Ancient Fossils to the New World

Journal entry March 8th 1891 Journal entry March 8th 1891

In September 1888 The fourth International Geological Congress was held in London, and following that, smaller groups of international Geologists dispersed to various places of interest around Britain.  With his talent for being in the right place at the right time, Thomas found himself invited to attend a Conversazione of the Chester Society which was attended by various international delegates, taking with him a large collection of his Bala fossils.  See https://wp.me/p5UaiG-q6

Here he met Charles Doolittle Walcott, who from 1907-1927 was administrator of the Smithsonian Institution in the USA.  He had previously worked with the United States Geological Survey, and became it Director in 1894.  At the time of his meeting with Thomas Ruddy in Chester, Walcott was 38 years old, and focussing on Cambrian strata in the USA and Canada.  He would have found Thomas’ carefully identified and labelled collection of Bala fossils of great interest.

Walcott was to go on to enjoy a highly distinguished career. He was elected to the National Academy of Sciences of the USA in 1896, and in 1901 served as president of the Geological Society of America.  By 1907 he had become Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution.  The pinnacle of his career came in August 1909, when in the Canadian Rockies he discovered the Burgess Shale,  a fossil-bearing deposit  At 508 million years old (Middle Cambrian), it is one of the earliest fossil beds containing soft-part imprints. It is famous for the exceptional preservation of the soft parts of its fossils.

Walcott, left, at the Burgess Shale in 1910 with his son and daughter

Back in 1888, Walcott expressed and interest in having some Bala fossils for the Smithsonian.  It was not until March 1891 that Thomas amassed a collection he deemed suitable to send to Walcott. Some he had gathered in an expedition on 28th February 1891:

Saturday the 28th. I left here at 3:35, got to the bridge over the Hirnant Stream Garth Goch by 4.30 and to the fork of the road near Brynyraber, a little se of the Lake by 5.5.  I lost about 10 minutes examining specimens on the way. I got specimens of the “little ash’ at the fork of the road where stone was quarried some years ago to build the Workhouse at Bala.  Most of the rock has been taken away. I found a few of the fossils that usually are associated with this ash rock, such as the Orthis alternate, O. elegantula, O vespertilio, Glyptocrinus, etc.  I went next to Penygarth, then through the field at Garnedd, and on to the road at the bridge over the Hirnant again.  I got a few specimens, notably a very fine Cythere which I was glad of for Washington.

He carefully parcelled up the specimens:

I sent him a good series of specimens, many of them of great interest, and difficult to get. The box measured 14 inches in length, 10 and a half wide, and 12 deep.  It weighed 42 lbs. I also sent him two of my reprints, one a list of my Bala fossils, and the other a paper of mine on the Bala beds, from the Geological Journal, London. Mr Walcott has written several papers on the geology of America; and quite recently has discovered a fish bed of great interest in Colorado, on the eastern slopes of the Rocky Mountains. The fish remains are supposed to be the oldest known placoids, and are found in Upper Silurian or Devonian.

Added to my research is now to contact the Smithsonian to see whether they still have those Bala specimens in their collection.

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