Just two years after the Department of Biochemistry was constituted, in 1914, a library to serve its needs was established. Financed by a grant of £200 from the Board of Education, 'a small but very useful library' was established (Annual Report1916-1917). Despite several donations from individuals, money was short and for the first few years the Library struggled to survive.
In April 1924, as the Department prepared to move into its own purpose-built building, a gift of £2000 was received from Sir Jeremiah Colman, Bart., M.A., 'for a Library for the School of Biochemistry' Of the £2000, £500 was to be used 'in the purchase of the existing library books' and the balance invested in Trustee Securities, the income from which was 'for the maintenance of the Library in perpetuity, the provision of scientific journals and their binding, or for any incidental requirement in the upkeep of the Library' (Reporter 1923/24, p.1205).
Sir Jeremiah Colman had no personal link with the Department of Biochemistry. Born in 1859, he was the eldest son of Jeremiah Colman, of the Norwich-based 'manufacturers of mustard, starch, blue and cornflour' J & J Colman. Following education at King's College School, London, and St John's College, Cambridge, he joined the family business. In 1896 he became Chairman. From that time he also held a succession of public offices and was also a considerable philanthropist. For this he was created first Baronet.
Throughout his life Colman had two passions: orchids and cricket. At his country seat, Gatton Park in Surrey, he amassed one of the finest collections of orchids in the country, including many rare and interesting species. In 1933 this collection was given to the University Botanic Garden. His interest in Cricket began at an early age and in 1882 he captained the St John's College first XI. From 1916-23 he was President of Surrey County Cricket Club. He also assembled one of the best collections of cricket pictures, which are now in the Lord's Museum at the M.C.C.
Colman's connection to the Department of Biochemistry began in 1908 when, as Chairman of the Commercial Union Assurance Company, he was appointed one of the Trustees of the estate of Sir William Dunn. Sir William Dunn had left his residue estate in trust to the Commercial Union Assurance Company 'to apply it for certain charitable purposes...including the alleviation of human suffering' In 1920 the trustees, headed by Sir Jeremiah, offered the gift of £165,000 to the University of Cambridge to endow a School of Biochemistry. Before the building was completed in 1924, Sir Jeremiah decided to fund the Library, realising that a University Department could not function efficiently without a properly endowed library. And so the Colman Library was established.
The original Colman Library is still in use today. Purposely built with fitted, oak bookcases, lining the walls from floor to ceiling, it is now the Reading Room. Over the years the Library has expanded to occupy what was once a research laboratory.
You may find out more about the history of the Biochemistry Department at: http://www.bioc.cam.ac.uk/history/index.html
(A portrait of Sir Jeremiah Colman, complete with orchid buttonhole, hangs in the Entrance Hall of the Main Biochemistry Building).