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The letters transcribed

Letters concerning the discovery of Thecodontosaurus, all preserved at Bristol Record Office (BRO) and catalogued in package BRO Ref. No. 32079(43).

[1. Letter from Revd D. Williams to S. Stutchbury Esq., Philos. Institution, Park St., Bristol; postmarked 'Cross Penny Post'; BRO Ref. No. 32079/43/2.]

Bleadon nr. Cross
Jany. 14th 1835.

    In a conversation I had with Mr Danger a day or two ago, he stated that he had been told at the Institution that I had privately & unfairly possessed myself of facts and information collected there, of the Bones found on Durdham Down.
    The only time, since the discovery that I have been in the Laboratory I was asked to walk down by Mr Upham on my enquiring for yourself, when Mr Adams and a workman were there. I neither then, or at any time obtained the knowledge of a fact, or information that I had not more fully ascertained at the Quarry, and the entire substance and matter of the short and hasty memoir which I sent to the Geol. Society, I collected with my own eyes and hammer, or specimens brought me by the quarrymen.
    What may have been intended by the terms "privately and unfairly" or by whom said I know not, but in either their restricted or extended senses I repel them with as much scorn as a man can feel when he knows himself to be wrongfully & unjustly accused.

I have the honor [sic] to remain
Your very obedient Servant
Dd. Williams

[2. Draft of letter from S. Stutchbury to 'Revd. D. Williams, Bleaden [sic], Somerset'; BRO Ref. No. 32079/43/3.]

Bristol Jany. 16. 1835

    Without enquiring into the motive which has induced you to address me on the subject contained in yours of the 14th, I shall without constraint state (as respects the words imputed to have been made to Mr Danger) that I do not recollect ever to have seen him within the walls of the institution, or to have had the pleasure of speaking to him on any affair whatever, nor am I aware that I have the honour of even being known to him; nor does he appear to be known to any officer employed in the establishment. And as regards the memoir you speak of, I was only aware of the fact of your having made such a communication to the Geological Socy. from your having so stated it to my assistant Mr Sheriff. [The following sentence inserted from the final page of the letter: Therefore not knowing in the slightest degree, even to this day, the nature of your paper, makes it the more improbable that any such words could, under any circumstances, have been uttered by any in this building.] But as regards this affair, I now freely confess that I have felt rather sore on the subject, and for the following reasons. - First, the communication, and calling your attention to the bones was gratuitous on my part, being ever anxious that a free intercourse should exist between parties following the same pursuits. Secondly, that exhibiting the fossils, stating the circumstances under which they were found, and freely giving all the information I was possessed of, excepting the precise locality, which last fact, I only at that moment, kept back, because I was in some degree pledged, and without that party's concurrence was not justified in making it known [the following phrase inserted from the final page of the letter: and I have no doubt you will remember, that at that time I expressed my willingness, indeed, the pleasure I should have in a few days to accompany you to the spot myself.] Thirdly, that having informed you, of our intention of working out a memoir for the Geological Society, and being aware of the possibility of being deprived of the opportunity of securing the remains yet entombed, and judging of your intentions by your importunities regarding the precise locality, notwithstanding I had pointed out to you the geological position, I must again repeat that I felt much hurt to find the material for such a paper was passing into other hands, & also to find that persons following a pursuit which ought to lead to no other feeling than that of unity should by any little untoward differences lose that confidence in each other, which in all professions, and more particularly that of science should be the bond of good fellowship. - further I have only to say that neither by myself or with any acquiescence have such words been used as have led to the honour of our present correspondence.

I remain Sir
your most Obedt. Servt.
To the Revd. D. Williams
(excuse haste)

[3. Letter from Rev. D. Williams to 'Saml. Stutchbury Esq., Institution, Bristol’; BRO Ref. No. 32079/43/4.]

Bleadon nr. Cross
Jany. 24th 1835.

    Your frank & satisfactory reply which I recd. last Eveng. gave me sincere pleasure. I have invariably experienced from yourself and & other officers of the Institution every information & assistance and the most simple and unaffected kindness, and I confess the apprehension of an interruption of these civilties tinctured my regret with a shadow of resentment when I felt conscious that I had done nothing to forfeit them. With respect to the discovery at Durdham Down, I well remember your saying you were obliged not to disclose the place. So far I fully excused you from what I could only regard as selfishness in some one, when on my finding out the spot I saw the bones were being halled[sic] away daily for building or other purposes, for you will surely concede that it were preferable they shd. be possessed by the merest collector living to being destroyed or lost altogether.
    As for the publication of the fossils, all you communicated to me was that an account wd. appear in the Phill. Magazine - it was from the Bl. Museum only I learned that Dr. Riley was preparing a Paper for the Geol.Transactions. My short & hasty memoir will not much frustrate his more scientific assessment for you are possesed of more ample details & opportunities than I had. I certainly found a fragment of a small jaw which by a lovely fracture explained the dentition, from which I inferred the genus, of the animal, if it is of any service to yourself or Dr. Riley you are welcome to it for so long a time as you may require it. Henceforth the Bl. savants may take [?] the shale of Durdham Down back again without interference from me. The world is wide enough & [though?] is to be [liaised?] & this [ensured?] elsewhere without our quizzing each other there.

