PSNS was founded in 1867. The 1860s was a time when the Industrial revolution was in full swing, the British Empire was at its height, Darwin had recently published his “Origin of Species”, Alfred Nobel invented dynamite and Mendeleev was just about to publish his “Periodic table of the Elements”. The World was on the cusp of modernity. Perth was in a period of rapid economic growth fueled by Whisky, linen, the dyeing industry and the emerging Insurance business. Natural Science was a fashionable hobby and, in 1867, the amateur scientists of Perth founded a Society. The PSNS. The founders were led by Dr Francis Buchanan White, an expert on Butterfly classification. Early members included well-known figures such as St Thomas Moncrieffe, Robert Pullar, James Geikie, Andrew Coates, Patrick Geddes and D’Arcy Wentworth Thompson.
Buchanan White, who was the first President of PSNS, proposed creating a museum in Perth to house the Society’s growing collection of specimens, including trays full of insects and stuffed animals and birds from Perthshire, Scotland and all over the globe. In 1883 the Society opened the first Perth Museum on Tay St. This was donated to the City of Perth in 1903 and the collection was finally moved to the current building on George St in 1935. In return for the donation the City Council agreed to allow the Society to meet in the Museum and to house the Society’s Library. Today, this is one of Perth’s little- known treasures. As far as we know this is the most complete example of a Victorian Natural History Library in private ownership in the UK and possibly, the World.
Buchanan White was an important and influential character. His opening address to the PSNS, in 1867, setting out his vision of a Local Museum supported by an active natural History Society was widely recognized as a model for museums throughout the UK. He also founded the Perthshire Mountaineering Club as an offshoot of the PSNS.
Photography was an important component of PSNS right from the beginning. Back then, it was a true science and its practitioners needed a deep knowledge of optics and chemistry. Magnus Jackson, who is famous for documenting the life of Victorian Perth, was an early member of PSNS.
The Society continued to meet through the 20th Century with only a short break during the Second World War. It celebrated its 100th Anniversary in 1967 by transforming the view from Tay St across the river. Until that time, the upstream end of Moncreiffe Island was a low-lying, stony bank. The PSNS planted the grove of trees that, today, look like they have been there forever.
From the 1950s through the 1980s another photographer came to prominence in the Society. Dr Bill Findlay worked at PRI but was an avid documenter of the changing architecture of Perth. In 1984 he published a book “The Heritage of Perth” that is full of wonderful black and white images of the city. Today, it is a collector’s item.
From the 1970s to recent times one name was synonymous with PSNS, Miss Rhoda Fothergill. Generation of pupils at Kinnoull and Caledonian Rd Primary schools remember her. Until age and ill health prevailed she was, possibly, the greatest ever authority on the history of Perth. As well as being secretary of PSNS for more than 40
years Miss Fothergill wrote innumerable pamphlets and booklets on the history of the city – many of them as projects with her pupils.
2017 marks the 150th anniversary of the founding of the Society. The sections are still going strong with over 150 members. They meet on Wednesday evenings throughout the Winter with an interesting program of talks and workshops. And on Friday evenings the Society runs a public lecture series in collaboration with Culture Perth and Kinross. “Curious Minds” explores the theme of contemporary science in Scotland. We invite leading scientists to come to Perth and talk about their work – with no jargon, no formulae and in language anybody can understand. Afterward, we open the floor to a general discussion. Last year, we had speakers on topics as diverse as Mud Houses in the Carse of Gowrie, the Human Genome and the discovery of Gravitational Waves. It was a tremendous success and we have an equally interesting programme lined up for 2017/18.
But we also have a number of Special events to celebrate the 150th. There will be an exhibition on the History of the Society in Perth Museum. “The Study of Nature” will run from 6th September to 4th November and you will be able to see many of the original specimens and artefacts.
From Sept 16 to 30th the Photography Society will show an exhibition in the newly renovated Civic Hall at 2 High St. This will feature some original Magnus Jackson prints from the 1860’s, some of Dr Findlay’s work from the 1960’s and, of course, some modern work by the Society’s members.
On 22nd September we have invited the famous Scottish Photographer, Colin Prior, to speak about his work. This will take place in St Matthews Church on Tay St. The talk is entitled “The Living Mountain” and will feature Colin’s wonderful landscape photographs from Scotland and further afield.
And finally, we have our Special Guest. If anyone can be said to embody the idea of a “Curious Mind” it is Dame Evelyn Glennie. She has agreed to come to Perth for an evening of conversation. She will talk about how she has overcome profound deafness to become one of the World’s leading musicians. This isn’t a concert but she will bring some of her instruments and perform some demonstration pieces. The event will be moderated by James Waters, of Horsecross, and the audience will be able to ask questions and join in the conversation. This is a first for PSNS and a “one of a kind” event for Perth. It should be a fascinating evening.