Frederick Richard Rowley (1868-1939)

Frederick Richard Rowley was the second son of William Jepson Rowley of Bridgnorth, Shropshire and was educated in Hereford. In 1882, at the age of about 14, he moved to Leicester where he became sub-curator of the museum. Rowley held first-class certificates for geology and botany. He also had a strong knowledge of zoology and photography. He worked at the museum for twenty years and regularly lectured at the city’s Institution.

Rowley and RAMM

Rowley held the post of curator at RAMM for 32 years. A report in the daily gazette on 26 November 1921 recorded that RAMM’s governors unanimously agreed that he ‘was in every respect the best man to be appointed’.

Reportedly, Rowley’s Saturday evening lectures on the collections and natural history were so popular that there wasn’t always enough room for everyone. They included ‘Microscopic Life in Ponds and Streams’ (March 3rd, 1909) and ‘Life in Antarctic Regions’ (March 22nd, 1922).

Rowley’s passion, dedication to the collections and receptivity to new museum practice helped RAMM to become the exceptional museum that it is today. The Express and Echo reported in 1939 ‘He found the museum a conglomerate of unrelated objects. He left it in 1934 one of the best arranged of provincial museums’. RAMM named a gallery after Rowley (now gallery 22) to mark his contribution to the museum.

Securing important collections

During his time as curator, Rowley secured several important collections for RAMM – Miss JE Linter’s land snail shell collection and CVA Peel’s collection of big game, to name but two.

Rowley and the wider museum and scientific community

Museums Association members elected Rowley to the organisation’s Council in 1908. He later became editor of the society’s journal. His commitment to improving curatorial expertise and practise was demonstrated through his frequent contributions to the journal including ‘Methods of Exhibiting Coins’ and ‘Some recent work in the Exeter Museum’. Rowley’s success as a Curator was due to his deep knowledge of the profession, his talent for communication and passion for improving collections and allowing access to them. The Museums Association elected Rowley President during their 1925 annual conference, held in Exeter.

In 1912, Rowley joined the Devonshire Association and was later chair of the Devon Archaeological Exploration Society and Exeter Preservation Society. He was also a very active member and lecturer of the Torquay Natural History Society and president of Exeter University Field Club and Natural History Society and the South West Naturalists Union.

Rowley and RAMM today

A wonderful example of Rowley’s curatorial work is in Sladen’s Study today. He arranged and mounted Percy Sladen’s collection of Echinoderms (starfish and sea urchins). He also included a set of wax models made by the Ziegler studio. The models illustrate the echinoderms’ complex and unusual developmental stages. This demonstrates Rowley’s desire to deepen visitors’ experience and understanding of the collections. A microscope believed to have belonged to FR Rowley is also displayed in Sladen’s Study.

An image of Rowley was also included in the Life Through the Lens exhibition in 2012.