Meet the Staff: House Surgeon, Philip Rhys Griffiths – The first House Surgeon at the new Glamorganshire and Monmouthshire Infirmary and Dispensary

This is the sixth in a series of articles on the building and opening, in September 1883, of the Glamorganshire and Monmouthshire Infirmary and Dispensary. It draws on records held at Glamorgan Archives.

The House Surgeon

Philip Rhys Griffiths 1

Philip Rhys Griffiths (image courtesy of Cardiff Naturalists Society)

Philip Rhys Griffiths was 27 when appointed as House Surgeon at the Infirmary in June 1882. The son of a surveyor from Aberavon he was a Bachelor of Medicine, having trained at University College Hospital, London. The House Surgeon was the only salaried full time doctor at the hospital and it was a demanding and arduous role. Philip would have had oversight of all inpatients, usually at least 60 at any one time. He dealt with admissions, conducted daily ward rounds and was on call at all hours. He was also at the beck and call of the 4 honorary surgeons and physicians, being required to keep them informed of the progress of their patients and ensuring that any facilities and equipment that they required were available on the days that they visited the hospital.

The House Surgeon attended to all emergency cases brought to the infirmary. The industrial boom in Cardiff produced many casualties. Amongst many others, Philip would have treated 6 year old William Bryant who was run over by a horse drawn tram, an accident witnessed by David Morgan, the draper, from the Hayes. He also attended John Cody who had fallen from a gantry in the Commercial Dry Dock, badly injuring his back and legs.

To add to his load he also visited outpatients unable to attend the infirmary. This was a hangover from the days when only a dispensary service was available. Plans were afoot to encourage families to pay weekly into an insurance scheme that would provide home care. However, the records show that in this period the House Surgeon was still making home visits.

Finally he also held the key to the ‘dead house’ and was responsible for ensuring that bodies of the dead were collected by their relatives. In light of the demands of the job it is hardly surprising that the House Surgeon was required to live on the premises and not engage in private practice. Any absences had to be agreed by the Infirmary’s Management Committee and only after a locum had been found. For all of this Philip received a salary of £100 a year plus …board, washing and furnished apartments.

It was almost inevitable, therefore, that the House Surgeon was at the centre of life at the Infirmary. Philip Rhys Griffiths certainly threw himself into all aspects of the role. In addition to his daily duties he sang for the patients as part of the entertainment provided on Christmas Eve, and as secretary he organised the annual charity ball that was so important in raising money for the Infirmary. He was also a close ally of the formidable Matron Pratt, supporting her campaign for improvements in the training and accommodation provided for nurses. It must have been disappointing, therefore, when his case for the appointment of an Assistant House Surgeon was met with the suggestion that this could be accommodated if he sacked the Infirmary’s only dispenser who managed the supply and provision of medicines to the patients.

House Surgeon was a role generally occupied by newly qualified young doctors and often as their first appointment. In line with this pattern, Philip Rhys Griffiths resigned in May 1884 and left the Infirmary in August after 2 years in post. He was replaced by another young doctor, Donald Paterson, a Scot who had completed his training in Edinburgh the previous year.

Donald Paterson

Donald Paterson (l) (Image courtesy of Cardiff Naturalists Society)

It was not the last, however, that the Infirmary was to hear of Philip. He lived for most of his life in Cardiff and returned to the Infirmary four years later, in 1886, as Out Patient Medical Officer. In this role he would have been one of the three Medical Officers who dealt with the thousands of out-patients seen at the hospital each year. Subsequently he was appointed as a Surgeon, a post that he held for many years.

Philip Rhys Griffiths 2

Philip Rhys Griffiths (l) (Image courtesy of Cardiff Naturalists Society)

Philip Rhys Griffiths was a well-known figure in Cardiff with his letters were often published in the local newspapers. He travelled extensively and lectured on a wide range of topics, including the history of medicine in Wales. He also provided advice on diet and was an advocate of cold water being taken with food to avoid the …evil effects of spirits, even if taken moderately, on the digestive system. A Welsh speaker and a member of the Cymmrodorion Society, in later years he served as President of both the Cardiff Medical Society and the Cardiff Naturalist’s Society.

