Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Follow Meteorite Manuscripts on Facebook too!

Meteorite Manuscripts now has a fan page on Facebook that can be accessed at:

Meteorite Manuscripts!/pages/Meteorite-Manuscripts/152949358073543?v=wall

Be sure to check the page to see what's up or to make any suggestions or comments.

Thanks to everyone for their interest in Meteorite Manuscripts, and best wishes for the New Year.


Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Correspondence of the Sydney Mining Museum - Part III - Rocks

The study of very thin sections of rocks with polarized light was developed by the British scientist Henry Clifton Sorby (1826-1908) who presented a key paper on the subject in December 1857 before the Geological Society of London.  In his paper, entitled “On the microscopical structure of crystals, indicating the origins of minerals and rocks”, he laid the foundations for the modern study of petrology.   The paper was subsequently published in the Quarterly Journal of the Geological Society in November 1858.  By 1860, Sorby was corresponding with French scientist Daubrée about his petrographic technique, and in the early 1860s, Sorby was studying meteorite samples in this manner.

But British scientists were slow in following his lead, and it fell to the German scientists Ferdinand Zirkel (1838-1912) and Harry Rosenbusch (1836-1914), the latter residing at  Heidelberg University for most of his academic career, to cement the accomplishments of Sorby into the foundations of geologic investigation.  Zirkel wrote his text Lehrbook der Petrographie in 1866, and Rosenbusch wrote Mikroscopische Physiographie der Mineralien und Gesteine in 1873, and their publications, which underwent many editions, established the two men as prominent petrologists of the time. 

 Harry Rosenbusch (1836-1914)
(click once or twice to enlarge)

A letter found in the correspondence of the Sydney Museum was written on August 6, 1902 by Rosenbusch apparently to George W. Card, who had just become curator.  A partial transcription follows, and the reader can note the difficulty in deciphering Rosenbusch’s handwriting from the images of the letter below.  The letter reads in part:

Mineralogisch-geologisches Institut
Univeristät Heidelberg , August 6th, 1902

Dear Sir,

You have bestowed upon me a great favour by sending such interesting rock chips of Australian rocks and I want to thank you very much.  I had hoped to study these rocks and then communicated what I observed but the load of official work toward the end of our semester was overwhelming and did not leave me an hour of leisure. 

Rosenbusch then indicates that he is about to head to the country for geological surveys and will be back in Heidelberg at a later date to study the rocks and will write again at that time.

As you offer so kindly sending specimens of your rocks, I must say I should be happy for every one of them and for all you can spare.  I am very fond of our petrographical university collection, and I dare say, is the richest in Germany in foreign rocks, given by all the students from abroad. 

Rosenbusch then states that he is looking forward to the results of studies on the Barigan rocks, discusses some technical details and then concludes:

I congratulate you finally from all my heart that you intend to give analysis to your rocks.  Studies of rocks without analyses are similar to the study of money without a knowledge of the metal from which they are made.


H. Rosenbusch

Page 1: 1902 letter from Rosenbusch to Card
Copyright © Mark I. Grossman
(click image once or twice to enlarge)

Page 2: 1902 letter from Rosenbusch to Card
Copyright © Mark I. Grossman
(click image once or twice to enlarge)

The correspondence further illustrates the interest of scientists abroad in obtaining Australian specimens through the assistance of the Museum, and C. S. Wilkinson and George W. Card appear to have had an active correspondence with some of the most noted scientists in Europe.

One footnote of interest – Die Meteoriten in Sammlungen und ihre Literatur was one of the early bibliographies on the history of meteorites and meteorite falls which is still useful today, although it was published in 1897.  The book was written by E. A. Wülfing, who was a student of Harry Rosenbusch.

And a last note - Best wishes to eveyone for a healthy and happy New Year!



Davis A. Young, Mind over magma: the story of igneous petrology, Princeton University Press, 2003.

