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Science Teaching at Keble College 1870 - 1957

Edward Talbot, the first Warden of Keble, expressed his interest in science teaching as part of the extra-mural curriculum for all undergraduates. His sermons in Chapel on Sundays often included references to important scientific matters of interest to Victorian intellectuals.

At the opening of the College in 1870 three tutors had been appointed in classics, theology and history and soon after two lecturers were appointed in mathematics and law. The College had no endowment and tutors’ salaries were paid out of fee income which did not amount to much. It was therefore not considered prudent to appoint a science tutor. Even so, in its first decade ten members of the College were awarded honours in Natural Science but their tutors were fellows of other colleges. However, in January 1880 Warden Talbot received a letter from Sir John Conroy Bt., a chemist whom he had known since they were undergraduates at Christ Church, asking if he could help him to find a place to work at Oxford so that he could continue his research on the optical properties of crystals. Talbot responded by offering Conroy the opportunity to build a small laboratory on land within the college grounds (the site now occupied by the Besse building) in return for teaching chemistry to Keble undergraduates one day a week during Full Term*. This arrangement worked well, providing the College with a science tutor at no cost. Conroy was able to grow the crystals for his research in the University Chemistry Laboratory (now known as the Friars’ Kitchen) at the southern end of the Natural History Museum. The crystals were then taken to his laboratory in Keble where Conroy measured their optical properties. The results of this research led to his election to The Royal Society in 1892.

In 1888 Conroy was elected to a Fellowship at Balliol and he was succeeded at Keble by the Zoologist William Hatchett Jackson. Jackson was an enthusiastic amateur meteorologist (he was a Fellow of the Royal Meteorological Society) and equipped the laboratory, which Conroy gave to the College, with instruments for atmospheric observations. The Fortin barometer, which he left to the College on his death in 1924, is now mounted in the SCR entrance hall. During his 36 years as science tutor he supervised the studies of 107 undergraduates, of whom 17 were awarded first class honours. In one year (1892) three of his pupils were awarded first class honours and the Warden proposed that Jackson should be granted an honorarium of £25 in recognition and this was approved by the Keble Council. Jackson also held the appointment of Radcliffe Librarian from 1900-1924 which supplemented his salary as Tutor and Sub-Warden. It is of interest that he only resided in Oxford during Full Term and spent the vacations at his home in Weston-super-Mare where he lived with his sister (E H Jackson). How he managed to fulfil his duties as Radcliffe Librarian only spending 24 weeks annually in Oxford was explained by Robert Wyatt (RSL librarian in charge of Radcliffe records) who disclosed that there is a large correspondence, between Jackson in Weston-super-Mare and the deputy librarian at the Radcliffe Science Library in Oxford, on matters relating to the administration of the library. It is clear that Jackson relied on his deputy to manage the library during vacations.

Conroy died in 1900 and bequeathed the sum of three thousand pounds to Keble to be applied to promoting the Natural Sciences. For over fifty years the senior science scholar was designated Conroy Science Scholar but this honour was discontinued when entrance scholarships were abolished in the 1970s.

W H Jackson died in office in 1924 (at the age of 80) and his sister Miss E H Jackson, who inherited his estate, expressed to Warden Kidd her interest in promoting the study of the sciences in memory of her brother. She subsequently bequeathed £7500 for the endowment of the teaching of science in the College. This bequest was received in 1947 and at that time could have been invested to provide the salary of a science tutor. Her bequest has never been publicly acknowledged although her gift of an oil painting is included in the bidding prayer commemorating benefactors at the St Mark’s day service in Keble Chapel. Jackson’s successor as science tutor was G D Parkes, a chemist recently graduated from the Queen’s College. In the letter of appointment the Warden stipulated that Parkes would be responsible for all the undergraduates reading Natural Sciences, Engineering, Medicine and Mathematics and would be expected to secure out-of-college tutors for subjects other than Chemistry. He received the same salary as the other Keble tutors until 1941 when he was appointed by the University as a departmental demonstrator in the Dyson Perrins Laboratory (Organic Chemistry). Some of these external tutors were appointed as college lecturers but it was not until 1957 when D F Shaw was elected as Physics tutor that the college had more than one science fellow. The creation of this tutorial fellowship was made possible by two factors: that the College paid all its fellows so that their combined salary, from College and University, was the same and University lecturers were paid nearly as much at a given age as Keble tutors with CUF lectureships. When Gordon Smith was elected to a tutorial fellowship in Geography in 1956 his College salary was less than he had been paid previously as a College lecturer. When Shaw was elected to a fellowship, Parkes was alerted to the anomaly and proposed that it should be rectified by paying University lecturer-fellows £200 per annum more than CUF-fellows. This differential, which the GB approved, was eventually removed in 1970 when the Centenary Appeal improved the financial status of the College enabling all tutorial fellows to benefit with enhanced college salaries.

Written by Dennis Shaw
Tutorial Fellow in Physics 1957-1975, Professorial Fellow 1975-1991

Acknowledgements: Rob Petre (Keble College Archivist) provided references from Keble archives and Robert Wyatt (RSL Administrator) provided references from the Radcliffe records. Without their help the task of providing this brief article would have been more difficult.

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