This article draws on the Annual Reports of the Glamorganshire and Monmouthshire Infirmary and Dispensary that can be found at Glamorgan Archives, reference DHC50.  Minutes of the Management Committee for this period can be found at DHC5-6.

The photographs of Philip Rhys Griffiths have been provided by the Cardiff Naturalist’s Society. They reflect his interest in photography. He was a founder member of the Society’s Photographic Section and served as its President in 1904-05. Details of his contribution to the Society can be found at

Tony Peters, Glamorgan Archives Volunteer

Do you know these people? The 100th anniversary of the establishment of the Cardiff Naturalists’ Society

While the records of the Cardiff Naturalists’ Society held at Glamorgan Archives major on the running of the Society and the many lectures and events sponsored since its creation in 1867, there is also a section that draws together a number of photographs associated with the main collection. It is a very mixed and fascinating set of images. Within the collection there is a photograph of approximately 150 people standing on the steps of the National Museum in Cardiff posing for a group photograph. They are all very well turned out and there are clues to their purpose from the number of umbrellas and raincoats worn or carried by many of those present.

Museum steps

The photograph is one of over 60 set out in an album, dated September 1967, compiled to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the establishment of the Cardiff Naturalists’ Society. The album also contains a programme of the events staged over three days to mark the centenary. From the details in the programme the photograph was almost certainly taken on Saturday 23rd September 1967 at around 9.30am, as the members of the Society gathered to meet the coaches that would take them on a full day of activities. This included a visit to Old Beaupre Castle in the morning followed by lunch, hosted by the Chairman of the Glamorgan County Council, at Duffryn House and a tour of the garden.


As they stand on the Museum steps the group appear to be in very good spirits. Many would have had a late night after attending the Civic Reception and Centenary Dinner held at the City Hall the previous evening. The programme for the Reception, held in the Assembly Room, promised a menu of 5 courses including sole bonne femme, saddle of lamb and peach melba, with music provided by the Eddie Graves Trio. The toast to the Queen was proposed by the Society’s President, Col. Sir Cennydd Traherne, Lord Lieutenant of Glamorgan.

Although on the Saturday many had taken precautions against the weather, the photographs of Old Beaupre and Duffryn suggest that they had a fine day. Furthermore, the celebrations were far from over. The coaches were expected back in Cardiff at 5.15pm to allow time for those due to attend a Reception at 8.00pm in the National Museum, hosted by the President and Council of the Museum. The album contains a number of photographs of both the Civic reception on the Friday night and the reception held in the National Museum on the Saturday.

Outing 1

Outing 2

On the following day, Sunday 24 September, there was another full day with three separate field meetings concluding with a picnic lunch. Unfortunately the album does not contain photographs of the Sunday field meetings. From the programme, however, we know that the Biological and Geological Section visited Merthyr Mawr and the Ornithological Section visited Kenfig Pool. In addition, the Archaeological, Photographic and Junior Sections came together for a visit to Caerphilly Castle. In each case the meetings ended after lunch so that members could return to Cardiff for Evensong at Llandaff Cathedral.

Dinner 1

Dinner 2

It was a full and varied itinerary to mark a very special event in the Society’s history. If you, or friends and family, were amongst either the 150 people standing on the steps of the Museum on Saturday 23 September 1967 or those that attended the receptions held at the City Hall and the National Museum, you might well be interested in viewing the photograph album (ref.: DCNS/PH/8/16). In addition, there are a number of photographs of the exhibition staged by the Society in September 1967 to mark the Centenary (ref.: DCNS/PH/8/1-15). The photographs can be seen at Glamorgan Archives along with a wide range of records of the proceedings of the Cardiff Naturalists’ Society dating back to 1867.

