Local Heroes:

J W Stather, Tom Sheppard and the East Riding Boulder Committee

by Mike Horne FGS

read to a joint meeting of the Geological Society, Hull Geological Society and Yorkshire Geological Society

at Hull University on 27th October 2007

(updated April 2009)


J W Stather and Tom Sheppard has a huge influence on the study of East Yorkshire geology. They filled key roles in the first 56 years of the Hull Geological Society and were both past Presidents of the Yorkshire Geological Society.

John Walker Stather (1857-1938) was an amateur geologist who ran a local family firm manufacturing wallpaper. He was a founder member of the HGS and was the Secretary for nearly fifty years. He carried out research and published several papers in the Naturalist, HGS Transactions and YGS Proceedings. Amongst his contributions to the understanding of the Quaternary of the region are his excavations at Bielsbeck, his fascination with the quartzite pebbles of the Wolds and "Stather's Section", a large raft of oolite at South Cave.

Thomas Sheppard (1876-1945) was the first Curator of Hull Museums who, despite promising at his job interview that he would not spend the budget on specimens, managed to fill nine museums by the time he retired and his acquisitiveness on behalf of the city was notorious! He was the author of nearly 300 books and papers about East Yorkshire geology, but also wrote about geology outside of the Riding and on numerous other topics - he was a true polymath. He did much to raise the profile of geology, science, museums and Tom Sheppard. He is probably best remembered amongst local geologists for his "Rambles", bibliographies and ensuring that the details of every small geological find were published for the benefit of future scientists.

Although the British Association's Boulder Committee began its work in the early 1870s Holderness seems to have been largely ignored until the formation of the East Riding Boulder Committee in 1892 with the encouragement of Percy Fry Kendall. The "committee" members systematically recorded and published reports of glacial erratics in the region until it was discontinued in 1935. The HGS rejuvenated it for its Centenary in 1988 and still hold regular field meetings as a means of introducing the public to local geology and scientific research.

A young Tom Sheppard with J W Stather, Dr F F Walton and J Stears

(the water diviner from Hessle) on a HGS field meeting at Withernsea



It is a great privilege and pleasure to be able to talk to you about some of my geological heroes. Although I never met them they have influenced my interests in geology and I expect have had an impact on many others too.

I must start with a small apology - the great Hull flood of June 27th 2007 has meant that this paper is not as complete as I had hoped - I lost some information on my computer, the library was closed for 5 weeks and the library basement which houses many old publications and archives was badly affected.

I have often thought that studying geology (stratigraphy and palaeontology in particular) is a bit like trying to do a jigsaw that has most of the pieces missing. Well researching into family history or the lives of our scientific ancestors is similar - we may have some dates and publications recorded which make up the corners and edges of the jigsaw but most of the centre is missing. We know something about what they did but we rarely know anything about their character.

This special occasion as part of the Geological Society's Bicentenary celebrations is an opportunity for us to remember the geologists who founded our science and whose contributions to research have given us such a rich starting point for our own studies.

In particular it is fitting to pay tribute to Tom Sheppard because as far as I know the Geological Society, YGS and HGS did not publish obituaries when he died. I would like to think that this was due to shortage of paper during the War.

The East Riding Boulder Committee

The Yorkshire Boulder Committee was formed in about 1886 and it ran in connection with the Boulder Committee of the British Association for the Advancement of Science. It published annual reports in The Naturalist and the BA's proceedings . In 1887 Prof. A H Green of Leeds chaired the Committee, which also included Rev E Maule Cole of Wetwang and William Horne of Leyburn. Reports were collected by Samual Adamson FGS in Leeds.

They gathered the following information about the erratics:-

But they did not seem to have created a collection of type specimens, nor a set of definitions.

There seems to be a lack of reports from the East Riding.

