Provenance
3 - Oxford University Museum of Natural History (1860- )


Details

The Oxford University Museum of Natural History houses the University of Oxford's scientific collections, and includes some of the world's most significant natural history artefacts: the earliest documented dinosaur fossils and the most complete remains of a single dodo. An important centre for research and teaching, the Museum is organised into four collections: entomology, geology, mineralogy and petrology and zoology and includes several research libraries. It is renowned for its spectacular neo-Gothic architecture which accomodates towering dinosaurs and nesting swifts and, since 1884, provides the only public entrance to the Pitt Rivers Museum.

The Oxford University Museum of Natural History has been a hub of scientific and cultural advancement since 1860, the year it opened, when it provided the venue for the celebrated debate on Charles Darwin’s Origin of Species between the Bishop of Oxford, Samuel Wilberforce, and Thomas Henry Huxley, and has included Nobel laureates on its staff.

The English and French Westlake Collections have distinct historical relationships with the Museum:

The Westlake Collection of an estimated 10,000 English palealoliths, eoliths and fossils came to the Museum in 1999. It was transferred from the Department of Geology, University of Southampton where it had been held since Frank Hodson and P. S. Peberdy bought the collection from Aubrey Westlake in 1961. Whilst in Southampton, geologist Justin B. Delair studied the collection and accompanying papers closely. [Delair, 1981 and 1985].

Westlake's English collection has been housed in the Museum's de-consecrated Nuneham Church store since 1999, where, in 2000, Rebe Taylor located many of Westlake’s papers placed unintentionally with his geological specimens. These papers were archived by the Museum's former librarian, Stella Brecknell from 2001.

The Westlake Collection of an estimated 4000 (or more) French eoliths came to Museum in 1923 on the application of Professor W. J. Sollas who, with Henry Balfour, Curator of the Pitt Rivers Museum, made a joint request to Aubrey Westlake for Sollas to study the French collection and Balfour to examine the Tasmanian implements.

After careful consideration, W. J. Sollas concluded that Ernest Westlake's eoliths were manufactured by human ancestors [W. J. Sollas, 1924: 98]. [See also: WEST00415, 'Notes by W.J. Sollas', Series 12, Pitt Rivers Museum Manuscripts Collections, Westlake Papers; and images 28-45, WEST00355, 'Correspondence: French Collection 1923-1993 part 1', Series 15, Westlake Archive, Oxford University Museum of Natural History].

Following Sollas’ death in 1936, Westlake's French Collection was transferred from the Pitt Rivers Museum in 1937 to the Ipswich Museum by request of Ipswish Museum's director, J. Reid Moir. By 1939 Moir had completed a paper based on the French collection but it was unpublished due to the outbreak of War. (See WEST00414, 'The Eoliths from the Upper Miocene deposits of the Cantal, Central France By J. Reid Moir', Series 12, Pitt Rivers Museum Manuscripts Collections, Westlake Papers; and images 81-131, WEST00355, 'Correspondence: French Collection 1923-1993 part 1', Series 15, Westlake Archive, Oxford University Museum of Natural History).

In 1953 the Westlake French Collection was transferred from the Ipswich Museum to the Pitt Rivers Museum by request of Donald Baden-Powell, Department of Geology, University of Oxford. Baden-Powell studied the collection closely and used it for teaching purposes, but was unable to find a publisher for his work (images 66-105, WEST00356, 'Correspondence: French Collection 1923-1993 part 2', Series 15, Westlake Archive, Oxford University Museum of Natural History).

By the late 1970s Derek Roe of the Donald Baden-Powell Quarternary Research Centre, along with staff at the Oxford Natural History Museum and Pitt Rivers Museum, deemed Westlake's French eoliths naturally broken rocks and the collection was de-accessioned and returned to Aubrey Westlake in 1980 [images 40-75, WEST00357, Correspondence: French Collection 1923-1993 part 3', Series 15, Westlake Archive, Oxford University Museum of Natural History].

In 2007 former librarian of the Museum, Stella Brecknell, wrote a narrative account about the Westlake French, and also English Collections: WEST00349, 'Brecknell, Stella, A dubious inheritance: Ernest Westlake's 'eolith' collections', unpublished paper', Series 1, Westlake Archive, Oxford University Museum of Natural History).

ReferencesOxford University Museum of Natural History website

Published by the The University of Melbourne eScholarship Research Centre and the Pitt Rivers Museum, Oxford, August 2010
Listed by Rebe Taylor, with Michael Jones and Gavan McCarthy
HTML edition
Updated 14 February 2017
http://web.esrc.unimelb.edu.au/WEST/WESP003.htm

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