Tony Peters, Glamorgan Archives Volunteer

‘Humorous Entertainment of Artistic Magic’: Cardiff Naturalists’ Society Supporting the War Effort

One of the more usual items in the records of the Cardiff Naturalists’ Society held at the Glamorgan Archives is a poster (28cm by 43cm) with accompanying postcard size flyers advertising an afternoon of ‘Humorous Entertainment of Artistic Magic including Sleight of Hand, Novel Magical Effects and Oriental Magic’. To be held at the Cory Hall in Cardiff, on January 6 1919 at 2pm, the show was to be provided by Mr Douglas Dexter, ‘The well-known entertainer of London’. In addition, ‘musical items’ were to be provided by Mr Shapland Dobbs’ Party.


While the subject matter covered by the lectures provided by the Cardiff Naturalists’ Society was wide and varied, this was, without a doubt, a new departure for a Society created for the study of the natural sciences. The explanation was provided on the back of the flyers.


Ticket reverse

This invitation is issued by the members of the Cardiff Naturalists’ Society who desire to give a pleasant afternoon to members of the Forces who happen to be in Cardiff.

Although the war had ended with the Armistice of 11 November 1918, there were thousands of men and women serving in the armed forces waiting to be demobilised. In January 1919 Cardiff was a major hub for troops returning to south Wales. There were also a number of military hospitals in the town and the surrounding area. The Cardiff Naturalists’ Society was clearly looking to play its part in helping to provide entertainment for the armed forces. The concert may also have been a contribution to ‘Gratitude Fortnight’, a series of events organised by the Mayor of Cardiff, in January 1919, to reward the troops and raise money for charities including the King’s Fund for Disabled Soldiers and Sailors. The entertainment was provided free of charge for ‘Soldiers, Sailors and Airmen (whether British, Colonial or Allied). On leave or in Hospital’. The Society was anticipating a large turn-out for the Cory Hall was a much bigger venue than that used for most of its public lectures. Even so, the flyers warned that:

It is regretted that the accommodation will not permit the admission of others than men in uniform.

Dexter was indeed well known. Born Arthur Marks in Eastbourne in 1878 and a teacher by profession, Douglas Dexter made his mark as both an accomplished magician and as an international class swordsman who was selected for the British team at the 1936 Berlin Olympics. On the afternoon of 6 January those present would have witnessed the skills of a leading figure in the Magic Circle. Dexter’s repertoire included tricks, such as the Triple Stab, that he guarded jealously, so much so that he sued a fellow magician for allegedly stealing his ideas. The reference to artistic magic was probably to a trick that Dexter was developing at that time that involved white silk scarves being placed in an empty bowl and mysteriously emerging coloured as if they had been dipped in dye.

In the Transactions for 1919 it was reported:

… an entertainment was held at the Cory Hall under the auspices of the Society, to which all of the wounded sailors and soldiers in the Military Hospitals were invited. Over 700 attended and had a thoroughly enjoyable time [Transactions of the Cardiff Naturalists’ Society, Vol LII, 1919, Cardiff, 1922].

No doubt Douglas Dexter was well received by the service men and women. Dexter went on to perform in a number of Royal Variety Performances and for King George V at Windsor Castle in 1928. He was awarded the Gold Medal by the Magic Circle in 1926. For the Cardiff Naturalists’ Society, however, it was back to business later in the month with a lecture by Dr A E Trueman, on 23 January 1919, ‘A Geographical Study of the Cardiff Area’.

