Warwickshire Museum and its geological collections owe much to the Reverend Peter Bellinger Brodie. Peter was born in 1815 and grew up in London where his father was a barrister. Peter’s interests soon turned to the new science of geology. His studies caught the attention of the Curator of the Royal College of Surgeons who proposed him, at the age of 18, as a Fellow of the Geological Society of London. He was elected to the society in January 1834, before leaving London to study at the University of Cambridge.
As well as his religious studies, at Cambridge he found time to pursue his interests in geology. Throughout his career as a curate, Brodie was assigned to parishes in many parts of England. Many were in areas of great geological interest and allowed him time to continue his investigations. Through the 1840s he became a national expert on fossil insects, collecting thousands of specimens.
Vicar at Foleshill and Rowington
In 1852, Brodie was appointed vicar of St. Laurence’s Church, Foleshill, Coventry. After just one year he swapped his post to become vicar of Rowington, near Warwick. He held this post until his death nearly fifty years later, in 1897. He joined the Warwickshire Natural History and Archaeological Society, and was elected Honorary Curator of Geology the following year. He founded the Warwickshire Naturalists’ and Archaeologists’ Field Club in 1854.
Brodie was an enthusiastic collector, visiting local quarries, making new discoveries and adding to the collections of the Warwickshire Natural History and Archaeological Society. Many were displayed at the Market Hall Museum in Warwick, as some are today.
The Murchison Medal
In 1887 the Geological Society of London awarded Brodie the Murchison Medal, for his outstanding contributions to geology. In his reply at the presentation ceremony, Brodie gives us a taste of the the tension between the two “callings” of his life:
After searching the rocks for more than half a century, and having been a Fellow of the Geological Society of London for 53 years, it might be expected that I should have done more to enlarge our knowledge of geology; but of course my time was not entirely at my own disposal in this respect, and I could therefore only study Natural Science in the closet and the field during hours of leisure…..” “I regret that distance from London and the higher duties of my profession prevent my attending our meetings so often as I could wish…
Brodie was being modest about his achievements. When he died on 1st November 1897 aged 82 he left us a legacy of scientifically important fossils and publications. The Warwickshire Museum is caring for Brodie’s remarkable collection to this day.