The Reverend John Hanson, ca. 1823 - 1890

by Brian Stevenson
last updated November, 2017

Hanson was a Wesleyan minister who prepared and sold microscope slides on the side, to supplement his small pastoral income. He appears to have had a long-standing interest in microscopy - his parishioners gave him a Beck microscope in 1866. He advertised for specimens in Hardwicke’s Science-Gossip from the late 1860s onward, and probably continued to make and sell slides throughout the remainder of his life. His reputation was such that he was commissioned to supply the slides to a laboratory in Cambridge University. He also retailed small scientific equipment and lectured on sciences.

Figure 1. Examples of microscope slides that were prepared by John Hanson. He moved to Leeds at a date between 1866 and 1869. The paper-covered slides are of a style that was popular through the 1870s, and so are probably among Hanson’s earlier preparations, while the unpapered slide probably dates from the 1880s. Hanson wrote a number on each slide, the meaning of which is not obvious.


John Hanson was born circa 1823 in either Bradford or Lockwood, Yorkshire (he reported both towns to census takers through the years). He is first recognizable in official records on the 1851 census. Hanson was then a “farmer of 9 acres”, in Crossland Moor, Lockwood. With him lived his widowed mother, Mary, a 3 year-old nephew named Hanson Mellor, and an 11 year-old “farmer’s labourer”.

Hanson had a strong religious bent at that time. His copy of John Pearson’s An Exposition of the Creed, signed “John Hanson’s, Crossland Moor, 1853”, is known, and is heavily annotated with his handwritten comments in the margins.

Around 1853, Hanson was kicked in the chest by a horse, which severely damaged his ribs. His breathing was impaired for the remainder of his life. Unable to tolerate the stresses of farming, Hanson took to religious ministry.

He moved to Bradford, Yorkshire, and was preaching at Muff Field Chapel by July 3, 1853.

John married Elizabeth Redfearn during the summer of 1853, in Leeds. Elizabeth was about 8 years older than John, being about 39 when they married. At the time, she lived with her widowed mother and several unmarried sisters, together operating an upholstery business.

In 1860, Hanson became the full-time minister of Muff Field and Park Lane Chapels, in Bradford. He is mentioned in an 1863 issue of The Wesleyan Reform Union Magazine, on the dedication of a new Sunday School at Park Lane, “The Rev. John Hanson, minister of the chapel, conducted the devotional part of the ceremony”. A former member of the congregation recalled that he was “a big powerful man with a clear speech, though somewhat laboured from his injury, and with a strongly rivivalist style”.

He left Bradford for Grantham in 1866. It was recalled that “his biological and botanical studies were already prominent, and, on his leaving, members of his pastorate, subscribing twenty guineas, presented him with a Beck microscope”.

Hanson was living in Leeds by 1869. He advertised in the December issue of Hardwicke’s Science-Gossip, “Diamond Beetles (Curculio), and Diatoms (Meridion), and others for any interesting objects (mounted or unmounted). - Rev. John Hanson, 1, Bagby Square, Woodhouse Lane, Leeds”. This is the first identified published exchange offer, and may indicate beginning of his accumulating specimens for large-scale commercial preparations.

Three further exchange advertisements in that magazine show the same address:

Podura. - Lepidocyrtus curvicollis (alive, or in balsam, and scales, dry) for decent slides or material. Send List. - Rev. John Hanson, 1, Bagby Square, Woodhouse Lane, Leeds”.

Chaetophora elegans, and Oscillatoria autumnalis, good slides, for slides or material. Send lists. A reply at once if accepted. - Rev. John Hanson, 1, Bagby Square, Woodhouse Lane, Leeds”.

Desmidiacae. - Slides of Pediastrum and Scenedesmus for others, or material. Please send list. - Rev. John Hanson, 1, Bagby Square, Woodhouse Lane, Leeds”.

At least two local moves occurred during 1871. That year’s census, conducted in late March, recorded John and Elizabeth’s address as 68 Elmwood Street, Leeds. An exchange offer in the March issue of Hardwicke’s Science-Gossip stated, “The Rev. John Hanson (late of 1, Bagby Square, but now of 35, Elmwood Street, Leeds) offers Desmids and Algae for anything good”. The different house numbers may have been a typographical error, or may have been a house move. The July issue stated a different address, “Rev. J. Hanson, 11 , Bagby Square. Leeds (late of Elmwood-street) offers Ichneumon gregurinus for microscopic material”. Yet another address was given in the August issue, “Ptinus pertinax (a hooded beetle) offered for microscopic material. - Rev. Jno. Hanson, 14, Bagby Square, Leeds”.

