Story-Maskelyne, Mervyn Herbert Nevil (DNB12)

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STORY-MASKELYNE, MERVYN HERBERT NEVIL (1823–1911), mineralogist, born at Basset Down House, near Wroughton, Wiltshire, on 3 Sept. 1823, was eldest son in the famlly of two sons and four daughters of Anthony Mervyn Reeve Story, F.R.S. (1791-1879), by his wife Margaret, only child and ultimate heiress of Nevil Maskelyne [q. v.], astronomer royal. The father acquired through his wife the Maskelyne estates in Wiltshire, and in 1845 adopted the surname of Story-Maskelyne. One of the mineralogist's sisters, Antonia, married Sir Warington Wilkinson Smyth [q. v.].

After spending ten years at Bruton grammar school in Somerset, Story-Maskelyne was admitted to Wadham College, Oxford, as a commoner on 19 Nov. 1840, and graduated B.A. with a second class in mathematics in Easter term 1845. He proceeded M.A. on 7 June 1849. On leaving Oxford he studied for the bar, but he had, almost from boyhood, taken a keen interest in natural science, and his early studies in photography led to a friendship with William Henry Fox Talbot [q. v.] He was persuaded to abandon the law for science in 1847 by Benjamin Brodie the younger [q. v.], and in 1850 was invited to deliver lectures on mineralogy at Oxford. He accepted this invitation on condition that a laboratory should be assigned to him, where he could teach mineralogical analysis and chemistry in general. Chemical manipulation had not been taught previously in the University of Oxford, and great interest was excited by the opportunity of learning what sort of thing chemistry might be. A suite of rooms under the Ashmolean Museum was allotted Story-Maskelyne, and there he lived and worked from 1851 to 1857. His first student was William Thomson [q. v.], afterwards archbishop of York.

Story-Maskelyne was an early advocate of the due recognition of natural science in the Oxford curriculum, and was examiner in the new school of natural science in 1855 and 1856. He was active in the struggle which lasted from 1847 to 1857 over the proposal to erect a museum in Oxford. The foundation stone of the museum was laid in 1855 and it was opened in 1861 (cf. Atlay's Henry Adand: a Memoir, 1903, pp. 197 seq.). Story-Maskelyne became professor of mineralogy in 1856 in succession to Dean William Buckland [q. v.], and was duly allotted as professor a laboratory in the new museum. The chair had been founded by George IV in 1813, but it was very inadequately remunerated till 1877, when it was reconstituted as the Waynflete professorship of mineralogy.

In 1857 Story-Maskelyne was appointed to the newly created post of keeper of the minerals at the British Museum and, although he retained his Oxford professorship, he settled in London. It became his practice to invite the most promising of his Oxford pupils, who included Professor W. J. Lewis, Dr. L. Fletcher, and Sir Henry A. Miers, to work with him at the British Museum. He thus extended the usefulness of both his London and Oxford offices, and trained many distinguished members of the next generation of British mineralogists.

Since 1851 no one at the British Museum had taken any special interest in mineralogy. Story-Maskelyne undertook the re-arrangement of althe minerals under his charge according to the crystallochemical system of Rose. He also maintained and developed the collections so that they became the largest and best arranged series of minerals and meteorites in existence. During his tenure of the keepership no fewer than 43,000 specimens were added to the collection. He published a catalogue of minerals at the museum in 1863 (new edit. 1881) and a 'Guide to the Collection' in 1868.

Story-Maskelyne was always much interested in meteorites, which he was one of the first to study by means of thin sections for the microscope. He published the results of his numerous researches, of which the most important are those on the nature and constitution of the Pamallee, Nellore, Breitenbach, Manegaum, Busti, Shalka, and Rowton meteorites. Chief among his mineral researches were those upon Langite, Melaconite, Tenorite, Andrewsite, Connellite, Chalkosiderite, and Ludlamite. New minerals described by him were Andrewsite, Langite, Liskeardite, and Waringtonite. Asmanite, Oldhamite, and Osbornite, constituents of meteoric stones, were first isolated and determined by him, though the first named, described by him in 1871, is now generally regarded as identical with the mineral tridymite. He was also the first to recognise the presence of enstatite in meteorites.

