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2 Posts tagged with the benjamin_waterhouse_hawkins_(1807-1894) tag

New Years Eve Invitation & Menu NHMPL 056867.jpg



One of the gems of London's history that you can still visit today (and for free), has to be amongst the trees and bushes of the small islands at the southern end of Crystal Palace Park, Sydenham, London.


Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins (1807-1894) was the natural history artist and sculptor, whose partnership with Sir Richard Owen (1804-1892) produced the dinosaur reconstructions that you can see today in the park.


Hawkins was born in London and was an established artist displaying his work between 1832-1849 in prominent institutions such as the Royal Academy. His skill was demonstrated in the plates for publications such as 'Illustrations of Indian Zoology' (1830-35) and 'The Zoology of the voyage of HMS Beagle' (parts 4/5, 1838-43).






Pre historic creatures NHMPL 046678.jpg

It was his collaboration with Richard Owen, first Director of the Natural History Museum, London and distinguished vertebrate palaeontologist, that is arguably his best known legacy. He was appointed by the Crystal Palace Company to create thirty three life sized concrete models of extinct animals and dinosaurs (funding cuts meant only around half were produced). These were to be part of a geological time zone in part of the park, which housed the relocated great glass exhibition hall.


Owen estimated the size and overall shape of the animals, but left Hawkins to sculpt the models, under his direct supervision. Together they produced the first public display of life sized reconstructions of prehistoric life. They are a representation of the scientific knowledge of that time, unveiled to the world in 1854, five years before Charles Darwin published 'On the origin of species'.


To celebrate the near completion of the project Hawkins held a dinner party for Richard Owen and twenty distinguished scientists of the time. Dinner was held in the partially finished mould of the largest sculpture, the Iguanodon.


Icthyosaurus & Plesiosaurus NHMPL 011937.jpgPlesiosaurus NHMPL 046677.jpg


The NHM Library & Archives hold a collection of original Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins material, including watercolour and pen and ink sketches, showing his thoughts and designs for his geological creations. Also included is an invitation and menu from the unique New Years Eve party. In the Museum's scientific collections are a handful of surviving minature versions of the models that Hawkins produced prior to embarking on the final full sized ones.


Hawkins went on to live a life of many highs and lows, including a number of years working and lecturing in America. He returned to England in 1879 where he remained until his death in Putney on 27th January 1894.


Crystal Palace itself was destroyed by fire in 1936 and the models are his unique (and slightly haunting) legacy to London and a must see for all!


Further reading:


Bramwell, Valerie (2008) All in the bones: a biography of Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins, Philadelphia: Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia.

Iguanodon Model NHMPL 004699.jpgCrystal Palace Dinosaurs NHMPL 043503.jpg

Amongst our collections is an invitation to a dinner party with a difference....
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The dinner was held by Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins, a sculptor with an interest in Natural History. In 1852 Hawkins had been appointed to build authentic models of prehistoric animals to be displayed in the grounds of Crystal Palace. With advice from Professor Richard Owen on the anatomy of the creatures, Hawkins built life size replicas of animals such as the Pleisiosaurus, Ichthyosaurus, Megalosaurus and the Iguanodon.
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These models were to become influential in the popularisation of palaeontology, and in particular of dinosaurs.  Although the models are now known to be scientifically inaccurate, at the time they were the most realistic representations of dinosaurs ever produced.
To celebrate the forthcoming opening of the exhibition, Hawkins hosted a dinner for Owen and twenty prominent scientists of the day.  The dinner took place on New Years Eve 1853 inside the almost complete shell of the Iguanodon.  The invitation, inscribed on the wing of a Pterodactyl asks for the guest’s “Company at Dinner in the Iguanodon”.
The Iguanodon that served as a party venue, along with the other prehistoric animals recreated by Hawkins were officially unveiled to the public on 10 June 1854 when the park opened to 40 000 visitors. To this day they are still enjoyed by many in their original home in Crystal Palace Park.