Our 150th Birthday

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.

Fig 1. Detail from the PEF Minute Book for the first meeting of the Fund in 1865.

Fig 1. Detail from the PEF Minute Book for the first meeting of the Fund in 1865 (PEF Minute Book 1). Copyright Palestine Exploration Fund.

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.

1st Resolution

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. 

2nd Resolution

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.

3rd Resolution

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.

4th Resolution

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.

5th Resolution

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.


Fig 2. Arthur Penrhyn Stanley, Dean of Westminster (PEF-Portrait-Stanley). Copyright Palestine Exploration Fund.

6th Resolution

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.

Fig 3. Detail of the Palestine Exploration Fund's official Committee list.

Fig 3. Detail from an early PEF publication (PEF/1865/1/84/1). Copyright Palestine Exploration Fund.


4 thoughts on “Our 150th Birthday”

  1. 150 years of scientific research, courageous exploration and making lasting history. By looking back today, the PEF is also looking to the future in order to continue the vision its founders formulated… for its next 150 years.

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