Davis, Joseph Barnard (DNB00)

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DAVIS, JOSEPH BARNARD (1801–1881), craniologist, was born in 1801. In the summer of 1820, while still a student, he went as a surgeon in a whaling ship to the Arctic seas. Obtaining the Apothecaries' Hall qualification in 1823, it was not till twenty years later that he became a member of the College of Surgeons. In 1862 he graduated M.D. at St. Andrew's. He early settled at Shelton, Hanley, in Staffordshire, and led a simple life as a medical practitioner till his death on 19 May 1881.

For many years Davis devoted himself to craniology, and gradually collected a museum of skulls and skeletons of various races, nearly all with carefully recorded histories, larger than all the collections in British public museums put together. He spared no time, labour, or money in achieving this object, and was unwearied in his correspondence with travellers, collectors, and residents in foreign lands. In 1856 he commenced, in conjunction with Dr. John Thurnam, the publication of ‘Crania Britannica,’ or delineations and descriptions of the skulls of the early inhabitants of the British Islands, the text in quarto, with many first-rate folio plates in an accompanying atlas. The work was completed in 1865. In 1867 he published a catalogue called ‘Thesaurus Craniorum,’ describing and figuring many specimens, and giving twenty-five thousand careful measurements, with copious bibliographical references. In 1875 his collection had increased so far that a supplement to the ‘Thesaurus’ was published. In 1880 the Royal College of Surgeons purchased the entire collection, which is now available for all students of anthropology.

Among Davis's numerous brief papers, of which a list will be found in the Royal Society's ‘Catalogue of Scientific Papers,’ the most important, perhaps, is his ‘ Contributions towards Determining the Weight of the Brain in Different Races of Man’ (Phil. Trans. 1868, clviii. 505–28). He was elected F.R.S. in 1868. For some years from 1870 he was one of the editors of the ‘Journal of Anthropology,’ and of ‘Anthropologia.’ In 1836 he published a useful ‘Popular Manual of the Art of Preserving Health.’

[Nature, 26 May 1881, obituary notice by Professor Flower.]

G. T. B.