The Papers of Professor Thomas McKenny Hughes

Scope and Content

The collection contains correspondence with contemporaries including Sir Charles Lyell and his wife; reports and papers concerning both his diplomatic and geological work 1860-1880s; records of the international geological congresses in Bologna, London, Zurich and Russia 1880s-1890s; tour and field-note books including sketches and annotated drawings; maps; records relating to the Woodwardian Museum; drafts of papers and speeches; and some photographic albums.

Administrative / Biographical History

Thomas McKenny Hughes was born in Aberystwyth, Wales. He had two brothers and five sisters. He was educated at Lamington and then Llandovery Colleges. Hughes won a scholarship to Trinity College, Cambridge and graduated B.A. in 1857. He proceeded to M.A. in 1867. Hughes had attended Adam Sedgwicks lectures in Geology.

Hughes worked as a diplomat in Rome between 1860 and 1861. He worked as the Secretary to the Consul Charles Newton, and later as acting Consul. It was at this time his interest in archaeology was sparked. Whilst in Rome, Hughes made collections of fossils from the local area.

In 1861, the then Director-General of the Geological Survey, Sir Roderick Murchison offered Hughes a position [At this time, Prof. A. C. Ramsay was the Director of the Survey]. He began his Survey work as an Assistant Geologist. Hughes continued working for the Survey until 1873. At that time, he returned to Cambridge to succeed Adam Sedgwick as the Woodwardian Professor of Geology, a position he held until his death in 1917.

The Mckenny connection was through his maternal grandfather, Sir Thomas McKenny, first baronet and Lord Mayor of Dublin.

During his Survey career, Hughes worked in the following areas. Between 1865 and 1866 he was based in Hertford and St. Albans where he described the Drift Gravels. Then in 1866, Hughes was transferred to the Lake District and superintended by W. T. Aveline. Here he collected fossils from the "Silurians". He sided with Sedgwick in relation to the lower boundary of the Silurian, to the disagreement of Murchison. He also believed the "Old Red Conglomerate to form a sort of passage between the Mountain Limestone and the Millstone Grit". Hughes worked in Westmoreland, Cumberland and the Yorkshire Dales. In 1873 he lived in Sedbergh. Lower Palaeozoic stratigraphy of Kirkby Lonsdale

Later in 1873, nine candidates offered their services for the Woodwardian Professorship after Sedgwicks death. Hughes got it with a small majority over Professor Thomas George Bonney.

McKenny Hughes entered into correspondence with Charles Lyell. He started a debate regarding Mountain Limestone country. Lyell and McKenny Hughes went on many geological expeditions together. In 1872 they visited the limestone caves in the Dordogne and Aurignac.

Lyell supported Hughes for the Woodwardian Chair. He was appointed in 1873. The Cambridge Natural Science Tripos introduced in 1851, caused a growth in student teaching.

Hughes was Vice-President (and made a fellow) of the Geological Society in 1862 and was made F.R.S. in 1889. He also received the Lyell Medal in 1891.

In 1882, Cambridge University professors were finally allowed to marry. Hughes married Mary Caroline Weston and they had three sons, Tom, George and Alfred. Tom was killed in 1918 whilst carrying out aerial reconnaissance behind enemy lines in France. George was a clerk to the Worshipful Company of goldsmiths, and Alfred was an entomologist.

Both Thomas and Mary attended the International Geological Congress in 1891 as well as the International Geological Congress in Russia in 1897. Mrs Hughes kept diaries and scrapbooks of their trips together.

Hughes was influential in staffing the Sedgwick museum: Edward Tawney, Alfred Harker, John E. Marr, Jenry Woods, F. R. C. Reed and Gertrude L. Elles all owed their positions there to him.

Hughes died at his home "Ravensworth", Brooklands avenue in Cambridge on 9th June 1917.


The records were in several locations (boxes and drawers) in the Brighton Building. Many had been removed from their original boxes, and therefore there was no clear identification of their original accession order. Some records had been repackaged by archive volunteers into melinex sleeves and boxes.

As the papers were (mostly) in no order, they have had to be artificially arranged, but with consideration of the original (and subsequent) envelope titles where practical.

The provisional arrangement reflects either the type of record or topic of relevance being documented. Those records created or directly associated with Mary Caroline Hughes have been arranged into a separate collection to reflect their provenance.

For further information please speak to museum staff.

Access Information

The papers are open for consultation by researchers using Sedgwick Museum of Earth Sciences. However, as the papers have not been appraised, there may be some closures.

The Geological Conservation Unit [Brighton Building] is open from Monday to Friday, 10:00-13:00 and 14:00-17:00. A prior appointment made at least two weeks in advance, and two forms of identification are required.

Please contact the Archivist, Sandra Marsh to make an appointment or make an enquiry about the collection.

Other Finding Aids

The DDF Archive Inventory spreadsheet is available which contains basic box listing entries for the legacy records of the Sedgwick Museum and Department of Earth Sciences.

Please ask staff for further information.

Physical Characteristics and/or Technical Requirements

Some of the material is fragile. Staff will advise.

Archivist's Note

This collection level description was created by Sandra Marsh and Dr Lyall Anderson of Sedgwick Museum in November 2010 using information from Thomas McKenny Hughes' entry in Who Was Who (A and C Black, 1997) the Dictionary of National Biography (DNB), and the papers themselves.

Conditions Governing Use

Photocopies, photographs, and printouts from scanned images may be provided. Charges may apply. Readers may also use their own digital cameras subject to copyright legislation and in-house rules.

Researchers wishing to publish excerpts from the papers must obtain prior permission from the copyright holders and should seek advice from Sedgwick Museum Staff.

Please cite as Sedgwick Museum of Earth Sciences, The Papers of Professor Thomas McKenny Hughes, HGHS

Custodial History

A number of boxes (both original and re-packaged) were identified as having been created/maintained by Thomas McKenney Hughes.

A large proportion of the records appear to have been assessed by Geoffrey Hughes [son] in the 1960s and 1970s, and he has made some notes accordingly on what he read. In some instances he has re-arranged the records (as indicated by the envelopes he used with original markings and headings on them).

As indicated on one envelope, it was suggested that the papers had been "sorted in 1921 and 1957", presumably by Geoffrey Hughes.

Correspondence was located relating to three notebooks of Settle and Clapham which Mr and Mrs Hughes wrote with geological students. It appears that the notebooks were removed from the museum and transferred to the Malham Tarn Field Centre sometime between August 1960 and November 1961 by George Hughes.

It is not clear when other records were physically transferred to the museum but is likely to have been the 1970s when the notes were added by Geoffrey Hughes.

A previous transfer of material was made by the museum in 1972 and 1980 to Cambridge University Library; this concerned the records of Thomas McKenney Hughes as well as those concerning the museum.

The records had been transferred from the Sedgwick Museum [Downing Street, Cambridge] to the Geological Conservation Unit [Madingley Road] between 1991-2009.


No more records are currently expected.

Related Material

Cambridge and Country Record office, Ref 689- papers derive from Thomas McKenny Hughes membership of the Council of the Cambs & Isle of Ely Chamber of Agriculture, of which he was Vice-Chairman in 1902 and Chairman in 1903-4.

Cambridge University Library have the papers of Thomas McKenney Hughes which were transferred there by the museum in 1979 and 1980. They also have records relating to the museum and department of geology which Hughes arranged and listed himself.

There are (possibly) notebooks at the Malham Tarn Field Centre which were removed from the Museum and transferred in 1960-1961 by Geoffrey Hughes. We are waiting to hear confirmation of this information from the centres archivist.