Punch,  49 (1865), 113–14.

The British Association



Illustration, Drollery; Proceedings, Spoof

Relevant illustrations:



C H B *


Societies, Scientific Practitioners, Zoology, Anatomy, Physics, Physical Geography, Mapping, Technology, Industry, Steam-power, Light, Instruments, Geology, Stratigraphy, Physiology, Physiognomy, Mathematics, Political Economy, Architecture, Mining, Controversy, Mental Illness

    The illustration portrays some of the personalities and subjects that dominated proceedings at the annual meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science in Birmingham. In the top left-hand corner, Thomas H Huxley and Richard Owen embrace lovingly (and therefore ironically) before an audience of mice with skull heads. Next to them, John Tyndall stands before an audience of chemical jars (adorned with appropriate alchemical symbols and human heads for stoppers). In one hand, Tyndall lances the posterior of Joseph B Jukes with a hot poker, a reference to Tyndall's controversy with Jukes over coal measures. In the top right hand corner, a small steam-powered hammer (possibly a parody of James Nasmyth's steam-hammer) with an eye in its head, is seen lecturing to an audience of penknives, while nearby an ageing David Brewster is seen at 'Section Z', where he holds up one of his stereoscopes before an audience of dividers and a telescope. In the lower left-hand corner Charles Babbage is seen lecturing to an audience of large numerical characters who, while sitting on small stools, watch the lecturer pointing to a fish (evoking Babbage's work on political economy). The lower middle of the illustration is dominated by Roderick I Murchison, who sits cross-legged on a platform and juggles three globes (an allusion to Murchison's imperial geographical enterprises). Finally, in the lower right-hand corner, an ageing Charles Lyell, in 'Section X Geology', stands before an audience of geological hammers who watch the lecturer dismantle a large portion of a model globe. Near Lyell is George Scrope who cuts a section of a globe with a spade. The text identifies the author of the report as Professor Fluff, who boasts that his report of the meeting is the only one that is genuine and contains the 'most interesting portions of the scientific proceedings'. He then presents short descriptions of the papers he read at the meeting, all of which poke fun at the language and practices of various sciences. For example, his paper on physiology concerned 'The art of Making Faces', while his mathematics paper consisted of 'a few words on Squaring a Beadle'. The author notes that, on his way to the meeting, a friend had the impression he was attending 'the Donkey Show' (because of the 'ass' in 'association'), and then presents his interpretations of papers presented at the meeting. Under the heading 'Coals' he notes Tyndall's harsh critique of a paper by Jukes on coals; under 'Geology', he notes Murchison's utterances 'about bones' (which prompted 'A Gentleman' to express his enjoyment of 'grilled and devilled' bones), and the association's president John Phillips's interest in 'Beaume' as a beverage. (113) Under 'Excursions', the author notes his attempt to compose his mathematical paper 'in the Scientific Room', his attempt to interest 'Geology' in his geological paper, and his failure to get 'Geography' to hear his geographical paper. Turning to the following day's proceedings, he comments on the views of Henry C Rawlinson and John Crawfurd on cannibals, Rawlinson expressing his desire not to be one, and Crawfurd insisting that 'cannibalism was merely a matter of taste'. This prompted a debate between Mr Blanks and Mr Dash, after which the author claims he tried to present his mathematical paper, stressing the fun of presenting it in a discussion of a totally unrelated subject (cannibalism). The author concludes his report by explaining that, during papers presented in the physiology 'department', he presented his 'Paper on Making Faces' whilst wearing 'false nose and whiskers', but was then summoned outside where he saw the 'Prince of all the Silurias' (Murchison) 'playing on the boot-jack'. He adds that he is now living with this individual in his 'Palace in Colwell Hatchney' (a reference to the lunatic asylum in Colney Hatch). (114)

See also:

Macleod and Collins 1981

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