It was a fascinating heritage walk around Seedley and Buile Hill Parks that sparked my interest in Caroline Birley. She lived in a house, no longer standing, that looked over Seedley Park on Seedley Terrace and we were told she kept her huge collection of fossils and rocks in a building that was constructed on the back of the house that she called the Seedley Museum. She opened this home-museum to the public in 1888.
Born in Manchester in 1851 [or 1852] Caroline came from a wealthy family that made money from textiles and rubber in Manchester. She was the youngest of four and had an early passion for science and despite having no formal education was lucky enough to be able to follow interests that were considered the realm of men at that time. She travelled widely collecting specimens; between 1887 and 1907 she travelled across the world from Denmark to North America and South Africa with her friend Louisa Copland. A number of fossil species were named after her and although Caroline collected and catalogued her own finds publication about her findings had to come from a man, Dr Henry Woodward, the Keeper of Geology at the British Museum.
She left Salford and moved to London in 1896 and her collection moved with her so didn’t make it in to the Salford Natural History Museum in Buile Hill House. Before she moved she made a will stating that she wished her collection to be given to the London Natural History Museum and The Manchester University Museum. During her lifetime Caroline also gave many specimens to Oxford University. Her executors wanted to see some museums in the north-west of England benefit after her death and so her collection was further fragmented as specimens were sent to Bolton, Bury, Rochdale, Radcliffee and Warrington and the Manchester Grammer School museum.
Between 1879 and 1898 Caroline Birley also wrote several children’s books, including the intriguingly titled J
Caroline returned to Salford just before her death in 1907 at the age of 55-years. She had not married and had no children. Her obituary, published in The Geological Magazine, said of her:
‘By the death of Miss Caroline Birley, a most ardent and enthusiastic student has been lost to the science of Geology, one who from her childhood to the end of her life never wavered in devotion to this her cherished pursuit, nor thought any fatigue or personal sacrifice too great in order to visit places of geological interest and obtain specimens for her beloved museum’