Copperores by Underwood

Philip Rashleigh (1729-1811)
Drawing overview
The artists
Thomas Richard Underwood (c.1765-1836)
The Philip Rashleigh Drawings Collection
Exhibition and publication details
References and further reading

 

Philip Rashleigh (1729-1811)

Philip Rashleigh was Cornwall's most famous antiquary and mineralogist. Born in 1729 in Aldermanbury, London, he was the son of Jonathan Rashleigh, Member of Parliament and landowner. Educated at Oxford, Rashleigh left without a degree. He succeeded his father as Member of Parliament for Cornwall and lived at Menabilly, near Fowey, in a sixteenth century mansion, which was the inspiration for Manderley in Daphne du Maurier's novel Rebecca.

Rashleigh developed an early interest in natural history and especially mineralogy. By 1764, when he took over his family's estates, he started to obtain mineral specimens from the local miners and mine owners whilst also collecting many himself. To further expand his collection, he also began to purchase and exchange specimens with mineral dealers, collectors and mineralogists both in England and abroad.

Rashleigh's collection of Cornish minerals is so complete, it is said to contain every mineral rarity found in Cornwall. Some specimens are particularly rare as some of the mines were only worked for a short time, and so the finds would never be able to be collected again. During his lifetime, his collection became so famous that many naturalists visiting Cornwall, would include a visit to Menabilly on their itinerary. Rashleigh had dedicated a room in his house to the collection, which was housed in eight cabinets and ten metres of wall cases. He also meticulously recorded the source and localities of the specimens in a large catalogue.

Rashleigh however did not travel much, but kept a lively correspondence with many scientists. In recognition of his collection and his knowledge of Cornish minerals, he was elected to the Royal Society and to the Society of Antiquaries in 1788.

Rashleigh married his cousin Jane (1720-1795), but they died childless. He left his mineral collection to his nephew William (1777-1855) and it largely remained at Menabilly until 1902. The collection was then purchased through cash donations and presented to the Museum of the Royal Institution of Cornwall, together with Rashleigh's manuscript catalogue. William had also given part of the collection to his son John - these specimens were then purchased by Sir Arthur Russell (1878-1964) whose collections were subsequently presented by bequest to the Natural History Museum.

The Rashleigh mineral collection is still largely intact and parts of it are housed in both The Royal Cornwall Museum in Truro, and also at the Natural History Museum. It is one of the very few private mineral collections to have survived for over two centuries.

Find out more about Rashleigh's mineral collection.



Drawing overview

Philip Rashleigh considered publishing some illustrated descriptions of his best specimens. In 1791 he wrote to his friend and fellow mineralogist John Hawkins (1761-1841),

'I wish I could find a clever man to draw and colour some of my minerals, as I think they are worth notice….'

Rashleigh was aware of the difficulty in producing accurate illustrations of specimens in their natural colours, and was aware there were few artists with the talent or experience of it. He engaged Henry Bone (1755-1834) to draw thirty-three hand coloured plates illustrating 194 specimens, which was published in 1797 as 'Specimens of British Minerals selected from the Cabinet of Philip Rashleigh, of Menabilly, in the County of Cornwall, Esq. M.P. F.R.S. and F.A.S., with General Descriptions of each Article'.

It is not known if Rashleigh was completely satisfied with the drawings, but the first volume sold very well, and a second volume was commissioned with additional artists. This was published in 1802 and consisted of 21 plates illustrating 48 specimens. The two-volume publication is now acknowledged the first and greatest illustrated book on British minerals.



The artists

Rashleigh chose the Cornish enamel painter Henry Bone (1755-1834) as artist for the first volume. Born in Truro, Bone's father was a cabinet maker and carver, and he was apprenticed to William Cookworthy, founder of the Plymouth porcelain work. Bone moved with Cookworthy to Bristol in 1771, received some formal education in art at night school, and specialised in china enamelling. He moved to London in 1778, and worked as an enamel artist for watches, lockets and fans, later diversifying into portraits and watercolours. Bone received a royal appointment from George III and the Prince of Wales in 1800, and a member of the Royal Academy in 1811. He worked with great acclaim until becoming blind in 1831. His collection was dispersed after his death in 1834.

For the second volume additional artists were employed including Thomas Richard Underwood (1765-1836), a fellow of the Geological Society, and a London engraver Thomas Medland (d.1833). Various members of Rashleigh's family, including his sister Rachel, Miss Harriot Rashleigh and Miss F. Rashleigh were also enlisted.



Thomas Richard Underwood (1765-1836)

Thomas Underwood was a watercolour landscape artist of note. Nine of his paintings are in the collection of Paul Oppé (1878-1957) which are now in Tate Britain, London. Another of his work, Roche Rock, Waterford, is in the Library of the Geological Society of London.

Underwood was either already interested in geology and natural history, when commissioned to draw for the second volume of Rashleigh's minerals, or was deeply inspired by it. In 1823 he was elected to the Fellowship of the Geological Society, and shortly thereafter to the Linnean Society. He was also a member of the Societe Histoire Naturelle de Paris. He resided in Paris from 1830 and died there in 1835.

His French connections may reveal another aspect of his life, as the author of the memoir, A narrative of memorable events in Paris, preceding the capitulation, and during the occupancy of that city by the allied armies, in the year 1814, being extracts from the journal of a Détenu, who continued a prisoner, on parole, in the French capital, from the year 1803 to 1814. He also published anecdotes of Bonaparte's journey to Elba in 1828.


The Philip Rashleigh Drawings Collection

The original drawings survive and are held in the Library at the Natural History Museum, and include some, which were never published. The drawings for the first volume were part of the Arthur Russell Bequest. The second volume was purchased by the Museum from a private collector.

The collection has also featured in other publications. For example, Rashleigh lent some specimens to the natural history artist and publisher James Sowerby (1757-1822) to illustrate his book British Mineralogy ([1802-]1804-17).



Exhibition and publication details

Rashleigh, P. (1797-1802) Specimens of British minerals, selected from the cabinet of P. Rashleigh, of Menabilly, in the County of Cornwall ... with general descriptions of each article. (Art originals for vol.1 of published work by H. Bone, etc., vol. 2, T. R. Underwood, Harriet Rashleigh).



References and further reading

Cleevely, R. J. (2000) The contributions of a trio of Cornish geologists to the development of 18th century mineralogy. Transactions of the Royal Geological Society of Cornwall, vol. 22, pt.3, p.89-120.

Wilson, W. E. (1994) The history of mineral collecting 1530-1799 : commemorating the 500th anniversary of the birth of Georgius Agricola (Georg Bauer) (1494-1555), the Father of Mineralogy and the Father of Mineral collecting. The Mineralogical Record, vol. 25, no. 6, pp.1-243.

Wilson, W. E. (1995) Mineral books: five centuries of mineralogical literature. The Mineralogical Record, vol. 26, no. 4, pp.1-158.