sub-fonds 659 - Papers of Dawson Turner

Identity area

Reference code

Add. MS a/659


Papers of Dawson Turner


  • 1750-1837 (Creation)

Level of description


Extent and medium

36 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 In later life he concentrated on antiquarian pursuits, amassing a valuable collection of historical documents and autographs, as well as a substantial library which was eventually dispersed in a series of sales.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 presented to the Library by Arthur Freeman, a dealer in rare books and manuscripts, on 21 October 2001. In an accompanying letter the writer—presumably Freeman himself, though the signature is illegible—records that he had bought them some time previously from H. P. Kraus, mainly on account of two letters from William Stevenson Fitch, which, he says, were ‘put to good use’, i.e., presumably, sold. It is unclear whether any other items were sold from the collection before it was presented to Trinity. Freeman noted that the papers probably derived from ‘the Phillips Nachlass’ at Kraus.

Most of the papers were probably once in one or more of Turner’s albums and letter-books, and least some of them were probably in his collection of ‘Autographs’. Many of the letters were directed to either Dawson Turner or his firm, and many of the others bear notes in his hand. Nearly all the items are either mounted on leaves (i.e. inserted into spaces cut out for them) or attached to the remains of paper guards. 8, 11, 13-15, and 22 appear to have come from the same volume. 22 probably immediately preceded 14, and 10 may have been attached to a leaf adjacent to the leaf from which 11 was torn.

Most of the letters not sent to Turner were sent to local people, and most of these were probably passed directly to him by the recipients or those who came into possession of their papers, since it is clear that his friends and correspondents were aware of his interest in collecting autographs (cf. 23 and 35). 1-2, both addressed to Goodchild Clarke, probably came from the same source, as did 19 and 21, both addressed to G. W. Manby, and 31-2, both addressed to Christopher Sayers.

Immediate source of acquisition or transfer

Arthur Freeman

Content and structure area

Scope and content

This collection mainly comprises letters by people of public significance in Dawson Turner’s day, many of them with East Anglian connections.

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System of arrangement

The papers have been arranged in chronological order.

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      Dates of creation revision deletion

      This description was created by A. C. Green in 2022.




          Accession area