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Tuesday, 15 June 2010

Patrick, Science, Darwin

Richard Wilcocks writes:

The final event of the June weekend was on the morning of Tuesday 8 June in Thornton, on the edge of Bradford, which of course has strong Brontë connections. The organiser was Angela Crow. She introduced the speakers - myself and Andrew Mitchell.

The event took place in the hall next to St James' Parish Church, which the Brontës never saw, because it was built in 1872, though the font in which Charlotte, Branwell, Emily and Anne were baptised is in it, because it was moved from the Old Bell Chapel, where Patrick was the parson.

My theme was Patrick Brontë - Scientist. Using letters taken mainly from Dudley Green's excellent The Letters of the Reverend Patrick Brontë  (Nonsuch  ISBN 1 84588 066 8) the focus was on Patrick's clear, logical and well... scientific mind, or rather his scientific side. Letters were to the Leeds Intelligencer (which evolved into the Yorkshire Post), to its rival the Leeds Mercury and various others. I recalled my own small-time research into the history of the Leeds Festival Chorus which began in 1858, and which involved reading from microfilms of issues of both newspapers, which strained the eyes: print was tiny, pages packed, illustrations few.

My inevitable opener in Thornton was the letter to the Intelligencer about the eruption of Stanbury Bog (1824) followed by On the Muskets (1841) to the Times and Sir G. Murray and Patrick's detailed advice to the Marquis of Angelsey (1848) on how to make more effective naval mortars. These were followed by On Sulphuric Ether (Mercury 1847) and several others, with some historical context.

Andrew Mitchell performed between a series of impressive pop-up banners on which were several of his poems beautifully illustrated by Mary Kuper. These had been commissioned in 2009, when Andrew played his part in celebrations in Bradford for the Darwin Centenery. Most of the poems he read were taken from his Darwin A Voyage of Ideas. Some of the episodes and adventures of the famous voyage of the Beagle were recounted, and we were told about Darwin himself, his ailments and his belief in hydrotherapy, which led him to be treated in Ilkley with what seems to have been a kind of super-shower.

His titles were HMS Beagle's destinations. Each powerful poem was introduced with essential background information - for example about the native inhabitants of the shores of Tierra del Fuego, now split between Chile and Argentina, who have been wiped out by contact with European settlers. Four of them had been transported to Britain by Robert FitzRoy on the first voyage of the Beagle in 1830. Three of them (one died) were returned on the second voyage after a stay during which they had become celebrated curiosities. Andrew filled us in on the famous finches as well, before his poem Galapagos. We were given the backgound on those giant tortoises too: apparently they were/are delicious, and hundreds of them were taken on board ships by the British in the later years of the nineteenth century - to be eaten by hungry sailors.

Below, Angela Crow, Richard Wilcocks, Andrew Mitchell:

1 comment:

  1. A really good ending for a very enjoyable weekend.

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