Tony Peters, Glamorgan Archives Volunteer

‘Olla podrida with Nescio quidquid Sauce’: The Transactions of the Cardiff Naturalists’ Society

The Report and Transactions produced annually by the Cardiff Naturalists’ Society provide a treasure trove of material on all aspects of the natural sciences. By 1900 the Society was flourishing, with over 500 members and separate sections for archaeology, biology, geology, physics and chemistry. The reports and papers produced by the sections were collated each year and published as a record of the Society’s activities and as a contribution towards the wider understanding of the natural sciences. Bound volumes of the Report and Transactions from the creation of the Society in 1867 through to 1970 can be found on the shelves of the searchroom at Glamorgan Archives. Dipping into just one of the books (for example, the volume that draws together reports for 1897 to 1902) you are struck, immediately, by the range of material produced by members of the Society. There is something for most tastes and interests with papers on:

The Excavations carried out on the site of the Blackfriars Monastery at Cardiff

The Birds of Glamorgan

Effects of a lightning flash

The Great Flood of 1607

Notes on the Psalter of Ricemarch

Notes on the hatchery and fish hatching at Roath Park

The Geology of the Cowbridge District

Meteorological observations in the society’s district.

However, if you are looking for a recommendation why not try a piece provided by Robert Drane in Vol. 33, ‘Olla podrida with Nescio quidquid Sauce’? Drane was one of the leading lights of the Society from its creation in 1867 to his death in 1914. He was the first life member of the Society and its President in 1896-97. His interests were wide ranging and he was a regular contributor to the Report and Transactions. In the article titled ‘Olla podrida with Nescio quidquid Sauce’, first delivered as a lecture to the Biological section of the Society on 15 December 1898, he set out the findings from one of his many visits to the islands off the Pembrokeshire coast.


In the report Drane provides detailed observations on the wildlife and the local flora and fauna that he found on the islands in June 1898. His writing is characterised by an unerring eye for detail, whether assessing the stomach contents of a Herring Gull, the physical characteristics of the Skomer vole or the varieties of Broom found on Ramsey Island. He evidently delighted in attempting to debunk existing theories and local folk lore and, in particular, the suggestion that ‘nothing can be false that’s once in print’. For example, in the paper he contends that the Skomer vole was most likely a new and distinctive species and, therefore, challenging the view of …an authority at the Natural History Museum… that they are a local variety of the common bank vole. He also concludes that the Herring Gull on Skomer prefers a diet of eggs, including Puffin eggs, rather than local reports that its staple diet was rabbit.

The core of the paper lies in his investigation of three areas. In Drane’s words he set out to:

…determine the question of the specific difference of the Ringed and Common Guillemot, to find out what the Shearwater feeds on, and obtain some specimens of a large Vole, abundant there, which I am disposed to regard as an Island variety.

He reports in detail on each subject. However, as always with Robert Drane, you are provided with much more. For example, he condemns the …rapacious egg collectors… on Grassholm, praises the owner of Ramsey for his care of the island’s population of Choughs and quizzes the keepers of the South Bishop’s lighthouse on the range and number of birds observed.

The report is also peppered with titbits of information from his observation that a Puffin on Skomer had 39 sand eels in its crop to the sighting of a Dew moth on Ramsey Island. Drane, who was 65 at the time, and his travelling companion, a fellow member and later President of the Society, J J Neale, must have amused and alarmed the local people as they edged out over cliff faces to observe Guillemot nests and carried off puff-ball fungus to be cooked and eaten. With regard to the latter he reported:

We took it home and, sliced it, fried it, and ate it for breakfast much to the doubt, if not to the disgust of the natives, who subsequently finding that we suffered no harm regarded us as gods…


Robert Drane and Joshua John Neale, both members of Cardiff Naturalists Society, c.1900 ref.: DXIB23d

For a rich and detailed account of the wildlife on the Pembrokeshire Islands with a slice of humour and local colour ‘Olla podrida with Nescio quidquid Sauce’ is well worth a read. As for the title, Drane enjoyed setting his audience a challenge. A previous paper titled ‘A Pilgrimage to Golgotha’ had evidently left many mystified as to its possible content. Robert Drane explained that ‘Olla podrida with Nescio quidquid Sauce’ had, therefore, been carefully selected …so that everyone here tonight perfectly understands… what I am going to talk about…  Perhaps I will leave you to work it out for yourself. Drane’s explanation is at page 59 of Vol. 33. Why not have a look?

