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Ghosts of the Museum: An Elementary Class on Fossils and how to Draw them

Ghosts of the Museum

Presented by The Geological Society Library
with author and Geoscientist editor Dr Ted Nield.

History of the Museum

The room which is now called the Upper Library was until 1911 the Society’s Museum. Traces of its previous use can still be seen in the drawer runners in the shelving bays on each level and openings which once held catches and hinges of wainscot cabinet doors. From its earliest days, the Geological Society collected rocks, minerals, fossils and other interesting objects in order to document what was known about this new burgeoning science. Unlike rival collections at the British Museum and other learned bodies, the Society's Museum was intended to be comprehensive. Access was restricted to members of the Society but it was to be of educational use to both beginners and accomplished geologists.

Edward Charlesworth

Following the resignation in 1842 of curator William Lonsdale, the Society received six applications for his job. One of these was from the palaeontologist Edward Charlesworth (1813-1893) who had held curator posts at the Ipswich Museum, British Museum and Zoological Society.

Unfortunately three years previously Charlesworth had engaged in a campaign of verbal fisticuffs with a number of our eminent Fellows - which he then decided to publish in full in a special supplement of his own short lived journal. Indeed so bad was the situation he created, he disappeared off to South America for a few months until the fuss died down. Members of Council, who remembered only too well the special supplement, decreed that Charlesworth was ineligible to apply for the job. The argumentative would-be-curator did not take this lying down, publishing another pamphlet accusing Council of acting illegally and rounding up support from Fellows to petition the Society for a Special General Meeting. In the end his efforts came to nothing, the post going instead to the more mild mannered Edward Forbes.

The Museum revisited

This special evening brought the room back to its original educational use once more, and, for one night only, Edward Charlesworth (aka Dr Ted Nield) fulfilled his wish and became the curator of the Museum!

Curator ‘Charlesworth’ conducted an elementary class, for both beginners and artistically challenged experts, on fossils, demonstrating how to draw them in a scientifically correct manner in order to understand their structure fully – using as a basis some of the Society’s original specimens, not seen in the building since 1911!


All items (except patents) available in GSL Library:


  1. Nield, E W & V C T Tucker, ‘Palaeontology: an introduction’, Oxford: Pergamon Press, 1985.
  2. Nield, E W, ‘Drawing and understanding fossils: a theoretical and practical guide for beginners, with self-assessment’, Oxford: Pergamon Press, 1987.



  1. Obituary, ‘Quarterly Journal of the Geological Society’, vol 50 (1894), pp47-50.
  2. Obituary, ‘Geological Magazine’, vol 10 (1893), pp526-528.
  3. Obituary, ‘Natural Science’, vol 3 (1893), pp308-309.
  4. Pyrah, B, “Yorkshire Museum: Charlesworth catalogues”, ‘Newsletter of the Geological Curators Group’, vol 2 (1979), pp157-172.
  5. Pyrah, B, ‘The history of the Yorkshire Museum and its geological collections’, York: William Sessions, 1988.


  1. ‘Magazine of Natural History’, New Series, vols 1-4 (1837-1840).
  2. ‘London Geological Journal’, vol 1 (1846-1847)


  1. Charlesworth, E, ‘Improvements in Bill or Letter Holders’, (1853) [ref: A.D.1853, no.511]
  2. Charlesworth, E, ‘Counteracting the Recoil of Small Arms’ [Elevator Gun], (1858) [ref: A.D.1858, no.1231.]


  1. Special committee relating to Edward Charlesworth's application for the Museum Curatorship, August-December 1842 (GSL archive ref: LDGSL/330).
  2. Appointment of a new curator for the Museum of the Geological Society, notes by George Bellas Greenough, 1842 (GSL archive ref: LDGSL/958).
  3. Catalogues of the Museum of the Geological Society, (GSL archive ref: A/2014/21)

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Event Details

ghosts of the museum

Date: 6 November 2014

Venue: The Upper Library, The Geological Society, Burlington House, London

Related Links

Handouts from the Evening

Introduction to the Museum and Charlesworth

Magazine of Natural History

Museum Curator Application


British Natural History Society


The Geological Society Library

The Geological Society
Burlington House

Tel: 020 7432 0999

Email: [email protected]