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Dr Hunter-Selkirk

Dr Hunter-Selkirk

Extract from The History of the Geological Society of Glasgow 1858-1908, by Peter Macnair F.R.S.E., F.G.S .

We preface the story of Dr Hunter, later known as Hunter-Selkirk after his marriage, with details of James Fallow and Dr Robert Slimon, essential to understanding the history of paleontology in Lanarkshire. The extract, a meagre six pages from the complete book is an excellent light on medicine and science in the late 19th century Scotland. To read more, go to book-link

James Fallow never came into contact with any geologist,
so far as his mother knew, except Dr. Slimon. His name
never became known to fame, as it might otherwise have
done." He was a most diligent and intelligent observer,
and an enthusiastic geologist. He might have had a very
fine collection had not Dr. Slimon and the late Dr.
Hunter-Selkirk, as he said, " herried my nest." Mr.
Fallow himself tells how Dr. Hunter used to put one of
his fine specimens of Pterygotus under his coat and say,
when going away, " I'll call this one Fallowensis." On
leaving for New Zealand, in 1881, he gave to Dr. Hunter
the first specimen he had found on the Logan Water,
and it is now in the Kilmarnock Museum. No doubt it
was James Fallow who was the first discoverer of
the Logan Water Crustaceans, and it is but right he
should be known as such. He is still living in New
Zealand, and has a nice farm of his own at Thornbury,
Southland. His greatest ambition is to come home and
spend a day or two on the Logan Water, but he says
he is too old now. Fallow collected his first specimens
on the Logan Water between 1840 and 1843, and Dr.
Slimon in 1851.

The first man to bring the discoveries of the Logan
Water before the public was Dr. Slimon, of Lesmahagow.

Of Dr. Slimon's early life very little is known, and the
following facts have been mostly collected from Dr.
Hunter's paper to the Geological Society of Glasgow:
He was born on the 16th October, 1803, at Douglas, in
Lanarkshire. His father, John Slimon, labourer in
Douglas, was married to Marian Kennedy on the 3rd
June, 1797, and there were five children born of the
marriage, Robert being the third. His father died when
Robert was very young, and the future doctor began his
working life as a handloom weaver with a Mr. Bow in
his native village. Leaving this trade, he took up that
of a bookbinder, for which there was surely not much
scope in Douglas. He next removed to Cumnock, and
worked as a snuffbox maker, but after some time migrated
to Glasgow, employing in the same business a number
of hands. Whether this business was successful or not
I am unable to say, but Slimon next obtained a situation
in a druggist's shop, and, while serving here, attended
the classes in Stirling's Medical School. He afterwards
lived at Crossford, near Lanark, and then at Lesmahagow.
He went back again to Glasgow, and afterwards settled
down for life at Lesmahagow. He probably practised
as a doctor at all three places. In 1864 he received the
diploma of the Faculty of Physicians and Surgeons of
Glasgow, and in 1869 was elected a corresponding member
of the Geological Society of Glasgow. Although he was
a corresponding member for fifteen years, it does not
appear that he read any paper to it. The only paper
he published was a short account of the geology of the
parish of Lesmahagow, in " The Annals of the Parish of
Lesmahagow," by Mr. Greenshields of Kerse. From this
paper he appears to have had a good grasp of his subject,
as the minuteness and extent of his knowledge are shown
in its details. It is said he began the study of geology
from reading an elementary work on the subject. He had
collected specimens from the Carboniferous rocks at
Boghead, Auchenbeg, and other localities long before he
knew of the famous Crustaceans on the Logan Water.


