Flushed with success, the Council of the Royal Society decided it was time for a bit of heels-up - or rather heads-down to look at treasured items from our wonderful collection. The occasion? A soirée at the Nicholson Museum within The University of Sydney to celebrate the achievements of the previous twelve months.
In that time, the Council managed to win two grants. The first, a State Government grant of $30,000 to be used for the publication of the journal over the next three years, was the work of past president Karina Kelly and her team. The second was $5,500 through one of the Federal Government's Community Heritage Grants organized by the National Library in Canberra.
It was through this grant that our consultant historians, Dr David Branagan and Dr Peter Tyler, assessed the Society's collection of books, journals, maps, drawings, painting, photographs, lantern-slides and medals to be highly significant both historically and scientifically. Selected items were displayed in the facilities offered by the Nicholson Museum. Staff and guests donned cotton gloves to leaf through some of the precious books, which included works by the American archaeologist and naturalist Charles C. Abbott, and Opuscula, one of the most significant books in the Society's collection, written in Latin by Georg Bauer, better known by his Latin name, Georgius Agricola (1494-1555). He is considered the founder of geology as a discipline. Another book, Cyrillus in Johannem et Leviticum una cum thesauro eiusdem was published in 1508. It is the only one held in Australia. There was also the first volume of Curtis' Botanical Magazine, beautifully illustrated by the artist Sydenham S. Edwards and published 1787. The Society holds the complete set (Volumes 1-14) and many other volumes of the Botanical Magazine by various other publishers.
Also on display were Lawrence Hargrave's aeronautical and other papers, together with some of the drawings and lantern-slides of his first flying machine, and a very rare edition of J.D. Dana's Geology, written when he accompanied W.B. Clarke around the Sydney Basin. Hand-written letters from Society member Charles Darwin and Louis Pasteur were a great attraction. Many of the medals on display were from Clarke's collection. These are kept in the care of the Mitchell Library together with some 20 boxes of books and other items belonging to the Royal Society. These are to be the target of our next round of assessment and listing.
Undeniably the society is the custodian of a remarkably important collection. It is imperative that we take every step to preserve it and to make it available to all.
Guests at the soirée included the university's Vice Chancellor, Professor Gavin Brown and his wife, Diane, the former Vice Chancellor of Macquarie University, Professor Di Yerbury, acclaimed photographer-astronomer, Professor David Malin, Scientia Professor Eugenie Lumbers from the University of New South Wales, the ABC's Robyn Science Williams and many others.
The soirée was not without its formalities. President, Professor Jak Kelly set the scene, explaining the grounds for the celebration and thanking Professor Brown for so generously arranging premises for the Royal Society. He also thanked Professor Di Yerbury for her help in housing the Society and its collection at Macquarie University for some years. Councillor John Hardie spoke about the work that had been done on the collection through the funding, and outlined some of the recommendations from Peter Tyler's report. These included the urgent need to house the collection suitably so that it could be properly conserved and made available to researchers and the public alike. He also suggested that the Society should initiate a long-term project to "return Science House to Science". He reminded guests that Science House won the first Sulman Medal for Architecture for its architects, Peddle, Thorpe and Walker, in 1932.
Society member and former president, David Branagan, who was also one of the assessors, described some of the "treasures" he had examined and the insight they give to the development of our intellectual and scientific history from Colonial times. Professor Gavin Brown thanked the Royal Society for inviting him and his wife and congratulated the Society on its achievements in recent years.
It was after the formalities that guests were free to peruse the displays to the sounds of restful chamber music from the trio, Sound of Melody, adding to the already splendid atmosphere of the museum itself. David Branagan and members of the Council's grant committee were on hand to assist with enquiries and to point out items of special interest.
The evening finished on a high note when Society received an unexpected accolade from the Senior Curator of the Nicholson Museum, Michael Turner, who said that he had really enjoyed having so erudite and enthusiastic a group of people at the museum.
17 October 2006