If you are interested in finding out more Robert Drane and the many and varied reports produced by the Cardiff Naturalists’ Society, bound copies of the Annual Report and Transactions for 1867 to 1970 can be found on shelves of the Searchroom at Glamorgan Archives.

Tony Peters, Glamorgan Archives Volunteer

‘A most agreeable and enjoyable day’: The Cardiff Naturalists Society’s Field Trip to Tintern Abbey, June 1873

Any suggestion that the early meetings of the Cardiff Naturalists Society were all conducted behind closed doors in St Mary’s Street, while the society pored over their microscopes and listened to learned speakers, are quickly scotched by the Society’s records held at Glamorgan Archives. From the outset the Society organised a series of Field Trips each year across south Wales. The records contain summaries and plans of a number of such trips. The picture that emerges is of an enjoyable but a very full day for all concerned. The records for 6 June 1873 set out the arrangements for the First Field Meeting of 1873 on 17 June to Tintern Abbey, described as “One of the most romantic ruins in Britain.”


The Members and Visitors will leave the Cardiff Station of the South Wales Railway by the 9.27am Train, to arrive at Chepstow at 11.17. Here carriages will be in waiting to convey the party to the top of Wyndcliffe.

The view from the summit of Wyndcliffe cannot be surpassed; it is nearly 900 feet above the level of the river, and from it may be viewed some of the most beautiful and extensive prospects in Great Britain, and a wonderful range over portions of nine counties.

The party will then pass down through the wood to the Moss Cottage, which will be thrown open to visitors presenting their tickets, and thence on to the new road, where the carriages will be waiting to convey the party on to the Abbey.

After dinner (at the Beaufort Arms) John Prichard, Esq., of Llandaff, Diocesan Architect, will deliver a Lecture on the Abbey, illustrated by Diagrams and an examination of the building will take place; after which Mr W Adams, the President, will read his paper on the Ancient Iron Works of the District.

The Party will leave Tintern Abbey at about 6.30pm per carriages for Chepstow Station, and arrive at Cardiff at 9.35 [Record of meeting, June 6 1873, DCNS/3/1].

At a cost of 6s 6d plus train fare it was a full day, given that the Society’s usual monthly business had to be dealt with over dinner, including consideration of 5 membership applications. However, such excursions had not always been a great success and the note stated that it was …absolutely necessary that members and their friends should intimate to the Hon Secretary … their intention to be present. The planned field trip to Aberthaw, the previous year in July, had been cancelled due to low take-up, having clashed with a meeting of the Royal Agricultural Society in Cardiff.

In the event it was a most successful trip. In the record for the day it was noted that John Prichard’s lecture had been delivered in the nave of the Abbey to …a large and appreciative audience. It was followed by a tour of the Abbey and …having spent a most agreeable and enjoyable day the party then commenced their return journey to Cardiff.

Details of several of the Society’s field trips in this period, including Tintern Abbey on 17 June 1873 and Llantrisant on 5 July 1870, can be found in the records of the Cardiff Naturalists’ Society held at Glamorgan Archives [DCNS/3/1].

Tony Peters, Glamorgan Archives Volunteer

Carry on up the Nile!’ The first public lecture programme launched by the Cardiff Naturalists Society, 27 November 1873

The Cardiff Naturalists Society was established in September 1867 and this autumn it celebrates its 150th anniversary. As just one element of the events planned by the Society, Iolo Williams will deliver a public lecture, at the National Museum of Wales, on Thursday 5 October. It is fitting that that the celebrations include such an event for the Society’s public lectures have always been seen as a valuable means of extending opportunities for the wider public to engage with and enjoy the natural sciences.

