Amgueddfa Blog

Lewis Weston Dillwyn (1778-1855)

Lewis Weston Dillwyn is part of the influential Dillwyn family in south Wales during the 19th century. They were pioneers in photography, culture, industry, politics and science. Lewis Weston himself was a campaigner for social justice, a Whig MP for Glamorgan (1832-37), mayor of Swansea (1839) and a magistrate. He studied the natural world and advanced our scientific understanding of it, becoming a Fellow of the Royal Society and a founder member of the Royal Institution of South Wales.

Lewis Weston was born 1778 to William Dillwyn, an American Quaker and anti-slave campaigner. After settling in England in 1777, William was one of the 12 founding committee members for the Society for Effecting the Abolition of the Slave Trade formed in 1787. In 1802, William established Lewis Weston Dillwyn, then aged 25, as owner of Cambrian Pottery in Swansea. A year later Lewis Weston moved to south Wales and four years after that married Mary Adams, heiress of John Llewellyn, firmly establishing the Dillwyn-Llewellyn family’s influential position in south Wales. He was an abolitionist like his father but was also close friends with the De la Beche family who owned slave plantations up until the early 1830s. His son Lewis Llewellyn Dillwyn married Elizabeth De la Beche in 1838.

It was mainly during the time he was head of Cambrian Pottery that Lewis Weston studied algae.

The Book of Algae

Lewis Weston had a scientific interest in the natural world, most notably plants, beetles and molluscs. At a time when art, industry and science were often pursued in conjunction with one another rather than separately, he introduced many natural history designs onto the products made at his Cambrian Pottery.

The Museum holds Lewis Weston Dillwyn’s book of pressed seaweeds and algae. Inside are over 280 specimens of algae from both fresh and seawater, mainly from Wales and England. Many are thought to have been collected by Dillwyn himself, and many were sent to him by scientists from the UK and Ireland. The book contains algae that were completely new to science and described by Dillwyn for the first time. Some of these new to science algae were discovered for the very first time in Wales. The book is an early record of the natural heritage of Wales and a glimpse into the scientific life of a prominent 19th century philanthropist.

New to Science

It was particularly between 1800 and 1810 that Lewis Weston Dillwyn focussed on algae. He noted that Linnaeus, who was classifying the whole of the natural world, “was too busily engaged in the immense field he had entered on, to spare the time necessary for an investigation of the submerged Algae.” (Dillwyn, 1809, British Confervae). Dillwyn felt he had found a niche for his scientific study.

The algae that Lewis Weston studied was a group with very thin fine branching known as the Confervae. He collected specimens, pressed them and placed them into the book now held at the Museum. His many connections led to a network of scientists who would send him specimens he was interested in to his home in south Wales. He described 80 kinds of algae new to science.

Someone in Dillwyn’s position could afford to buy a microscope powerful enough to study this group which have very small features. He would also have needed expensive books and his standing in society meant he was able to access the libraries of friends such as William Jackson Hooker and of the Linnaean Society in London, where he was made a Fellow. It also meant he was able to discuss current thinking with other prominent scientists of the time and gauge where to place his efforts.

At the time, there had been little work done on this difficult to study group. Dillwyn knew the algae he was looking at were probably unrelated, but in his published work he put them into one group. He had done the initial pioneering groundwork to describe them but he himself modestly admitted that it was flawed. The pressed algae in his book at the Museum includes what scientists now know belong in many different groups: green algae, red algae, brown algae, lichens, fungi, cyanobacteria, stoneworts and diatoms. Dillwyn published the results of his studies in instalments, culminating in the publication ‘British Confervae’ in 1809.

 

Further reading

The Diaries of Lewis Weston Dillwyn, transcribed by Richard Morris: https://www.swansea.ac.uk/crew/research-projects/dillwyn/diaries/lewis-weston-dillwyn-diaries/

The Dillwyn Dynasty by David Painting (2002): https://www.swansea.ac.uk/crew/research-projects/dillwyn/dillwyn-day/dillwyn-dynasty/

British Confervae by Lewis Weston Dillwyn: https://www.biodiversitylibrary.org/bibliography/2189#/summary

Update: All competition entries must be submitted by 8pm on 30 June 2020.

Competition for 6-11 year olds. 

The Challenge: Use your imagination to build your dream museum in Minecraft. Decide how you would like the building to look and fill it with some of your favourite Museum objects. They could be anything from any of our seven museums, such as a Dinosaur, a Roman coin or a house from St Fagans!

Prizes: Win a VIP trip for you & your whole class to your chosen museum - when schools re-open!  A prize will be awarded to each year group (Yrs. 2-6).

Deadline: 30 June 2020

For Amgueddfa Cymru - National Museum of Wales' craft week, we've been asking our teams to share their passion for craft. Here, Head of the National Waterfront Museum, Steph Mastoris shares a little about his passion for letterpress.

