While history celebrates the individual scientists and artists who change our understanding of the world, it rarely remembers the assistants who make this pioneering work possible. Perhaps it’s time to spare a thought for George Fleming Richardson, who supported the work of local palaeontologist Gideon Mantell.
When Mantell exhibited his collection in Brighton in 1837, Richardson acted as curator. He followed the collection when it was acquired by the British Museum the following year, and became an assistant in its department of minerals. He also took notes from Mantell’s lectures which he published as The Wonders of Geology in 1838. Richardson published several other works on geology, but he also maintained a parallel literary career as a poet. One example of his work can be found in The Book of Sussex Verse, copies of which can be found in Brighton History Centre. Probably dating from his time with Mantell in Brighton, the poem is Richardson’s attempt to capture the eastern promise of the Royal Pavilion.
Brighton. The Pavilion.
Imperial palace, that art seen to smile
In Eastern splendour, on our English land,
As if, from China’s shore, or Egypt’s strand,
Some pow’r unknown had borne thy magic pile!
O, I would roam around thy turrets, while
They bask in moonlight beauty, while Romance
Wakes the high visions of the holiest trance,
And bids her fairest forms the night beguile.
Then shall mine erring fancy rove anew
O’er themes all wild and wondrous, that belong
To Arab story, or to Persian song,
And deem awhile their false enchantments true;
Like gentlest dreams to sleeping suff’rers borne,
To charm throughout the night, and vanish with the morn.
Sadly, neither Richardson’s poetic nor scientific careers proved sufficient to sustain him. Financial problems drove him to suicide in 1848. Richardson’s scientific rather than his literary work seems to have been better regarded in his lifetime; he became a fellow of the Geological Society in 1839. But it’s worth noting that this poem was still remembered over sixty years after his death, when The Book of Sussex Verse was first published in 1914.
More on George Fleming Richardson
RICHARDSON, GEORGE FLEMING (1796?–1848), geologist, was born about 1796. He acted at one time as curator to the collection of Dr. Gideon Algernon Mantell [q. v.], when it was on exhibition at Brighton in 1837. He also took notes of a series of Mantell’s lectures, which were published as ‘The Wonders of Geology’ (1838).
In 1838, when Mantell’s collection was bought by the trustees of the British Museum, Richardson entered their service as assistant in the ‘department of minerals.’ This post he filled for ten years. During the same period he lectured on geology and kindred subjects, and was elected a fellow of the Geological Society on 22 May 1839. In 1848 pecuniary embarrassments led him into the bankruptcy court, and he committed suicide in SomersTown on 5 July 1848. His geological handbooks were useful compilations; he was less successful in his efforts in general literature. He was author of: 1. ‘Poetic Hours,’ &c., 12mo, London, 1825. 2. ‘Rosalie Berton,’ in ‘Tales of all Nations,’ 12mo, London, 1827. 3. ‘Sketches in Prose and Verse,’ 8vo, London, 1835; 2nd ser. 8vo, London, 1838. 4. ‘Geology for Beginners,’ &c., 12mo, London, 1842; 2nd ed. 1843; reissued 1851. 5. ‘Geology, Mineralogy,’ &c., revised by Wright, 8vo, London, 1858. ‘An Essay on the German Language and Literature,’ by Richardson, is advertised in ‘A Descriptive Catalogue of the Objects … in the Museum attached to the Sussex Scientific and Literary Institute, 1836,’ which last he possibly also wrote. He also translated ‘The Life of C. T. Körner,’ 8vo, London, 1827; 2nd edit. 1845; and at his death he had completed a translation of Bouterwek’s ‘History of German Literature.’[Athenæum, 1848, p. 704; Gent. Mag. 1849, p. 550; Introd. to Wonders of Geology, 3rd edit.; information kindly supplied by the authorities of the BritishMuseum and by the assistant secretary of the Geological Society; Brit. Mus. Cat.]
John Cooper, Keeper of Natural Sciences