The house at 14 Bagby Square was the home and shop of Elizabeth’s sisters. The Hanson couple remained with the sisters through the remainder of their lives. Elizabeth died at Bagby Square in 1876, aged 58.

A nonconforming minister, often without a congregation, Hanson was described as being “in poor financial circumstances”. Slide-making provided a bit of additional money:

At “His sisters-in-law in Leeds, … he had a single room which he used both as a bedroom and as a work-room. A regular purchase of ‘Nature’ was his only indulgence. With home-made apparatus he eked out a scanty living by the manufacture of microscope slides, in which art he obtained such fame that he was called on to supply a laboratory in Downing College, Cambridge, with slides to such a number that a printed list was required. He also acted as an agent for the supply of small scientific instruments … and occasionally gave scientific lectures. He was a prolific writer of tracts on religious matters … one of them is of special interest as it also advertises a list of his popular scientific lectures - the microscope, the telescope, life upon earth, Darwinism, insects, animal physiology, vegetable physiology, astronomy and geology”.

Accordingly, John was listed in the 1881 census as a boarder with his sisters-in-law, working as a “lecturer and agent”.

Hanson and the Redfearn sisters moved to 15 St. Alban Street, Leeds, in the mid 1880s. John died there on January 17, 1890, at the age of 67.

Figure 2. “Burdock Transverse Section”, by John Hanson, circa 1870s.



Burial record of Elizabeth Hanson (1876) “Elizabeth Hanson, 14 Bagby Square Leeds, Wife, (buried) May 17, 58 years”, Beckett Street Cemetery, Leeds. Accessed through

Burial record of John Hanson (1890) “John Hanson, 5 (sic) St Albans St, Leeds, Minister, (buried) Jan 21, 67 years”, Beckett Street Cemetery, Leeds. Accessed through

England census, birth, marriage, and other records, accessed through

Green, H. Gwynedd (1950) John Hanson: a maker of microscope slides, Nature, Vol. 165, page 887

Hardwicke’s Science-Gossip (1869) Exchange advertisement from John Hanson, vol. 5, page 284

Hardwicke’s Science-Gossip (1870) Exchange advertisements from John Hanson, vol. 6, pages 72, 216, and 240

Hardwicke’s Science-Gossip (1871) Exchange advertisements from John Hanson, vol. 7, pages 72, 168, and 192

Hardwicke’s Science-Gossip (1872) Exchange advertisement from John Hanson, vol. 8, page 216

Hardwicke’s Science-Gossip (1873) Exchange advertisement from John Hanson, vol. 9, page 192

Kelly’s Directory of Leeds (1888) “Redfearn F. E. & M. (Misses), upholsteresses, 15 St. Alban st”, page 346

The Naturalist (1879) “Leeds Naturalists' Club And Scientific Association. - 319th meeting, January 21st, Mr. H. Pocklington, F.R.M.S., V.P., in the chair. - Mr. Tuffen West, F.L.S., the celebrated microscopic artist, exhibited a large series of his own original drawings, principally of Acari - materials for his forthcoming monograph of that group. Many interesting forms were figured; in particular, one drawn from a specimen found by the Rev. John Hanson, of Leeds, will constitute, together with another species collected by Mr. West, a new genus, which will form a connecting link between the Tardigrada and Acari proper. Mr. West addressed the meeting, and afterwards practically demonstrated his method of drawing from the microscope.”, vol. 4, page 124

Probate record of John Hanson (1890) “Hanson John. 7 February. The Will of John Hanson late of 15 St Alban-street Leeds in the County of York who died 17 January 1890 at 15 At. Alban-street was proved at Wakefield by James Green of 311 Manchester-road Bradford in the said county Printer and Bookseller one of the Executors. Personal Estate £108 13s 11d”, accessed through

The Wesleyan Reform Union Magazine (1863) New Sunday School at Park Lane, Bradford, Vol. 3, page 31