The early years of the Society can be traced through the records held at Glamorgan Archives. It is clear that, initially, the meetings of the society were seen as an opportunity for members to share their knowledge of various aspects of the natural sciences. For example, at the very first meeting, on 11 September 1867, one of the founding members, Philip Robinson, brought along his collection of British butterflies for display and examination by those attending. At the third meeting, on November 11 1867, another member, Professor Joseph Gagliardi, delivered a lecture on the different species of fish. By and large, this set the pattern for meetings in this period although, on occasions, the programme was supplemented by guest speakers.

Within a year the Society had held its first ‘Conversazione’. Using the Town Hall on St Mary’s Street, Cardiff, the Conversazione comprised of a series of exhibitions of aspects of the natural sciences drawing on collections owned by the Society and on loan from Museums. The exhibitions were supported on several occasions by public lectures delivered in the Assembly Rooms. By April 1873 this was so popular that three lectures delivered by a speaker engaged by the Society, Edmund Wheeler, FRAS, were repeated the following week. The local newspapers commended the Society and observed that the event had revived …the drooping Naturalists’ Society.

Encouraged by the success of the April 1873 Conversazione the Society announced, in November 1873, its first series of public lectures. The lectures were to be staged in the Assembly Rooms every fortnight from November through to April and would feature a range of eminent speakers. It was clear that this was announced with some trepidation given the costs involved, both for use of the hall and the fees for guest speakers. Although it was planned that each lecture would be ticketed, with an admission charge of 6d for members and 1s for non-members, there was a concern that the Society would incur a significant loss. To date most guest speakers had not charged for their services and, to assuage the concerns of members, it was agreed that a special fund be established, almost certainly underwritten by a number of committee members, to meet any costs incurred from the lecture series.

Nevertheless the programme of public lectures was announced in November in glowing terms with advertisements placed in the local newspapers detailing the speakers and topics planned. The programme was varied and wide ranging, including lectures on ‘Spectrum Analysis’, ‘The Treasures of the Deep’ and even ‘Personal Reminiscences of Wellington’. As the Society minutes for 18 November 1873 confirm, no expense was to be spared.

The Committee have now completed their arrangements for the delivery of series of popular and scientific Lectures to be given fortnightly during the present session. The lectures are provided by the Society at some considerable expense and are intended for the intellectual enjoyment of all classes.

Many of the lectures will be illustrated by beautiful drawings and dissolving views, and by the performance of brilliant and costly experiments.

The Committee solicit the special attention of the Public to this Series of Lectures which is the first attempt to supply a want long felt in Cardiff, viz the Periodical Delivery of First Class Scientific Lectures, by thoroughly able Professional Men. It is proposed in the event of this experiment proving successful, to establish a continuous Winter Series, embracing the highest Scientific and Literary talent which can be obtained.

The first lecture will be delivered by Edward H Jones, Esq, FCS, Analytical Chemist, on ‘Egypt’ and 1000 miles up the Nile, being a tour amongst the ancient Temples and ruins of Egypt and Nubia, and illustrated by paintings and photographs, shown by the aid of lime light and dissolving views [Minutes of meeting held November 18 1873, DCNS/3/1]


Much was at stake on the night of the first lecture on 27 November. The Cardiff and Merthyr Guardian reported the next day:

There was a large and fashionable audience, the room being crowded. The lectures … promise to prove as interesting as they will be intellectual and a rich treat is in store…. [Cardiff and Merthyr Guardian, 28 November 1873].

In the event the lecture was anything but ‘a treat’. The South Wales Daily News, in a lengthy report, summarised the lecture as:

…a disconnected, unintelligible descriptive outline of a number of places situated between Southampton and the second cataract of the Nile and back through the Suez Canal.

…the precipitate manner in which the audience left the room when the curtain was drawn across the views, without even thanking Mr Jones for his trouble, will perhaps convince him that a description of scenes that might have pleased the juveniles of a school would be ill- suited to the intelligence of the adult educated persons of both sexes present.

