Carmoodie, explained why she thinks it’s still got all it’s charm almost 100 years later:

I first came to the Bell Pettigrew museum as a psychology student. I’d been getting through my first-year as a psychology undergraduate with reasonable ease but there was a hint of underlying frustration starting to build. For all my good intentions at the start of my degree, after only a few months, my attention was beginning to drift during lectures and I was struggling to motivate myself to complete work and meet various deadlines. It took only one visit to the Bell Pettigrew museum to change that.

The problem wasn’t that the psychology lectures were dull. Indeed, for the majority of the psychology classes, the complete opposite was true. It was all extremely interesting but I was somehow missing something. I was missing that magic spark of inspiration, the kind that kicks off an immediate visit to the library to get more on what’s just been discussed in the latest lecture or lab class.

Bird display at the Bell Pettigrew Museum

My first visit to the Bell Pettigrew museum was the conclusion to an appointment with Dr. Martin Milner. We had met for the first time earlier that morning to discuss how I might be able to enrol on a basic-level biology module, primarily to satisfy a need to be working through more module credits in-order to qualify for full-time funding. That morning I had told Martin about how my modules in psychology didn’t seem to be fulfilling my keen interest for a degree and not long after, perhaps in sensing a student on the cusp of a subject change, Martin introduced me to the Bell Pettigrew.

Upon going through the double-doored entrance for the first time, I was both astonished and humbled by what I saw. Glass-panels reaching from floor to ceiling spanned the whole length of the walls. Behind them, a vast and highly organised natural history collection lay awaiting a curious gaze and my wide-eyed surprise. Many specimens were contained within glass cylinders, carefully labelled with what the specimen was and who had collected the item – all intricately inscribed in beautiful and lavish inked hand-writing. In the centre of the museum, further cabinets stood containing fossils, bones and the equipment of biological days gone by. Reaching higher than the top of these central cabinets, an enormous cast of a Diplodocus’s femur (thigh bone), donated by Dunfermline’s famous Andrew Carnegie, demonstrated just how inconceivably large some of the extinct beings from past ages used to be. Huddled near this voluminous piece are the skeletons of a racehorse (called Eclipse), a carthorse, a camel and an ox.

One section of the large entomological display at the Museum

Despite the Bell Pettigrew’s limited size, the museum appeared to represent all the animal groups I could think of and seemed to contain many thousands of specimens. As we walked round the collection, Martin gave me a brief overview of the museum’s history. Even better, not only was the museum interesting in its current form but it also had a fascinating history and had received the attentions of several hard-working, influential biologists, each contributing to both its collections and success.

Eventually Martin decided to leave me to wander around the museum myself, encouraging me to consider a biology module or two. His invitation was not necessary – my mind had already decided, somewhere within the Bell Pettigrew, that studying some biology was a must. As I heard Martin’s footsteps disappear down the corridor, I continued on with my wandering. Wandering and discovering, finding hidden treasures within the displays.

I lost a further two hours in the Bell Pettigrew that morning, the pull of the exhibits making me forget the time. Morning turned into late afternoon and as I went to leave, I signed the guestbook. I wrote:

“21.01.08: This makes me feel like a kid discovering things. Absolutely amazing. Thank you.”

This first visit to the Bell Pettigrew museum was back in January 2008 and I’ve now been a Zoology honours student for just over 3 years. Within a day or two after my visit I had put in my request to be enrolled on the next Biology of Organisms module and a year later, having studied Psychology and Biology side-by-side, I switched schools and formally became a Zoology undergraduate. I’ve never regretted the decision – it was one of the best I have ever made. I liked psychology very much but I absolutely adore biology.

Displays and the study area in the Museum

During my time as a trainee zoologist, I’ve visited and studied and brought visitors to the Bell Pettigrew countless times over. The inspiration and wide-eyed wonder still hasn’t left me and from time to time, I’m still able to find a new pair of eyes looking back at me from within the cabinets.

Inspiration from the Bell Pettigrew often reaches me from beyond the museum itself. A quick glance through the glass-panels on the entrance doors, snatched on route to the next lecture or workshop, is usually enough to persuade me to give that dreaded lab report or unfinished essay another go later on in the day. The workspace located in the very centre of the museum has provided a quiet and inviting refuge to bring particularly difficult work and uninterrupted reading to on many occasions. Now as I approach my final undergraduate year at St. Andrews, the whole of the Bell Pettigrew will open up to become a workspace as I work on my final-year project. This will involve using some of the exhibits and creating my very own museum display within the Bell Pettigrew itself. As the summer draws to an end and a new term gets ever closer, I simply can’t wait to get started.

Words by Gillian Carmoodie

If objects could talk: The faceless Professor

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.

Professor Lewis Campbell today

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.

Professor Lewis Campbell in his glory days

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!)

A.R. Wallace: Naturalist, Collector and Co-Founder of Evolution Theory

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.

A.R. Wallace

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.

Welcome to the Bell Pettigrew Museum

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.

St Kilda House Mouse (Mus musculus muralis). Photograph © Sean Dooley. All rights reserved. Image courtesy of the University of St Andrews Library, [2014-2-33].
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.

Quetzal (Pharomachrus mocinno)

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.

Thylacine or Tasmanian wolf/tiger (Thylacinus cynocephalus)

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”. 

From the Archive: Conserving the Mace of St Salvator’s College

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.

Gold mace head decorated with Christian imagery.
Head of the Mace of St Salvator’s College

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.

A man using a paintbrush to clean the dismantled macehead.
Richard Rogers, specialist conservator, working on the mace

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.

Small engraved mark on a mace handle surrounded by engraved decoration.
Medieval maker’s mark

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.

Future Use
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.