William Chapman Hewitson – Naturalist, Author, Illustrator, Benefactor and Oologist

Over the last few months I’ve had a chance to reflect on some of the fascinating authors whose works I encounter while performing my role as the librarian at the Great North Museum: Hancock Library. One of the names that crops up on a regular basis is that of William Chapman Hewitson. As well as being a writer on the natural world, his name appears as the benefactor who donated many of the rare books that belong to the Natural History Society of Northumbria’s wonderful library.  For this blog I thought I’d undertake some research into Hewitson. This is what I discovered.

William Chapman Hewitson was born in Newcastle on 9 January 1806. From his early years he developed an interest in the study of the natural world that would become a lifelong passion.  Among his friends were the marine biologist Albany Hancock and his brother John, taxidermist and naturalist. He also knew the zoologist Joshua Alder and the geologist William Hutton.

Portrait of W.C. Hewitson

Hewitson was a founder member of the Natural History Society of Northumberland, Durham and Newcastle Upon Tyne which first met on 19 August 1829 and he played an active role in this organisation, becoming an Honorary Curator of Entomology. As a young man he had formed extensive collections of British coleoptera (beetles) and lepidoptera (butterflies).

Another of his interests at this time was the study of birds and their eggs. The culmination of this work was the publication of “British Oology: Being Illustrations of the Eggs of British Birds, with Figures of Each  Species….” published between 1831 – 1838.  For  this  two volume  work Hewitson personally produced the exquisite colour illustrations of the eggs that are included.  It is also thought that the word “Oology”, meaning the study or collection of birds’ eggs, was first used in this publication.

Guillemot eggs illustration from “Oology”

Hewitson was also a keen and adventurous traveller at a time when such exploits could be fraught with risk and danger. In 1832 he undertook a journey to the Shetland Islands and in 1833 he and his friends John Hancock and Benjamin Johnson went on an expedition to Norway. Their object was to collect all kinds of natural history specimens, but more particularly to visit the breeding places of those birds which migrate to this country for the winter. They sailed from Newcastle in a Scotch brig and landed at Trondheim seven days later. Here they packed their baggage on a cart and set off on foot for the Arctic Circle. They suffered considerable hardship at times and often had to subsist on the birds they shot, but they reached their goal in safety. After spending three months in Norway they returned home bringing many treasures with them. Included in their collections were the eggs of the Capercaillie, Fieldfare, Turnstone,  and Golden-eyed Duck which at that time were unknown in Britain.

In the summer of 1845 with his old friend John Hancock for his companion, he went on a naturalist’s expedition to Switzerland and the Alps, where he obtained, by a combination of capture and purchase, a fine series of diurnal lepidoptera, and the materials for a paper upon them which he contributed to the journal “Zoologist”.

During this same year Hewitson had inherited a considerable sum of money. This legacy enabled him not only to travel but also to relinquish his profession as a railway surveyor and dedicate himself to his natural history studies on a full-time basis. In 1848 he moved from Hampshire to Oatlands Park in Surrey where he commissioned the famous Newcastle architect, John Dobson, to build him an impressive mansion. He married Hanna Higgs on 3 June 1852, but sadly, she died in early 1854. There were no children from the marriage.

The passion for entomology that was a central component of Hewitson’s life resulted in him writing and illustrating a number of important works on this subject.  These included his noted five-volume publication “Illustrations of New Species of Exotic Butterflies….” that appeared between 1856 – 1876. This included 300 coloured plates drawn by Hewitson that vividly demonstrate his considerable artistic talent.

Illustration from “New Species of Exotic Butterflies”

Other works that Hewitson authored on the subject of lepidoptera include “Illustrations of Diurnal Lepidoptera”, “Equatorial Lepidoptera” and “Genera of Diurnal Lepidoptera”

William Chapman Hewitson died on 28 May 1878 at Oatlands, leaving no heir to his fortune.  He made a bequest of £3000 to the Natural History Society of Northumbria and also bequeathed 166 books to the Society’s library. This is one of the most significant donations from an individual to the collection.  Among the titles are some of the most treasured and important works in the NHSN library, including a first edition of Charles Darwin’s “On the Origin of Species….” and a copy of Edward Lear’s lavishly illustrated “Parrots”.

