Devonshire (1871-5)

Devonshire Reports (text)

Devonshire Commission (1871-5)
Reports of the Royal Commission on Scientific Instruction and the Advancement of Science

London: HM Stationery Office

Background notes

Historical context

During the 1860s there was much debate about the importance of science and technology in education, partly as a result of concerns about Britain's declining economic position relative to other countries.

In May 1870, a Royal Commission was appointed to

make Inquiry with regard to Scientific Instruction and the Advancement of Science and to Inquire what aid thereto is derived from Grants voted by Parliament or from Endowments belonging to the several Universities in Great Britain and Ireland and the Colleges thereof and whether such aid could be rendered in a manner more effectual for the purpose (First Report, page iii).

William Cavendish

William Cavendish (1808-1891) (pictured), the 7th Duke of Devonshire, was invited to chair the Commission. Other members of the Commission included Sir James Kay-Shuttleworth, Bernhard Samuelson, and TH Huxley.

Cavendish was educated at Eton and Trinity College Cambridge, where he won the Smith's Prize for Mathematics.

He entered Parliament as MP for Cambridge University in 1829, and served brief periods as MP for Malton and North Derbyshire before entering the House of Lords in 1834 as Earl of Burlington.

He was Chancellor of three Universities: London (1836-1856), Cambridge (1861-1891, and Victoria (1880-1891). At Cambridge he endowed the Cavendish Professorship of Physics, and the building of the Cavendish Laboratory.

He married Blanche Georgiana Howard in 1829 and the couple had five children.

The Reports

The Devonshire Commission produced eight reports between 1871 and 1875 (plus a supplementary report to the first report). The following table gives their dates, the number of pages, and a brief summary of their contents:

No.DatePagesSubject Matter
19 Mar 18712Royal School of Mines, Royal College of Chemistry, Royal School of Naval Architecture and Marine Engineering; the teaching of elementary science under the Science and Art Department.
Supp28 Feb 18722Organisation and accommodation of the Science School.
222 Mar 187219Science teaching in training colleges and elementary schools, and in Science Classes under the Science and Art Department - effects of the Revised Code of 1861 and the New Code of 1871.
31 Aug 187354Oxford and Cambridge - science teaching and research; proposals for a school leaving examination, science scholarships, the role of professors and a university Council of Science.
416 Jan 187424The role of the British Museum, the Museum of the Royal College of Surgeons, the National Botanical Collections and Gardens, the Museum of Practical Geology, the South Kensington Museum, other scientific collections, and public lectures in connection with museums.
54 Aug 187428Science teaching at University College and King's College, London, Owens College, Manchester, the College of Physical Science, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, and the Catholic University of Ireland.
618 Jun 187510The teaching of science in public and endowed schools.
718 Jun 187540Science teaching in the University of London; the Universities of Scotland (Edinburgh, Glasgow, St. Andrew's, and Aberdeen), the University of Dublin and Trinity College, and the Queen's University in Ireland.
818 Jun 187548The government's duty to promote the advancement of science: grants for scientific research, and the appointment of a Minister of Science or a Minister of Science and Education.

The Reports online

All the reports are presented here in a single web page. I have not attempted to reproduce the bulk of the volumes published by the Commission (amounting to thousands of pages), which consisted of verbatim accounts of interviews with witnesses and various appendices.

In the printed version, lengthy quotations were set in small type: for this online version, I have followed the normal convention of presenting these quotations in indented paragraphs.

The reports - especially the last two - feature excessive and inconsistent use of capitalisation. I have reproduced it here as in the original. I have, however, modernised and simplified some of the punctuation.

Where sums of money are mentioned, I have replaced the archaic l with the sign.

Blank pages have been omitted.

The above notes were prepared by Derek Gillard and uploaded on 19 March 2019.