At the meeting of the British Association at Glasgow in
1855 a series of remarkable fossils from the moory uplands
of Lanarkshire was shown for the inspection of the
learned. Sir Roderick Murchison was so interested in
them that, as soon as the meeting was over, along with
Professor Ramsay, under the guidance of Dr. Slimon, he
visited the spot, and the general results of this rapid raid
he told to Professor Harkness. " I came last night direct
from the Lesmahagow country, where I passed two entire
days with the good Slimon. I took Ramsay with me.
We had glorious weather. I am more satisfied with my
general results than anything I have seen for many a
day. The merit of this discovery belongs to Slimon, and
I shall raise a statue to him for it. As I had a very fast
horse to take me from point to point, I used my legs
up every burn (including all the Carboniferous series to
the east), and to the top of Nutberry and considerably
to the west of it. I have no doubt as to the completeness
of the evidence. When Salter has examined the fossils
I will tell you more. In the meantime I have left Slimon
the happiest man possible, and I intend (D.V.) to give a
little introduction to the description of the wonderful
geological parish of Lesmahagow and the merits of the
poor but meritorious Dr. Slimon, who, if he had been rich
enough to visit his patients on a horse, and had not
travelled up the braes on foot, would never have made
this excellent hit." A great many of the fine specimens
procured by Dr. Slimon are to be found in the British
Museum and in other collections, and the late Mr. Salter
described and figured at that time the most interesting
species of the Lanarkshire Crustaceans under the generic
names of Himantopteris and Pterygotus in the Quarterly
Journal of the Geological Society of London. He also
gave a drawing of the Phyllopod crustacean Ceratiocaris,
with the body and tail spines attached, thus demolishing
the theory of the tail spines being fish defences, as was
believed at that time by many geologists. In a report
on the geology of Lesmahagow made by Sir Roderick


Murchison to the British Association in 1859, Dr. Slimon's
observations were embodied, and his labours as a geologist
were deservedly mentioned with honour.

Dr. Slimon was not only an enthusiast in geology, but
a devoted astronomer and an admirable amateur artist,
and at one time gave two lectures in the City Hall,
entitled " Astronomical Geology." He died at Lesma-
hagow on the 12th October, 1882, and at the time of his
death had reached his eightieth year. Some years before
Dr. Slimon died Dr. Hunter had started his explorations
on the Logan Water. He called at Slimon's house on
his way to the Logan Water, only two or three months
before the death of the doctor.

 

J. R. S. HUNTER-SELKIRK, LL.D.

Dr. Hunter, later Hunter-Selkirk, was born at Edinburgh
13th March, 1835, but spent most of his life from boyhood
upwards in the Carluke district. A fortunate connection
with the Selkirk family assisted to smooth for him the
path of advancement, and led ultimately to his marriage
with a lady of that name, Miss Mary Selkirk, whose father

was Selkirk the wealthy mine-owner in Braidwood. When
about ten years of age he read the Life of John Hunter,
the eminent anatomist and founder of the Hunterian
Museum, Glasgow. The work so fired the imagination
of the boy that he resolved to form a collection larger
than that of the eighteenth-century savant, or, indeed, of
any one else in Scotland. Amply did he try to fulfil his
boyhood's vow, for the Braidwood collection is one of the
most important ever brought together in this country
by a private individual. He was a collector, a veritable
Nimrod, " a mighty Hunter " in the realms of the curious
and the antique. His geological treasures from the
Silurian and Carboniferous formations are not easily
equalled by any private collection. When quite a child
he began to lay the foundations of his large collection.
Many a time he exchanged the lunch which he carried


to school for a bad bawbee, forgetting the pangs of hunger
in the frequent inspection of his treasure. There is still
a fossil Nautilus in his collection, which was among the
earliest of his acquisitions. He found it lying among
some rubbish in a garden, and very conscientiously showed
it to the proprietor, who permitted him to keep it. After
his schooldays were over he studied both for the law and
medicine, but ultimately gave them up as not being
congenial to his tastes. About this time (1855) he
published a series of letters in the Airdrie Advertiser on
" The Shortness of Wagons with the Railway Companies,"
" Cock Fights," " The Abolition of the Stamp Duty," &c.,
&c. He then started as a coal agent with a man named
Barr, the firm being known as Barr & Hunter. The
partnership was dissolved in June, 1869. During the
previous summer he had visited America and travelled
through a large part of the " Wild West," having the
honorary degrees of LL.D. and D.Sc. conferred upon him
by the University of Philadelphia in recognition of his
scientific labours. He used to tell of an experience he
had when in America with General Morgan, one of the
leaders in the War of Secession. Both were staying in
a Kansas hotel at the same time, and on one occasion
a heated discussion arose between them on the war, which
so tried the temper of the American that, in a moment
of passion, he was about to resort to the use of his
revolver. However, the cool and plucky action of the
doctor, who, foreseeing the probable course of events,
already had the advantage of his opponent, caused the
latter to retire in confusion. Next day the general
apologised to Dr. Hunter-Selkirk, complimenting him for
his real British pluck. " Scotch," replied the doctor,
correcting him as they shook hands heartily. During
the rest of his stay in Kansas Morgan became much
attached to Dr. Hunter-Selkirk, and in parting they
exchanged photographs. It is to be hoped that the
Westerner was afterwards more careful not to insult a
man till certain that he was not a Scotsman. A leading
trait of the doctor's character was the intensity of his

