|Dr Richard Hill Norris (1830-1916) was Professor of Physiology, Queen's College Birmingham, 1862-1891.
Norris' first areas of research as a physiologist appear to have been in the field of physiological physics (the physics of living organisms). One of his first papers was a study of the 'phenomena of attraction and adhesion' in solid bodies, films, vesicles, liquid globules and blood corpuscles which was published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society of London in 1862. His research later concentrated on researching the physics of blood, with a paper entitled "On the Laws and Principles concerned in the Aggregation of Blood-corpuscles…" published in 1869 and a paper 'On the Physical Principles Concerned in the Passage of Blood-Corpuscles Through the Walls of the Vessels" published in 1871.
During the late 1870s and the 1880s, his main work involved a proposed 'third corpuscular element of the blood', a blood corpuscle additional to the red and white blood cells, which was colourless and normally invisible. This third element of the blood was proposed by Norris to explain the origin of the red disc and the formation of fibrin. This theory was published in 1878 in the Proceedings of the Birmingham Philosophical Society. Norris produced various other articles which discussed this theory. A book entitled 'The Physiology and Pathology of the Blood' was published in 1882, which discussed many topics relating to blood including this theory. Norris however had problems in getting his theory of the 'third corpuscle' accepted. His opponents included Professor Huxley whom Norris believed prevented the publication of his theory by the Royal Society, Mrs Ernest Hart who wrote a paper against Norris' theory and George St. Clair who wrote a paper in 1884 arguing there may have been an error in his method of photographing the blood corpuscles. Norris believed that his theories were plagiarized by Bizzozero in an article in the 'Centralblatt' in 1882, and Norris wrote a letter to the Lancet (Volume 119 - 8 April 1882) various articles in which he defended his theory. He received some support in this, including a note by Dr Heslop published in the Proceedings of the Birmingham Philosophical Society arguing that much of Bizzozero's paper echoed Norris' earlier work.
He also researched into other topics relating to blood and claimed to discover a new form of aggregation of blood corpuscles which he called 'the tessellate mode of aggregation'. Other studies of blood by Norris include "On Stasis of the Blood, and Exudation" published in 1862 and "On the extrusion of the morphological elements of the blood" published in 1871. He was a pioneer in the use of micro-photography to record his observations, and many of his works were heavily illustrated with microscopic images of blood.
Norris also carried out experiments he termed 'segment' research involving dissection (mainly of frogs). This included research into 'muscular irritability' (the contraction of muscular tissue under the influence of stimuli) after the death of animals. A paper on the topic of muscular irritability was published in 1867.
As a student, he invented the first dry collodion photographic plate to be produced on a commercial basis in 1856. At the time, wet collodion plates were commonly used, but using wet plates outside was inconvenient. Norris' plates were also the first plates to be produced commercially on a large scale, and before him photographers were required to make their own plates. He founded the Patent Dry Collodion Plate Company in Birmingham and had forty retailers selling his plates by 1858 (Gernsheim 258-259). He later developed a new collodion dry plate which was more sensitive and was patented on 11 May 1888 (patent number 7044). By this time, collodion plates (both wet and dry) had greatly declined in use and it was the dry gelatine plate which was the dominant type of plate. It appears that Norris made a partnership with Harold William Southall of Edgbaston, Birmingham in 1890 to produce the plates and a company (the Birmingham Dry Collodion Plate and Film Company Ltd) was formed soon after. A factory was set up for the company at Yardley in Birmingham, on a site of approximately two acres near the Yardley Arms Hotel off Yardley Fields Road. It appears from Norris' notes that the company was founded in December 1890 and it started production in January 1893. The company however failed for reasons including difficulties in obtaining pure supplies of chemicals, delays in establishing the factory, delays in starting large-scale production and faults with the initial batches of plates (sources include US41/3/1/16 and US41/3/1/21). As a result, the company was in liquidation by 1895 and its works, land, and other property was auctioned on 27 May 1895 (see US41/3/4/1). However, many of the former company's assets were taken over by a new company, the Birmingham Collodion Plate Company, and Norris seems to have been involved in the management of this new company and appears to have been a part-owner of the company, as well as being involved in research and development work. Norris also experimented with microscopic photography, which he used to demonstrate and illustrate his works on blood.