All in all, the lecture had …caused the greatest disappointment to the vast majority of the audience [South Wales Daily News, 28 November 1873].

It must have been a severe blow to the Society and they had only days to recover before the next lecture scheduled for 3 December. There was, yet again, a large turnout in the Assembly Rooms and there was little option but to apologise for the debacle on the 27th. The Chair on the night of the 3rd December, Mr Lukis, offered the audience in the Assembly Rooms his theory that:

…the Mr Jones they had was the wrong one and must have been an imposteur as he had not turned up since that evening – not even to call on Dr Taylor for his honorarium [South Wales Daily News, 4 December 1873]

Fortunately for the Society the lecture that night on ‘The Phenomena of Sound’ was to be delivered by Edmund Wheeler whose lecture series had been so well received in April. The newspaper report the next day confirmed that …the lecture was a very able one throughout and was highly appreciated by the audience.  The lecture series was back on track.

So, as the Cardiff Naturalists Society prepares for its public lecture on Thursday 5 October no doubt there is ‘a treat’ in store for those planning to attend at the National Museum. However, reflecting on the circumstances surrounding the Society’s first public lecture series in 1873, it might just be worth double checking that they have engaged ‘the right’ Iolo Williams.

Tony Peters, Glamorgan Archives Volunteer

Fossil ferns and reed…also an antique silver ring and a specimen of white rock: The Founding of the Cardiff Naturalists’ Society in September 1867.

On the 11th September 2017 the Cardiff Naturalists’ Society celebrates its 150th anniversary. The society is the longest established wildlife organisation in the area and its anniversary is being marked with an exhibition at The Cardiff Story illustrating the Society’s rich history. The exhibition has a particular focus on the founding of the society, its role in the creation of the National Museum, scientific discoveries and prominent members.

Established, initially, to promote the study of natural history, geology and the physical sciences, the Society’s records, including its minute books, circulars and reports, are held at the Glamorgan Archives. The records provide a detailed account of both the creation of the society and its many and varied activities from 1867 to the present day.

The first reference to a ‘Society’ was in August 1867 with the note of …the preliminary meeting of the members of the projected ‘Naturalists’ Society’ held in the upper room of the Free Library… on 29 August 1867. Chaired by William Taylor, Esq, MD and attended by 11 in total, it was agreed that the Society be called the Cardiff Naturalists’ Society and that …a Committee be formed to prepare rules for the regulation of the Society. Four days later the group met again to agree the rules. Although later amended and extended the original regulations set out in the Minute book, on 2 September 1867, envisaged the object of the Society to be The practical study of Natural History, Geology and Physical Sciences and the formation of a Museum in connection with the Free Library.  The planning committee had already advertised in local newspapers for members and made a point of emphasising that …ladies be eligible for membership.

First meeting

With the agreement of the purpose and regulations the first full meeting was held on 11 September 1867. The meeting was chaired by William Adams, the first President of the Society, who was a civil and mining engineer from Rhymney. The minutes list the 24 members in attendance that day although, despite advertising for members and the commitment to open the doors to women, all were men.

Drane's gifts

What then of the Fossil ferns and reed … also an antique silver ring and specimen of white rock recorded in the minute book? The Society was established for its members to share and develop their knowledge of all aspects of the natural sciences. To this extent, while the Society had many eminent speakers and organised seminars and field trips, it was expected that members would share their knowledge, research and in some cases private collections. For example, at the first meeting several members brought, for display and examination collections of butterflies and mosses.

There was also a commitment, from the outset, to promote an interest in the natural sciences to the people of the rapidly expanding town of Cardiff. In particular, the Society aimed to develop an extensive and well stocked Museum. The early meetings of the Society used the Museum Room of the Free Library in St Mary Street, provided free of charge on the understanding that the Society would develop and expand the Museum’s collection.  The Society addressed this by using its funds to purchase books and exhibits for the Museum, and members were encouraged to add to the collection with exhibits …to be deposited in the Cardiff Museum and become the property of the Corporation of Cardiff.