Illustration from Edward Lear’s “Parrots”

In total Hewitson bequested £51,200 to a range of bodies including the Newcastle Infirmary, this equates to over six million pounds in today’s prices.  His estate at Oatlands was bequeathed to his closest friend, John Hancock, while the British Museum was left his butterfly collection, some pictures, and watercolours, in addition to his stuffed birds. He was buried at Walton-on-Thames.

I hope that you have found this blog as interesting to read as I found it to write. William Chapman Hewitson was a fascinating character who made a significant contribution to the study of the natural word and also proved to be an invaluable supporter of the Natural History Society of Northumbria and its library. All of the books that are mentioned in the blog are available to view at the Great North Museum: Hancock Library, which is free to use and open to everyone.  At the moment the Library is temporarily closed because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Further information about the library can be found at https://greatnorthmuseum.org.uk/collections/library-and-archives

I would like to thank the Archive of the Natural History Society of Northumbria for the use of their portrait of Hewitson, and the Biodiversity Heritage Library for the other images used in this blog.

As a charity, Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums rely on donations to provide the amazing service that we do and our closure, whilst necessary, has significantly impacted our income. Please, if you are able, help us through this difficult period by donating by text today. Text TWAM 3 to give £3, TWAM 5 to give £5 or TWAM 10 to give £10 to 70085. Texts cost your donation plus one standard message rate. Thank you.

Meet Neville – Customer Service Assistant at Discovery Museum

Long-standing front of house staff member of Discovery Museum, Neville, shares what life is like inspiring the public with tales of local history, and his favourite object in the museum.

What I do

“I have been interested in history and how things work since childhood. I am a customer service assistant at the Discovery Museum, part of the front of house team.

We’re the first point of contact with our visitors face to face; it’s my job to meet and greet people, tell them what’s on offer at the museum, direct them to facilities like the café, shops, toilet and suggest donations. In general, just let people know what to expect from the museum and what exhibitions are on display, but that’s just the start!  I’m also one of Discovery Museum’s first aiders.

Neville at Madame Tussards at the Visit England Awards for excellence 2006 – Silver Winner

Why I like my job

“I really enjoy meeting new people and making them feel welcome; it is rewarding work, and no two days are ever the same. I’ve got 20 years of experience and knowledge now, and endeavour to make their visit as enjoyable as possible, so that they leave with not only a good impression of the museum, but of Newcastle and the people of the North East. At least that’s the hope! Good customer service skills are essential.

Neville taking a museum tour

“As Discovery Museum is part of the Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums (TWAM) group I often share information about other TWAM venues in the area and offer ‘tourist information’. I’m often found conducting specialised guided tours for historical societies or community groups visiting the museum and I really enjoy sharing the heritage of our area.

My favourite object

“Many colleagues think that my favourite object is the Turbinia ship (Charles Parson’s speedy steam-turbined trailblazer) but it’s not.

Turbinia, Discovery Museum’s largest exhibit. The world’s first steam turbine driven vessel and for a time the fastest ship in the world.

“I think the most underrated item in the collection and one often overlooked is the Jury Rig Propeller made by the crew of the steam ship Kennet in 1899. If there is one item that shows what people can achieve when faced with a near catastrophe, this is it.

[TWCMS : 1995.341] Jury propeller from the steam ship Kennet, made from iron, wood and concrete, successfully fitted and used when she lost her propeller in mid-Atlantic in 1899.