The Hull Geological Society formed the "East Riding Boulder Committee" in 1893, following a request from Mr Tate of the Yorkshire Boulder Committee and a visit from P F Kendall, who at the time was the President of the British Association's Boulder Committee. The newly formed Committee had great plans to divide the area up in to 4 square mile squares and allocate responsibility for each one to a Committee member. It became obvious that the members were lacking in experience in petrology, so Prof. Kendall travelled from Leeds once a fortnight to teach a petrology course, bringing with him a microscope and specimens, "free, gratis and for nothing"! [Stather 1928]. It is not clear to what extent the group of members functioned as a formal Committee; it was probably more a case of individuals providing reports when the occasion permitted. They certainly got off to a good start with numerous erratics being recorded - 2070 in 1896 and 2600 in 1897, for instance. It is not clear that they ever achieved their goal of systematically surveying the whole of the Riding.

By 1900 they seem to be concentrating on the coastal erratics and Stather was publishing analyses of the data. He records the fact that nearly 4000 boulders greater than 12 inches in diameter had been counted by members of the Committee, and shows the distribution of some of them, for example Chalk erratics by percentage:-


locality percentage of Chalk erratics
Barmston 17
Skipsea 14
Atwick 36
Hornsea 19
Mappleton 12
Aldborough (N) 24
Aldborough (S) 9
Thorp Garth 4
Hilston 3
Tunstall 3
Withernsea 3
Hollym 9
Hompton 12
Out Newton 2
Dimlington 3
Easington 14
Kilnsea 7


[Stather 1900]

Reading through the reports I would have to agree with Sheppard that J W Stather did "the lion's share of the work", producing many reports and statistical analyses of the proportions of the major groups of erratics distributed by locality and horizon.

It could be said that the Boulder Committee movement culminated in the posthumous publication of Harmer's map in 1928 showing the geographic distribution of the erratics in England, in the same volume of the YGS Proceedings as J W Stather's Presidential Address about the vertical distribution of the erratics.

The East Riding Boulder Committee was formally disbanded in April 1935.

But it was revived in April 1987 in preparation for the Hull Geological Society's Centenary Celebrations. Though not a formal committee, it has been the vehicle for special field meetings to Holderness to offer local amateurs a taste of scientific research and as an excellent way to engage with beginners and the public. Three reports have been published in Humberside Geologist and the Secretary keeps the the latest reports updated on the World Wide Web. Maps showing the distribution of key erratics were exhibited at a joint meeting of the YGS and HGS in 2004.

J W Stather FGS

John Walker Stather's grandfather Thomas Stather ran a private school for "young gentlemen" in Cottingham. His father John Stather was a printer who founded the firm of John Stather and Sons Limited with a "washable wall hanging manufactuary" on Leonard Street in Hull. As a boy he lived at 92 Colonial Street and then 34 Spring Bank in Hull. He lost two younger sisters and a younger brother in the Cholera epidemic of 1864, which led to a lifelong obsession with water purity and cleanliness at home. John entered the family business and married Alice Runton in 1890. They lived at 226 Spring Bank, Hull in 1892 and 1893 [YGS membership lists] and moved to 16 Louis Street in 1893 [YGS membership lists] and to "Brookside", 36 Newland Park, Hull (now replaced with a more modern building) probably in 1906 [Kelly's Street Directories for 1905 and 1907] . "Brookside" was probably one of the first houses build in Newland Park before 1884 and was two semi-detached houses; number 36 being the one on left when viewed from the road. It had been desinged by the architect William Bottrill, who also designed the layour for the road.Bottrill lived there until it was bought by Stather. [Information from S Whitaker]

The wallpaper company went out of business during World War II due to the shortage of raw materials. [M Stather - unpublished family history notes]

He was a founder member of the Hull Geological Society and the first Secretary, a post he held for just under fifty years, until his death, apart from the two years when he was the President (1901-3).

His son John Runton Stather was a member of the Hull Geological Society and was Vice President in 1963-5. His nephews Arthur John Stather (joined 1898, Recorder in 1900, rejoined in 1920, died 1940?) and William Herbert Stather (1934-1942 and 1952-1956) were also members of the Society.

The family were very involved with the New Methodist Connexion in Hull. They first had a small chapel on Beverley Road on the corner of Cave Street which was built in 1849; this is now the Pentecostal Glad Tidings Hall. Later they built the Stepney Chapel on the opposite side of Beverley Road. J W Stather laid the foundation stone for this new church on Good Friday in 1868. The Chapel is described as being "a neat Gothic building of white brick, dressed with red brick and stone" which could seat 600 worshipers [anon viewed 2007]. It has now been demolished and on the site is now a disused Kwik Save Supermarket. The smaller chapel on the corner of Cave Street was later reopened as the Chapel's Sunday School. Thomas Stather, John Stather and J W Stather were in turn Treasurers of the Chapel and its trusts. J W Stather was the organist from 1880 until 1910, and was succeeded in that role by his nephew Arthur John Stather. [anon 1919].

