James Lomax (1857–1934): palaeobotanical catalyst or hindrance?
James Lomax was born in Radcliffe, near Bury, Lancashire, the son of a colliery manager. After a meagre formal education he too began work in the mines. There his interest in geology was aroused by the abundant fossil plant remains in the Coal Measure rocks. He became particularly keen on the applications of the microscope to geological science and developed some skill in the production of the thin sections necessary for geological microscopy. Lomax was initially encouraged by W.C. Williamson of Owens College, for whom he began to prepare fossil plant thin sections around 1885. Ultimately, Lomax gave up his job as a collier and became a full-time commercial manufacturer of geological thin sections. James Lomax was aided by his son Joseph in a business that produced sections from the complete range of geological materials; however, he became especially noted for his fossil plant preparations. From 1906 the business was rather more formally constituted as the Lomax Palaeobotanical Company Limited, and received sponsorship from a group of academic palaeobotanists for whom Lomax collected and prepared fossil plant sections. The output from the Lomax workshops was a significant component of the so-called ‘Golden Age’ of palaeobotany and the evidence for that is still present in the collections of many museums and academic institutions. The business model under which Lomax operated, however, did not always serve the best interests of academic research.
Figures & Tables
Often regarded as the ‘Cinderella’ of palaeontological studies, palaeobotany has a history that contains some fascinating insights into scientific endeavour, especially by palaeontologists who were perusing a personal interest rather than a career. The problems of maintaining research facilities in universities, especially in the modern era, are described and reveal a noticeable absence of a national UK strategy to preserve centres of excellence in an avowedly specialist area. Accounts of some of the pioneers demonstrate the importance of collaboration between taxonomists and illustrators. The importance of palaeobotany in the rise of geoconservation is outlined, as well as the significant and influential role of women in the discipline. Although this volume has a predominantly UK focus, two very interesting studies outline the history of palaeobotanical work in Argentina and China.