patriotism. He was a firm believer in the superiority of
Scotland and its people over the rest of the world. Under
the most exciting circumstances of personal danger, he
never forgot this article of his creed. After his return
from America he joined in partnership with Dr. Selkirk
in the Braidwood Coal, Lime, and Coke Company, and,
as he had a colliery manager's certificate signed by the
Secretary of State for Scotland, he acted as manager for
the company. It is said that the coal produced splendid
coke, and that it brought five shillings more per ton than
the coke made in the Slamannan district. One day, not
long after he started, a new rope had been placed on the
drum at the pithead for winding purposes. The first
person thereafter sent down was an Irishman; by an
oversight, the enginenman forgot to uncoil the rope, with
the result that the unlucky son of Erin descended the
shaft with the speed of a plummet. He escaped,
however, with a few bruises and a shake to his nerves.
When the man's wounds had been attended to and some
" spirituous " comfort administered the alarm subsided,
and the doctor resumed conversation with a friend.
Paddy was reclining within earshot, and, overhearing
allusion made to a Bible four hundred years old which
the doctor himself had bought, he raised his head, fixed
a pair of wondering eyes upon his employer, and asked
in awe-struck tones, " Faith, doctor, and did yez buy it
when it was new ? " The limestone in the pit was
peculiarly rich in fossils, a fact which aroused the atten-
tion of Dr. Selkirk and prompted him to begin a collection.
But another, Richmond, was in the field. His more
enthusiastic partner, by dint of early rising and a liberal
allowance of " backsheesh," secured the best specimens
that were turned up daily. The consequence was that,
when Dr. Selkirk appeared at the pit every morning at
eleven o'clock, there was nothing left for him to
appropriate. Years passed. Both gentlemen went on
forming collections, but, while that of Dr. Hunter began
to assume imposing proportions, Dr. Selkirk's increased
but slowly. One day the latter, (Richmond) called on his

rival. " Come up and take away these fossils," he

exclaimed, in tones of mingled chagrin and disgust. This
request was instantly complied with, and two cart-loads
of fine specimens were thereby added to Dr. Hunter's
treasures. Needless to say, Dr. Selkirk from that day
gave up all his dreams of a collection; and after this,
in recognition of Dr. Selkirk's gifts, Dr. Hunter resolved
to call his collection the " Braidwood Collection," as part
of Dr. Selkirk's money and time helped to make it what
it was.

When Dr. Hunter married he lived first at Midloan.
He then purchased the estate of Daleville. The house
is a plain but commodious country mansion on the right
bank of the Clyde, within half a mile of the river. The
original two-storey house, built about fifty years ago, now
forms only the rear part of the mansion, the larger front
part, containing the principal rooms, having been added
at a later date by Dr. Hunter. The grounds have a steep
southern exposure, and are tastefully laid out with
avenues and winding walks. The shrubberies consist
mainly of laurel, yew, holly, arbor vitse, &c. They are
trimly kept, and lend a picturesque charm to the place.
This romantic feeling is further enhanced by the presence
of the Braidwood Burn, a rapid little stream that leaps
and dances along a rocky, fern-clad ravine, overshadowed
in summer by the dense green foliage of the trees, forming
one of Nature's loveliest retreats. About 300 yards distant
from the house is the tower and fortalice of Braidwood,
an ancient ruin with important historical associations.
Here, according to Blind Harry, Sir William Wallace
stayed for three days assembling an armed force, which
followed him to Mauldslie, and there proclaimed him
Governor of Scotland.

