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Monday, 06 July 2015

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History & Archaeology Society

THE subject of the talk to West Cumbria History and Archaeology Society in March was the extraordinary story of Joseph Ritson Wallace in creating early museums in the Isle of Man and West Cumbria, culminating in the one at Distington.

The talk, by Harry and Margaret Fancy, showed Harry’s dedicated work over 30 years to research the subject while he was curator of Whitehaven Museum and in his five-year residence in the Isle of Man after his retirement.

Joseph Wallace was born at Lorton in 1805 and the farming family had several properties, one of which was at Distington. He was educated at Paddle School, Eaglesfield, Distington and Moresby.

Wallace had considerable artistic talents and became apprenticed to Messrs Johnston and Manley, sugar refiners in Whitehaven. The trade was in decline, however, and so he began to pursue his interest in painting and collecting specimens for a museum.

Joseph Ritson married Elizabeth Lonsdale in 1832. Her mother had a 16th share in the Liverpool brig Zeno and her half-brother, the ship’s captain, had a further 12 shares, making a quarter in all. Wallace joined the ship on a voyage to the west coast of South America, a mere nine days after his wedding! On the 16-month voyage he collected vast numbers of ethnographical and natural history specimens and decided to set up his museum in Douglas, Isle of Man.

He also started a newspaper, was its editor and was a naturalist, artist, taxidermist, silversmith, jeweller, joiner, carver, bookbinder, angler and marksman. The Isle of Man museum made a loss and closed in 1842.

He came back to the Distington property and opened his museum there in 1850. Wallace lived until 1895 and the items in the collection were sold.

There are photographs of many of the exhibits and some of the most important ones are still in various museum collections.

Our summer programme starts with a visit to the medieval farming settlement at Muncaster Head, meeting at Eskdale Green at 6.45pm on Wednesday, May 4.

For further details contact Len Watson on 019467 24634.


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