Professor Thomas McKenny Hughes: a special relationship.


Entrance to the Sedgwick Museum, Cambridge

Portrait of Professor Thomas McKenny Hughes Here

A summary of his work  Here

Throughout his life Thomas Ruddy found a succession of key people who encouraged him in his lifelong hobby of geology.  This must have begun with the schoolmaster in Jedburgh who first encouraged him in literacy and nurtured his wide curiosity, particularly about the wold of nature.  Then there was Adam Matheson, curator of the Jedburgh museum, originally a Millwright, found in the Scottish census of 1851 aged 50 with wife and several children living in High St. Jedburgh and at that time still working as a millwright.  By the time Thomas Ruddy became acquainted with him about 1861, he may have been full-time curator of the Jedburgh, museum, or simply fulfilling this role in his spare time.  It is clear from the transactions of the Royal Society of Edinburgh for 1844 that Matheson was a considerable amateur geologist:

Proc. Royal Soc of Edinburgh 1844

Thomas’ introduction to Professor McKenny Hughes came in July 1876 by which time Thomas was already central to the expeditions of the Chester Society for Natural  Science of which McKenny Hughes was President.  Thomas was never a member, despite being a recipient of its foremost medal in due course.

July 20th [1876]  Thursday The members of the Geologists Association and friends to the number of 34 came to Llandderfel station where there were seven conveyances waiting for them to take them to Llangynog. I had an invitation to go with them, so that I got ready.  Mr. Davies acted as guide, so that he brought them to see my collection of fossils. I was glad to get introduced to some leading geologists such as Professor McKenny Hughes of Cambridge, Prof. John Morris, London University, Dr. Hicks of London, Mr. Hopkinson and other minor stars.

There were several ladies in the party. I gave them some refreshments, showed them my fossils which highly interested them, and took them afterwards to Brynselwrn quarry to get some graptolites. We next went up the Berwyns to the phosphate mine which was examined with interest and then to Llangynog where there was an excellent lunch ready for us at the expense of Mr. Doveston of ‘The Nursery’ near Oswestry whose two daughters were with us.

All were happy and enjoyed the lunch. I had to carve ducks, which I managed very well. Several amusing speeches were made after dinner. We also had Geological addresses outside in the evening. The day was very warm. The party proceeded to Oswestry in conveyances from there and I came home by those returning to Bala. I felt very much pleased to be with such high geologists. See paper for report of it [Paper not found – ed.] I may add that I had with me Mr. Barrois of Lille, France, Mr. & Mrs. Barbec of Pinner, Watford.

McKenny Hughes must have been delighted to discover an assured and knowledgeable amateur geologist with a large collection of good and accurately identified fossils of the Bala area and a hunger to continue to collect them in the field.  Thomas had arrived fully prepared with geological understanding at the centre of one of the areas of greatest interest to geologists of his time.

For further detail see The Silurian controversy and the Bala area

From this time geologists of note from far and wide began to appear at Ruddy’s door to view his fossils – no doubt at the suggestion of the Professor and his contacts.  In 1878:

August 13th Prof Leonhard Törnquist of the town of Geflé in Sweden visited me for local geological information, and to see my fossils. Dr. Hicks of London sent him. I gave him a nice lot of Bala fossils and showed him the local rocks between here and the tunnel. I found him an excellent botanist, a very good geologist and a most intelligent and well-bred person. He took copies of my sections and wrote down anything of interest I told him. He had dinner and tea with us, and could speak good English. He was about 5 feet 8 inches, fair hair and ruddy complexion. He told me over and over again that he was so pleased he found me, and that he was highly delighted with his visit. I got a great deal of geological knowledge from him regarding his own country.

Screenshot 2017-11-03 14.26.18
Professors Barrois and Törnquist listed as Foreign Members of the Geological Society of London 1917


September 10th Prof Tawney of Cambridge University came to me. Mr. Tawney examined my fossils very minutely, and with great interest. He named my minerals for me and I found him to be very nice. Mr. Tawney is very short and deformed. 

[Further information re Professor Tawney here]

October 18th Mr. Walter Keeping, the Geologist at the University C of Wales came to me for fossils. We spent a real pleasant evening together examining my fossils. I found him to be a most enthusiastic geologist. He named for me many fossils from the Crag and London Clay.  October 19th We went together to Aberhirnant, which pleased him very much and he was much astonished at my familiarity with the rocks. I gave him a nice collection of fossils.

In 1879 a paper ‘On the Upper Part of the Cambrian (Sedgwick) and Base of the Silurian in North Wales’ was published under Ruddy’s name in the Quarterly Journal of the Geological Society.  There is no mention of the paper in Ruddy’s journal, but that may not be surprising as it coincided with the illness and death of Ruddy’s first wife Mary and his being left responsible for three very young children.  Whilst it is likely that the paper was ‘tidied up’ and edited by Professor McKenny Hughes, there is little doubt that the basis of the work is Ruddy’s.  He was certainly capable of making the stratigraphical sketches included as some are in the original journal.  Also the detailed descriptions, some in the first person: ‘Although I have examined the debris at various openings in the interbedded grits and shales above the Graptolite zone, I have only found Encrinite stems and a few fragments of small bivalves.‘ etc. mirror accounts of expeditions in Ruddy’s journal.  it is clear that McKenny Hughes certainly did not spend the many hundreds of hours in the area needed to provide the detailed descriptions in Ruddy’s paper.

The paper is based on work presented to the Chester Society for Natural Science in the autumn of 1878:

Oct 3rd [1878]  I took my fossils to the annual conversazione of the Chester Society by request of the Committee.  I prepared them by the advice of Mr. Shrubsole for the occasion. Both of us my dear wife and myself had a very hard job for a month before going. I for the first time mounted them upon little boards, so that I had to polish the backs of them on a grindstone, my wife put the papers on the boards, and gummed on the labels as I wrote them. We often sat at work till midnight. My collection took the Chester people by surprise, and I got much praise. I was introduced to Mr. McIntosh of the Birkenhead College who had written to me during the summer. Mr. Shrubsole brought the Revd. Mr Symonds of Pendock to me. Mr. Symonds said he wanted to have the pleasure of shaking me by the hand; he made special mention of me after in his address. Prof Hughes introduced me to one of those who conducted the geological survey in North Wales, that is Mr. Aveline.   William Talbot Aveline, 1822–1903

The last thing Prof. Hughes said to me when parting was that I must now push on and follow up my good work.

Thomas was to continue his working relationship with Professor McKenny Hughes throughout the nineteenth century, leading many further expeditions and producing a list of fossils of the Bala area. (I am unable at present to date this list, but it is certainly not as early as 1874 as suggested by the photographed cover included in the PDF below).  I am inclined to date it from internal evidence to the mid 1880’s.  TR mentions seeing Bala fossils in the London geological museum which he did in late 1881.

Full text of Ruddy’s list of Bala fossils

I have recently discovered that there are 66 examples of Bala fossils collected by Thomas Ruddy in the collection of the Sedgwick Museum in Cambridge, no doubt transferred there by McKenny Hughes.  These are in addition to over one thousand specimens collected by Ruddy in the Natural History Museum.


A Thomas Ruddy field sketch from 1881

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