Rob Ixer asked if we could find space for this small review. Happy to oblige. I don't know much about this monstrous fellow, or his controversies. But this is a reminder that if academic debate can get rather dirty at times these days, the skullduggery was a thousand times worse in the Victorian era.......
The "invention of evidence" is not new either -- we have talked about this on this blog with respect to HH Thomas, and of course with respect to the more recent work on those non-existent "bluestone quarries" by those whom we know and love.
William Boyd Dawkins and the Victorian Science of Cave Hunting: Three Men in a Cavern.
Mark John White
21 Nov 2016. Pen and Sword History. Barnsley. Hardcover –302pp
In 1876 Boyd Dawkins, Britain’s premier 19th Ice Age vertebrate palaeontologist, was present at the finding of two of the most spectacular cave finds in Britain at Creswell Crags, namely an engraved sketch of a horse’s head and the canine tooth from a scimitar-toothed cat. Was he a fraud, a dupe or incredibly fortunate?
This the central theme to White’s compelling biography of a Victorian intellectual monster, a man who trashed his many enemies’ lives with anonymous letters and book reviews but who probably knew more about cave fauna than anyone else, who was responsible for establishing the Manchester Museum and Department of Geology, worked on the Kent Coalfield and (Victorian) Channel Tunnel. However, now a man who reputation, if he be remembered at all, is scarred by the doubts surrounding these finds.
White writes Dawkins’ life and times with a neutral detailed prose that mirrors the best Victorian novelists. This is more than a great biography, it is more than worthy of an important, influential and thoroughly dislikeable man, it is his deserved partial rehabilitation.
But was Dawkins a fraud that rude summer’s day, read the book and discover for yourself.