1st August 2017: Remembering E E Riseley

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The Librarian of the Linnean Society, E E Riseley, was killed 100 years ago today, fighting in World War I. To commemorate his death, a display has been produced about his life in the Reading Room which everyone is welcome to come and visit.

Rifleman S/21693, 3rd Batallion, Rifle Brigade
Rifleman S/21693, 3rd Batallion, Rifle Brigade

Edwin Ephraim Riseley was born on the 15 February 1889 in Abbots Ripton, Huntingdonshire, to Ephraim Riseley and Emily Elizabeth Murkett.

After leaving school at the age of 15, Riseley began work as the Library Clerk to the Zoological Society, where he gained an introduction to librarianship and zoological material. In the spring of 1914, the Assistant to the Librarian at the Linnean Society, Mr W H T Tams, resigned from his post and the role was offered to Riseley, who had previously applied for the position. He started on a salary of £100, working 10am-6pm on weekdays, 10am-1pm on Saturdays and on meeting nights.

Ref: B Vol. V, p. 224
Ref: B Vol. V, p. 224

At the outbreak of World War I, the Librarian, German-born August Wilhelm Kappel, had been declared an enemy alien by the police and the Council of the Linnean Society felt forced to dismiss him. Kappel died on Christmas eve the following year.

Ref: CM/9 – 15 Oct 1914
Ref: CM/9 – 15 Oct 1914

Riseley was promoted to the role of Librarian, officially from the 1 January 1915, on an increased salary of £125 per annum. He thrived in his new role and spent the next two years making improvements to the library.

In January 1916, the Military Service Act introduced conscription and in May, the Council decided to take preliminary steps to find help in the library in the event of Riseley being called up to fight. This foresight was sensible as not long afterwards Riseley was indeed summoned for duty by the Army and on the 8 December he enlisted in the 9th Battalion, Rifle Brigade.

Riseley undertook training on the Isle of Sheppey, Kent. In his absence, the Council appointed a temporary librarian but elected to still pay Riseley £45 of his salary whilst on active duty. On the 29 June 1916 whilst still based in Kent, he writes to the Officers of the Council to thank them for continuing to pay his salary whilst he is away fighting. He also comments that: 

To see the battleplanes here every day and the firing that goes on, one would think it impossible for any more raids to take place in London.

E E Riseley
Ref: B Vol. VI, p. 69
Ref: B Vol. VI, p. 69

He embarked for France on the 15 June 1917 and was killed less than a month later, by a shell on the 1 August.

His death was reported at a Council meeting on the 18 October 1917, where it was proposed that a memorial plaque should be placed in the library in commemoration. 

Ref: CM/9 – 18 Oct 1917
Ref: CM/9 – 18 Oct 1917

A Riseley Memorial Committee was established to investigate this further and they got in touch with the librarian at Windsor Castle who had commissioned a similar commemorative object. On the 21 February 1918, a draft sketch submitted by Mr William Thomas Pavitt, of 17 Hanover Square, a renowned metal worker, was chosen at a cost of £12.

Ref: CM/9 – 21 Feb 1918
Ref: CM/9 – 21 Feb 1918

The memorial tablet, which was received a few months later, consists of a beaten copper memorial plaque mounted on a thin oak board.  

Memorial Plaque

The plaque translates as:

In memory of Edwin Ephraim Riseley. Born on the 15 February 1889, in charge of this library from 1914 to 1917 during which period by universal consent he endeared himself to the Fellows [of the Linnean Society] by the energetic and able discharge of his duties; he had laid down for his country a life of high promise on the 1 August 1917 in the 29th year of his age.

The plaque was placed in the library as a permanent reminder of Riseley’s contribution to the work of the Society and still hangs there to this day.

Gwatkin album I - Field poppy
J R G Gwatkin - Field poppy