There are so many features of Thomas’ story that make him very much a man of his times. Not the least of these is his passion for collecting natural and historical objects. His journal for 1874 demonstrates this at almost every entry:
1874 Jan 11th Sunday I had a look through the old Elizabethan Mansion of Rhiwedog [SH9434] which now belongs to Mr. Price of Rhiwlas, but was formerly belonging to the Lloyds and is said to be the site of the residence of Llewarch Hen,, prince and poet in the 5th century. It is now a house very much out of repair. The date 1672 is on an oak beam forming the chimney piece in one of the upstairs rooms. Oak is much used in it. Not a collection, but demonstrating Thomas’ drive to understand and immerse himself in Welsh culture and history.
February 9th Monday I went to Bala. Mr. Evan Jones took me to Eryl Aran and introduced me to Thomas Anwyl esq. [1871 Welsh census aged 27 captain of Militia] who showed me his collection of stuffed birds, coins, etc. the collections are the best in Bala. Perhaps here we see one of the inspirations for Thomas’ collecting habit, although it is clear from the journal that he had already begun amassing various collections.
March 26 Thursday When at Rûg, the seat of the Hon Charles Wynn, Mr. Bennett the gardener took me to see Rûg chapel. This domestic chapel is most curious inside with mural paintings. It is altogether well worth a visit to see the carvings and decorations.
July 8th Wednesday I observed the ‘Coggia Comet’.
August 4th Tuesday I went to Corwen with ferns for the ‘Eisteddfod Gadeiriol’. I got introduced to Cyndellw (Mr. Roberts). This man is a Minister (Baptist) and a bard; he has the appearance of an old bard. His beard was grey and reached to his waist. I found him very chatty and quite a well informed man on general topics but quite enthusiastic about ancient customs. He told me that I was better informed of Welsh customs than many Welshmen who pretended to be, and also styled me Bard rhedyrn or fern bard.
August 5th & 6th I was judge at the Eisteddfod for ferns, dried specimens and fossils, so that I had to go about with a white rosette in my coat. I had a long talk with Mrs. West of Ruthin Castle, who admired my collection of British ferns and dried plants. She had a most taking manner and is one of the fashionable beauties of England. She brought her father, mother and sister to me, as well as her husband. Mrs. West’s father is the Rev. F. Fitzpatrick, of Tyrone, Ireland; he is a fine handsome man, and so is Miss Fitzpatrick, her sister very nice in manners and good looking, but the mother is rather a dowdy. Mr. West is a tall handsome man.
I find this entry a remarkable tribute to Thomas’ capacity to integrate fully into the cultural life of his area. Only five years into his position at Palé he had amassed a collection of ferns, plants dearly loved by the Victorian gardener, dried plants and fossils and learned enough about Welsh customs to impress a bard. He was obviously taken to the hearts of his Welsh neighbours, in order to be placed in the position of judge. It is obvious that Thomas also enjoyed the social standing he was acquiring as he chatted to local gentry.
Oct 5th Monday Mr. Trevor Clarke came here to see my fossils and eggs. Mr. Kerr jun. of Maisemor brought him. Mr Kerr is an enthusiastic ornithologist and an old acquaintance.
Nov 9th Mr. Kerr came again to see my eggs and get explanations about local birds. He was most amiable to me. And now we have bird’s eggs to add to the list, and some of the first people who came to Thomas’ door to view his collections. In future years he would add to the list professors of Geology from Cambridge and from Sweden, and in due course, Queen Victoria herself.
An article about Victorian Collectors: