Salter, John William (DNB00)

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SALTER, JOHN WILLIAM (1820–1869), geologist, was born on 15 Dec. 1820, and gave early indications of an enthusiastic love of natural history, especially of entomology. In April 1835, after education at a private school, he was apprenticed to James de Carle Sowerby [see under Sowerby, James]. Some eighteen months later he read his first scientific paper ‘on the habits of insects’ at the Camden Literary Society. He was engaged, under Sowerby's care, on the illustrations of such books as Loudon's ‘Encyclopædia of Plants,’ Murchison's ‘Silurian System,’ Sowerby's ‘English Botany and Mineral Conchology,’ thus acquiring that accuracy of eye and command of the pencil which were so valuable to him in after life. Another result of this employment was his marriage, in 1846, to Sally, second daughter of his master, and the same year he was appointed to the geological survey as assistant to Edward Forbes [q. v.] When the latter went to Edinburgh in 1854, Salter became palæontologist to the survey. In 1842 he spent a short time in Cambridge arranging a part of the Woodwardian collection, and made summer journeys in North Wales with or for Adam Sedgwick [q. v.] between that year and 1846, aiding the professor from his own knowledge of palæontology, but learning much in return, as he always gratefully confessed, from that master of stratigraphy. He was elected an associate of the Linnean Society in 1842, and F.G.S. in 1846, and in 1865 was awarded the Wollaston donation-fund by the Geological Society.

In 1863 he retired, unwisely as it proved, from the geological survey, and was afterwards employed at various local museums in arranging their palæozoic invertebrata, and in illustrating scientific books, one of the longest and most important engagements being at the Woodwardian Museum, Cambridge. Though Salter's life was mainly spent in museums or at the desk, his enthusiastic love of open-air nature never flagged, and he long retained something of boyhood's freshness. But in later years his health was bad, and at last so hopelessly broke down that he drowned himself in the estuary of the Thames on 2 Aug. 1869. His body was recovered and buried in Highgate cemetery. His wife and seven children survived him.

Salter, when health permitted, was an indefatigable worker. Ninety-two separate papers on palæontology and geology appear under his name in the Royal Society's ‘Catalogue of Scientific Papers,’ besides twelve of joint authorship. In addition to these, as palæontologist to the geological survey he contributed to the ‘British Organic Remains,’ decades i–xiii., and to the memoirs illustrative of the published maps, determining and describing the fossils obtained by the survey's collectors. But he also got through a large amount of unofficial work, describing collections made by travellers in various parts of the globe, and aiding such geologists as Charles Lyell [q. v.] in the preparation of his ‘Elements’ and Roderick Impey Murchison [q. v.] in his ‘Siluria.’ Salter's chief work lay among the palæozoic rocks, their crustacea being his favourite subject of study, especially the trilobites, of which he had acquired an unrivalled knowledge. At the time of his death he had barely completed an illustrated ‘Catalogue of Cambrian and Silurian Fossils’ in the Woodwardian Museum [see Sedgwick, Adam], and he left unfinished a ‘Monograph of British Trilobites,’ published by the Palæontographical Society.

[Geol. Mag. 1869, p. 447; see also Quart. Journ. Geol. Soc. vol. xxvi., Proc. vol. xxxvi.; Proc. Linnæan Soc. 1869–70, vol. cvii.; references in Life and Letters of A. Sedgwick (Clark and Hughes), Life of Murchison (A. Geikie), and Life of A. Ramsay (id. portrait at p. 324).]

T. G. B.