Throughout my working life (and a bit before) I have been fascinated by the craft of letterpress printing –that messy process of covering metal and wooden type with ink and then squeezing a sheet of paper onto the surface to make a beautiful, clean impression. Although it sounds a simple thing to do, it actually requires much trial and error before a uniform and correctly-positioned impression of the type can be made repeatedly to create a leaflet or book. This also doesn’t sound very relaxing, but like most crafts it is totally absorbing and a wonderful way to give your mind a break from the day-job.

The biggest problem for anyone wanting to print by letterpress is that there is quite a lot of equipment needed just to get started, and it took me about ten years to find an affordable little press, type and all the bits and pieces to hold the assembled words together for printing. But printers are a friendly bunch and generous in giving advice and help to people like me who had no training in this inky art.

Steph Mastoris' work at the On the Brink show.

Like many amateur printers I started by making my own Christmas cards or type-works for special occasions such as weddings or christenings, using lovely old wooden type that is easy to set and gives a very textured impression, especially when printed on dampened hand-made paper. These I printed at first on an old office ‘nipping press’ (designed originally for copying hand-written letters before photocopiers were invented), then I acquired a proofing press from a prison workshop and then, in the early 1990s, a beautiful cast-iron Albion printing press came my way. This had been made in the late 1860s from an original design of about 1820 and still prints perfectly today. 

A few years after I moved to Swansea in 2004 to help set up the National Waterfront Museum I was lucky to join the Elysium Studios –a dynamic artist-led co-operative in the heart of the city. The additional space this provided meant that I could use proper metal type in my work. More importantly, having somewhere to print that was not on the kitchen table, which had to be cleared away for meals, meant that I could my take time to think through my work and move beyond just making pretty texts.

One of Steph Mastoris' letterpress triptychs displayed at an exhibition

As a result of this new-found freedom and the opportunity to talk with practicing artists I have become interested in using letterpress printing to explore the subtleties of language where punctuation, form and layout can change or create ambiguities of meaning. At its simplest the aesthetics and tonal impact of hand-printed wood type can be radically altered by enlarging it several hundred per cent. More subtly I use small typographic triptychs to draw the viewer’s attention to the three-dimensional quality of language that arises when similar-sounding words and the different silences between them are exhibited in plain, hand-printed type.

 

 

It’s almost two years since we opened the doors to the new St Fagans in October 2018. As well as the new galleries and main entrance that you see when you visit – we’ve increased the size of our learning spaces by 80%.Traditional Welsh craft has always been the beating heart of St Fagans. But there’s never been enough space to get you all in, get you inspired by the fabulous stuff in our Museum collections, and then let you make a big happy mess on the floor.

But now we can! We’ve got 3 studios in the main building with some swanky tech and loads of elbow room. They’re right beside our new ‘Collections Study Room’, where we can get precious and fragile objects out of the Museum collections. So you can see things, and we can keep them safe for future generations.

Then there’s Gweithdy, a gallery and craft workshop that celebrates the skills of makers across millennia. It has a workshop kitted out to run activities with more serious tools and bigger mess making.

Since 2015 we’ve been growing our programme of hands-on craft courses. While St Fagans was still a building site, we started with things that didn’t need special comfy places to learn. (If you book to do lambing or hedge laying, you have to be expecting sheep poo/thorns/bad weather!)

Then, in the last two years, we’ve expanded to include all kinds of exciting new subjects:

  • Blacksmithing
  • Enamelling
  • Machine embroidery
  • Spooncarving
  • Leatherwork
  • Basketmaking
  • Bread making
  • …and lots more

In 2019-20 we delivered 80 courses across 26 subjects. And the great news is that we have spread our wings to deliver sessions at our Museums across Wales. We’ve done Blacksmithing at Big Pit and the Slate Museum in Llanberis, Botanical Illustration at National Museum Cardiff, and Embroidery at the National Wool Museum.

Since those first few events in 2015, over 400 of you have come in, rolled your sleeves up, and had a go. Some learning brand new skills, others brushing up their technique. Some alone, others sharing special time with friends or family. The response has been overwhelming.

The Covid19 pandemic has put the brakes on everything for now. But in this moment of reflection, it’s clearer than ever that making matters. We know craft is good for us and our mental health. We know that if we learn to repair and love the stuff we already have, then it’s good for our planet too. So we will be back (when we’ve figured out all the tricky stuff) – and we look forward to seeing you then!

Here’s some of the lovely things you said about our courses:

  •  …lyfli gweld y Georgetown Oven yn cael ei ddefnyddio’ (Bread making)
  • Bread making Course was excellent with the added bonus of baking it in the Georgetown Oven
  • Roedd mynd i fewn i’r oriel i weld y casgliad o hen gadeiriau yn ffordd bendigedig o ddangos i ni y technegau oedd yn rhan anatod o greu stôl’ (Make a Stool)
  • The course tutor was superbly patient, encouraging, skilled, kind and funny. What a set of attributes!’ (Leatherwork)
  • I never believed we’d actually be so hands-on (Lambing)

 

It’s a pleasure to be able to share our thoughts as a Youth Leadership Network on Amgueddfa Cymru's platform. The SSAP Youth Leadership Network is the youth arm of the Sub-Sahara Advisory Panel. It constitutes a group of highly driven and critical young leaders from diverse backgrounds.

