William Boyd Dawkins, 1837-1929

W Boyd DawkinsSon of Rev Richard Dawkins, born at Buttington Vicarage Welshpool, 26 December 1837. Early education at Rossall public school (for sons of clergymen of the Established Church) and then at Jesus College Cambridge where he studied both classics and natural science, graduating in 1860 and became an enthusiastic geologist. As a young undergraduate began some of the research into Paleolithic man which was to be an abiding interest throughout his life. In 1861 appointed to geological survey of Great Britain where he spent 8 years mapping Kent and Thames valley. Elected FRS in 1866.

In 1869 appointed curator of natural history collections at the old Manchester Museum, he also lectured at Owens College (precursor to University of Manchester) where in 1872 he was appointed professor of geology which post he resigned in 1909 (age 72) but was made honorary professor. Knighted in 1919.

Wilfred Jackson's biographical sketch (in The Cave Hunters) concentrates almost exclusively on Boyd Dawkins' work on the various mammalian remains found in caves, which strong interest in reflected in Boyd Dawkins' Cave Hunting (1874). Tweedale and Proctor bemoan the lack of interest in Boyd Dawkins major contributions to economic geology including advice on early Channel Tunnel attempts and the discovery of the Kent coalfield.

Boyd Dawkins was founder and first president of the Lancashire and Cheshire Antiquarian Society and was one of those who accepted P.M.C. Kermode's offer of Honorary Membership in the newly (1879/80) founded IoM Natural History and Antiquarian Society in 1884. In 1884 Boyd Dawkins was asked by Governor Loch (one wonders if this was at Savage's or Kermode's suggestion) to produce a report on Manx Antiquities which produced the Manx Ancient Monuments Act a little later.

This report was based on a visit in Autumn 1885, in 1886 he again visited the Island in the company of Beddoe and Prof Rhys during which visit they measured heads (a continuation of Beddoe's work on the races of Britain), inspected Ogham inscriptions and presumably the Geology of the Island for shortly afterwards Boyd Dawkins is reported to have begun a geological survey of the Island (which was written up as a brief paper in YLM 1889).

A central figure in this would appear to be Rev E.B.Savage - the party stayed at the rectory and in the catalogue of Boyd Dawkins' papers at Manchester are many letters from Savage dating from October 1884.

Married Frances Evans, daughter of Robert Speke Evans, in 1866; they had one daughter Ella Selina Boyd Dawkins (m. Rev Samuel Taylor 1915, d. 1969) who contributed an article to Mannin on Folk Lore. His first wife died in 1921 and in 1922 he married Mary, widow of Hubert Congreave. Frances Boyd Dawkins acted as an adjudicator in 1913 for a Manx Language Society competition (so far I have not determined what connection she had with the Island).


(restricted to those dealing with the Isle of Man - an incomplete bibliography given in Bishop)

1885: Report on the Antiquities of the Isle of Man (reprinted in Manx Note Book ii p38/40 1886)
1886: Canon Taylor's Article on Manx Runes Reviewed Manx Note Book ii p164/80 1886
1886: Ornamentation of the Early Irish MSS and of the Runic Crosses Manx Note Book iii p120/4 1886
1888:. On the clay slates and phyllites of the South of the Isle of Man, and a section of the Foxdale Mines. Trans. Manch. Geol. Soc., vol. xx., p. 53.
1889: On the Geology of the Isle of Man Y.L.M.1 pt 2 pp16-18
1894: On the Geology of the Isle of Man. Pt. 1. The Permian, Carboniferous, and Triassic Rocks, and the New Saltfield of the North. Trans. Manch. Geol. Soc., vol. xxii., pt. xxi., pp. (with discussion) 590-613 (also abstr. in Rep. British Assoc., 1894, p. 662).
1895: The Geology of the Isle of Man, Pt. 2. Trans. Manch. Geol. Soc., vol. xxiii., pp. 147-159
1896: On the Geology of the Isle of Man. Rep. Brit. Assoc. (Liverpool), lxvi., pp. 155-160.
1902: The Red Sandstone Rocks of Peel, Isle of Man. Quart. Journ. Geol. Soc., vol. lviii., pp. 633-646,
1902; The Carboniferous, Permian, and Triassic Rocks under the Glacial Drift in the North of the Isle of Man. Quart. Journ. Geol. Soc., vol. lviii., pp. 647-661.
1913: Coal and Salt in the Isle of Man Mannin No 1 pp28-32


M.J.Bishop (ed.) The Cave Hunters Buxton:Derbyshire Museum Service (ISBN 1-906753-02-3) 1982

G. Tweedale & T. Proctor Catalogue of the papers of Sir William Boyd Dawkins in the John Rylands University Library of Manchester Bulletin John Rylands Library 74 #2 Summer 1992 (also issued as an offprint)

Buxton Museum has the major collection of Boyd Dawkins papers though unfortunately no hand list is available (though they have recently been microfilmed by Royal Commission on Historical Monuments); Buxton Museum also has a room devoted to him in which many of his books and other belongings are displayed.

 return to index


Any comments, errors or omissions gratefully received The Editor
© F.Coakley , 2001