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The Gibraltar Scientific Society was first founded in Gibraltar in 1835 and re-established 180 years later in 2015. The following is from an article by current Society President, Dr. Alex Menez, published in the Gibraltar Chronicle on the 19 October 2015; exactly 180 years from the original founding of the Society:
“Exactly 180 years ago today, a group of men led by Dr. John Burrow set up a society in Gibraltar that would meet regularly over the next 17 years to discuss scientific matters of the day. The society would grow to have over 100 members, including leading men of science such as the eminent botanist and microscopist Robert Brown and influential geologist James Smith of Jordanhill, as well as men stationed in Gibraltar such as Edward Kelaart and James Bell. The group of enthusiastic and knowledgeable men made up the Gibraltar Scientific Society.
Over the course of its life, the society accumulated an extensive collection of specimens which grew into an important museum. A fervour for collecting led to the society changing its name to the Gibraltar Museum Society on its fifth anniversary; the original name being recovered 11 years later once the museum was united with the Garrison Library.
The reason for the Society’s demise in 1853, after a successful existence since 1835, are not entirely clear. But some will recognise the name of Gibraltar’s very first scientific society for its connection with its most important specimen. The Society was the custodian of the Gibraltar Skull from its donation to the Society by Lieutenant Edmund Flint in 1848 to the end of the Society’s days, after which the collection went to the Soldiers’ Homes set up by Lieutenant Pilkington Jackson. The skull eventually went to London in 1864 along with material from Captain Frederick Brome’s excavations from the Genista Caves.
In researching the history of the Society I fancied it might be fun to resurrect it at some stage. So when Professor Clive Finlayson, in his introductory talk at the presentation of the Museum Honorary Fellowships on the 85th anniversary of the Museum’s opening (the 23rd July, 2015) called on the Fellows to explore the possibility of recreating the Society, I was intrigued. During the reception after the ceremony we chatted and it transpired that his son, Stewart, had had the idea to resurrect the Society. We got together and thrashed out how to do this. My interest was based on the romantic notion of bringing back Gibraltar’s first scientific society; Stewart had exciting ideas for projects and activities. We thought the society might complement some of the work existing societies do. But we also wanted it to provide opportunities for workers who were enthusiastic and had interests in science. We drew up a list of people, some long standing workers in the field others new blood. We included the Museum Honorary Fellows working in science, but we expect other Fellows to become involved too! Because Stewart and I had thought up the idea we thought it would be fun for me to be President and Stewart, Secretary, for the first term while we got things going.
We’ll announce soon how people can apply to join, and we’re conscious we may have missed out some people who should be on board, and so we’ll encourage people to come forward. We’ll also announce the Rules and Regulations. We plan for the Society to have close links with the Museum, much as the Gibraltar Society had in the late 1920s and early 1930s. Both that society and the Museum were the brainchilds of the then Governor, Sir Alexander Godley. And it all feels so appropriate and topical. Several common threads reach out over the 180 years since the Gibraltar Scientific Society was first set up, including the desire to promote and study science; involvement in the collection and most famously, the Gibraltar Skull, then in Gibraltar under the custody of the Society; now in the Natural History Museum in London. And there has been world class research coming from Gibraltar. Breakthroughs in the understanding of human ecology and behaviour; the first Neanderthal engraving and other discoveries.
In the year in which the World Heritage Site bid is playing out in Gibraltar and our wonderful University has been inaugurated, I think we can agree that the original aim of the Gibraltar Scientific Society, written all those years ago by Dr Burrow in his home in Gibraltar, is as relevant today as it was then: ‘to promote the objects of General Science’.”
Photo: Some of the Council Members of the Gibraltar Scientific Society (credit: Alice Mascarenhas, Gibraltar Chronicle).