"You think that sounds mad," he said, "to travel through time?"

H. G. Wells, The Chronic Argonauts, Science Schools Journal No 13, 1888, p367.

May 2020 marks the 125th anniversary of the publication of H. G. Wells’ The Time Machine, a work of science fiction. Proving a very popular concept, The Time Machine has since been adapted for radio, film and comics.

Wells first introduced the idea of time travel in his story The Chronic Argonauts, published in 1888 in the student journal he helped to create, the Science Schools Journal. This occured seven years prior to the publication of The Time Machine.

H. G. Wells – The Student

Herbert George Wells studied Biology at the Royal College of Science (RCS) from 1884 to 1887. Although he failed his final

exams, he was later made an Honorary Fellow of Imperial College.

His entry in the Register of the Royal College of Science details his academic career:

Wells, Herbert George: 1884-87 (Biol.): Hon.F.Imp.Coll. : Hon. D.Litt., D.Sc., F.C.P.: [d.1946]

Hon.F.Imp.Coll - Honorary Fellow of Imperial College
Hon.D.Litt - Honorary Doctor of Literature
D.Sc - Doctor of Science
F.C.P – Fellowship of College of Preceptors

Whilst at the RCS Wells spent his time on student matters and writing; he was a founder and the first editor of the Science Schools Journal, the College journal of the RCS.

(The Science Schools in South Kensington, which were the Royal School of Mines and the Royal College of Science, then known as the Normal School of Science, a reference to the Ecole Normale in Paris, were founded in 1851 and 1885 respectively, and became constituent Colleges of Imperial College in 1907.)

Wells used the journal to describe the meeting of scientific minds in South Kensington and the attributes of those who convey science to the masses, revealing the view of parity he had between the values of writing and science.

In the Editor’s Preface entitled To the Average Man, H. G. Wells writes :

“Here, from north, south, east and west are gathered minds specially capable of acquiring, retaining, and displaying systematic knowledge. Clearness of perception, imagination and order are alike the mental requirements of the scientist and the writer….”

Science Schools Journal, No. 1, 1886, p2.

It is interesting to note that Wells chose the Science Schools Journal as the starting point for his exploration of time travel.

This story has never been reprinted; indeed, Mr Wells, scorning the base degrees by which he did ascend, purchased all the back numbers of the Journal containing his work then in stock and destroyed then. Fortunately, he did not lay his hands on the copies which are now in the possession of Imperial College Archives"

S. J. Marshall, The Phoenix, 1980, p23.

The existence of The Chronic Argonauts in the present day remains an intriguing story of the lengths an author will go to destroy his work, and the role of an archive in preserving the past. This dichotomy is revealed in S. J. Marshall’s prologue to the reprinting of The Chronic Argonauts in The Phoenix in 1980 [the Science Schools Journal was renamed The Phoenix in 1904].

The rediscovery of The Chronic Argonauts in 1980 was thus made possible by the actions of the Imperial College Archives in retaining copies as a record of College endeavours, despite the best efforts of its author to consign the story to history.

A scan of The Chronic Argonauts by H. G. Wells in The Phoenix, 1980 (PDF) with illustrations by Paul Williams is available here.


The Legacy of H. G. Wells at Imperial College

In October 1963, a group of Imperial College students founded the H. G. Wells Society. Five years later, in an article celebrating its 100th meeting, the purpose of the Society was described as ‘a forum for the discussion of subjects of general scientific interest’ (Felix 256, 7 February 1968, p4).

Wells Soc, as it was commonly known, covered a vast array of topics, some of which were more expected than others! Subjects included:

  • The Planning of Scientific Research
  • UFOs
  • Gambling
  • The Channel – Bridge or Tunnel
  • Industrial Espionage

The College Archives holds a small collection of papers relating to the society. This includes copies of the constitution, minutes of Annual General Meetings [not a complete set], posters, programmes and other ephemera.

The College Archives are open to researchers by appointment only. Further details are available here.