Deeply interested in the history of the diamond, he wrote on the Koh-i-noor stone (Chemical News, 1860, i. 229 ; Nature, 1891, xliv. 655 ; xlv. 5). In 1880 he proved that the supposed diamonds manufactured by Mactear were in reality a crystallised silicate. The mode of occurrence of the diamond in South Africa also occupied his attention, and he described the enstatite rock which is associated with it in that part of the world (Philosophical Magazine, 1879, vii. 135).

Story-Maskelyne gave some notable courses of lectures on crystallography both in London and Oxford. In a course delivered in 1869 he announced an important proof of the number and mutual inclinations of the symmetry planes possible in a crystalloid system. His general views were stated in a series of lectures before the Chemical Society in 1874. On his lectures he largely based his well-known text book, ’The Morphology of Crystals,' which was published in 1895. In his mathematical as well as in his purely scientific treatment of his theme his writing was characterised by distinction and charm of style.

Story-Maskelyne's scientific attainments were widely recognised. Elected a fellow of the Royal Society in 1870, he was vice-president from 1897 to 1899. He received in 1893 the Wollaston medal of the Geological Society, of which he became a fellow in 1854, was chosen an honorary fellow of Wadham College in 1873, and was made hon. D.Sc. in 1903. He was corresponding or honorary member of the Imperial Mineralogical Society of St. Petersburg, of the Society of Natural History of Boston, of the Royal Academy of Bavaria, and of the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia.

On the death of his father in 1879 Story-Maskelyne succeeded to the Basset Down estates, and thenceforward became an active country gentleman. He resigned his post at the British Museum next year, but he continued to hold the professorship of mineralogy at Oxford till 1895. By that time funds were obtained for securing the whole time of a resident professor, and he was succeeded by (Sir) Henry A. Miers.

Story-Maskelyne entered the House of Commons in 1880, when he was elected in the liberal interest as member for the borough of Cricklade. He was re-elected for the Cricklade division of North Wiltshire in 1885 and 1886, but he refused to follow Gladstone in his home rule policy in 1886, and thenceforth sat in parliament as a liberal-unionist until his defeat in July 1892. He took no prominent part in the debates, but introduced in 1885 the Thames preservation bill, and was chairman of the committee to which the bill's consideration was referred. The bill was passed on 14 Aug. 1885. He was a member of the Wiltshire county council from its foundation in 1889 till 1904, when he was over eighty years of age, and was for many years chairman of the agricultural committee. He was an active member of the Bath and West of England Agricultural Society, and it was at his suggestion that the first itinerant dairy school was established. He was a good scholar and was one of the few scientific men who read Homer till late in life. He formed a valuable private collection of antique engraved gems, and he privately printed a catalogue of the intaglios and cameos known as the Marlborough Gems.

Story-Maskelyne died at Basset Down on 20 May 1911, after a prolonged illness, and was buried at Purton, Wiltshire.

He married on 29 June 1858, after settling in London, Thereza Mary, eldest daughter of John Dillwyn Llewellyn, F.R.S., and granddaughter of Lewis Weston Dillwyn [q. v.], the botanist. He was survived by his wife and three daughters, of whom the second, Mary Lucy, married Hugh Oakeley Arnold-Forster [q. v. Suppl. II], some time secretary of state for war, and the third, Thereza Charlotte, became wife of Sir Arthur Rücker, F.R.S., in 1892.

His portrait by the Hon. John Collier, subscribed for by friends in 1895, is now a Basset Down House, Swindon.

[Burke's Landed Gentry; Gardiner's Reg. Wadham College, p 401; The Times, 21 May 1911; Proc. Roy. Soc.]

H. A. M.

A. W. R