Joseph Sinel

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The portrait of Joseph Sinel commissioned by La Société Jersiaise

Joseph Sinel (1844-1929), naturalist and archaeologist

From A Biographical Dictionary of Jersey by George Balleine

Early life

The youngest son of Philip Sinel, wholesale tobacco merchant, and Charlotte Babot, Joseph Sinel was born in St Helier on 15 December 1844. When fifteen he entered Voisin and Company's furniture department, where he rose to be manager. But even in those early years his main interest was zoology. His spare time was spent at low tide among the rocks of St Clement's Bay, where the wealth of marine life in the pools so fascinated him that he determined to devote his life to natural science.

He resigned his position at Voisin's, and started business as a taxidermist. While living at Samares he made, with John G Romeril, the large collection of wild birds of Jersey, now in the Museum. His lectures in the Prince of Wales' Rooms roused much interest in local zoology, botany, and geology, and he lectured regularly in the Guille Alles Museum, Guernsey, and at the summer camps of the Society of Friends in England.

Biological station

Papers which he contributed to Science Gossip brought him English correspondents, many of whom crossed to Jersey to obtain his help in collecting specimens. Charles Darwin and Russel Wallace frequently wrote to him about topics of marine zoology. With his son-in-law, James Hornell, he built in 1891 a biological station at Havre des Pas with aquarium tanks for the study of marine life and the supply of living specimens to students.

For some years this was successful, but the opening of similar establishments in England, subsidised by Government, forced it to close. His next venture was an attempt to revive the local oyster fisheries. A Jersey Oyster Culture Company was formed, and quantities of spat from Auray were placed in cage-traps near Green Island; but the site proved insufficiently protected against storms, and the enterprise failed. Later he spent much time in an attempt to extract osmiridium from the local diorite, but this, too, proved a financial failure.

In 1906 the committee of La Société Jersiaise consulted him on the rearrangement of the Museum. He drew up a report, which the committee adopted, and in 1907 made him Curator of the Museum, a post which he held until his death. Most of the zoological exhibits are his handiwork. In 1910 the Société commissioned R G Crawford to paint his portrait.

During the last 20 years of his life he turned his attention to prehistory, and took an active part in the explorations made by the Société , on most of which he contributed valuable papers to the Bulletins. Sir Arthur Keith wrote of him :

"Mr Sinel has read the history of his beloved island as it is written by the sun, the wind, the sea and the frost, and of its ancient inhabitants as it is told by their relics; and he has obviously read aright".

He frequently visited Carnac, Brittany, and helped to arrange the prehistoric museum there.

In his later years his inquiring mind was attracted by psychical research, and he spent much time experimenting in telepathy and kindred subjects. Among his publications are: The Complete Guide to Jersey, 1896; Fishes of the Channel Islands, 1906; An Outline of the Natural History of our Shores, 1906; Crustacea of the Channel Islands, 19066; Notes on the Lizards of the Channel Islands, 1907; The Reptilia, Batrachia, and Mammalia of the Channel Islands, their Origin and Modification by Isolation, 1908; The Relative Ages of the Channel Islands, 1908 ; The Geology of Jersey, 1912 ; Prehistoric Times and Men of the Channel Islands, 1914; The Children's World of Wonders (3 vols), 1924 ; The Sixth Sense, a Physical Explanation of Clairvoyance, Hypnotism, Dreams, and other Phenomena usually considered Occult, 1927.

In 1868 he married Elizabeth Du Feu, and had a son, Joseph William, and a daughter, Charlotte Elizabeth, who married James Hornell. Joseph Sinel died in St Helier on 2 April 1929.

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