Sketch of the Jury propeller

“The story goes that travelling between Italy and South America the Kennett lost its own propeller in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. After spending three weeks making a new propeller out of wood and metal from the ship, the crew spent a further week installing it. With the additional help of some hastily made sails they travelled a further 1,200 miles to reach safety at a very speedy 4 miles an hour!

“As well as the ship being made in the north east (Hartlepool) some of the crew also have a north east connection.

Crew of the Kennet with the propeller.  Members of Kennet crew hold propeller: L – R – Chief engineers 2nd & 3rd engineers, first mate second mate & Captain

“I find my job very rewarding. I have a passion for the venue and what its collections offer the visitor – I don’t think it’s something that you can fake!”

*At the time of writing, Discovery Museum is closed because of the global Covid-19 pandemic. Neville has been temporarily transferred to work as a Newcastle City Host on Northumberland Street, Newcastle. He continues to use his customer service skills helping people navigate the new distancing guidelines in the city as the lockdown eases.  Neville will return to his usual duties when the museum re-opens in September 2020.

As a charity, Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums rely on donations to provide the amazing service that we do and our closure, whilst necessary, has significantly impacted our income. Please, if you are able, help us through this difficult period by donating by text today. Text TWAM 3 to give £3, TWAM 5 to give £5 or TWAM 10 to give £10 to 70085. Texts cost your donation plus one standard message rate. Thank you.

From Hornel to Peploe: Early Modern Scottish Art in the Laing Art Gallery

Art historian and curator Alice Strang takes a look at early modern Scottish art in our collection.

Edward Atkinson Hornel (1864-1933), The Little Mushroom Gatherers, 1902, Laing Art Gallery, Newcastle, TWCMS: C649

Edward Atkinson Hornel (1864-1933) was one of the celebrated ‘Glasgow Boys’ who were at the forefront of the Scottish art world of the late nineteenth-century. He was born in Bacchus Marsh, Australia but grew up in Kirkcudbright in Dumfries and Galloway. He trained at the Trustees’ Academy in Edinburgh and at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Antwerp. On his return to Scotland in 1885, Hornel became friends with George Henry (1858-1943) with whom he travelled in Japan from 1893 to 1894; the trip was to have a profound impact on both artists’ work. In 1901 Hornel declined election to the Royal Scottish Academy and purchased Broughton House in Kirkcudbright, which became his home, studio and gallery for the rest of his life.

The Little Mushroom Gatherers of 1902 is a fine example of the paintings which Hornel made after the flush of radicalism demonstrated at the start of his career. His sister Elizabeth, with whom Hornel lived, arranged for local children to sit for him. He would devise various activities for them to recreate, in this instance gathering mushrooms, but in others picking flowers, chasing butterflies and playing with balloons, for example. Hornel would set these scenes in local woods and beaches, with an emphasis on childhood innocence, idyllic weather and beautiful natural surroundings. In The Little Mushroom Gatherers three girls are carefully rendered absorbed in their task. The colours of their clothing blend with those of their environment, seen in detail in the tree at the lower left and more freely represented in the background hills. Areas of representation and abstraction play with notions of pattern, surface, depth and volume, recalling lessons learnt from Japanese art and combining innovation with tradition. The painting was purchased for the collection in 1915.

Flora Macdonald Reid (1861-1938), Comrades, 1905, Laing Art Gallery, Newcastle, TWCMS: G1311

Flora Macdonald Reid (1861-1938) was born in London to Scottish parents. She studied at Edinburgh School of Art and received tuition from her brother, the better-known John Robertson Reid (1851-1926). Reid exhibited for the first time at the age of sixteen, when her work included in the Royal Scottish Academy Annual Exhibition of 1877. On returning to London in 1881, Reid regularly participated in group exhibitions there and in Edinburgh, Glasgow and Paris. She travelled in France, Belgium and Norway and developed an assured Naturalism with parallels to the work of artists including Jules Bastien-Lepage (1884-84) and George Clausen (1852-1944). Her first work to be acquired for a public collection was purchased by Dudley Art Gallery in 1894.

