The Belfast Natural History Society and Museum.
From The Dublin Penny Journal, Volume 1, Number 30, January 19, 1833
There is not perhaps any public institution in Ireland, more interesting in its origin, or honorable to its members and patrons than the Belfast Natural History Society. It commenced among a few respectable young gentlemen of that town, nearly all of whom were engaged in commercial business, and who devoted those leisure hours to literary and scientific pursuits, which young men of their age and class too generally employ in folly or debauchery. They subscribed a small sum to pay for a room to meet in, and at their meetings curious objects of natural history were exhibited, and original essays were read and commented on. By degrees their numbers increased: young men who attended as visitors merely from feelings of curiosity, became captivated with the delights of knowledge, and zealously applied their minds to its acquisitions, and in a short time their numbers amounted to no less than sixty members. Of those meetings we can speak from personal observation, for about this period we happened to visit Belfast, and had the honor to be invited to one of them through their excellent president, Dr. James Drummond, and we confess, were never in our lives more surprised or gratified. Such a modest, yet manly gravity of deportment, such an orderly regularity, and such sound intelligence we could not have anticipated to have found pervading such a youthful assembly, and left an impression on our minds which will not speedily be forgotten. The meeting, indeed, was perhaps more than ordinarily interesting, for the duty of reading an original communication happened on that evening to fall in rotation on the most youthful member of society--a young gentleman then in his apprenticeship and eighteenth year--and a most excellent paper it was.
Their proceedings ultimately attracted, as they deserved, the admiration and applause of the older and wealthier citizens of this great commercial town and its vicinity; and a subscription was nobly entered on to procure the youthful society a public edifice for their meetings, and a depository for their valuable museum. The sum of twelve hundred pounds and upwards was speedily collected, since augmented to fifteen hundred; and on the 4th of May, 1830, the first stone of the edifice, represented in our annexed engraving, was laid by the Marquess of Donegal. On this interesting occasion, a bottle was deposited in the foundation stone, con- taining the current coins of the realm, copies of the various papers that have been published by the Belfast Natural History Society, an impression of the public seal of the corporation of the town, and the four verses following, from the twelfth chapter of Job, written in fifteen different languages, namely, the Hebrew, Greek, Irish, Welsh, Arabic, Latin, Italian, German, Danish, Spanish, Portuguese, French, Romaic, German-Hebrew, and English.
"Ask now the beasts, and they shall teach thee; and the fowls of the
air, and they shall teach thee:
"Or, speak to the earth, and it shall teach thee; and the fishes of the sea shall declare unto thee.
"Who knoweth not in all these that the hand of the Lord hath wrought this?
"In whose hand is the soul of every living thing, and the breath of all mankind."
With these there was a paper containing the following inscription:
Societatis Historiae Naturalis apud Belfastam
Sociis, aliisque multis scientiae faventibus
qui ad hoc opus pecuniam contulerant:
GEORGIUS AUGUSTUS CHICHESTER
MARCHIO DE DONEGALL
IV. Non Maias
Rege Augustissimo Georgio IV.
Annum Regni XI.
Thomas J Duff, J. Jackson, Architectis; J. Johnston, Redemptore.
The intention of the verses from the Bible, in so many languages is, that after the lapse of many centuries they may possibly serve like the Rosetta stone of Egypt, to unlock the mysteries of languages and books then no longer spoken or understood.
The building, which is now completed, is situated on the north side of College square. In the lower story are two apartments intended for a lecture-room and library. Each of the upper stories consists of a single room, forty-seven feet in length, and twenty-seven feet broad, both of which will be exclusively devoted to the purposes of a public museum. A chemical laboratory will be attached to the lecture room at no very distant day. The annual expenditure necessary to the support of the institution will be defrayed by the Natural History Society.
On the occasion of the first meeting of this interesting body in the present session, which was held on the 20th of October last, an address was delivered at the request of the society's council by the Rev. J. D. Hincks, M.R.I.A. In commencing it, he took occasion to notice the facility with which knowledge may now be acquired, contrasted with the difficulties which formerly retarded its acquisition; then dwelt on the humble commencement of this Natural History Society, when it consisted of only eight members; and, after touching on some of the different steps by which its progress had been marked, dwelt at considerable length on the vast range of objects which the science embraces, and the elevated pleasure which it affords.
THE BELFAST MUSEUM IS THE FIRST EVER ERECTED IN IRELAND BY VOLUNTARY SUBSCRIPTION, and it has our warmest wishes for its durability and success. We have marked the progress of the society to which it owes its origin with deep admiration, and we have sincere pleasure in placing it before the public as an example worthy of imitation, and deserving of national applause.