Marble memorial to Thomas Hinderwell and his nephew

Rotunda Museum plaque
Rotunda Museum plaque

Written by Jeannie Swales

Today’s museum object is very easily overlooked, as it’s part of the actual fabric of the Rotunda Museum.

On the first floor is a marble memorial to Thomas Hinderwell Esq, and his nephew Thomas Duesbery Esq of Beverley. It was ‘inscribed’ by the Council of the Scarbrough (sic) Philosophical Society in MDCCCXXXVI (1836), who were ‘desirous of recording their veneration, for the virtues and scientific labours of the former, and their gratitude for the munificence of the latter’.

Rightly so, too. Duesbery had presented to the Society Hinderwell’s ‘splendid collection of fossil remains, minerals, and other specimens of natural history and antiquities, of great value and rarity.’ It formed the basis of the Rotunda, which was opened by the Society in 1829, and many items from it can still be seen in the museum today. You can also see a portrait of Hinderwell in the upper gallery of the Rotunda.

Born in Scarborough in 1744, Hinderwell was a remarkable man whose many achievements included the, at the time, definitive The History and Antiquities of Scarborough, and the Vicinity, first published in 1798.

Aged just11, he went to sea as a ship’s boy, becoming a master and eventually owner, and earning enough to retire to his home town in 1775 and become a prominent local figure – a supporter of the newly emerging philosophical sciences, including geology, and of many local charities. He was also instrumental in founding the town’s lifeboat, only the second in Britain, in 1801 – in those very early days, lifeboats were private ventures, with the RNLI founded (as the National Institution for the Preservation of Life from Shipwreck) in 1824. Hinderwell died in 1825, and is buried in St Mary’s Churchyard.

The Rotunda was one of the country’s very first purpose-built museums. It was designed to illustrate the geological principles of William ‘Strata’ Smith – the ‘father of English geology’ – and was a private museum for scientific debate, although the public was allowed in at a charge. Smith first came to live in Scarborough in 1820, so wouldn’t have known Hinderwell for long, but both were keen members of the Philosophical Society.

Scarborough Museums Trust tomorrow launches a guide, The William Smith Trail, which takes visitors around the Rotunda. There is also an outdoor trail. The booklet is available for a £5 refundable deposit at the start point for both trails, the Rotunda Museum reception desk, and marks the culmination of a partnership between the Museums Trust, the Rotunda Geology Group, the Friends of Royal Albert Park, Scarborough Civic Society, members of Scarborough Field Naturalists and Scarborough Borough Council.