Norman Higham, A very scientific gentleman: the major achievements of Henry Clifton Sorby, Pergamon Press, 1963.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Sydney Mining Museum - Part II - Fossils

One of the early letters to C. S. Wilkinson, the founder of the Sydney Mining Museum collection, was written by Baron Constantin Ettingshausen in 1886.  Ettingshausen was a noted professor of botany at the University of Graz in Austria who studied the fossil floras of Australia and New Zealand.  One of his important works was his 1888 publication Contributions to the Tertiary flora of Australia.

Wilkinson, Geological Surveyor-in-Charge, and T. W. E. David, Geological Surveyor, collected plant fossils from tin mining areas in the Vegetable Creek and Elsmore regions of New South Wales and sent them to Ettingshausen for examination, who responded with the following letter to Wilkinson:

8 Laimburggasse
Graz, Austria
the 3rd August 3, 1886

Dear Mr. Wilkinson,

As I have promised you, I send you close by the list of numbers and names of species of your collection.  You will see that a great number of Fossils have been described and figured, and only a small number of them are not determinable.  As it was necessary to prepare some of the Fossils, I have found some new specimens, which I have carefully kept and numbered with the following numbers.  I enumerated them in a supplementary list close by and have forwarded them to you with the others all.  I packed the Fossils very carefully and hope that they will arrive well preserved at Sydney.

I am, dear Mr. Wilkinson,
Yours very truly
Baron C. Ettingshausen

Page 2 of the letter is displayed below (single click on image to magnify; single click again on magnified image to enlarge further).

Copyright © Mark I. Grossman

Several species of fossils were named after Wilkinson, such as Fagus Wilkinsoni, which is figured on Plate II of Ettingshausen's Contributions to the Tertiary flora of Australia (upper left hand corner of image below; single click to magnify; single click again to enlarge further).

Be sure to check the next few posts which will cover correspondence related to the mineral and meteorite collections of the Sydney Mining Museum.


Thursday, December 9, 2010

Early Correspondence of the Sydney Mining Museum Uncovered

A few years ago I was fortunate enough to purchase at auction a lot of letters that once belonged to the Mining Museum, The Rocks, Sydney, Australia.  At the time, I didn’t fully realize the significance, because I was primarily attracted by the letters written by the likes of European scientists Daubrée, Berwerth, Brezina and Lacroix to C. S. Wilkinson and George W. Card of the Museum.

But I am still kicking myself, because I had to let a second lot of correspondence go to another bidder – correspondence that included letters from several noted British mineralogists, if I recall.

In any event, I was not aware of the history of the museum until fairly recently.  C. S. Wilkinson,  Geological Surveyor-in-Charge, started the geological collection in 1875, which would eventually include not only rocks and minerals, but fossils and meteorites as well.  The magnificent Garden Palace constructed for the Sydney Exhibition of 1879 became its home, but on Sept 22, 1882 the museum caught fire and an estimated 50,000 specimens were destroyed.   

George W. Card became curator and published a handbook of the Museum's collection in 1902.  It appears that he assembled the letters into an autograph album, unfortunately using a bit too much glue and pasting one or two of the letters down in rather precarious positions, but preparing manuscript labels for each one just the same.

In 1996, the Mining Museum was closed and the contents were dispersed in various ways, some rather unfortunate.  It appears that some items were discarded, others put up for auction, and perhaps other specimens donated or lost.  A history of the Museum which I found on the web indicates that early records have not been found.  

That is, until now.  In the next few posts, I will include samples from some of the Museum's correspondence. 

In the interim, a picture of part of the Museum’s collection that is included in Card’s Handbook is displayed below (single click on the image to view a larger one; click again to enlarge further).  


Source:  Card's Handbook, Google Books


History of the Mining Museum: 

George W. Card, Handbook to the Mining and Geological Museum, Sydney, Geological Survey of New South Wales (1902).  Available for view on Google Books.