His first publications were about erratic boulders. In his 1928 Presidential Address to the Yorkshire Geological Society he returned to the theme. He explains how Clement Reed and G W Lamplugh introduced him to J W Davis, J R Mortimer, T Boynton,and J R Dakyn at Sewerby. "At first the Hull amateur felt rather shy and a bit in awe of these veterans, but that impression soon passed away under the kindness and good fellowship characteristic then, as now, of Yorkshire Geologists". He goes on to say that he visited the Holderness Coast with P F Kendall in 1890: "all of this was quite new and vastly interesting to local geologists, and from that time forward the hunting of erratics became a fascinating hobby for many of us and Dimlington became a Mecca to which pilgrimages were often made.

In 1903 he became the Secretary to the Committee of the British Association formed to investigate the Quaternary deposits at Kirmington in Lincolnshire. G W Lamplugh was the Chairman, and the rest of the Committee consisted of Tempest Anderson, J W Carr, Rev W Lower Carter, A R Dwerryhouse, F W Harmer, J H Howarth, Rev W Johnson, P F Kendall, H B Muff, E Y Newton, Clement Reid and Thomas Sheppard. [The Naturalist 1906, p86-]. The work at Kirmington was completed in 1905, with Stather jointly supervising the drilling of boreholes at Kirmington and Limber. They also compared the deposits with the Speeton Shell Bed, presenting a report to the B A annual meeting in York [ibid].

In 1904 he coordinated a visit to Bridlington to examine exposures of the Bridlington Crag provided by the foundation pits for the building of a new sea wall and promenade and ensured that fossils were donated to Hull Museum (Sheppard 1904 HMP19).

Publications -

J W Stather's geological interests were mainly local, but quite varied. As well as publishing reports of the Boulder Committee he chose the distribution of erratics as the topic for his Presidential Address to the Yorkshire Geological Society [1928].

His other interests within the Quaternary geology of East Yorkshire and the surrounding areas concentrated the unusual bits. He was the Secretary to the Committee that investigated the Kirmington deposits. He was also fascinated by the shelly deposits of Kelsey Hill, the Speeton Shell Bed and the Dogger bank.

He played a major role in excavation and investigation of the fossiliferous deposits at Bielsbeck in the Vale of York.

He also tackled the "quartzite pebbles" of the Wolds. He recorded the presence of quartzite and red sandstone pebbles at high levels on the Yorkshire Wolds and recognised that these were not deposited by the last glaciation.

I have heard it said that trying to understand the Quaternary of our region is like trying to establish how many times a black board has been cleaned. Most of what we see is the latest deposit, but in places there patches of earlier material, and our task is to find a relationship between them. J W Stather attempted it, and it is fascinating to see what a good job he did of it.

Bibliography of J W Stather's geological publications.

Memberships and honours -

Thomas Sheppard MSc, ALS, FGS, FRAI, FRGS, FSA(Scot), FZS, MBOU.

When we carry out geological research it is often a case of trying to fill in the gaps. The same is true about researching our family history - it is a bit like doing a "join the dots picture", and some pictures have more dots than others, Well Tom Sheppard did leave an awful lots of dots for us to join - he published a lot of material, held many positions in organisations and was not shy about reminding us of his importance!

Thomas Sheppard was born in South Ferriby, Lincolnshire, on 2nd October 1876. His parents were Harvey Sheppard (1848-1912) from Wiltshire and Myra (maiden name Havercroft, 1854-1938). His parents were both school teachers, his father later being a headmaster in three Hull schools from 1877 [Seaward 2004] including the Craven Street Municipal School [Sitch 1992]. Harvey was descended from a family of shoemakers living in the Kimpton - Ludgershall - Collingbourne area, on the boundary between Wiltshire and Hampshire.

