THE ORIGINAL HISTORY OF AYTON SCHOOL 1841 - 1891

 

CHAPTER VII.

NATURAL HISTORY.

Preface
Contents
Chapter I
Chapter II
Chapter III
Chapter IV
Chapter V
Chapter VI
Chapter VII
Chapter VIII
Chapter IX
Chapter X
Chapter XI
Chapter XII
Chapter XIII
Appendix

Return to History
Contents

A FRIEND whom Thomas Richardson had assisted to emigrate to Australia, for his health, as a mark of gratitude sent over to his benefactor a very complete collection of the skins of Australian birds. These required mounting. Edward Backhouse, Jnr., and his cousin William Backhouse, Jnr., both ornithologists, were acquainted with a taxidermist, a shoemaker residing at Stockton, named John Heaviside, whom they engaged to stuff them. These Friends had a large mahogany case, with glass doors, made to receive them, in which they were set up in various attitudes. This case of Australian birds stood, at first, in what is now the library, but was afterwards placed in a room in the new building called the museum, set apart for specimens of Natural History, curiosities, &c. and became an object of interest to the school and persons visiting it.

John Heaviside, though only a shoemaker, had a wonderful knowledge of birds and insects, considering his limited means for the acquisition of knowledge. He studied in the school of nature, and was a true-born naturalist. He was quite an authority in naming birds and their eggs, moths, butterflies, dragon flies, &c. He had very complete collections of these, and took pleasure in exhibiting them to the scholars; he could also work in wood, made the boys cases, lined ready to receive their specimens, charging a very reasonable price for them, The British birds, quadrupeds, fishes, and reptiles, exhibited in the museum, were preserved by him. He was a very steady man, using neither intoxicating liquors nor tobacco; in this respect a good example to all around him. His great failing was that he undertook more than he could perform and had to put his customers off the boys particularly, so that his promise, “temerrer merning,” became quite a proverb among them for an indefinite period.

We had studied Agricultural Chemistry, and Astronomy so far as to make out the Northern Constellations. Our only Natural History pursuit was Geology, to which we now added Botany and began the study of our native plants in earnest. We received much help from Eliza (lowland the girls' governess, who was acquainted with the simple system of Linnœus. This gave new interest to our rambles, from which we returned loaded with wild flowers, generally more than we could find time to examine. To keep them front withering, we hit upon the plan which has been adopted in many schools, and I have seen it in use in America, of putting each specimen in an 8oz. bottle filled with water, which gave time for examining and discovering its name. The bottle was then labelled with its classical name, English name, Linnœan class and order. These bottles were put upon the mantle or some other shelf so as to be seen by all the school, and their names became very familiar. The next business was to press and dry them, this was done by spreading the specimens on the leaves of old copy books or other paper, and placing them between two boards with a stone on the upper one. Our boys were mostly poor and everything had to be done at the least expense. When the specimens were dry they were attached to sheets of paper by narrow strips gummed on one side. The name the same as the label on the bottle was written below it. The whole school had access to a copy of “Withering’s Botany by Macgillivray” in which they could read the description of the whole plant. The specimens were placed in a portfolio which We had constructed so as to receive few or many specimens. Some of our boys on leaving school had between two and three hundred dried specimens all correctly named. As the circumstances of most of the boys did not admit of their purchasing a volume describing each British plant, I compiled a catalogue containing them all, arranged on the Linnœan system and numbered for easy reference. The little volume is before me and bears the following title: “Hand Book to the Herbarium containing Botanical and English names of all the British Flowering Plants, and Ferns with their allied genera, to which are added full explanations of the Linnœan system, a description of the parts of plants, the method of discovering their names and a successful plan of communicating Botanical knowledge to young people. By George Dixon, Superintendent of the North of England Agricultural School.” As the price was only one shilling, each boy could afford to purchase a copy. They fully appreciated the little book which gave a new impetus to the study of Botany in the school. Instead of writing the name at the bottom of each mounted specimen in their portfolio, they had to put its number only in the hand book. In this way the hand book superseded the use of labels, and had this great advantage over the common plan of writing the names, the pupils were obliged to learn their names to save themselves the trouble of turning to the book.

Return to:
Homepage

Previous page | Next Page