Philip Rashleigh, Mineral Collector (1729-1811)

Philip Rashleigh, Mineral Collector

Philip Rashleigh was Cornwall's most famous antiquary and mineralogist. He was born 1729 in Aldermanbury, London. He was the son of Jonathan Rashleigh, an MP and Cornish landowner. He went to Oxford University, but did not get a degree. He became an MP himself from 1764 to 1802, eventually becoming "the father of the House of Commons." Rashleigh is famous for his superb collection of Cornish minerals, and for the two color-plate-illustrated volumes he published in 1797 and 1802 describing his collection. Philip Rashleigh died at his family home, Menabilly, in 1811; most of his collection and the original paintings of his minerals are preserved in the Natural History Museum, London, and in the Royal Cornwall Museum, Truro.

Philip Rashleigh lived at Menabilly, near Fowey, in a sixteenth century mansion, which was the inspiration for Manderley in Daphne du Maurier's novel Rebecca. He started collecting minerals by 1764, when he inherited his family's estates, getting mineral specimens from the local miners and mine owners, plus collecting many himself. He also began to purchase and exchange specimens with mineral dealers, collectors and mineralogists in England and abroad.

During his lifetime, his collection became famous. Rashleigh dedicated a room in his house, Menabilly, to the collection. He was elected to the Royal Society and to the Society of Antiquaries in 1788, in recognition of the value of his collection and his knowledge of Cornish minerals.

By 1794 he had acquired over 4,000 mineral specimens, and started to look for a "a good clever man to draw and color some of my minerals,". He settled on the well known Cornish enamel painter, Henry Bone (1755-1834), to produce the paintings for hand-colored engraving showing 194 specimens. This first volume was published in 1797 as "Specimens of British Minerals, Selected from the Cabinet of Philip Rashleigh". He then got other artists to produce a second volume in 1802, with 21 hand-colored plates illustrating 48 specimens. Theses artists included Rashleigh's sister Rachel, a well-known watercolorist and geologist named Thomas Richard Underwood, and a London engraver named Thomas Medland. Paintings for a third, never-published volume were prepared by Harriet Rashleigh, Miss F. Rashleigh, and James Sowerby.

Philip Rashleigh married his cousin Jane (1720-1795), but they did not have any children. His mineral collection went to his nephew William (1777-1855) and it remained at Menabilly until 1902, when it was purchased and presented to the Museum of the Royal Institution of Cornwall. William gave part of the collection to his son John - these specimens were purchased by Sir Arthur Russell (1878-1964) whose collections were later bequeathed to the Natural History Museum.


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