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Darwin Correspondence Project

2.7 Joseph Moore, Midland Union medal

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The Midland Union was an association of natural history societies and field clubs across the Midland counties, intended to facilitate – especially through its journal The Midland Naturalist – ‘the interchange of ideas’ and awareness of scientific advances. It was decided at the Union’s annual meeting in July 1880 to award an annual ‘Darwin Prize’ for the best article submitted to The Midland Naturalist: the winner to receive a prize to the value of £10, which could include, if he chose, a specially designed ‘Darwin medal’ in either gold or bronze. The proposal for a prize and medal had come from a member of the Union’s council, William Jerome Harrison, chief science master for the Birmingham School Board, who wrote on geology and photography. The idea was to reward ‘original research by local Geologists, Naturalists, and Archaeologists’, many of them amateurs, who were members of the natural history societies affiliated to the Midland Union, offering them ‘an incentive to much real and useful work’. A Manchester Guardian article, ‘Darwin and local scientific societies’, published shortly after his death in 1882, suggested that the initiation of the medal in 1880 had also been intended as a tribute to Darwin himself, on the ‘coming of age’ of Origin of Species, first published in 1859. For many naturalists in the Union, he was indeed a heroic figure, and there was added pride in his Midland origins. Darwin’s permission had been sought for this use of his name, and he responded with characteristic kindness and absence of condescension. Darwin wrote, ‘their wish to name the medal after me is a very great honour, which I gladly accept. It is particularly pleasing to me to have my name connected, in however indirect a manner, with a scheme for advancing science, the study of which has been my chief source of happiness throughout life’.The design of the Darwin medal was appropriately entrusted to the Birmingham medallist and die-sinker Joseph Moore, who, like many of the naturalists in the Midland Union, had risen from artisan status through his own determined efforts. His bust-length portrayal of Darwin in three-quarter view, signed in capitals ‘Josh Moore f.’ (fecit), is probably based on one of Leonard Darwin’s photographs of his father, sensitively interpreted and transposed into relief. On the reverse an inscription runs round the edge: ‘The Darwin medal founded by the Midland Union of Natural History Societies 1880’. In the centre the name of the recipient was inscribed on a cartouche, with the date of the award and an indication of the particular branch of natural science stipulated in that year’s competition; below the name is a decorative design, appropriately representing coral. As an example, one surviving but unlocated medal, awarded for ‘Botany’ in 1888, went to James Eustace Bagnall of Birmingham. He was a ‘manufactory clerk’ and autodidact, with a special interest in mosses; his Flora of Warwickshire (1891) was based on papers he had published in The Midland Naturalist between 1881 and 1885. 

  • physical location cast at Down House, in a copper alloy or bronze; the wax model is also at Down  

  • accession or collection numbers EH88202657 and EH88202867 respectively 

  • copyright holder English Heritage 

  • originator of image Joseph Moore 

  • date of creation designed and first produced in 1880 

  • computer-readable date 1880-01-01 to 1880-12-31 

  • medium and material the medal was cast in either gold or bronze  

  • references and bibliography letter to E. W. Badger, [19 July 1880], DCP-LETT-12660. ‘Encouragement of Original Research: The Darwin Prize’, in E.W. Badger and W.J. Harrison (eds),The Midland Naturalist: The Journal of the Associated Natural History, Philosophical, and Archaeological Societies and Field Clubs of the Midland Counties, 3:32 (August 1880), preface and pp. 181–2. Journal of the Northamptonshire Natural History Society and Field Club (August 1880), p. 126. Bristol Mercury and Daily Post (22 April 1882), p. 6. Manchester Guardian (2 May 1882), p. 6. Leonard Forrer, Biographical Dictionary of Medallists . . . with References to their Works, vol. 4 (London: Spink & Son, 1909), pp. 136–140. On the background: David Elliston Allen, The Naturalist in Britain: A Social History (Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1976), pp. 171, 176–179.  


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