Tom was the oldest of ten children. Harry was the Treasurer of Beverley Borough Council. Harvey was a Superintendent Engineer working on steam trawlers. Walter was the company Secretary for Reckitts Limited of Hull. His younger sister Mary (ca 1889 to 1989) became a school teacher and headmistress at the Boulevard School in Hull. Ann was a lecturer in Dairy farming at Reading Agricultural College. [Sitch 1992]. A niece Myra Sheppard (1906-1998) taught at the Boulevard School in Hull and was a founder member of the Avenues Residents' Association [anon 1998 and S Wilson pers comm]

His brother George became a geologist. George joined the Hull Geological Society in 1901 and published a few articles about geological specimens in Hull Museum. He graduated from the University of London in 1914, at the same time as Thomas Stainforth, local naturalist and originally Tom Sheppard's assistant at the museum before the War. Presumably he entered the services for the War as it is recorded that in 1916 he suffered from shell shock [HGS minutes]. Having obtained a PhD, George went off to work as a geologist in Ecuador, working for Anglo-Ecuadorian Oilfields Ltd. and as the State Geologist (though not necessarily in that order) . He was awarded a DSc by London University in 1931 for a thesis about the geology of Ecuador. He wrote some books and articles about the geology, climate and mining industries of the country. He later returned to the UK and lived in Cheltenham [HGS accounts] and was a major in the army during the second world war [anon 22nd February 1945] . He attended the 75th Anniversary Dinner of the the Hull Geological Society bringing a Jubilee Medal with him to show others [F Whitham anecdote].

Sheppard Family Tree

Part of Thomas Sheppard's family tree. [note: dates are approximate +/- 1 year as the information is mostly derived from censuses].

Over the years he lived at the following addresses -

[* notes by P Boylan; ** notes by M Seaward; note for Kelly's Directory dates - the data was probably gathered the year before publication.]

Thomas left school at the age of thirteen, his final year being as a student-teacher; though occasionally his first occupation is listed as school teacher. He then worked as a clerk for the North Eastern Railway ( or Hull and Barnsley Railway ) at Goods Station in Kingston Street and later at the Dock Offices (now the Town Docks Museum). Working for the railway gave him access to free railway travel which enabled him to explore the countryside of East Yorkshire and study its geology [M Sheppard 1986]. He also travelled to South Kensington to study, gaining certificates in a wide range of subjects including geology [Seaward 2004] authorising him to teach the subject.

He joined the Hull Geological Society in 1893, though it is written elsewhere that he was a founder member. He published his first short paper in The Naturalist in 1895. He may have written the first draft of Geological Rambles in East Yorkshire in 1894 [M Sheppard 1986], Sitch [1992] states that it was first published as a series of newspaper articles in 1895, but it was not published as a book until 1902 or 3 or 4 or 5 (it has no date of publication) and contains photographs of the Alexandra Docks excavations from W H Crofts's 1901 papers in Transactions of the Hull Geological Society and Proceedings of the Yorkshire Geological Society.

In 1901 he married Mary Isobel ( or Isabella [Sitch 1992] ) Osborn (ca 1877-1947) and they had one son Harvey (born 1902) [Seaward 2004]. To his disappointment Harvey did not take up an interest in geology, specialising in history and literature at Oxford [T Sheppard letter to F J North at National Museum of Wales 1926]. Harvey is listed as being a Surveying Engineer and living at 36 Alliance Avenue in Hull in the 1930 Kelly's Directory. At the time of Tom Sheppard's death Harvey was a Squadron Leader in the Air Force and married [anon 22nd February 1945]. Harvey records that his "father was not a family man" [in Sitch 1992].

Tom Sheppard remembered visiting the Museum of the Hull Literary and Philosophical Society in the Royal Institution in Albion Street when he was young, paying the penny entry fee and finding he was the only visitor [Schadla-Hall 1989]. The museum was falling into decline and was presented to the city council in 1899 [Horne 1989]. The council were keen to use the building as an art gallery. Representatives of the Hull Scientific and Field Naturalists' Club and the Hull Geological Society lobbied the Corporation to employ a curator who would respect the collections. Tom Sheppard later admitted that he "may have been among them" [1913] . In 1901 two people were interviewed for the post, Tom and Oxley Graham, an Oxford graduate [Sitch 1992]. Tom thought he was offered the job either because he promised not to spend the funds or because he "knew least about museums" [Sheppard 1913].

