The Papers of Edward Alexander Newell Arber

Scope and Content

The collection contains personal notes, correspondence and papers, 1870-1919. These include biographical/diary notes for each year from 1870 and documents; letters from D.H Scott to Arber, 1903-1918; draft biographical chapters; lists of class students and yearly accessions to collections; and some photographs. There is some documentation and correspondence relating to after Arbers death, including letters with Dr H. Woodward about Arbers obituary.

Administrative / Biographical History

Edward Alexander Newell Arber was born at No. 5 Queen Square, Bloomsbury, 5th August 1870 to Edward Arber, later a professor of English at Masons college, Birmingham, and Marion Arber (nee Murray) the daughter of a Glasgow publisher, who was the niece of Dr John Sutherland, an early authority on army sanitation, who was closely associated with Florence Nightingales work in the Crimea.

At the age of 15, due to poor health, was sent to Davos where he spent more than a year. During his first summer in Switzerland he developed an interest in Botany. In 1895 he came upto Trinity College, Cambridge and he took the two parts of the Natural Sciences Tripos in 1898 and 1899, specializing in Botany and Geology.

In 1899 Professor McKenny Hughes nominated Newell Arber to a demonstratorship in Palaeobotany in the Woodwardian [later Sedgwick] Museum. He held this post for the rest of his life, and involved the curating of the palaeobotanical collections, as well as elementary and advanced lectures and demonstrations in fossil botany. During his tenure about 5,000 plant fossils were added to the collections.

Between 1901-1906 he was also responsible for the naming and arrangement of the palaeobotanical specimens in the Geology Department of the British Museum [Later Natural History Museum]. He made repeated visits to the museums across Europe where important collections could be found.

Arber met his future wife, Agnes Robertson whilst she was studying at Newnham College, Cambridge. They were engaged in September 1906, and married on 5th August 1909 on his 39th Birthday, and lived into a rented house on Huntingdon Road, Cambridge. Mrs Arber assisted her husband in his field work, drawing figures for and proofreading some of his books. She became a plant morphologist and anatomist, historian of botany, and philosopher of biology. She was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society (FRS) in 1946, the first female botanist and only the third woman overall to be so honoured.

Newell Arber wrote over 60 memoirs, and about 25 papers were produced by a group of students including at times Bernard Smith, H.Hampshaw Thomas, L.J Wills, W.T Gordon, D.G Lillie, R.D Vernon, A.W.R Don, R.H.Goode and others. In 1905 a moiety of the Lyell Fund was awarded to Newell Arber by the Geological Society, and in 1914 he was elected an honorary member of the New Zealand Institute in recognition of his work on Australasian geology.

Arbers contribution to his science was chiefly in the application of palaeobotanical evidence to straigraphical problems. One of his early papers dealt with the use of Carbinoferous plants as zonal indices. His later work was concerned with further developments on these lines, and he produced a series of papers dealing with the fossil floras and geological structure of English coal-fields. His book on The Natural History of Coal was translated into Russian.

Arber also studied the fossil floras of the Mesozoic floras of New Zealand (1917). He continued to work within less than three months of his death, leaving memoirs in various stages of completion relating to general palaeobotany, and to Devonian, Carboniferous, and Mesozoic plants. He died 14th June 1918, and is buried at St. Andrews Parish Church, Girton.


The collection is still to be arranged and catalogued.

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 Museum to ask about the collection or to make an appointment.

Acquisition Information

There is some correspondence amongst the papers to suggest that some records were transferred by Muriel Arber [daughter] in 2003. It is not clear when the other records were physically transferred to the museum but is likely to have been between the 1960s, and the time of her death in 2004.

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.

Archivist's Note

This collection level description was created by Sandra Marsh of Sedgwick Museum in November 2010 using information from Edward Arber's entry in Who Was Who (A and C Black, 1997), an obituary in the Geological Magazine, and the papers themselves.

Conditions Governing Use

Photocopies, photographs, and print-outs 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 Edward A.N Arber, ARBR.

Appraisal Information

The main part of the collection is still to be appraised.

Custodial History

2 boxes were identified as being records created or retained by Edward A.N Arber (and/or his family). These were repackaged into 3 conservation grade boxes during the DDF project 2010-2011.

According to correspondence found in the collections, some records (tied with string) were sent to the Natural History Museum in March London 2004, whilst others were removed for destruction in February 2004.

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.

Location of Originals

The National History Museum has some correspondence and papers of E.A.N Arber, 1901-1913 when he was working the Department of Geology.

The National History Museum (NHM) also has some of Agnes Arber manuscripts and drawings.

The Hunt Institute for Botanical Documentation (in the United States) have the papers of Agnes Arber (nee Robertson) which were deposited by her daughter, Muriel in the 1960s and later.