The minutes for the 11 September meeting state that fossil ferns and reed, an antique silver ring and a specimen of white rock were the very first to objects to be donated to the Society’s collection and, therefore, to the Museum. Significantly they were provided by Robert Drane who, until his death in 1914, was probably the best known and remembered member of the Cardiff Naturalists’ Society in this early period. Drane, who moved to Cardiff in 1855 at the age of 22, is commemorated by a brass plaque at the site of his pharmacy in Queen Street that states:

Here lived Robert Drane FLS naturalist, antiquary and connoisseur. This tablet was erected to his memory by the Cardiff Naturalists’ Society which was founded in these premises in the year 1867. 

As the records confirm, Drane was one of the 24 inducted into the Society on 11 September and he was elected at that meeting to the Society’s Committee. In addition, he was the first life member of the Society, being the only one to take up the option, at the first meeting, of purchasing a life membership for the fee of three guineas. It interesting to note that of the 24 present only 15 paid their fees that day and the Society soon introduced further regulations to confirm that All Members whose Subscriptions are one year in arrear shall forfeit their privileges of Membership. Those who are two years in arrear shall have their names erased.

On accepting the Presidency of the Society almost thirty years later, in 1896, Drane remarked:

This Society first opened its eyes in a little room behind a chemist’s shop in 1867 when there were but three persons present – Mr Phil Robinson, Mr R Rhys Jones and myself, and I alone of these am with you now. For these reasons, and because I am the original life member, I may, in some sort, claim to be its founder.

For Drane it was a typically elliptical and rather teasing statement. For whatever reasons, Robert Drane had not been at the planning meetings and was not one of the officers of the Society identified in the notices placed, in August 1867, in the local newspapers. Yet he was clearly identified as a key figure in the Museum Sub-committee of the Free Library established in 1864. In particular, he had taken the lead in improving and extending the range of exhibits held at the Museum. For example, the minutes record that, on 22 March 1864, Mr Drane be authorized to buy British Birds stuffed for the Museum at his direction – not exceeding £5 value.

As a key player in previous attempts to improve the Museum’s collection and, as someone with an active interest in just about all aspects of the natural sciences, Robert Drane would have been well known to those who gathered to set out the Society’s regulations, including Peter Price, a fellow member of the Museum sub-committee, and Philip Robinson of the Free Library. It is very likely, therefore, that plans for the creation of the Society were hatched at a meeting in Drane’s shop as claimed in the Queen Street plaque. There is just one fly in the pharmacist’s ointment; Drane did not move to the Queen Street premises until late in 1867 or more likely 1868. The meeting referred to was, therefore, almost certainly held at his first shop at 11 Bute Street. However, such a minor slip should not be allowed to detract from such a good story.

Within a year, membership of the Society stood at 76. The acceptance, in 1868, by the Marquess of Bute of an Honorary Membership was a particular feather in the Society’s cap and a sign of its growing influence and prestige.

Invitation to Bute

Bute's response

By 1905, when the Society was the driving force behind the recommendation to the Privy Council that the National Museum be located in Cardiff, it was the largest scientific society in Wales.

The Cardiff Naturalists’ Society, therefore, quite rightly, lays claim to having been a key agent in the promotion of the study of the natural sciences. As the Society celebrates its 150th anniversary, it would be interesting to know whether, somewhere within the collections held in Cardiff, there is still a place for the fossils, silver ring and rock donated by Robert Drane in 1867.

The story of the Society can be followed through the records held at Glamorgan Archives of both the Cardiff Naturalists’ Society, 1867-1991 (ref. DCNS) and the papers of Robert Drane (ref. DXIB).

Tony Peters, Glamorgan Archives Volunteer