After settling down at Daleville Dr. Hunters real work
may be said to have begun. At this time the Palacecraig,
Quarter, and Carnbroe ironstone pits were in full swing.
The Labyrinthodontia were turning up. A schoolmaster
near Hamilton had been collecting them when Thomson
and Hunter got word of it. Thomson was first on the


spot, and got them all with him. Next day the doctor
made his appearance, but all too late. One day when
he was in the Carnbroe district, so rich in fossil fish, he
had collected more of them than he could carry. He
asked a boy whom he chanced to meet to help him. " I'll
do that, sir," was the obliging reply. " But what are we
to carry them in?" inquired our geologist. "Please,
sir, my mither has a big claes-basket," replied the boy
readily ; " you could get the len' o' it." The basket
was procured and filled with fossils instead of family
linen, and the two, seizing a handle each, set off slowly
for the railway station. Slowly, we say, for the contents
of the basket were as heavy as Blackband ironstone, and
after every few steps the load had to be laid down, giving
the indomitable boy another opportunity to spit vigorously
on his hands. As the train was nearly due, the pair
clambered with their burden upon the line for a short
cut. This strategic move, however, only added to the
length of the journey, for, after proceeding some distance,
they were stopped by a railway official and sent back to
the starting-point of their unlawlul deviation. With
many blessings on that particular railway company, the
doctor and his faithful henchman struggled on, with
fewer pauses than before. The sweat ran down their
faces, and at every step the edge of the basket bumped
against their weary legs. Happily the train was not
gone when they staggered on to the platform, and the
plucky lad was dismissed with a gratuity that made him
forget his muscular exhaustion and loss of saliva. Dr.
Hunter not only collected fossils, but about this time
(1870 to 1874) he produced a paper on " Vertical Sections
of Carboniferous Strata in the West of Scotland," Part
1 and Part 2, and at this time he read a paper to the
Geological Society of Edinburgh on " The Geology of
the Carboniferous Strata of Carluke." In 1864 he was
made a member of the Geological Society of Glasgow, and
in 1879 he was made an honorary member of that Society.
For many years he contributed to its Transactions papers
of local and scientific interest, " The Old Red Sandstone


of Lanarkshire, with Notes on Volcanic Action during
Old Red and Carboniferous Times," " Notes on a Fossil
Scorpion in the Silurian Strata of the Logan Water," and
also a comprehensive paper on " The Silurian Rocks of
the Logan Water," " The Geology and Palaeontology of
Bankend, Bellfield, Coalburn, and Lesmahagow,"
"Three Months' Tent Life on the Silurian Hills," "A
Biographical Sketch of Dr. Robert Slimon," " Craig-
nethan and its Vicinity." On many occasions he was
leader of the excursions and picnics of various societies.
Apart from his scientific pursuits, he took a keen interest
in all matters of rural enterprise, and is said to have
been the first person in Clydesdale to grow strawberries
for the market. By advice and example he led the way
to a renewal of prosperity to the impoverished cultivators
of Clydesdale, and to-day from sixty to seventy van-loads
of the luscious fruit are despatched daily to Glasgow
during the season.

In 1888, after a lingering illness, his wife died. This
was a sad blow to him, and it may be said he did very
little scientific work after. In 1894 he was presented
with a life-size portrait of himself by his numerous friends
in the leading circles of art and science in Scotland, and
also with an autograph album containing a number of
fine sketches in water-colour by distinguished artists, a
pen-and-ink cartoon representing the doctor in the guise
of a " Prehistoric Hunter " soaring on the back of a
Pterodactyle, and an array of autographs, including those
of Lord Kelvin, Sir James Bell, Sir William Hozier,
Professors Geikie, Jones, Hunter, Dougall, &c., &c. In
1895 he was presented with the freedom of the burgh of
Airdrie for his gifts to the museum, and a marble tablet
was erected in the reading room in recognition of his
gifts. Some years before his death he presented a fine
series of minerals to Kilmarnock, and shortly before his
death the larger part of his great collection ; the other
part went to Lanark. In his last illness, which took
place at Christmas, 1897, he bore his troubles well, and
lingered on till the 23rd March, 1898, when, speaking
of his collection, he frequently grew animated; then his
voice increased in volume, and amid the wreck of Nature
you could still see lingering the force, the fire, the insight,
and the individuality that always accompany genius.


Extracted from the text of ebook History of the Geological Society of Glasgow, 1858-1908, with biographical notices of prominent members by Peter Macnair
 
 

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