Fonds TURN III - Correspondence of Dawson Turner, Third Series

Identity area

Reference code



Correspondence of Dawson Turner, Third Series


  • 1811–61 (Creation)

Level of description


Extent and medium

About 1200 items

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 In later life he concentrated on antiquarian pursuits, amassing a valuable collection of historical documents and autographs, as well as a substantial library which was eventually dispersed in a series of sales.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

These papers were sold to the Library in 1991 by P. M. Pollak, a rare book dealer of South Brent in Devon, acting on behalf of an anonymous client. They comprise letters to Dawson Turner and letters to two men connected with him, Hudson Gurney and Sir Francis Palgrave, with a few items of doubtful provenance. It is not clear when or by whom these groups of papers were brought together.

Most of the letters to Turner were once in the main series of his correspondence, also in this Library, which comprises 82 letter-books and a general index (O.13.1–32 and O.14.1–51). These volumes were presented to Trinity in 1890 by Eleanor Jane Jacobson, Turner’s last surviving daughter, but before they 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 (see A5).

Some of the letters extracted from the volumes came into the Library as part of the Second Series of Turner Papers (TURN II), deposited in the early 1970s, and the present accession contains some more, while a few others have been acquired by other institutions, notably the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew and the Norfolk Record Office; but a significant number of them are still wanting.

The accession also includes a certain number of letters to Turner which were not in the main series, notably the remains of a volume of letters from Elizabeth Palgrave, which seem in turn to have been removed from elsewhere.

Nothing is known of the provenance of the letters to Gurney and Palgrave, but since they include both sides of the correspondence between the two men it seems likely that one was added to the other before they were added to Turner’s papers.

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Content and structure area

Scope and content

These papers include letters to Dawson Turner from members of his family, correspondence between Hudson Gurney and Sir Francis Palgrave, letters from Turner to Gurney, and a few other miscellaneous items.

Appraisal, destruction and scheduling


System of arrangement

The papers of Dawson Turner, Hudson Gurney, and Sir Francis Palgrave each form a separate section (AC), and the few additional items of doubtful provenance form a fourth (D). The items in sections A–C are grouped by correspondent, letters containing messages from more than one person being placed with the letters of the first writer. The letter from James Barber (A1a/1) was inserted after the other papers had been numbered.

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      Finding aids

      Further information is available in the printed finding aid available in the Library.

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      This description was created by A. C. Green in 2021 from a catalogue compiled by him in 2006.




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