Linda Hall Library
Science Engineering Technology

Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins, an English artist and sculptor, was born Feb. 8, 1807. Hawkins was quite a competent natural history artist, but he is best known for a series of sculptures that he did for the reopening of the Crystal Palace, after it had been moved to Sydenham in 1854. Hawkins created life-sized sculptures of a variety of prehistoric animals, including the three known dinosaurs at the time: Iguanodon, Megalosaurus, and Hylaeosaurus. These were the first attempts ever to make life restorations of Mesozoic reptiles. We see above Hawkins’ published drawing of his plan for the Crystal Palace grounds (third image), as well as a photograph taken after the dinosaurs were put in place, but before the landscaping was completed (fourth image). Hawkins fabricated all of the reconstructions in his studio, building iron frames around which his beasts were cast in concrete from giant molds, and then hand painted (first image). The concrete behemoths were allowed to languish throughout much of the 20th century (especially after the Crystal Palace burned down in 1936), since they depict dinosaurs in poses that are no longer deemed accurate, but in the last 30 years it has been realized that these are truly historic creations and should be not only preserved but treasured. So they have all been refurbished and given new paint jobs and today look quite spritely, standing at their original locations in Sydenham (fifth image).

Most of Hawkins’ papers are at the Drexel Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia, including the portrait above (second image), showing Hawkins about 20 years after he gave us our first dinosaur restorations. We displayed several Hawkins-related publications in our exhibition, Paper Dinosaurs.

Dr. William B. Ashworth, Jr., Consultant for the History of Science, Linda Hall Library and Associate Professor, Department of History, University of Missouri-Kansas City. Comments or corrections are welcome; please direct to ashworthw@umkc.edu.