An interest in capturing moments of daily life developed into depicting narrative scenes, as in Comrades of 1905. Reid painted it whilst living in Polperro, during ten years spent in Cornwall. Its impressive scale – the canvas measures 62.3 by 92.5cm – belies the intimacy of its subject matter, the bond between an elderly man and a young girl. They are seen holding hands on a bench beside an outdoor market and their clogs suggest a scene observed in Belgium. The child nestles a doll in her lap and looks at her companion. Rather than returning her gaze, he looks into the distance, apparently lost in thought. Behind them a sun-dappled market is laid out beneath a canopy of trees, providing glimpses of stall holders and customers.

Comrades was shown at the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition of 1905 and in the International Exhibition in Rome of 1911. Comrades was presented to the collection in 1934 by local businessman George E. Henderson (1844-1937), who bequeathed the remainder of his collection to the Laing following his death five years later. Although traditional in subject matter and technique, Comrades is by a successful Scottish artist of international standing, who was a pioneering woman in her profession.

Francis Henry Newbery (1855-1946), The Lady of the Carnation, c.1919, Laing Art Gallery, Newcastle, TWCMS: C606

Francis Henry Newbery (1855-1946) did much to advance the cause of women artists in Scotland, especially whilst Director of Glasgow School of Art between 1885 and 1917. Born in London, Newbery trained at Bridport School of Art in Dorset and the National Art Training School in the English capital. Following his appointment to the Glasgow post, he turned the institution into the most advanced of its kind in Britain, not least for the employment and enrolment of female staff and students. Newbery married the artist and designer Jessie Wylie Rowat (1864-1948) in 1889, a Glasgow School of Art pupil and teacher.

Rowat is believed to have designed the dress worn by the sitter in The Lady of the Carnation in about 1912. It was painted the year after Newbery’s retirement in 1918 and following the couple’s move to Corfe Castle in Devon. The unusually elongated format of the canvas emphasises the silhouette of the model, allowing her high-waisted, full-length outfit to be seen to its best effect. She leans against a mantelpiece which reaches up chin-height, on which she holds the pink carnation of the title. Silver candelabra flank her, whilst a marble or plaster relief provides contrast to her brown hair. The focal point of the painting is the model’s face and bare skin, made visible by the lace-lined v-neck of her dress. The material is thought to be lightweight silk-cut velvet, of black on a jade-green ground. Apart from highlights in the sitter’s lips and the flower’s petals, the palette is low-toned and the lighting subtle, in an image which celebrates universal female beauty as well as the achievements of the artist’s wife. The Lady of the Carnation was purchased for the collection from Newbery shortly after its completion.

Samuel John Peploe (1871-1935), Yellow Tulips and Statuette, early 1920s, Laing Art Gallery, Newcastle, TWCMS: B8110

Samuel John Peploe (1871-1935) is one of the four artists known as the Scottish Colourists, along with F. C. B. Cadell (1883-1937), G. L. Hunter (1877-1931) and J. D. Fergusson (1874-1961). He was born in Edinburgh and studied periodically at the Académie Julian in Paris and at the Royal Scottish Academy Life School in the Scottish capital. He lived in Paris between 1910 and 1912, where he was able to see the latest developments in French painting at first hand and was elected a member of the avant-garde exhibiting society, the Salon d’Automne. On returning to Edinburgh in 1912, his new work was received with scorn but after World War One he established a successful career, based on regular solo exhibitions in Scotland and England. Peploe was elected a member of the Royal Scottish Academy in 1927, the year in which the Tate acquired one of his paintings; international exhibitions included those in Venice, Paris and New York between 1909 and1931. A brief period teaching at Edinburgh College of Art ended due to the ill-health which resulted in his death in 1935.

