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Vol. 13 2005

James Motley (1822-1859) : the life story of a collector and naturalist /

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JAMES MOTLEY (1822-1859)
Research into the life of James Motley has been particularly difficult because all his
records were destroyed in Borneo when he was killed in 1859. His life as a young
man in South Wales is not well documented and no family letters or photographs
have yet been discovered. The dates stated throughout this article are based on the
best existing references but they are still subject to scrutiny.
Motley arrived in South Wales from Leeds about 1840 when he was 18 years old,
and his first home may have been somewhere near Aberafon. Here he trained as a
mining engineer and surveyor, possibly starting as an apprentice in one of the coal-
mines nearby, we do not know where.
His prowess as a naturalist is better documented. James Motley was a prodigious
collector and recorder of natural history items. His life can be separated into two
entirely different categories, life in South Wales and life in Borneo where he went in
1849. Thanks to his letters from Borneo to Sir William Hooker' at Kew and his
friendship with Lewis Llewelyn Dillwyn we know a considerable amount about his
adventures in South East Asia. James Motley died one day before his 37th birthday.
The Motley2 family originated from the Leeds area where there are many branches
dating from 1582. A preference for the Christian names of Thomas and James with-
out a second name has caused a great deal of confusion. There are for instance four-
teen Thomas Motleys listed since the 16th Century.
By the late 18th Century the South Wales iron industry was fast becoming the
largest in the world. The Maesteg Ironworks attracted a number of English investors
in the early 1800s; these included Thomas Motley3 from Leeds, Henry Fussell from
Warminster and William Buckland from Reading. They also invested in a new
company, the Dyffryn Llyni and Porthcawl Railway Company. By 1828 a blast
furnace in Maesteg and the Railway were in operation. In the 1830s the Maesteg
works had close links with Robert Smith & Company, of the Margam tin works.
When Smith died the original investors traded as Motley, Fussell and Company
from 1841 to 1843, owning both the Maesteg site and the Margam tin works. There
were 500 workers in Maesteg and 396 in Margam so these were big investments.
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