I remain Sir,
Your much obliged and faithful Servent
Dd Williams

[4. Copy of letter written by Samuel Stutchbury to an unidentified recipient; BRO Ref. No. 32079/43/5.]

Bristol Instn. Mar 26, 1836

Dear Sir,
    My Brother informs me the paper upon the Saurians was read on Thursday Eveng. and that you was [sic] doubtful whether we considered the three animals to belong to the same Genus or not. We believe them to be three distinct species of two genera, the portion of jaw with the 20 teeth (Thecodontosaurus) (I wish we could find a shorter name) and the other two, Palaeosaurus cylindrodon and P. platyodon [sic].
    In answer to your enquiries as to the time when the discovery of these remains was first made, the following statement will be found to embrace these particulars. In the first week of Septr. 1834 during my absence from Bristol and while attending the meeting of the Brit. Assocn. at Edinburgh, a quarryman brought one or two fragments of bone to the Instn. but in consequence of my not being there he was referred to Dr Riley who became possessed of them, one of them proved to be the very interesting portion of a fibula figured & described in the memoir. Upon my return to Bristol at the commencement of October, several other portions were brought. We then immediately engaged the men to work diligently upon the spot until a considerable number of fragments came into our possession - in a few days after we had the pleasure of receiving Dr Agassiz to whom they were shewn, and at the same time they were also shewn to Mr Williams and Mr Conybeare [On the first of February 1835 it was noticed] and a further notice appeared in the first number of the West of England Journal, and Mr Conybeare [deleted] sent a short notice to the Philos. Mag. for Decr. 1834 while Mr Williams [sic] account did not come before the Geological Socy until [no date given], in fact he had no materials for such a notice (independent of the small portion of jaw) except what he saw during several visits to the Instn.

[5. Letter from William Lonsdale, Secretary of the Geological Society of London, to Samuel Stutchbury; BRO Ref. No. 32079/43/69.]

Geol. Soc.
Somerset House
12th Oct. 1838

My dear Sir/
    I have the pleasure of sending you the proof sheet of the Saurian Memoir, with the original drawings, and the sketches of the manner in which the Council have directed them to be engraved. You will perceive that two or three figures are omitted, the referee not considering them well defined. If you will have the kindness to send the specimens from which the rejected drawings were made, I will consult with the referee respecting them. I have ventured to make some transposition in the introduction but I hope I have not interfered with your views and Dr Rileys [sic].
    The description of the two extra teeth would perhaps come in better on the last page, and then the reader's attention would not be divided between the Thecodontosaurus, and the Palaeosaurus. I presume you consider all the remains except the two teeth, to belong to the former genus.
    Will you kindly mark on the last page, the number of extra copies Dr Riley and yourself would wish to have.
    An immediate return of the memoir with the specimens would be a great favour.
    May I beg you to present my best respects to Dr Riley -

I am very truly yours
Wm. Lonsdale

[6. Letter from Samuel Stutchbury to Prof. Benjamin Silliman of Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut; BRO Ref. No. 32079/43/37.]

Bristol Institution Novr. 6th 1840.

My Dear Sir,
    I am anxious that you should not imagine that I have forgotten my promise regarding some fragments of fossil saurians, but being desirous of aiding in all possible manner, any of our working men, I have at his request sent to London for Professor Owens [sic] inspection almost every portion I could scrape together and he has not yet returned them, however when he does, we shall have the advantage of his investigation and the specimens will be correctly named. Therefore I pray your indulgence for longer time [sic]. I must now render you in the name of the Council of our Institution their sincere thanks for the very valuable geological reports, which do so much credit to the geologists engaged in these national surveys. They have requested that I would thus communicate their thanks to one, whom at a very early period in their history they did themselves the Honor of electing+ an Honorary Member of the Bristol Institution.
    I have by the last voyage of the Gt. Western received a fine suite of American Uniones from Mr Dutton and feel extremely obliged to you for thus putting us in communication.

With respect
I beg leave to subscribe
myself yours truly
S.S. [Samuel Stutchbury]
To Profr. B. Silliman
(+ Octr. 28th 1828)

The paper

Benton, M.J. 2012. Naming the Bristol dinosaur, Thecodontosaurus: politics and science in the 1830s. Proceedings of the Geologists' Association 123, 766-778. Download pdf of the paper.

Benton, M.J. 2012. Naming the Bristol dinosaur, Thecodontosaurus: politics and science in the 1830s. Proceedings of the Geologists' Association 124, online ahead of print (doi: 10.1016/j.pgeola.2012.07.012). Download pdf.

Dicynodon Illustration courtesy of John Sibbick.
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