Peploe is most celebrated for his still-life paintings, a genre in which he said he could ‘never see mystery coming to an end.’ His post-war reputation was founded on an extraordinary series featuring tulips, then roses, which he painted in his studio at 54 Shandwich Place in Edinburgh’s West End. Yellow Tulips and Statuette of the early 1920s is a fine example of the way in which Peploe carefully orchestrated a cast of objects including flowers, fruit, ceramics and objects d’art. Characteristic close cropping means that yellow tulips spill into the left-hand side, whilst a barely glimpsed orange is just visible on the far right. The statuette of the title is fully realised, but has to share attention amidst the evenly painted, often outlined in black forms by which it is surrounded. Two and three dimensions flow throughout the composition which contrasts blocks of high colour with swathes of black and dark blue, in a spatially ambiguous setting. Tulips and Statuette is an assured, accomplished painting, which illustrates the progress of modern Scottish art during the interwar period. It was purchased for the collection in 1948.

Author info:

Alice Strang is an award-winning art historian and curator of Modern and Contemporary Art. Website https://alicestrang.co.uk/

As a charity, Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums rely on donations to provide the amazing service that we do and our closure, whilst necessary, has significantly impacted our income. Please, if you are able, help us through this difficult period by donating by text today. Text TWAM 3 to give £3, TWAM 5 to give £5 or TWAM 10 to give £10 to 70085. Texts cost your donation plus one standard message rate. Thank you.

The Hatton Gallery Print Collection

Written by Lizzie Jacklin, Keeper of Art, Hatton Gallery

The Hatton Gallery’s permanent collection of over 3300 artworks includes objects ranging from paintings and sculptures to watercolours and posters. Around 1300 of these objects are prints. Sadly our plans to show a large group of prints from the collection in an exhibition this summer are on hold due to the current situation, but some of you might be interested to read more about our print collection in the meantime.

A (very!) brief introduction to artists’ prints

Prints are works of art made by printing onto a surface (usually paper) from a specially prepared block or plate. Prints usually exist in multiples as more than one ‘impression’ (or copy) of the block can be taken. Although many copies of a particular print might exist, prints made specifically as new works in the print medium are still original works of art.

Artists have been making prints for centuries, both to bring their work to a wider audience and to engage creatively with printmaking. Some of the most famous artists in the history of western art – such as Rembrandt and Picasso – have been printmakers as well as painters.

There are lots of different printmaking techniques – too many to explain in this post! They range from relatively simple methods that it might be possible to try at home, such as potato printing and linocut, to more complex processes requiring specialist studio equipment, such as etching.

Prints in the Hatton Gallery collection

The prints in the collection were acquired over the course of a century or more. They are primarily western examples, with sheets dating from the Renaissance to the present day. Areas of particular interest include: a group of works by the Newcastle illustrator and wood engraver Thomas Bewick; a sizable grouping of nineteenth and early twentieth-century etchings by artists such as James Abbott McNeill Whistler; and British colour prints from the latter half of the twentieth century. The non-British artists represented include Piranesi and Goya.

It’s difficult to choose, but here are five of my favourites:

Giovanni Battista Piranesi (1720–1778), View of the Salario Bridge from Views of Rome,1754, etching on paper

This etching is from Piranesi’s print series The Views of Rome. The series includes depictions of some of the city’s best-known sites, from churches to ruins. It was so popular during Piranesi’s lifetime that he reissued it numerous times, a process continued by his sons after his death.

The subject of this print is the historic Salario Bridge. The distinctive tower topping the structure dated from the eighth century, while the main part of the bridge was even older. In his etching, Piranesi captured a sense of the grandeur and history of the bridge. Signs of decay – such as the plant-life overtaking the structure – are combined with a lively scene in terms of human activity. The bridge was later damaged during Napoleon’s invasion of Rome, and eventually demolished. As a result, this print is now also an important record of the historic structure.