Tom Sheppard was a prolific writer. According to my records he published nearly 300 short notes, paper and books about the geology of East Yorkshire, varying in length from one line to 629 pages.

The University of Hull's East Yorkshire Bibliography lists 445 papers and books written, edited or compiled by T Sheppard on - archaeology, geology, medals, local history, architecture, pottery, natural history, heraldry, coastal erosion, drama, geography, history, geomorphology, archives, maps, local industries, water supply, antiquities, coins, newspapers, agriculture, archery, anthropology, farming, shipping, ceramics, clay pipes, child welfare, theatres, ornithology, wildlife conservation, churches, spinning wheels, anthropology, microscopes, scales, railways, the public understanding of science, museum displays, history of science, museum origins, Flint Jack, William Smith, John Phillips, Martin Simpson, Andrew Marvel, William Wilberforce and royal visits.

If we add in all the other papers and short notes published there must be over 1000 publications. And when I read the pages of The Naturalist I wonder how many of the 'anonymous' pieces were also penned by Tom.

He did not, as far as I know, publish anything in the Journal of the Geological Society.

(adapted from a drawing by Miss L Jacob published in

Evolution of the Drama in Hull and District by T Sheppard.)

Tom Sheppard had an active interest in local theatres and drama. From his book about the subject (1927) it would seem that the Hull Shakespeare Society broke away from the Hull Literary and Philosophical Society perhaps with Sheppard as Chairman. They originally held their meetings at the Young People's Institute (the YPI) but soon moved to the larger Shakespeare Hall in Story Street, "where it eventually became responsible for a suite of rooms some of which where sub-let to other societies in the town - the Scientific Club, Hull Geological Society...". Sheppard became the President of the Hull Shakespeare Society, which then broadened its interest by becoming the Hull Shakespeare and Playgoers' Society and then shortened its name to the Hull Playgoers' Society. It would seem, from reading a poem by Miss Agnes Canham included in Sheppard's book "at the request of several of those present" at a dinner to celebrate 21 years of his presidency, that Sheppard helped them when in financial difficulties "Oh Good Shepherd, Tender Shepherd", argued with the insurance agent over the valuation of their furniture damaged in a fire at the Shakespeare Hall and hosted agreeable committee meetings at his house "Steady with the soda"! As well as performing at their own premises they also performed elsewhere including the Royal Institution and the Lecture Hall which later became the Little Theatre in 1924. Although independent of the Playgoers, the Little Theatre was supported by the members, Tom Sheppard was involved in both, and it changed its name to the Hull Repertory Theatre in 1928. There is no evidence that he acted in any of the plays but he probably produced some [P Boylan notes].

Things started to decline for Tom, in the late 1920s and early 1930s. In 1928 he started to sell off his collection of maps and journals. In 1930, 1 or 2 he moved house to Anlaby Park. He probably separated from his wife at this time. "On advice" he gave up the editorship of The Naturalist and compiling geological bibliographies in 1932. The Yorkshire Naturalists' Union presented him with a portrait in oils as a mark of appreciation, which I think is still in Hull Museum's collections . In 1933 he donated his collection of "author's reprints and pamphlets" to the University of Leeds, inclusung archives relating to various Yorkshire scientific societies and the notebooks and records of J W Taylor [The Natruarlist p 37] .

There are rumours that he had a fondness for whisky, as well as persistent money problems.

He retired reluctantly in September 1941 at the age of 65. Some members of the Council wishes to retain his services until the end of the War, but others insisted that retirement age had to apply to all employees. He soon sold some of his journals to the Library of the University College in Hull. He was struggling to live on his pension and asked to resign from the Hull Geological Society, but in response the Society made him an Honorary Life Member. The Museum in Albion Street was bombed and destroyed in 1943. This must have been a huge blow to Tom Sheppard. He did not attend many meetings of the Hull G S in 1943 and 1944.

Memberships and honours.

