Early Days (1876 - 1909)

When Bristol's University College (the predecessor of the University of Bristol) first opened to students, in 1876, it operated from a house on Park Row. The staff of two professors and five lecturers offered lectures in fifteen subject areas, including geology. Classes in geology were given by E. B. Tawney, an invertebrate palaeontologist and stratigrapher, who already occupied the post of Curator at Bristol Museum and Library. He held both jobs concurrently, combining the duties of lecturer and curator, and earning an additional £50 per annum plus 2/3 of lecture fees in respect of his lecturing duties.

University College's geology syllabus for 1876 included such familiar and diverse topics as: the solid crust and its constituent minerals; causes of change of climate; classification of rocks; volcanoes and earthquakes; history of the Earth; first signs of life; Permian age and close of the Palaeozoic period – extinction of numerous organic forms; mineral veins and deposits of metallic ores. The fee charged to students, for a course of two lectures per week for two terms, amounted to £3 and 3 shillings.

The close link between Bristol Museum and the fledgling University of Bristol was one which continued for many years. When Tawney resigned in 1878, to take up an appointment as assistant to the Woodwardian Professor at Cambridge, he was succeeded at both Museum and College by W. J. Sollas who was paid £100 per annum plus 1/2 fees. Courses in Geology were held in Bristol Museum, then at the corner of University Road and Queen's Road, rather than in the College's Park Row premises, and presumably relied on the museum's collections for teaching material.

By 1880, Sollas had been promoted to Professor of Geology and Zoology (at an increment of £50 per annum), but it was not until 1882 that he resigned from his post at Bristol Museum and Library, on the grounds that the University College required his entire services. Sollas's background was geological, although his interests and writings extended to zoological and anthropological subjects in his later years. He remained in the full-time post at Bristol for only a year, before accepting the Chair of Geology at Trinity College Dublin in 1883.

Sollas's successor in the Chair of Zoology and Geology at Bristol was Conwy Lloyd Morgan, who had previously occupied a position at the Diocesan College in Cape Town. Although developing his interests in psychology, he contributed to a better understanding of local geology and archaeology. He became Dean in 1887, and Principal of the College in 1891, spending increasing amounts of his time on administration and on campaigning for the charter which would establish the College as a University.

In 1894, S. H. Reynolds was employed to help Lloyd Morgan with teaching. Reynolds' appointment, to the post of Assistant Lecturer and Demonstrator in Biology, was to mark the beginning of a long career dedicated to the teaching of Geology and to the development of the department and its collections. By this time, the Department of Geology and Zoology was already established in the main college building on University Road, where it shared a single lecture room with several other departments. Office space was at a premium, so Reynolds' office doubled as a teaching laboratory and his work had to be moved whenever the table was required. The department's collection of geological specimens occupied a single cabinet, and its library comprised only two shelves of zoology and geology books with no periodicals.

In 1901, after Lloyd Morgan's research interests in the field of experimental psychology and animal behaviour led to his appointment to a new chair in Psychology and Education at Bristol, Reynolds succeeded him in the Chair of Zoology and Geology. His duties included teaching what we now regard as geography, as well as geology and zoology; for a short while he also taught botany. Geology did not become a separate department until 1910, the year after the royal charter was granted for the creation of the University of Bristol.

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