By Adam John Fraser, PEF Librarian
150 years ago on this day the Palestine Exploration Fund held its first public meeting. The meeting took place in Willis’s Rooms in London’s St James’s Square at 3pm.
The resolutions passed at this meeting outlined the Fund’s structure and aims. For the enjoyment of our readers, these resolutions, the Fund’s original mission statement, are included below.
Proposed by The Bishop of London
Seconded by Viscount Strangford
That a Fund be formed for the purpose of promoting the exploration of the Holy Land and that the following Noblemen and Gentlemen do constitute the Committee and Officers with power to add to their number.
Proposed by A.H. Layard Esq. MP
Seconded by Count De Vogüé
That the exploration of Jerusalem and many other places in the Holy Land by means of excavations would probably throw much light upon the archaeology of the Jewish people.
Proposed by Sir Roderick J Murchison
Seconded by Mr Palgrave
That in addition to the praiseworthy research that have recently been made by Frenchmen, Englishmen, and travellers of other nations in the Holy Land, it is highly desirable to carry out such a systematic survey as will completely establish the true geological and geographical characters of that remarkable region.
Proposed by Professor Owen
Seconded by Rev. H.B. Tristram
That it is desirable that the animals, plants and minerals of the Holy Land be collected and that the facts requisite for their systematic history be noted by competent observers on the spot.
Proposed by The Dean of Westminster
Seconded by The Dean of Canterbury
That the Biblical Scholar may yet receive assistance in illustrating the sacred text from careful observers of the manner and habits of the people of the Holy Land.
Proposed by The Bishop of Morny & Ross
Seconded by Dr William Smith
That the thanks of the Meeting be given to his Grace the Archbishop of York for his conduct in the chair.
The men who proposed these resolutions were some of the brightest minds of their generation. Many of them had conducted their own travels in the Middle East and were independent scholars who studied the languages and customs of the region. Although some of them were Biblical scholars the Fund was a secular organization. One of the most renowned archaeologists of the mid-Victorian period Austen Henry Layard (who discovered Niniveh and Nimrud) helped shape the Fund’s research focus.
Professor Owen (who eventually established the Natural History Museum in South Kensington) ensured that the PEF was not entirely concerned with the ancient history of the land but also that it collect current specimens, both plant and animal. The Dean of Westminster’s proposal that the local customs of the people of Palestine be recorded (albeit for religious study) resulted in unique and unparalleled records.
150 years ago these Committee members put forth motions to ensure the PEF’s specific and unique identity. We remain committed to the ethos of these first resolutions by continuing to champion research in the Levant today.