William Boyd Dawkins

William Boyd Dawkins

Professor Sir William Boyd Dawkins (1837 – 1929) was an English geologist and archaeologist. He was a member of the Geological Survey of Great Britain, Curator of the Manchester Museum and Professor of Geology at Owens College, Manchester. He is noted for his research on fossils and the antiquity of man. He was involved in many projects including a tunnel under the Humber, a Channel Tunnel attempt and the proving of coal under Kent.

The Man

Dawkins was born at Buttington Vicarage near Welshport, in the then Montgomeryshire, Wales, on 26 December, 1837. He attracted attention at age five by collecting fossils from the local colliery spoil heaps. Soon after, his family moved to Fleetwood in Lancashire, where he attended the Rossall School. He again attracted attention by adding fossils from the local boulder clay to his earlier collection. After leaving school, he attended Jesus College, Oxford graduating with a second in Classics and a first in Natural Sciences.

On leaving university in 1862, he joined the Geological Survey of Great Britain where he spent the next 7 years working on the areas of Kent and the Thames Valley. In 1869, he was elected a member of the Geological Society and appointed Curator of the Manchester Museum, a position he held until 1890. In 1870, he took a further appointment as a lecturer at Owens College, (later to become Manchester University) eventually becoming the first Professor of Geology in 1874.

Dawkins became involved with the Manchester Geological and Mining Society becoming President on three occasions: 1874 –75, 1876 – 77 and 1886 – 87. He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1867 and acted as President of the Anthropological Section of the British Association in 1882 and the Geological Section in 1888.

Dawkins was knighted for services to geology in 1919 and died on January 15th 1929.


In 1882, following from his work with the Geological Survey, Dawkins was appointed as the official surveyor by the Channel Tunnel Committee. He made a geological survey of the English and French coasts along the Dover and Calais areas, however the project was abandoned due to lack of money.

In 1886, the South Eastern Railway Company approached Dawkins asking him if his Channel Tunnel work has shown any coal under Kent. The finding of coal under Kent would have given the company great financial benefits. Together with Henry Willett and the French geologist Pigou, Dawkins presented a paper in 1887 proving the existence of coal under the Cretaceous deposits of Kent.


Dawkins achieved many distinctions in the field of archaeology. In 1859 he moved to Somerset to study classics with the vicar of Wookey. On hearing of the discovery of bones bu local workmen he led excavations in the area of the hyena den at Wookey Hole Caves. His work led to the discovery of the first evidence for the use by Paleolithic man in the Caves of the Mendip Hills.

He spent a great deal of time researching in Derbyshire, especially the Cresswell Crags and Windy Knoll near Castleton. At Windy Knoll (NGR SK126830), he proved the existence of exotic animals that lived in England prior to the ice ages. With Rooke Pennington and J Tym, he discovered bones from bison, hyena, bear and a large cat, possibly a relative of the Sabre Tooth Tiger. The Bison bones were more recently dated at 37 300bp (OxA – 4579). Many of the finds are located in the museums of Buxton, Derbyshire and Manchester.

The philanthropist

Dawkins was a fighter for workers rights especially the coal mining industry. He lobbied hard to get a better education system for miners similar to the ones established in Germany. He donated undisclosed amounts of money to this cause.

Amongst his other donations was one to the Manchester Museum. The museum wanted to built an extension and started an appeal. The appeal raised £1015 2s 9d, of which Dawkins donated £500.

Later in life he fought for compensation for people whose homes had been affected by subsidence from the salt mines and workings near Northwich, Cheshire.


Dawkins published many books and papers. But his most famous were:
*Dawkins W.B, (1875), The mammalia found at Windy Knoll. Quarterly Journal of the Geological Society, 31, pp246 – 255
*Dawkins W.B and Pennington R, (1877), The exploration of the ossiferous deposits at Windy Knoll, Castleton, Derbyshire. Quarterly Journal of the Royal Society of London, 33, pp724 – 729
*Dawkins W.B, (1874), Cave Hunting, Macmillan, London
*Dawkins W.B, (1877) On mammal fauna of the caves of Cresswell Crags. Quarterly Journal of the Geological Society, 33, pp589 – 612
*Dawkins W.B and Mello J.M., (1879), Further discoveries in the Cresswell Crags. Quarterly Journal of the Geological Society, 35, pp724 – 735
*Dawkins W.B (a co-author), (1912), British Pleistocene Mammalia (6 volumes)
*Dawkins W.B (1880) Early Man in Britain and His Place in the Tertiary Period, Macmillan, London


*Tweedale G & Proctor T, New Documentary Evidence on the Career of Sir William Boyd Dawkins FRS (1837 – 1929)
*Tweedale G & Procter T, Catalogue of the Papers of Professor Sir William Boyd Dawkins in the John Rylands University Library of Manchester', Bulletin of the John Rylands University Library of Manchester, vol. 74, no. 2 (1992), pp. 3-36.
*Wood Kenneth, (1987) Rich Seams – the history of the Manchester Geological and Mining Society. MGMS, Bolton ISBN 0 904905 13 6
*Various Papers, University of Manchester, Rylands Library, Deansgate, Manchester
*Various Archive papers of the Manchester Geological and Mining Society

External links

* [http://capra.group.shef.ac.uk/1/nmid.html Sheffield University - Windy Knoll Data]
* [http://www.isle-of-man.com/manxnotebook/people/antiqarn/bdawkins.htm William Boyd Dawkins]
* [http://rylibweb.man.ac.uk/data2/spcoll/dawk/ The papers of William Boyd Dawkins, Rylands Library]
* [http://capra.group.shef.ac.uk/1/bibnmid.html Bibliography of caves, fissure and rock fissure and rock shelters in the North Midlands.]

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