In our last meeting, we hosted a discussion on the topical issue of statues and paintings that relate to British colonial history, particularly those of Thomas Picton here in Wales. The session was chaired by Dr. Sarah Younan from National Museum Cardiff. We were joined by the highly esteemed comparative sociologist educator Abu Bakr Madden Al Shabazz, Dr. Douglas Jones from the National Library of Wales and the Director General of Amgueddfa Cymru, David Anderson. A noteworthy and recommended resource used here is James Epstein's “Politics of Colonial Sensation: The Trial of Thomas Picton and the Cause of Louisa Calderon” in the American Historical Review.

The following are excerpts from the discussion including key events in the history of Picton: the slavocracy he was responsible for as governor of Trinidad, his well-known trial for accusations of misconduct abroad (involving the torture of Louisa Calderon) and thereafter, his deployment to Spain, death at Waterloo and posthumous honorary tributes in the form of statues, paintings, and some literary works.

Who was Thomas Picton?

Picton was commissioned in 1771, and was, according to the description on his portrait by Sir Martin Archer in the National Museum Wales collections, "a controversial governor of Trinidad in 1797-1803". The details of the said controversy are well illustrated in his trial for inflicting torture on Louisa Calderon (The Trial of Governor T. Picton for Inflicting the Torture on Louisa Calderon a Free Mulatto and one of His Britannic Majesty’s Subjects in the Island of Trinidad, (London, 1806)).

The trial of Picton

To sum up the details of the trial, a cause célèbre at the time, we turned to the blog by Dr. Jones for the National Library of Wales. In 1806, Picton was called to a trial at the King's Bench following his authoritarian and brutal rule in Trinidad. The accusation leveled against him was signing off an order for torture at the request of a highly influential planter, Begorrat, a planter also responsible for the execution of a dozen slaves at the time of the torture in question. Several things made this torture notable, not least amongst which are the following facts. It was the torture of a 14-year-old freed girl. It was the first trial for misconduct of an official in the execution duties while in service abroad. And, as Willian Garrow, the lead prosecutor, noted at the trial, it was the first time torture had been used officially in Trinidad.

While the details of the case are unique, its nature is ubiquitous, the misconduct of a high official under the influence of highly influential personnel, devoid of moral courage, and hidden away using technical legalities. This is how Picton was found guilty at the initial trial, but would 2 years later find himself never to be sentenced. In fact, he would go on to serve the British empire in Spain and would end up as the highest-ranking official to die at Waterloo, eventually being buried in St Paul's Cathedral a national hero. His public exoneration was about as swift and inexplicable as this outlined turnaround of events. 

Depicting Picton Today

Today, he has a statue honouring his memory in Cardiff City Hall among the heroes of Wales, a portrait in National Museum Cardiff, and an obelisk in Carmarthen.

Perhaps the most unfortunate thing in all this is how the majority of us have become complicit in the obliteration of the history and memory of that free Mulata girl, Louisa Calderon. Instead, we have willingly or unwillingly contributed to the ever-growing memory of Sir Thomas Picton, as polarising as it has always been.  By obliterating the memory of Louisa Calderon, we have severely distorted our collective view of the big man. And readily, we have reduced Louisa to a single case, a stain in both the history of Picton, and British colonial history, a stain which regrettably many have washed away in a falsified sense of pride in the man.

If we attempt to reconfigure this distorted view of Picton to what we know was the more complete form of the man, many will be offended. They have every right to be, because many of them were lied to. They were never afforded the chance to make their own true and more complete judgement of the man. But they must take this offense, the rage at the sense of betrayal, and rightly turn it to the overdue redress. And now is the opportune time to do that.

The leadership panel suggests a number of ways in which this is possible

Suggestions for moving forward

The first and unquestioned is the removal and resituating of the current statues and paintings. The purpose of this is not to remove figures like him from history, but rather to put them in a contextualized environment, where their complete history can be more truthfully and completely told. This will allow our present-day collective memory of such figures to be rid of the bias that's been wrought by failure to tell their histories in the proper colonial context and in environments that allow all members of the public to digest this history.

Secondly, and an extension to the first recommendation, is multi-level education across different institutions responsible for public and private education. Notably, the attempts to re-educate the public should not place sole importance on the humanities but must make an honest attempt to diversify the contents of curricular in subjects such as the sciences.

We encourage members of the public to take an active role in engaging in the public discourse on the future of such statues, monuments, and memorabilia. These should not reflect the views of the elite few, but the public.

Our work with young people at Amgueddfa Cymru is part of the Hands on Heritage initiative kindly supported by the National Heritage Lottery’s Kick the Dust fund  - changing perspectives on heritage with the help of young people.