Sadly, neither Jameson nor his successor, Edward Forbes,
lived to see the collection re-housed in the new national
museum in 1866. Forbes had succeeded Jameson in 1854 but
died before the end of the year. It was George Allman,
Professor of Natural History from 1855-1870, who presided
over both these events and the rapid deterioration in
relationships between University and Museum which followed
on the removal of the collection to the new building next
There were two main factors involved in this breakdown of
relations between the two bodies. First, although the
collection had been housed in the new building it had been
agreed that the University could borrow specimens for
teaching. Unfortunately, specimens were so often on loan
that the collection became difficult to manage. Worse, many
specimens were 'lost'. Secondly, a feeling developed in the
museum that the University professors, who were still the
curators of the collection, were neglecting their keepership
This feeling was strengthened when Allman's successor,
Charles Wyville Thomson - an ex-student of Jameson - spent
only two years in Edinburgh before sailing as Director of
Scientific Staff on the famous expedition of H.M.S.
During Wyville Thomson's absence, a report from the
Department of Science and Art stated that;
"... the duties of the keeper of the Natural
History Collections have never been fulfilled by the
present professor ... who declined to perform them during
the whole two years which he spent in Edinburgh".
It was concluded that the department would appoint its
own curator and the museum would continue as a body totally
independent of the University. Having lost access to the
second collection, the University now set about acquiring a
third collection for its own use.
In the early spring of 1871, an incident occurred that
illustrates the failing relationship between the two bodies.
As can still be seen today the Old College building is
joined to the Royal Museum by an enclosed bridge
-Edinburgh's "Bridge of Sighs".
On one particular evening, the museum was having a reception
party at which many Edinburgh dignitaries could be found.
Alcoholic refreshments for the guests and the reception band
were stored in the bridge. However, unknown to the museum
authorities and their guests, the Natural History students
were having a party of their own on the University's side of
the bridge. The students' festivities included stealing and
consuming every keg and bottle of the museum's stock leaving
the reception party totally without refreshment. Tempers,
understandably, flared and an enormous padlock was fixed to
the University door of the bridge. Since then, the bridge
has been used as an aquarium, a laboratory and is currently
employed as a storeroom for the museum, the padlocked door
having been replaced with a solid wall.
It seems necessary here to offer an explanation for what must appear as
lamentable behaviour on the part of Allman, Wyville Thomson and the University.
This digression also helps to show how the study of animal biology has
developed in the University during the last 130 years. Prior to Forbes'
appointment in 1854, the Professors of Natural History had been generalists
concerned with studies and lectures on animals, plants and minerals. Much
time was spent, as we have seen, on collecting and describing new specimens
and in revealing the enormous diversity of living organisms. Forbes'
appointment, short though it was, was a turning point in the story of the
chair of Natural History. From this time, its incumbents concentrated on
The mid to late nineteenth century was an exciting and productive period
for those interested in animals. The exchange of information flourished
throughout Europe via books, monographs and learned societies. Methods for
studying animals, their physiology and behaviour developed. Above all, it
was a time when the world was generally available for peaceful and
scientific travel. Forty years before, in 1834, the voyage of H.M.S. Beagle
had stimulated Darwin, in parallel with Wallace who had also travelled
widely in South America and the Far East, to formulate revolutionary ideas
Both Allman and Wyville Thomson were themselves
brilliant scientists, committed to the study of marine animals and their
biology. Allman's work on Gymnoblastic Hydrozoa gave us a fundamental
understanding of the biology of sea-firs, jellyfish and corals. A superb
artist, he left in his monograph published by the Ray Society, a record of
these organisms which, even today, is standard reference material.
The achievements of Wyville Thomson in studying the marine life of both the
Atlantic and the Mediterranean, prior to his appointment to the University
in 1870, culminated in the great 'Challenger' voyage (1872-76).
The scientific results of
this voyage were published in fifty volumes (London 1880-95) under the
direction of Sir John Murray who had accompanied Wyville Thomson. Specialists in every branch of science studied the collection and data obtained
by the voyage and assisted in the production of the reports. It is no exaggeration
to suggest that with the voyage of the HMS Challenger, the science of oceanography was
born. Taking into account the scientific climate of the Victorian age and the exceptional qualities of
Allman and Wyville Thomson, is it really so surprising that both chose to pursue their own
lines of research rather than serve as curators for collections amassed by their predecessors?
Even though Wyville Thomson had left Edinburgh to sail on the HMS Challenger, the Department
did not go into a state of hibernation. Two very eminent scientists presided over the Chair of
Natural History, each for half of Wyville Thomson's four year voyage. Julius Victor Carus taught in the
first two years and Thomas Henry Huxley, the famous comparative anatomist in the