Obituary: Henry Calvert
Saturday 26 September 1992
HENRY CALVERT pursued his career in the Science Museum during a period of rapid expansion and development of that institution. But throughout his time the basic functions of a curator remained the same: to be a master of his subject, to have a passionate interest in its history and to present it persuasively in the museum context. In all these matters Calvert served the public weal, and when increased seniority brought with it administrative duties they too were performed with meticulous care.
He was born in Wakefield in 1904 and educated at Bridlington School and St John's College, Oxford. After taking his first degree he spent short periods doing research, both academic and industrial, the most formative years being the two he spent at Gottingen. It is said that the fluent German that he acquired there (together with his doctorate) was spoken with a strong Yorkshire accent.
He joined the staff of the Science Museum in 1934 and took over the collections of Mathematics and Calculating Machines. But he spent most of the war years in the Ministry of Supply working on the terminal ballistics of projectiles. After the war he had the interesting experience of assuming the rank of lieutenant-colonel and became a member of a team sent to study work of the same type that had been done in Germany.
Back at South Kensington, Calvert was in 1949 appointed Keeper of the newly formed Department of Astronomy and Geophysics. He became involved in planning the occupation of the new centre block of the museum. This gave him the chance of redisplaying, with up-to-date techniques, all the material for which he was responsible, including his own Astronomy collection and the Meteorology, Surveying and Navigation collections in his colleagues' care.
He published booklets of coloured prints of various objects in his collections and also learned papers in various journals including Isis, Discovery and the Quarterly Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society. He was Honorary Treasurer of the British Society for the History of Science from 1952 to 1963. During the last two years of his service he became interested in trade cards of scientific-instrument makers and published a catalogue of the museum's collection.
As to Calvert the man, I can hardly do better than to quote from the valedictory tribute that was paid to him at the Science Museum when he retired in 1969, putting it with deep regret into the past tense.
As a very human person he enjoyed most aspects of human life, including his happy home life with his family and, with moderation, the pleasures of wining and dining; his actual hobbies ranged from the intellectual pleasures of chess (which he enjoyed playing as well as administering) to the more robust endeavours of gardens and walking and the joys (and occasional pangs) of Continental travel.
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