Sheffield Educated - The University of Sheffield

by Ian Trowell - thanks to Matthew Zawadzki and Professor Tim Birkhead

Photo: Jungle giftPhoto: Jungle gift
Donations to Professor Patten's Anatomy Department.

From World's Fair newspaper, 12 November, 1912 - "A large company of medical and scientific men, at the Grand Hotel, Sheffield, on Tuesday, listened to a short discourse by Professor C.J. Patten, on anthropoid apes, a subject which as a Fellow of the Royal Anthropological Institute he is deeply interested in. He said that at the present time scientists were in doubt as to whether they should any longer apply the term ape to anthropoids. It was difficult in fact to know exactly what their zoological position was. The lecturer then tanked Mr Tudor, the manager of the Jungle, for his valuable gifts to the department of anatomy at the University."

Bostock's original Jungle of 1910-11 gives evidence through local newspapers and the 'Sheffield Year Book and Record' of specimens donated to the University of Sheffield. On top of this, the quote above from World's Fair shows that the second visit of Bostock's Jungle (winter 1912-13) continued to work closely with the University, specifically the Anatomy Department, and that the recording of this made it through to newspapers.

The 1910-11 yearbook records the donation of a chimpanzee ("Jimmy") on the 16th December whilst an unnamed orang-utan and Siamang gibbon are listed as being presented to the University sometime in January. The Sheffield Daily Telegraph of 17/12/1910 gives more details, listing Professor Patten from the Anatomy Department as the recipient, with a note that the specimen will be utilised for anatomical research such that "every scrap of it will be used". The first recorded primate to expire is "Pat" the young chimpanzee, and he was also donated to the department but, after taxidermy, passed on to Weston Park Museum. It can be assumed that the sharp change in climate, change in everyday environment and the associated anxiety of being out of the usual environment contribute to a high mortality rate amongst specimens and exhibits, and so it would seem common practice for specimens to be utilised in further ways with some kind of an action plan arranged by the management. The press clipping suggests that Bostock is aware of the climate problem, but extends some of the blame onto the animals for failing to become acclimatised.

Professor Patten is given a little more detail in the Sheffield Daily Independent of the same date. He is described as "widely known in the scientific world as the author of valuable treatises and works on the anatomy of animals" and of making "a special study of the Darwin theory of the evolution of man from primeval ape". He is quoted as saying that "Jimmy" will provide source for studying the links between man's upright gait and the ape's preference for tree climbing through "every muscle, vein and bone" - an intention that suggests that there would be very little of the specimen left to display into future years. The Sheffield Daily Independent of 28/1/1911 provides only a little more detail on the gift of the orang-utan and Siamang gibbon, revealing that the latter was actually dead on arrival at London Docks.

By 1910 and the arrival of Bostock's Jungle the University of Sheffield would have been in the fifth year of 'formal' existence, and centred upon the new Western Bank Buildings. Prior to 1905 the component parts of the fledgling University had been the Technical School (based on what would become Mappin Street, and still functioning as a part of the modern-day University), Firth College and the Medical School. These latter two establishments were on opposite sides of Leopold Street, alongside the junction with Townhead Street and just a stone's throw away from the site which would become the Sheffield Jungle. The Medical School on Leopold Street was in its second incarnation, with the initial school on Surrey Street beset with the usual 'resurrectionist' dramas around supply of deceased bodies for anatomical research.

Photo: Firth Court
Firth Court plans, 1905.

Photo: Anatomy Museum
Detail from above showing anatomy museum.

Two key collections were mounting up either side of Leopold Street as the 19th Century drew to a close - these collections illustrative of the intrinsic links between the two schools. In the Medical School the Anatomy Department were recorded as having their own museum, whilst in Firth College the important figure of Alfred Denny had constructed what was said to be one of the finest zoological collections in the country. The 1905 plan for the Western Bank Building (see images above) shows the housing of a museum for the Anatomy Department, within the north wing devoted to the Medical School, however there is no indication of a similar space for Denny's zoological collection in the Arts and Pure Sciences wing of the building - though it must be assumed it was resident in there. Certainly by 1913, and the building of a new extension, the Denny collection is mentioned as being on the move as a key aspect of the department.

