Dudley down under

This is an extract from the Black Country Geological Society newsletter, October 2010.

Sorting out the loft turns up some interesting things, and in my case files of old geological leaflets, notes and letters. One email I recently discovered related to my interest in the final destinations of superb Silurian fossils originating in Dudley, mostly from the Wren’s Nest. It was from an old friend of mine who now lives in Perth, Western Australia, who had responded to my request for information by telling me that there was prominently displayed in Western Australia Geology Museum, a “Crinoid from Dudley, Worc” (sic) together with many other typical Wenlock Limestone fossils. He followed this up by attending a lecture given by Ken McNamara in the University of Western Australia which houses the museum. At that time (2004) he was the Curator of Invertebrate Palaeontology; he is now a Senior Lecturer at the Cambridge Department of Earth Sciences. He explained that the fossils were part of the James Tennant Collection and outlined the interesting history of the collection, after paying tribute the Prof Hugh Torrens of Keele University for much of his source material.

James Tennant

James Tennant came to London in 1824 at the age of 16 looking for work and was apprenticed to James Mawe in his mineral, fossil and shell shop at 149 Strand. He became manager in 1829 on Mawe’s death, working with his widow. In 1838, through his influential contacts of ‘gentlemen collectors’ he was appointed to teach mineralogy at King’s College, London and then became Professor of Geology. He died in 1879 having accumulated a number of outstanding mineral and fossil collections, containing many fine Dudley specimens. One collection was acquired by the British Museum, but the Keeper of Geology, Henry Woodward, decided to send it to Western Australia, where two of his relatives, Henry Page Woodward, Government Geologist and Bernard Woodward, Curator of Geology in the newly established Western Australia museum, were in need of good material. Thus nepotism resulted in Western Australia getting an excellent collection.

Unfortunately, transporting it was another matter. Heavy rock and mineral specimens were loosely packed alongside fossils. The softer specimens suffered greatly by the constant rolling of the vessel, the delicate Eocene fossils were ground to dust. Further calamities occurred when unloading at Freemantle, a boat capsized and several crates were submerged for a significant period. When they were finally unpacked it was found that the sea water had either removed the labels or made them illegible. Apparently labels were still being matched to specimens in 2004. However, what was salvaged forms the nucleus of an excellent collection containing fossil types that are poorly represented in Western Australia. Among them are several fossils that first saw the light of day at Dudley.

Written by Bill Groves
BCGS Member

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