Hercules - Down to earth

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From: Wilson, H.E. Down to earth - one hundred and fifty years of the British Geological Survey. Edinburgh:Scottish Academic Press, 1985.
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The entrance hall after 1883. The polished columns, several crowned with unidentified busts, were examples of building stones. Hercules has had his fig leaf added.
[Hercules on the Keyworth site — without figleaf.]

VII Hercules[edit]

Men may come and men may go, but one inmate of the successive headquarters of the organisation who has proved more resistant has been the statue of Hercules which has dominated, successively, Jermyn Street, Exhibition Road and now Keyworth.

When the Museum of Practical Geology was proposed, to coincide with the Great Exhibition of 1851, the owners of a Portland Stone quarry in Dorset, Messrs Stewart, and a sculptor, Mr C H Smith, combined to present to the new forum a copy of the Faranese 'Hercules', a Roman statue of the first or second century AD, sculpted not in the original Italian marble but in Portland Stone. It may be conjectured that this was an effort by Messrs Stewart to advertise the qualities of Portland Stone.

The block of stone, weighing fifteen tons, was quarried in 1849-50 and was carved by Mr Smith for 'a nominal fee' — £20 — from a cast made from the original statue. The statue was installed in the Jermyn Street museum in 1851, though it was not yet complete and had to be worked on for some time thereafter. How good a copy of the original it was is not clear, but it is certainly a very muscular representation.

It appears that it was certainly present at the opening night when the Prince Consort declared the Museum open, for its presence and appearance were recorded in a poem presented at a geologist's dinner some time later (see p.55).

Whenever Hercules arrived, however, his presence among other classical replicas was a continuing source of entertainment to the geological staff, as witness another geologist's ditty:

A monstrous Hercules is there, a myth he is , I wot
Because he's always at his club and yet he's on the spot…
By studying them carefully the public learns geology
And other uses they subserve 'bout which there is no mystery
For female students you observe may thus learn natural history
Yet some of those who may perchance have got a taste for botany
Might not think fig leaves out of place, or textile fabrics cottony.

The latter sentiments were certainly in the minds of some of the school-teachers — or, according to Survey tradition, in that of Mrs Archibald Geikie, for when her husband became Director General in 1882 one of his first acts appears to have been to deal with the 'offensively obtrusive' evidence of Hercules' gender.

In September 1883 Messrs D Brucciani of 40 Russell Street, Covent Garden, submitted an account to the Curator of the Museum (F W Rudler) for 'Artist's time removing genital organs from the statue of Hercules, modelling leaf and fixing same. Men's time cleaning the figure and pedestal, £7.7.0'. Rudler duly passed this for payment to the Science and Art Department of the Committee of Council on Education, where it was considered at a very high level! Col. Donnelly, who corresponded with Directors-General as an equal, was asked by someone at a higher level (E.H.) — 'Is there any board authority for this dismembering?' As there was not. Professor A Geikie received a stern Questionnaire —

Description of Voucher

Brucciani's Account Artist's time removing Genital Organs to £7.7.0

Query or Observation

As this expenditure is of an unusual nature, it is requested that some explanation may be furnished as to the reason for incurring it.

A copy of the account is sent herewith.

Answer or Explanation
The greater part of this Account relates to work which is periodically executed for the Museum by Messrs Brucciani, such as cleaning the statuary and colouring the plaster casts in the Hall. A part only of the first item is for the removal of the genital organs of a statue, the remainder being for cleaning the figure and pedestal; and it is presumed that the former is the only part which needs any explanation. The statue in question is a modern work, executed in Portland Stone for the purposes of the sculptor. Visitors had frequently made observations as to the objectionable character of this nude statue; and it was evident that its educational value in a Geological Museum as an illustration of the use of a particular stone would not be affected if it were made ordinarily decent. Under these circumstances it was decided to adopt the usual arrangement of a fig-leaf, but in carrying out this alteration it was found that the gential organs were so offensively obtrusive that they could not be simply covered, but had to be removed. They were accordingly carefully sawn off, and can at any future time be replaced. The alteration was made solely in the interests of the Institution and of public decency.
A Geikie
27 October 1883

The hilarity induced by this episode can be imagined, and the offending organs were preserved in a velvet-lined mahogany box which was handed down from Curator to Curator for over ninety years! Hercules, with fig leaf, presided over Jermyn Street till 1935 when, with the rest of the Museum, he was moved to the new Museum in Exhibition Road — shifted at night with special traffic arrangements. Victor and Joan Eyles, he then a Senior Geologist, followed the procession by car.

In the Museum the statue stood at the west end, under the clock, and glowered over the inauguration by the Duke of York and succeeding events until 1970 when reorganisation in anticipation of the modernization of the ground floor forced his move and, because of his weight, restricted him to skulking in appropriate corners of the ground floor, where the floor-loading could cope. During the Directorship of Austin Woodland it was decided that Geikie's emasculation should be reversed and, as described in the Museum 'List of Events' by Ron Roberts (Spring, 1979), 'Advanced surgical techniques have recently permitted the removal of his coy attire and the restoration of full virility, pending his transit to the Keyworth campus'. (Cost £223 in 1977). The waiting period, however, was in a corner of the ground floor used temporarily as an area where school-children on guided tours were allowed to eat their packed lunches behind discreet screens. Hercules, duringduring this period, suffered frequently from adolescent attention — garland of daises etc. — which would have given Mrs Geikie an attack of the vapours.

Finally, however, in 1979 he was extracted from the building by the removal of a window and, with the help of a mobile crane, incarcerated in a massive wooden crate and despatched by low-loader to Keyworth. For almost three years the crate lay in the middle of the builders' yard which the Keyworth site resembled, until in the summer of 1982 he was released from his crate and set on a plinth at the centre of the building complex, at the east end of the main concourse.

As the concourse is bridged by three buildings a visitor approaching from the main entrance sees first his feet, then his knees, then..! All await with interest the effects of the Midland winters on the advanced surgical techniques!