image ms_654_31
Image number: RS.17963
Credit: ©The Royal Society

Priestley riots

Date

ca.1791

Creator

Charles Joseph Hullmandel (1789-1850, British), Lithographer

Object type

Archive reference number

Material

Technique

Subject

Description

A depiction of the Priestley Riots, also known as the Birmingham Riots of 1791, specifically the attack of Joseph Priestley’s home at Fair hill.

Plumes of smoke frame the building and figures are visible throwing Priestley’s belongings - papers, globes, apparatus and furniture - out of its windows. In the bottom left corner [as viewed] figures loll around a barrel of beer, suggesting the intoxication of many of the assailants. A banner inscribed ‘CHURCH AND KING’ hangs from a tree.

Inscribed below: ‘DR. PRIESTLEY’S HOUSE & LABORATORY, FAIR HILL.
DESTROYED IN THE BIRMINGHAM RIOTS 14TH JULY 1791
From a Picture Sketched on the spot in the Posesion of Joseph Parkes’

From The Priestley Papers, a volume containing portraits, drawings, letters and other memorials of Joseph Priestley, curated and edited by James Yates.

Joseph Priestley (1733-1804) British theologian and natural philosopher, was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1766. He was at the heart of the Birmingham riots, which targeted Dissenters, owing to his particularly controversial political and theological stance.

James Yates (1789-1871) British Unitarian minister and scholar was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1839. Though he never met Priestley personally, Yates knew many of his relatives, friends and pupils, and spent much of his career documenting his discoveries and writings.

Object history

During the planning of the new University Museum of Oxford in 1856, it was decided to commission several statues of famous scientists. One of these was to be of Priestley, and James Yates was invited to oversee its conception. In his own words, 'it became necessary to obtain the best portraits, busts and bas-reliefs to assist the sculptor in making a good likeness.' He also acquired reports of personal experiences and anecdotes from people who knew Priestley, and in 1864 assembled all of this material into this volume.

This volume was presented to the Royal Society in 1957 by the Priestley family.