The evidence presented above does point to primate specimens heading to the Anatomy Department and not to the Denny Collection, and it also suggests their ultimate end would be dissection and study as opposed to preserved display, even if the early map suggests the transferral of the museum. The collection in the department did not survive, and records do not exist to confirm what happened to it - most likely it merged to become part of the growing Denny Collection. The only tangible link between Sheffield Jungle and the Anatomy Department (as was) is the display of a Darwin sequence of skeletons on the way to Medical Teaching Unit - the provenance of these primate specimens is not confirmed, but it is interesting that the trio represents a reflection of Bostock's crude attempts at a 'Darwin Villa' 100 years earlier.

The Alfred Denny Collection

Photo: Denny Museum
Professor Leonard Eastham with primate skeletons in view.

Photo: Denny Museum
Alfred Denny Museum in the 1930s.

Photo: Denny Museum
Alfred Denny Museum in the 1930s - full extent visible.

There is no direct evidence of Denny's zoological collection drawing upon the Bostock Jungle, with accession registers of the collection destroyed in the war, though it would seem a natural occurrence for some rare specimens to make the journey from Hawley Street to Western Bank. The history of acquisitions into Denny's prestigious collection is lost, to put it mildly, with only assumptions and speculations passed down. There is a hint that Denny purchased the contents of a defunct Menagerie at the turn of the century, but this has been unsubstantiated from either the university end or the showland end. However the images above, taken around the 1930s after Denny's death, show the collection at its finest - the final image indicating that (at least) three floors were sacrificed for the collection.

Understanding the dynamics of such a large collection as this is not simple. Intrinsic links between collecting, displaying and defining the purpose of animals moved unevenly with the paradigm shift of Darwinist theory in 1859. Natural history - one encompassing way of defining an interest in animals - was previously enjoyed on an observational level with a loose taxonomical aim. Enthusiasts of natural history took fulfillment in watching the habits of living animals and plants, pointing out the remarkable ways in which the structure of each variety of organic life was adapted to the special circumstances of life of the variety or species. The collection and display of animals fostered a strange link with the pursuit of natural history - the hunting, collecting and displaying of animals emerging from various strands of a pre-Victorian desire to assert dominion over lands and beasts, to find out what could be eaten, utilised or generally form a tangible expression of colonial appropriation. An observational approach to the discipline of natural history would of course form an allegiance with the more rugged and ideologically manifold activities of hunting and collecting.

Following the publication of Darwin's key works the study of animals moved from being described as natural history to zoology. Outside of the debates around Creationism (which are discussed elsewhere on the project website) the focus of the study shifted from observational to experimental. Teleological understanding and interpretations were being challenged, and the school of thought based around teleology was under attack. By the start of the 20th Century, and the key years for zoologists like Alfred Denny, experimental work had become key to move the discipline of understanding the natural world. The 1910s, the time of Sheffield Jungle, saw experimental approaches to development, heredity, and metabolism, with key ideas by the likes of Joseph Mendel now in development. It is interesting to consider how an enormous collection such as the one accrued by Denny might function as an educational tool in a progressive establishment such as the University of Sheffield during the repercussions of such paradigm shifts at the heart of both the rationale for and approaches to understanding the natural world.

After the Second World War the collection went in to contestation and decline. A new curator was assigned - a Latvian refugee from the conflict named Oskars Lusis - and the collection was moved with the building of the new premises as part of the expansions in the mid 1960s. The building housing the collection would eventually be named the Alfred Denny Building, with the formation of Animal and Plant Sciences (1988) taking in zoology. A policy of non duplication was adopted, and surplus specimens were donated to the Weston Park Museum. Whereas once the collection was both a treasure amongst the teaching resources and a key jewel in the crown to show visiting guests of importance, changes in attitude and teaching tools meant that the collection was marginalised. Some resurgence of the collection occurred through the 1960s, in a more microscopic fashion, with the acquisition of important insect collections.

The collection still exists in the new Alfred Denny Building, the home of Animal and Plant Sciences (the successor school to zoology), under the curatorial guidance of Professor Tim Birkhead. It remains a jewel in the crown for the department, and a unique resource with a proud pedigree dating back to one of the most important figures in the founding of the University of Sheffield.