1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Gray, John Edward

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GRAY, JOHN EDWARD (1800–1875), English naturalist, born at Walsall, Staffordshire, in 1800, was the eldest of the three sons of S. F. Gray, of that town, druggist and writer on botany, and author of the Supplement to the Pharmacopoeia, &c., his grandfather being S. F. Gray, who translated the Philosophia Botanica of Linnaeus for the Introduction to Botany of James Lee (1715–1795). Gray studied at St Bartholomew’s and other hospitals for the medical profession, but at an early age was attracted to the pursuit of botany. He assisted his father by collecting notes on botany and comparative anatomy and zoology in Sir Joseph Banks’s library at the British Museum, aided by Dr W. E. Leach, assistant keeper, and the systematic synopsis of the Natural Arrangement of British Plants, 2 vols., 1821, was prepared by him, his father writing the preface and introduction only. In consequence of his application for membership of the Linnaean Society being rejected in 1822, he turned to the study of zoology, writing on zoophytes, shells, Mollusca and Papilionidae, still aided by Dr Leach at the British Museum. In December 1824 he obtained the post of assistant in that institution; and from that date to December 1839, when J. G. Children retired from the keepership, he had so zealously applied himself to the study, classification and improvement of the national collection of zoology that he was selected as the fittest person to be entrusted with its charge. Immediately on his appointment as keeper, he took in hand the revision of the systematic arrangement of the collections; scientific catalogues followed in rapid succession; the department was raised in importance; its poverty as well as its wealth became known, and whilst increased grants, donations and exchanges made good many deficiencies, great numbers of students, foreign as well as English, availed themselves of its resources to enlarge the knowledge of zoology in all its branches. In spite of numerous obstacles, he worked up the department, within a few years of his appointment as keeper, to such a state of excellence as to make it the rival of the cabinets of Leiden, Paris and Berlin; and later on it was raised under his management to the dignity of the largest and most complete zoological collection in the world. Although seized with paralysis in 1870, he continued to discharge the functions of keeper of zoology, and to contribute papers to the Annals of Natural History, his favourite journal, and to the transactions of a few of the learned societies; but at Christmas 1874, having completed half a century of official work, he resigned office, and died in London on the 7th of March 1875.

Gray was an exceedingly voluminous writer, and his interests were not confined to natural history only, for he took an active part in questions of public importance of his day, such as slave emancipation, prison discipline, abolition of imprisonment for debt, sanitary and municipal organizations, the decimal system, public education, extension of the opening of museums, &c. He began to publish in 1820, and continued till the year of his death.

The titles of the books, memoirs and miscellaneous papers written by him, accompanied by a few notes, fill a privately printed list of 56 octavo pages with 1162 entries.