Other research by Norris included research into the molecular changes occurring in iron and steel during heating and cooling, primarily investigating the 'kicks' or 'jerks' in iron and steel wire. This research was carried out following his physiological physics work, and was a follow-up of observations made by George Gore. Norris was also involved with Gore in the Institute of Scientific Research, at 67 Broad Street, Birmingham. This Institute contained laboratory facilities for scientific research used by Gore, Norris and others (Heslop 237; US41/8/4/3).
His main personal interest however appears to have been spiritualism and Norris carried out much work in documenting séances, spirit writing and other events which he thought were caused by spirits. Norris claims in his notes that he could himself communicate with 'spirits' and he carried out 'automatic writing' (writing where the hand was said to be controlled by a 'spirit'). He considered himself to be an 'amateur medium' (for example, see US41/6/8/14 page 110). This interest in spiritualism included 'allopsychism', 'mesmerism' and hypnotism. 'Allopsychism' was defined by Norris as "all operations and modifications that a foreign mind is capable of working on the mind and body of another" (US41/6/11/15). 'Mesmerism' was thought by Norris to be one of these 'allopsychic' powers in which animals (including humans) and spirits could influence the thoughts of another and he thought that spirits could hypnotise people into carrying out certain actions, and he studied cases of people with multiple personalities such as Christine Beauchamp which he thought was caused by a hypnotic influence of spirits.
Norris appears to have been reluctant to be involved in spiritualism in public by publishing his work on the topic, initially it seems because it was considered by him to be "a much tabooed subject" (US41/7/8/27) and later it appears from a draft letter (US41/6/3/40) that it was because he made a decision not to publish anything on spiritualism "till such time as I might have a reasonable grasp of the whole". He did however correspond with various people who also believed in spirits, such as Alfred Russel Wallace and William Crookes, and with spirit 'mediums' such as Emma Hardinge and Samuel Guppy, and he wrote lengthy papers and notes on spiritualism and mesmerism though it appears that these were not published.
Norris was also a member of the Birmingham Philosophical Society, having been the first person to read a paper before the Society and he was the Society's President for the 1883-1884 session. He was also a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh.
His wife was Anne, born 25 February 1827, married 25 July 1852, died 20 April 1901. Their children were: Richard Hill Norris, born 2 July 1853 died 1919; Mary L. Norris born 13 March 1855; Lillian Norris born 8 March 1857, died 11 March 1858; Nelly Pratt Norris born 2 June 1859 married Henry James Ley 17 February 1886 (source: Lancet 27 February 1886); Arthur Kingsley Norris, born 7 August 1861, died 18 November 1881; Kate K. Norris born 7 June 1863; and Benjamin Stuart Norris (known as Stuart) born 8 May 1866, died 1948.
Sources: various items in this collection; various published articles by Norris; Helmut Gernsheim, The History of Photography (1955); T.P. Heslop 'The Scientific Position in Birmingham' in 'Proceedings of the Birmingham Philosophical Society' Volume 2 (1880); The Lancet 27 February 1886 ('Births, Marriages and Deaths' column); Birmingham Post 18 November 1916 (Norris' obituary).
|The Richard Hill Norris papers were donated to the University of Birmingham Library by his grandson, c. 1972-1973.
A paper handlist containing a basic summary of the collection was created in 1973, and the collection was divided into files which were numbered sequentially from 1 to 212 (with sub-numbers for correspondence). The collection was arranged by eight categories: Spiritualism, Blood, General Medicine, Photography, Accounts, Correspondence, Other Scientific Works, and Miscellaneous Papers. Within the categories it appears that mainly there was a random order (except correspondence parts of which were roughly sorted by year then by surname), and related items were often separated from each other. Additionally, many of the individual files appeared to contain papers randomly collected together, with a variety of items not all of which related to each other.
In 2008, a new catalogue with a new structure was completed. The new catalogue included many items from a series of boxes labelled 'Norris Addenda', which were unnumbered and had not previously been catalogued. Another box of uncatalogued items with the label 'Dr Norris Papers Deposited By Ian Hasell 8.1.73' was also catalogued. As part of the new structure, some of the former files were split into separate parts or merged with other files where this appeared necessary in order to keep related papers together, or where it was felt necessary to give part of a file an independent catalogue entry. It did not prove possible to sort out all the former files of loose items entirely due to the randomness of the files and a lack of titles and other evidence of context on many items, so various files of miscellaneous notes are included within most series. In most cases, each file of miscellaneous notes is comprised of the unidentified items from one of the former files.
A record of the old reference numbers with the corresponding new reference numbers has been placed in the deposit file.