Thomas Bewick (1753–1828), The Chillingham Bull, 1789, wood engraving with letterpress on paper

Thomas Bewick is remembered as the first master of the ‘wood engraving’ technique, which he used to illustrate natural history books including his History of British Birds. The technique involves using a fine tool to engrave directly into wood: in Bewick’s hands it allowed for the creation of incredibly intricate and detailed scenes.

The Chillingham Bull, which was published here in Newcastle,is one of Bewick’s most celebrated prints. The text on the print explains that Bewick’s composition shows ‘the ancient Caledonian Breed’ of bull, which was – and still is – present in the park at Chillingham Castle in Northumberland.

James Abbott McNeill Whistler (1834–1903), En plein soleil,1858, etching and drypoint on paper

En plein soleil, or In Full Sun, is from Whistler’s ‘French Set’, the first group of prints he published after taking up etching seriously. The subjects vary from genre scenes to studies of the artist’s friends. This print was probably made in Paris and likely depicts one of Whistler’s acquaintances. It is thought that Whistler drew the figure outdoors, working from life.

Etching has often been favoured by artists, as it allows them to ‘draw’ quite freely onto a prepared metal plate. The plate is then ‘bitten’ in acid: this process incises the artist’s marks into the metal plate so that they hold ink and a print can be made.

Antoni Tàpies (1923–2012), Visca Catalunya from Poems from the Catalan, 1973, lithograph on paper https://collectionssearchtwmuseums.org.uk/#details=ecatalogue.326916

In the early 1970s Tàpies made many works in response to the situation of his native Catalonia, which had been self-governed until the end of the Spanish Civil War in 1939, when Franco ended its autonomy. The images often contain elements of writing, which reflect both pride and a sense of protest. The words “Visca Catalunya!” seen on this print translate as “Long Live Catalonia!”, a common cry during the Franco period, when the Catalan language was actively suppressed. The print was published as part of Poems from the Catalan, a collaboration with the poet Joan Brossa.

Tàpies emphasised the importance of ‘always experimenting with new ideas and techniques’ in his work; he particularly enjoyed the technical experimentation that comes with printmaking.

Paula Rego (born 1935), The Baker’s Wife, 1989, etching with aquatint

This piece loosely relates to the story of a heartbroken French baker who stops making bread when his wife has an affair with a shepherd. As is the case with many of Rego’s etchings, the story she had in mind at the outset is imaginatively reworked to the point of becoming both mysterious and unsettling. We see the sad baker in the background, while the foreground figures are presumably his wife and her lover.

Rego’s etchings are particularly admired for their mastery of light and shade, for which Rego employed a tonal etching technique called aquatint.


We are not able to confirm an opening date yet, but we are hoping we may be able to open again in the autumn. We’re making sure we have everything in place so that when you visit it is as safe and enjoyable as possible and as soon as our opening date is confirmed we will share this with you. In the meantime, we hope you’re enjoying our digital content on our website and social media. Thank you for your continued support.

As a charity, Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums rely on donations to provide the amazing service that we do and our closure, whilst necessary, has significantly impacted our income. Please, if you are able, help us through this difficult period by donating by text today. Text TWAM 3 to give £3, TWAM 5 to give £5 or TWAM 10 to give £10 to 70085. Texts cost your donation plus one standard message rate. Thank you.

The Lead Shrine

Keeper of Archaeology, Alex Croom takes an in-depth look at the Lead Shrine, on display at Segedunum Roman Fort & Museum.

This lead shrine from Wallsend Roman Fort is one of only three in Britain that still retain its central figure, and the only one complete with its doors. It is made of five separate elements, each originally cast in a clay mould. The figure inside is Mercury, the god of trade and commercial success, story-telling, communication and anything requiring skill and dexterity, as well as the herald and messenger of the gods, and was therefore the patron of merchants, carriers, travellers and thieves. Mercury was one of the most popular gods in Britain and there is evidence for a temple dedicated to him at Wallsend.

