Mark Wilson December 2nd, 2016
This is a continuation of last week’s post about a set of 19th century “Magic Lantern Slides” found in Scovel Hall at Wooster. These evocative scenes are taken from reconstructions of ancient life by Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins (1807-1894). In 1855, Waterhouse Hawkins finished sculpting life-sized models of these extinct animals, along with many others, for the Crystal Palace gardens in London. Most of these extraordinary animal statues still exist.
Above is the Waterhouse Hawkins version of the Early Cretaceous dinosaurs Iguanodon (the critter on top) and Hylaeosaurus (the two on the lower level). These two genera, along with Megalosaurus, were used as the basis for the new Dinosauria erected by Sir Richard Owen in 1842, a mere dozen years before these models were created. Both of these dinosaurs were herbivorous, Iguanodon being an ornithopod and Hylaeosaurus a basal ankylosaur. They are said here to be from “the Secondary Epoch of the Earth’s history”.
A print version of the same scene. Modern reconstructions of these animals are dramatically different, of course. Waterhouse Hawkins was advised by Owen to make these versions as mammalian as possible. The stance and articulation of limbs is the largest change in our conception of these genera. The Iguanodon model is where a famous 1853 New Year’s Eve dinner party was held.
This next slide is another Waterhouse Hawkins creation of a much later scene. These are reconstructions of the South American ground sloth Megatherium, which lived from the Pliocene through the Pleistocene. Aside from some unnecessary bulk, these reconstructions are not too far off from how we conceive the giant ground sloths today.
This magic lantern slide from Wooster’s collection is unlabeled, and I’ve found no trace of the image online. The scene has a Mesozoic vibe, with a crinoid, ammonites (or nautiloids?), and a lurking reptile. Any identifying information would be appreciated!
Another Waterhouse Hawkins theme, this time of Eocene ungulates. The label says they are Paleotherium (in the right foreground) and Anoplotherium gracile (on the left in the foreground). Both were originally described from the Paris region by the magnificent Georges Cuvier.
Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins (1807-1894) was a Londoner skilled in natural history and art. His lifetime honors are a clue to his abilities: He was a Member of the Society of Arts, a Fellow of the Linnean Society, and a Fellow of the Geological Society of London. His Crystal Palace dinosaurs are his best know combination of art and science, but he produced much besides. For example, he drew figures for The Zoology of the Voyage of HMS Beagle. In 1868 he mounted a skeleton of Hadrosaurus in Philadelphia, the first dinosaur to be displayed in this way. Through his art and connections in the paleontological world, Waterhouse Hawkins brought fossils to life for millions of people in Victorian times.