Saturday 20 June 2015

3 Lewis Weston Dillwyn

3. Lewis Weston Dillwyn (photos: LW Dillwyn, Sw. Museum, Sketty Hall) – 20 June

On 2nd July the tenth of the recent blue plaques will be unveiled outside Sketty Hall.  This is in memory of Lewis Weston Dillwyn, father of John Dillwyn Llewelyn of Penlle’r-gaer and of Lewis Llewelyn Dillwyn of Hendrefoilan House, and grandfather of Amy Dillwyn, whose own blue plaque stands on the promenade near the West Cross Inn.

L.W. Dillwyn was born in Ipswich in 1778, the eldest son of Pennsylvanian Quaker William Dillwyn, who had campaigned against slavery and who purchased Swansea’s Cambrian Pottery in 1802 on behalf of his son.  A keen botanist, L.W. Dillwyn employed William Weston Young there to illustrate Swansea ware with precise diagrams of plants in botanical details.

Through Dillwyn’s marriage in 1807 to Mary Adams, daughter of Colonel Llewelyn of Penlle’r-gaer, their elder son (born in 1810) would inherit the estate when he reached the age of 21, on condition of taking on the additional surname Llewelyn: thus he became John Dillwyn-Llewelyn in 1831.   

An eminent naturalist, L.W. Dillwyn published works on botany and conchology, and was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1804.  “A Descriptive Catalogue of British Shells” was published in two volumes in 1817, and “Contributions towards a History of Swansea” in 1840.  In this he mentions red deer antlers “said to have been found among stumps of trees on the wet sands between Swansea and Mumbles”.

Dillwyn accompanied Miss Talbot of Penrice to Goat’s Hole, Paviland, after human bones had been discovered in the cave in December 1822.  He wrote to William Buckland, Oxford University’s first Professor of Geology, inviting him to examine what became known as the “Red Lady of Paviland”.

Dillwyn was High Sheriff of Glamorgan in 1818, represented Glamorgan as a Whig (Liberal) MP in the first reformed parliament from 1832, and became Mayor of Swansea seven years later.  After living in Burrows Lodge, which used to stand by Swansea Museum, he moved to Penlle’r-gaer in 1817 until his elder son came of age.   Then Dillwyn moved out to Sketty Hall, which he had purchased for £3,800 in 1831. 

He was a founder member in 1835 of the Swansea Philosophical and Literary Society, which became the Royal Institution of South Wales, and built Swansea Museum six years later.  For nearly twenty years until his death he was President of the Society, with his expertise being curator of the Natural History section.  When the British Association for the Advancement of Science met in Swansea in 1848, Dillwyn was President of the Zoology and Botany section, while his son-in-law Henry De la Beche was President of the Geology section.

Dillwyn kept diaries from 1817 until 1852, just a few years before he died.  These comprise 36 volumes held at the National Library of Wales in Aberystwyth.  Among other matters they deal with family and business concerns, his work as a naturalist, as well as his public duties as a magistrate and a member of parliament.   Gerald Gabb has brought out a most readable edition of extracts of the diaries aimed at schools.

Dillwyn was not exempt from personal tragedy, for the death-bed scene of his young daughter was captured by the artist C.R. Leslie in 1829: the painting is in Swansea Museum.

In 1855 two of Swansea’s most eminent citizens died within a few months of each other.  Copper-master and MP John Henry Vivian of Singleton Abbey died on 10 February in his seventieth year, and Lewis Weston Dillwyn died on 31 August aged 77 at Sketty Hall.  A later occupant of Sketty Hall was Vivian’s youngest son, Richard Glynn Vivian, while it was L.W. Dillwyn’s second son Lewis Llewelyn Dillwyn who succeeded J.H. Vivian as MP for Swansea and District from 1855.         


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