Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins on Creating Crystal Palace Dinosaurs

Illustration from Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins’ (1854) public lecture on creating Crystal Palace Dinosaurs
Illustration from Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins’ (1854) public lecture on creating Crystal Palace Dinosaurs

Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins (FGS, FLS) was the sculptor who created the Crystal Palace Dinosaurs. Specifically, he created over thirty statues of prehistoric animals for the Crystal Palace and Park (Sydenham), which opened in June 1854. The statues included dinosaurs (Iguanodon, Megalosaurus, and Hylaeosaurus), Mesozoic marine reptiles (Plesiosaurus, Ichthyosaurus, and Mosasaurus), other extinct reptiles (Dicynodon and Labyrinthdon), and mammals from the Tertiary Period (Anoplotherium and Palaeotherium) and Quaternary Period (Megaloceros and Glyptodont). Others were planned but not built. 

Waterhouse Hawkins was a skilled promoter of his works. He engineered the famous “Dinner in the Iguanodon” media event for New Years Eve, 31 December 1853.

Waterhouse Hawkins discussed the making of his famous statues, and his underlying ambitions for the exhibition as a whole, in an evening lecture at the Royal Society of Arts on Wednesday May 17, 1854. The Crystal Palace and Park in Sydenham was on the verge of opening (details), and publicity for that event was well underway.

There’s more than publicity in Waterhouse Hawkins’ lecture. The statues offered “visual education,” Waterhouse Hawkins explain. This can be summarised as, “a picture is worth a thousand words”. Children will remember what they see far longer than anything they might read, he argued. Education needed to make more use of visual materials, he said, and educators needed to work harder to create visually useful materials for the classroom. 

Alongside his lecture that evening, Waterhouse Hawkins also put on display models and drawings of his sculptures as well as sixty photographs by Philip H. De la Motte (view some of these photographs via English Heritage or in book form via Crystal Palace Foundation). Waterhouse Hawkins delivered this talk elsewhere in England during 1854.

Illustration from Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins' (1854) public lecture on creating Crystal Palace Dinosaurs
Illustration from Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins’ (1854) public lecture on creating Crystal Palace Dinosaurs

The Morning Post(London) called his talk “highly interesting and very able” (19 May). The Standard (London) reported the lecture, too (19 May). On the same day, the society published Waterhouse Hawkins’ lecture in full:

Waterhouse Hawkins, Benjamin. 1854. On Visual Education As Applied to Geology, Illustrated By Diagrams and Models of the Geological Restorations at the Crystal Palace. Journal of the Society of Arts(78): 443-449 (view original below or via Google Books).

The text of Waterhouse Hawkins’ lecture has been reprinted several times. What’s exciting about reading the original via Google Books is a glimpse at the post-lecture discussion. It’s clear his audience was amazed by the quality of his work. They also took up his point about education, suggesting the models Waterhouse Hawkins had made might be copied and distributed to schools across the country.

Waterhouse Hawkins also plan a significant, but unsung, role in the creation of the visitor’s guide to the statues: 

Owen, Richard. 1854. Geology and Inhabitants of the Ancient World  (London: Crystal Palace Company), 48 pages. 2013 facsimile edition By Euston Grove Press. ISBN 978-1-906267-36-0.

 

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