28th February 2021, 11:00am


John Leigh Philips - Commander and Collector

John Leigh Philips, born 1761, was a Manchester-based manufacturer and art collector. Philips was heavily involved in the textile industry, alongside his brother Francis. Not only was Philips a member of the Manchester Lit & Phil, but he was also associated with the Roscoe Circle in Liverpool, a group of reformers coordinated by William Roscoe. Radical ideas were beginning to spread around the North West, and Philips was heavily involved.

During the French Revolutionary Wars, Philips was granted command of the First regiment of Manchester and Salford Corps. In a dispute over rank, Philips challenged Joseph Hanson of the Salford and Stockport Independent Rifles to a duel. The two met on Kersal Moor on 28th July 1804.  Both were both arrested before the duel could start, but were released and ordered to remain civil. Philips began a war of words with the Earl of Derby and Lord Hawkesbury, as both had backed Hanson.  This led to Philips resigning from the regiments...along with all of his 53 officers, too.

The collection at the Manchester Museum on Oxford Road is built on the personal archives of Philips. Following his death, a band of wealthy men purchased Philip’s ‘cabinet’, using it to set up the Manchester Natural History Society in 1821. The collection soon began to grow as members began to donate artefacts, before it eventually subsumed the collections of the Manchester Geological Society. The Manchester Museum attracts thousands of visitors each year; and the personal collection of John Leigh Philips can still be viewed today.


We are delighted to join the celebration of the 240th birthday of the Manchester Literary and Philosophical Society. John Leigh Phillips’ collection was the seed from which Manchester Museum grew. Bird specimens that he collected more than two centuries ago are still inspiring Manchester Museum audiences today and his commitment to understanding nature endures through our mission to build a more sustainable world.  He was an inspirational Mancunian who matched an interest in nature with scientific curiosity, leaving a lasting legacy for the city.

Georgina Young, Head of Exhibitions and Collections


Did you know?

In 1994 a portrait of John Leigh Philips was stolen from the Manchester Lit & Phil, along with 6 bottles of wine (!). To date, its whereabouts remain unknown...