What’s on : Lectures

John Phillips – Yorkshire’s Traveller Through Time

6 Oct 2021
Start time
2:30 PM
The Yorkshire Museum
Colin Speakman
John Phillips – Yorkshire’s Traveller Through Time

Event Information

John Phillips – Yorkshire’s Traveller Through Time
Colin Speakman

As well as being the first paid Secretary of the Yorkshire Philosophical Society and Keeper of its Museum, Professor John Phillips (1800-1874) was one of Yorkshire’s greatest field geologists and cartographers, and a palaeontologist of world importance whose discoveries led to our understanding of the concept of Deep Time. Less well known perhaps were his gifts as a lecturer and a topographer, producing in 1854, what is probably the world’s first railway tourist guide book – of course about Yorkshire.

Colin Speakman will be available to sign copies of his book linked to this lecture before and after the lecture.

This event will be held at 2.30pm in the Tempest Anderson Lecture Theatre, Yorkshire Museum on WEDNESDAY 6th October.

If pre booking is required details will be added here shortly.

Member’s report

Colin Speakman, author of a recently published book about Phillips, gave a fascinating summary of the life of this important scientist, who played such a large role in the history of the YPS. The title of both the book and the lecture is inspired by Phillips’ use of fossils to define the Palaeozoic, Mesozoic, and Cainozoic eras.

When John Phillips (1800 – 1874) was orphaned in 1808, he was brought up by his famous but financially-challenged uncle, William Smith. He became Smith’s assistant in 1816, travelling the country with him on pioneering geological field trips, and contributed valuable income by teaching himself lithography and selling Smith’s geological maps. In 1824 Smith was engaged by the YPS to give a series of lectures, which enabled the YPS President, William Harcourt to recognise the great potential of the young Phillips, who was appointed as YPS Secretary and Keeper of the Museum. Harcourt and Phillips became a formidable team, and made York a centre of scientific thinking. In 1831 they helped launch the British Association for the Advancement of Science (BAAS) at its first meeting in York, and Phillips was appointed its first Secretary. The year 1834 saw a breakthrough in his academic career, when he was appointed to the Chair of Geology at King’s College, London, and was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society. Later, Phillips was appointed Professor of Geology at the University of Dublin, followed by Reader and then Professor of Geology at the University of Oxford. This remarkable academic career was achieved from humble beginnings without any formal education from the age of sixteen. Phillips was a polymath, and made many major contributions in the fields of geology, cartography, palaeontology, meteorology, and astronomy. He was also an excellent communicator, including to the general public via guidebooks and lectures.

Phillips died in Oxford after a fall. His body was accompanied to Oxford station by 150 mourners. After arrival at York, he lay in state overnight in the Yorkshire Museum. The next day, 30 April 1874, the Minster bells were tolled for 90 minutes before his funeral. He was buried in York Cemetery alongside his sister, under a modest gravestone.

Rod Leonard