He was :

(* from a list he published in 1907 as editor of The Naturalist)

(** perhaps longer)


[* I thank Paula Gentil for providing information about the current status of these collections]

According to Sheppard (1903) the origin of the Museum dates back to the foundation of the Hull Literary and Philosophical Society in 1823, who soon hired two rooms at the Exchange in which to display their specimens, opening on July 15th 1823. The first curator was W H Dykes. As the collection expanded they then moved to the building known to Sheppard as the Assembly Rooms in Jarratt Street in 1831 and then built their Royal Institution in Albion Street in 1835. "Eventually the Society presented the collection to the town and on June 2nd 1902 the Hull Municipal Museum was thrown open to the public." Sheppard thanks many people for their assistance including geologists C G Danford, C D Sherborn and J W Stather, as well as the HGS and HSFNC. The plan of the museum shows that 8 of the 42 display cases were devoted to geology; though these were not open to the public in 1903. The Geology Gallery had been opened by 1907, with " table-cases ... largely devoted to a collection of fossils illustrating the strata of East Yorkshire" with specimens of a similar geological age from other parts of the country in wall cases above them (Sheppard 1907).

In 1903 the Museum had a staff of four - T Sheppard was the Curator, Thomas Stainforth was his Assistant, E J Raper was an Attendant and F Parrott a Junior (Sheppard 1903). By 1907 F Parrott had left, and F J Lockyear was working as a clerk and W Bartley as an attendant, both at Wilberforce House.

The Brigg Boat was discovered in April 1886 during the building of a gasometer. There was a dispute between the Lord of the Manor V Cary-Elwes and the Brigg Gas Company over the ownership which was settled in favour of Cary-Elwes in the High Court (Sheppard 1910) and he put it on display near Brigg Station. In April 1909 Sheppard persuaded Cary-Elwes to donate it to Hull Museum (Sheppard 1910). The 48 foot long dugout boat, made from a single oak tree, was transported to Hull, restored and put on display.

Another large exhibit was the skeleton of a large Sibbald's Rorqual suspended from the ceiling. This was found stranded at Spurn in 1836 and was the subject of the first Hull Museums' Publication (Sheppard 1907). It was the type specimen of Balaenoptera sibbaldii and it was traded with the Natural History Museum in London 1935 (The Naturalist).

Sheppard was often able to bring his interests together in a way that specialists tend not to. For instance in writing about flint knapping workshops in the Flamborough area he notes that "most Neolithic implements in East Yorkshire have been made from tough, dark-coloured flint, which is very different from the light-coloured splintery flint which occurs in the Yorkshire Chalk." (Sheppard 1910) and he says that these "far traveled boulders of black flint ... occur in the glacial clays and gravels, and ... have been derived from the bed of the North Sea" or further east than that.


When I look back at Thomas Sheppard's life and achievements it is hard not to judge some of his practices against our modern academic standards. It seems that his museum collecting policy was not as ethical as ours, his publications contained very little that was original that he carried out, he often recycled material in later papers, he occasionally plagiarised other people's work, he was a self publicist and was considered by some to be merely a "populariser". Well yes; set out against modern academic standards where any hint of plagiarism or un-originality is considered to be a major transgression, this was probably true, but let us look more closely at this.

Author -

Stather and Sheppard were born in a time when there was great excitement about science and amateurs still made the major contribution. There was still so much to record and explain about local geology. They were both passionate about it. Many other local people felt the same, that is why the HGS was founded and published its Transactions.

Sheppard's writing style was not unusual for its time: a less formal layout, quoting previous published works rather than just referring to them, including anecdotal information from fellow geologists, a bit loose with citations and references. It was quite similar to many other writers of the time including Lamplugh. But above all it was very readable for both the scientist and the interested member of the public. By the time he died this was less acceptable.

Today, perhaps because of the higher cost of printing, we don't quote from other papers but expect the reader to have access to a good library and look it up for themselves. We tend not to use anecdotal evidence because it is considered less reliable. Where we do include comments and help from others we call it "collaboration" and tend to invite them to be co-authors or separate their work out into an appendix. Although modern scientific writing is precise and concise, it is not easily readable by the public - we break up the text with citations and expect them to know what we are talking about -- scientific writing has become exclusive.

