Find Out About Dinosaur Man At Lancaster City Museum

By Corinne Field | 25 June 2004
Shows a black and white photograph of Richard Owen with a beard and a moustache wearing a hat. He is sitting in the garden of his home, visible in the background, in Richmond Park. A dog is lying on the ground beside him.

Photo: Richard Owen in old age, 1890, outside Sheen Lodge, his grace and favour residence in Richmond Park. Photographer unknown. Courtesy of Lancaster City Museum

Richard Owen: Dinosaur Man is a new exhibition at Lancaster City Museum running until December 23.

It celebrates the achievements of the man who not only coined the word dinosaur but was also the brains behind London’s world famous Natural History Museum.

"Our aim was to look at this man that invented the word dinosaur and his achievements," says Sue Ashworth, Head of Collections at Lancaster City Museum. "But we also wanted to look at his role as a scientist. "

Shows a photograph of a print depicting Crystal Palace. There are three dinosaurs pacing in the foreground.

Photo: Crystal Palace (Baxter Print) showing Waterhouse Hawkins' dinosaur reconstructions, c 1854. Courtesy of Lancaster City Museum

Richard Owen was born 200 years ago on the corner of Thurnham Street and Brock Street, Lancaster where Dr Allan Chapman, who lectures in the history of science at Oxford University, will unveil a 6 ft by 4 ft information panel all about the Dinosaur Man on July 17.

Despite his many achievements Richard Owen is not well known nationally or in his home town.

Apart from this new information panel and a Wetherspoons pub that recently opened called the Sir Richard Owen, the town has never really celebrated the scientist who produced some 600 research papers and books in his lifetime and received over one hundred distinctions including a knighthood.

Shows a photograph of a painting of Richard Owen. He is standing up and, on a table near his right hand, is the skull of a gorilla.

Photo: Richard Owen with Gorilla Skull c 1850, artist unknown. Courtesy of Lancaster City Museum

Part of the problem is that Owen did not share Darwin’s theory of evolution and it is generally believed to be his public opposition to it that led to him being written out of the history books.

So Lancashire County Museums Service has decided to champion his cause with a family-friendly exhibition to mark the bicentenary of one of the town’s most impressive sons. All about his life and times, it includes information about his ideas and why he opposed the Origin of the Species.

Highlights of the exhibition include: a grouping of dinosaur evidence that Owen interpreted, the famous print of Waterhouse Hawkin’s dinosaur reconstructions and the life-sized models of dinosaurs given pride of place at the opening of Crystal Palace in 1854 on loan from the Natural History Museum.

There is also a display on loan from Manchester Museum looking at the discovery of the gorilla and how it helped in understanding evolution as well as casts, skeletons and fossils from private collections.

Shows a photograph of a girl crouched down below a model of a dinosaur. She is holding one of its front legs in her right hand.

Louise Gittins and our baby Iguanodon. Courtesy of Lancashire County Museums Service

Born in Lancaster on July 20, 1804 the son of a merchant, Owen attended the local grammar school. His father died when he was only five years old so he was brought up by his mother who set up and ran a girls school.

In 1820 Owen was apprentice to a Lancastrian surgeon where he developed an interest in anatomy. By 1826 he had become a member of the Royal College of Surgeons and opened his own practice. He also became Assistant Conservator at the Hunterian Museum of the Royal College of Surgeons.

Shows a photograph of the bronze statue of Richard Owen, on display at the Natural History Museum in London.

Photo: statue of Owen by Thomas Brock in the Natural History Museum, London - installed five years after Owen's death. Photographer Paul Thompson. Courtesy of Lancashire County Museums Service

Owen's interest in museums continued and he became the first superintendent of the British Museum, a post he held from 1856 to 1883.

While there he helped to create a Natural History section at the Waterhouse building, South Kensington, a project that took nearly 20 years. Today this museum is called the Natural History Museum and a bronze of its founder can be seen half way up the staircase.

Lancaster City Museum is hosting a children’s party on July 20 to celebrate the bicentenary of the naturalist. Anyone interested in this event should email Sue Ashworth at susan.ashworth@mus.lancscc.gov.uk.

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