The pediment has a bust in the centre, with an unusual hairstyle or head-dress. To the right is a whip, with an upright handle and curved thong. This is a symbol of the sun-god Sol, who was often depicted driving his chariot across the sky. To the left is an X with rounded ends to the bars. This could be a simplified wheel symbol, again referring to Sol’s chariot, but might be a star from the night sky, as examples of stars with just four arms are known. While most stars have pointed rays, there are also some with expanded ends, as here.

Near the top of the niche on both sides is a simplified plant or branch. This could be a palm branch, a symbol of victory and peace, but as the fronds have expanded ends it might be a different symbol of peace, the olive branch, instead.

The doors have an unusual hinge arrangement, with one vertical and one horizontal pivot. As the lower hinge loops are bent out at 90 degrees they work best with the vertical pivots. There was no way of fastening the doors, although as the doors are decorated on both sides they were clearly meant to be closed at least some of the time.

The shrine was found in a modern layer during excavation and unfortunately no record was kept of the relative position of the different pieces. A drawing of the doors made soon after discovery seems to suggest that this was the interior side. Although there is extensive decoration it would have required only a few tools to make in the mould; just a pointed stick and ruler to make both the lines and smaller pellets, and a stick with a flanged tip for the larger pellets down the centre.

As well as the pointed tool for the lines, the pellets and the shapes made by pellets joined by lines, this face of the door also required a stamp in the shape of a shell and another in the shape of a ribbed crescent, perhaps intended to be another stylized shell. The decoration on this side is not fully symmetrical, with the shell shape placed at the top of one door and the bottom of the other, which was presumably a mistake during the mould-making. This face, with the more elaborate decoration, appears to be the side visible when the doors are closed.

The figure is flat and one-sided and has a tab at the bottom, in the manner of a modern cardboard cut-out figure. Presumably when the shrine was bought the buyer could pick out the figure of the deity they wanted and it was fixed in place within the shrine. The male figure stands with one hand with the fingers out-stretched while he holds a pouch of money in the other. Mercury’s purse can come in all sorts of shapes, but some, like here, are diamond-shaped.

Behind his curly hair can be seen the plain brim of a hat; this has two projections, the one on the left surviving better than the one on the right. This is a traveller’s hat with added wings, a common attribute of Mercury in his roles as a messenger and the god of travellers. The figure is naked apart from a cloak, which is a typical for Mercury. His cloak is fastened on his right shoulder with a large brooch with a circular central setting, with the rather confused folds of cloth hanging down in a V-shape on his chest.

At Mercury’s feet to the left is a dolphin and to the right a hippocamp wearing a bridle, with the rein rising upwards. The hippocamp is a sea-horse, a creature that was half horse and half fish. Neptune used them to pull his chariot, while individual examples were ridden by Tritons (mermen), Nereids (sea nymphs) or occasionally Cupids. Such creatures were usually associated with water deities rather than Mercury, and their presence here can be interpreted in various ways. Dolphins were associated with life and death as they carried souls to the afterlife, which was a role also carried out by Mercury, so the two creatures may represent this voyage of the soul. Alternatively, as dolphins were also celebrated by the Romans for being friendly to humans and commonly saving drowning men, and hippocamps were creatures of the sea, their presence here could relate to Mercury’s role as the patron of travellers. Perhaps the artist wanted to emphasise Mercury’s help for people travelling by sea in particular.

The back shows the bumps and tears that have damaged the shrine. The line running down part of it is a mould seam where two pieces of the mould used to make it met. Usually this would be removed with a file.

One end of the rectangular hole in the base can be seen, with the rest of the slot obscured by the folded tab of the figure that has been fed through it. This holds the figure of the god in place.

As a charity, Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums rely on donations to provide the amazing service that we do and our closure, whilst necessary, has significantly impacted our income. Please, if you are able, help us through this difficult period by donating by text today. Text TWAM 3 to give £3, TWAM 5 to give £5 or TWAM 10 to give £10 to 70085. Texts cost your donation plus one standard message rate. Thank you.