Sheppard not only was passionate about the local geology, he wanted to share it with everyone. He also appreciated the ephemeral nature of exposures so he wanted to get the facts into the public domain so that they were available in the future when the site had been lost. I think he appreciated that others may not publish the information that they had. He encouraged some to publish, but if they wouldn't he would: the scientific information was more important than the author, even if that pushes the boundaries of plagiarism.

Sheppard wanted to reach as wide an audience as possible. He often published exactly the same paper in several journals and then republished it as part of Hull Museum's Publications. Today journals will only publish original work that has been published no-where else.

The HGS's present journal Humberside Geologist does not have a large print run. But it does have a very open editorial policy: allowing authors to revisit topics that have been previously published and containing a mix of styles from the chatty to the formal academic layout. The advent of the world wide web has allowed a wider audience to read it for free. It also gives authors the opportunity to produce different versions of the same paper - a formal scientific version with citations and references and a chatty version without them. I hope that Tom Sheppard would have approved.

Sheppard certainly did not spend his life carrying out detailed research into one specialised aspect of local geology, something that today gets our respect. He was an opportunist who published whatever turned up whenever the chance presented itself. His first official position in the HGS was "Recorder" and he certainly recorded a lot, for which we all should be grateful.


As well as republishing papers in several places, Sheppard often reused text and images several times. "Geological Rambles in East Yorkshire" contains the same colour map as J F Robinson's Flora of East Yorkshire, both published in January 1904 by Browns of Hull, who also sold the map separately.


Firstly Sheppard did seem to have the knack of being in the right place at the right time. This may have been deliberate or purely coincidental. For instance in the late 1890s the HGS lobbied the city council to take over the Museum of the Royal Institute and when it did Sheppard was appointed as the first Curator. Leeds University honoured local naturalists with honorary degrees and the young Sheppard happened to be the retiring President of the YNU. And he is President of the HGS for its 50th anniversary and so he designs and markets an anniversary medal with the President's head on one side and an ammonite named after himself on the other.

More importantly, Sheppard was passionate about geology and wanted more people to visit the Museums. He understood the importance of the press and how to get their interest. He was the president of the local journalists' club so he had good contacts. Even today I know that if I want the local press to cover an event I have to give them what they want - they are more interested in people than objects and events. There even seems to be a formula - they want a picture of a cute child looking at a big fossil through a magnifying glass with an "expert" grinning in the background. And this is not just in local newspapers: one such photograph is on the cover of the latest Earth Heritage Magazine the "geological and landscape conservation magazine"! [issue 28, summer 2007]

To interest the press we need to give them the human aspect and/or a controversy to entice them in. Bluntly we need a publicity stunt. Sheppard was good at this and one fine example is when he took local a press photographer to the mudflats at Spurn to show how he could forge "Loch Ness Monster" footprints using the elephant's foot that was his office umbrella stand! A perfect stunt to debunk some bad science reported elsewhere.

Although we have the best intentions of drawing the public's attention to our science we have to inform the public through a media that is more interested in personality. In doing so we risk becoming a "personality" (or "media tart") and alienating some of our colleagues in the process.


Apparently when he took the post of Curator of Hull Municipal Museum he was told not to spend any of the budget on a acquiring new specimens and exhibits. He did the exact opposite. by the time he retired there were 9 museums in Hull and a new "street life" style museum being prepared. Along the way he had acquired the collections of the Mortimer Museum from Driffield and Chadwick's Malton Museum.

One of the criticisms of Thomas Sheppard was that he was not so ethical in the ways he obtained specimens for the collections.

He was certainly very astute when it came to acquiring quality exhibits. On hearing that there was a rival bit for the Brigg Boat he sent a wagon to collect it and then allegedly telegraphed the rival to say come and get it from Hull if you are still interested! He also used his contacts to obtain exhibits for Hull ; such as the Tutankamun replicas from the Wembly exhibition.

Apparently he was greeted at a meeting by Percy Kendall "Hello Sheppard, how's thieving"! But Kendall did seem to be a good friend to Sheppard and Sheppard did admire him, so the anecdote is probably friendly banter rather than a snide dig. Mike Boyd (former Keeper of Natural History at Hull Museums) told me several other anecdotes about Sheppard borrowing specimens from other Museums and then "losing" them. I was in Hull Museum's Natural History storeroom recently, researching material for this paper, and saw a lovely ammonite labeled "found in store", which shows that mistakes in documentation happen even today!.

