Item 13.1 - Correspondence of Dawson Turner

Identity area

Reference code



Correspondence of Dawson Turner


  • 1790–1801 (Creation)

Level of description


Extent and medium

1 volume, measuring about 27 x 24 x 8 cm, containing two title-leaves, two indexes, and 211 letters and other papers pasted onto guards (Nos. 5–87, 87a, 88–109, 109a, 110–16, 116a, 117–51, 151a, 152–211), interspersed with blank leaves (two after the index and one after each year’s set of letters). One of the title-leaves is at the beginning; the other is between Nos. 118 and 119. There is a stiff fly-leaf at the front and another at the back, and on a guard before the title-leaf is an additional leaf (a sheet of laid paper backed with brown paper) bearing a newspaper cutting (No. 4a) and an accompanying inscription. Three letters (Nos. 1–3) are pasted to the recto of the front free endpaper, and a note (No. 4) is pasted to the recto of the front flyleaf. Half-bound in light-brown leather and marbled paper.

Context area

Name of creator


Biographical history

Dawson Turner was born and spent much of his life at Great Yarmouth in Norfolk. He was admitted as an undergraduate at Pembroke College, Cambridge, in 1793, but returned to Yarmouth before graduating, in order to take his place in the family banking business.

For some years Turner's chief interest was botany, particularly mosses, and he published several works on the subject and corresponded with many of the notable botanists of his day. In later life he concentrated on antiquarian pursuits, amassing a valuable collection of historical documents and autographs, as well as a substantial library which was eventually dispersed in a series of sales. He was a Fellow of various learned bodies, including the Royal Society, the Linnaean Society, and the Society of Antiquaries.

In 1796 Turner married Mary Palgrave, by whom he had eight surviving children. Mary Turner and her daughters were talented amateur artists; they were tutored in drawing by John Sell Cotman and also mastered the arts of etching and lithography. Between them they produced a significant number of sketches and prints, especially portraits and architectural studies, examples of which were often used by their father to embellish his books.

Archival history

General note

The eighty-two volumes containing the main series of Dawson Turner’s correspondence (O.13.1–32, O.14.1–50), and the accompanying Index (O.14.51), were presented to the Library in 1890 by Eleanor Jane Jacobson, Turner’s last surviving daughter, after prior discussion between her nephew R. H. Inglis Palgrave and his friend William Aldis Wright, the vicemaster of Trinity (see O.13.1, Nos. 1–4).

Before the volumes were transferred, a number of private letters, mainly from members of Turner’s family, were cut out by Turner’s great-granddaughter Elizabeth Palgrave (later Barker). The knife was wielded hastily, and often either more or less was removed than was intended. In some cases, one or more adjacent sheets were cut through by mistake, these being either left loose in the volume or removed, while in others strips of sheets were left in the gutter, the front and back back leaves of folded sheets being in the process separated into two single sheets. About the same time, probably a little earlier, a selection of letters from J. W. Burgon was removed and lent to Burgon’s biographer E. M. Goulburn.

Some of the documents extracted from the volumes have come into the Library as part of later accessions (see TURN II and TURN III), while others have been acquired by other institutions, notably the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew and the Norfolk Record Office, but the whereabouts of a significant number of them are unknown.

The descriptions to the volumes whose contents have been listed include details of the letters missing from each, so far as can be determined from the Indexes, together with their present locations, if known.

Note on the present volume

The following letters were removed from the volume before it came to the Library. Their current locations are shown in brackets.

Letter from Hudson Gurney, 24 Mar. 1800 (TURN II K1/1).

Letter from Hudson Gurney, 29 May 1800 (TURN II K1/2).

Nos. 1–4 were added to the volume after it came into the Library.

Some of the documents bear earlier numbers. The significance of this earlier numbering, which is not entirely sequential, is unclear.

Immediate source of acquisition or transfer

Eleanor Jane Jacobson

Content and structure area

Scope and content

General note

The volumes in this collection were made up and bound in a uniform style during Turner’s lifetime. Since the contents of the first volume include a transcript of an obituary of September 1833 (No. 116a), this must have taken place some time after that date. Most of the volumes contain a printed title-leaf and an index, headed ‘Contents’, arranged in alphabetical order of the correspondents’ names. Some have collections of seal impressions mounted behind a hinged panel inside the front cover. The printed titles all begin, ‘LETTERS | CHIEFLY | ON LITERARY AND SCIENTIFIC SUBJECTS, | ADDRESSED TO | DAWSON TURNER, | DURING THE YEAR’, the relevant year or period being printed below, with the following epigram: ‘Quemnam ego thesaurum amicorum epistolis permutare vellem? Epistolae sunt amicorum absentium colloquia; nec absentes modo per has adsunt, sed et mortui resuscitantur. Longo tamen post tempore legentibus afferunt amari lugubrisque multum, quamvis dulcedine non sine mira: per coemeterium amicorum bustis repletum, sed et violas rosasque ubique redolens, incedere videmur. AUCT. ANON.’ (Later volumes have ‘SCRIPT. INCERT.’ in place of ‘AUCT. ANON.’) The information in the indexes is sometimes incomplete or erroneous.

Inside the front cover of each volume is a printed bookplate bearing the following text: ‘BIBLIOTHECAE | COLL. SANCT. ET INDIV. TRIN. CANTAB. | DONAVIT | ELEANORA JOANNA JACOBSON, | DAWSONI TURNER FILIA, | ET | GULIELMI EPISCOPI CESTRENSIS VIDUA. | A.D. 1890.’

Note on the present volume

On the spine is stamped ‘CORRESPONDENCE | JAN.–DEC. | 1790–1801’. There are two title-leaves, one for the years 1790–9 and one for the years 1800–1, and two corresponding indexes. Turner has marked many of the letters with the date of his reply, and added pencil dates at the head of most of the letters which are either undated or dated at the end.

Appraisal, destruction and scheduling


System of arrangement

The documents are numbered in the order in which they stand. In one case different numbers were mistakenly given to parts of the same document when the contents were originally numbered. The superfluous number (No. 122) is now marked ‘Number not used’.

Conditions of access and use area

Conditions governing access

Conditions governing reproduction

Language of material

  • English
  • French
  • German
  • Latin

Script of material

    Language and script notes

    Physical characteristics and technical requirements

    One loose document, No. 157, has been removed from the volume for safe-keeping.

    Finding aids

    Allied materials area

    Existence and location of originals

    Existence and location of copies

    Related units of description

    Notes area

    Alternative identifier(s)

    Preferred form of reference


    Access points

    Subject access points

    Place access points

    Name access points

    Genre access points

    Description identifier

    Institution identifier

    Rules and/or conventions used

    In descriptions of ‘extent and medium’, a ‘single sheet’ is a single unfolded leaf of paper comprising 2 pages; a ‘folded sheet’ is a sheet of paper folded once, comprising 2 leaves and 4 pages.


    Level of detail

    Dates of creation revision deletion

    This description was created by A. C. Green in 2021.




        Accession area