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The Belfast Natural History Society was founded in 1821 to promote the scientific study of animals, plants, fossils, rocks and minerals.

The Society was founded by George Crawford Hyndman, James Lawson Drummond, James Grimshaw, James McAdam, Robert Patterson, Robert Simms, Francis Archer, the Thomas Dix Hincks, Edward Hincks and Edmund Getty. Five years later in 1826 Alexander Henry Haliday and William Thompson both joined. In 1823, the Society’s collection and the small collection begun in 1788 in the rooms of the Belfast Reading Society, were moved to Belfast Academical Institution centralising Belfast’s rapidly expanding natural history holdings. How big these collections were is not known but the 1831 figure of 300 insects given when the Belfast Natural History Society Museum opened to non-members must refer to specimens on display. The research material would have been very much more numerous and expanded rapidly during the next decade. Specimens from England, the West Indies, Lapland, France, Greece, Italy, Senegal, New Holland, Java, Sumatra, Ceylon,Mauritius, Colombia, Recife , Peru, Virginia, India and West Africa were acquired by gift. The Society maintained an excellent library and received many journals from corresponding members of English and continental natural history societies. Notable contributors were John Obadiah Westwood, Francis Walker, Johann Karl Wilhelm Illiger (via Carl August Dohrn ), Maximilian Spinola and Charles Darwin. Almost all of the collections and most of the books were transferred to Dublin in 1843 after the society became the Belfast Natural History and Philosophical Society in 1842. A few remained in Belfast were they are kept in the Ulster Museum. The fragmentary minute books and few letters are in the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland, in Belfast.

The library contained:

  • Georges Cuvier, 1829 Regne Animalium, in English, The Animal Kingdom, published by Chez Deterville at Paris;1832 Class Insecta Whitaker, London
  • Justin Pierre Marie Macquart, 1834-1835. Histoire naturelle des insectes. Dipteres Paris : Roret.
  • Pierre André Latreille Genera crustaceorum et insectorum, secundum ordinem naturalem ut familias disposita (4 vols., 1806 1807 1807 1809)
  • Peter Simon Pallas Zoographia Rosso-asiatica
  • Friedrich Wilhelm Martini Neues systematisches Conchylien-Cabinet.
  • Emanuel Mendez da Costa A Natural History of Fossils (1757), Elements of Conchology, or An Introduction to the Knowledge of Shells (1776), British Conchology (1778).
  • Gilbert White The Natural History and Antiquities of Selborne (1789).
  • Thomas Pennant History of Quadrupeds
  • Johannes Allart, Afbeeldingen der fraaiste, meest uitheemsche boomen en heesters. Amsterdam, Johannes Allart, 1802 [-1808].
  • William Smith Strata by Organized Fossils (1815).
  • Louis Agassiz Recherches sur les poissons fossiles (1833-1843)
  • Philipp Franz von Siebold Fauna Japonica: Birds or Aves, 1844-1850 12 vol.; Fish or Pisces1842-185016 vol.;Crustaceans or Crustacea1833-1850 8 vol.;Mammals or Mammalia 1842-1844 4 vol.
  • Pierre Barrère Ornithologiae Specimen Novum, sive Series Avium in Ruscinone, Pyrenaeis Montibus, atque in Galliâ Aequinoctiali Observatarum, in Classes, genera & species, novâ methodo, digesta (1745)
  • Julius Theodor Christian Ratzeburg Die Waldverderber und ihre Feinde, Berlin, 1841



  • Foster, J. W. and Chesney, H. C. G (eds.), 1977.Nature in Ireland: A Scientific and Cultural History Lilliput Press ISBN 0-7735-1817-7.
  • Nash, R., 1983. A brief summary of the development of entomology in Ireland during the years 1790-1870 Irish Naturalists’ Journal 21:145-150.


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