There are published cartoons which show Sheppard filling his pockets which I have seen bound into Sheppard's own library copies of journals. This makes me wonder if this reputation was largely mythical because Sheppard seemed to go along with it or even enjoy and encourage.

Rewriting history.

Thomas Sheppard, and those writing about him, do seem to have a habit of claiming that he did things before he actually did. For example he claims to have started compiling the Bibliographies for The Naturalist in 1891 [1933, p 109]; contributing to The Naturalist in 1892 [editorial 1932] .

Contradictory evidence.

It is probably inevitable that discrepancies creep in to publications about someone's life, particularly memories of them when they have died. And in Sheppard's case perhaps due to his enormous number of publications and tendency to embellish stories!

Here are a few that I have encountered which I thought would be useful to record -

Harvey Sheppard (Thomas Sheppard's father) is rather difficult to track down. Seaward [2004] states that he was born in Wiltshire in 1848. The 1891 Census records that he was living at 3 Victoria Avenue in Hull and was born in Kimpton, Hampshire 41 years earlier. The 1861 Census records a Harvey Sheppard aged 10 born in Kimpton, son of Thomas, a shoemaker, and Charlotte, both born in Kimpton, living in Ludgershall in Hampshire. But there is also an IGI record of a Harvey Sheppard being Christened at Collingbourne Kingston in Wiltshire on 4th July 1852 who was the son of Charles and Lucy Sheppard. I cannot find Harvey Sheppard on the 1871 and 1881 censuses. His name is sometimes spelt without the "e".

Myra Havercroft is listed as "Mira ... aged 6" on the 1861 Census living in South Ferriby, Lincolnshire, with her parents and siblings including her sister Mary aged 7. Her parents were George Haverecroft born in Ferriby and Jane born in Hull. On the 1871 Census there is a Myra Havercroft aged 16, born in South Ferriby, living in Mile End Old Town in London as the niece of Henry and Jane Jefree who were born in Hull. Did Harvey Sheppard meet Myra Havecroft in London?

It has been stated that Tom Sheppard was only born in Lincolnshire because his mother was visiting her sister, but his brother Harry was also born at South Ferriby in 1878. Was this an attempt by Tom to claim to be a true Yorkshireman?

He left school at 13 but was probably a "Scholar Teacher" before he left, but sometimes it is claimed that he was a professional Teacher - e.g. Fry 1945..

His wife's name is listed mostly as Mary Isobel Osborn, but in Sitch 1992 her middle name is "Isabella".

Most sources say that he worked for the North Eastern Railway, but one says the Hull and Barnsley.

Tim Scahla-Hall states that he moved to 46 Anlaby Park Road from 353 Anlaby Road because it had been bombed during the war (presumably WWII); there is evidence that he moved about 1930-1 (see above), perhaps due to his separation from his wife.

Reference and further reading

Bibliography of J W Stather's geological publications.

Bibliography of T Sheppard's publications

Extracts from publications and archives.

Lost collections


I wish to acknowledge the help of and thank - Dr Felix Whitham for anecdotes about J W Stather; Mrs Marcia Stather for copies of documents and information about the Stather family history; Prof. Mark Seaward for permission to us extracts and illustrations from The Naturalist; Pamela Martin for help with searches of the archives at the Treasure House in Beverley; Prof. Patrick Boylan for the loan of notes, letters and documents; Paul Richards for photographs of the Tom Sheppard ammonite; Paula Gentil of Hull Museums for allowing me access to the Museum archives, giving permission to reproduce pictures and providing information about the current status of Sheppard's museum collections; Stepanie Wilson for information about Myra Sheppard; Tim Schadla-Hall for permission to use extracts and illustrations from his book; the staff of the Local History Library in Hull; Stephen and Sue Whitaker for information about the history of Newland Park; Anne Horne for help in the Library searches and with proof reading.


Abbreviations -

HGS - Hull Geological Society

THSFNC - Transactions of the Hull Scientific and Field Naturalists' Club,

YGS - Yorkshire Geological Society

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