Archer, William (DNB01)

From Wikisource
Jump to: navigation, search

ARCHER, WILLIAM (1830–1897), naturalist and librarian, was the eldest son of the Rev. Richard Archer, vicar of Clonduff, co. Down, a member of a family long settled in co. Wexford, and of Jane Matilda, daughter of Watkins William Verling of Dublin, his wife. Archer was born at Magherahamlet, co. Down, of which place his father was then perpetual curate, on 6 May 1830. His father died in 1848, leaving a young family in straitened circumstances. About 1846 Archer came to Dublin, where he resided thenceforth, and devoted his leisure to the study of natural history, for which he had from the first evinced a remarkable talent. His special gifts in this direction were first shown at the meetings of the Dublin Microscopical Club, founded in 1857, of which he was for many years secretary, and among whose members he quickly became notable through his investigations in connection with minute forms of vegetable and animal life. His contributions as a member of this club between 1864 and 1879 were published in the ‘Quarterly Journal of Microscopical Science,’ and in the ‘Proceedings of the Dublin Microscopical Club.’ He was also an active contributor to the ‘Proceedings’ of the Dublin Natural History Society, and rapidly acquired a reputation for original research in his favourite science. As a result of long and patient investigations, in the course of which he made many journeys to distant parts of Ireland, he ‘acquired a knowledge of the minute freshwater organisms of Ireland unparalleled among British naturalists, and perhaps not surpassed for any other country’ (Proceedings of Royal Society, vol. lxii.) ‘It is, however, to his work among the protozoa that Archer will owe his ultimate place in science.’ His essay on ‘Chlamydomyxa labyrinthuloides, a new species and genus of Freshwater Sarcodic Organism,’ won him in 1876 his election as a fellow of the Royal Society, in whose catalogue as many as fifty-nine papers by Archer are enumerated. Prior to this he had become a member of the Royal Irish Academy, to whose ‘Proceedings’ he was a diligent contributor. From 1875 to 1880 he acted as secretary for foreign correspondence to the Academy, and in 1879 was awarded its Cunningham gold medal in recognition of his scientific attainments.

Archer’s extremely modest and retiring disposition was a constant bar to the enlargement of his reputation. A distrust of his abilities caused him to decline in 1872 the professorship of botany at the Royal College of Science for Ireland. In 1876, however, his friends procured his appointment as librarian to the Royal Dublin Society; and on the acquisition in 1877 of the society’s library by the state Archer became librarian of the National Library of Ireland. He had previously added to his income by acting as secretary to a small slate company in Munster. Into the discharge of the duties of his new office Archer threw himself with characteristic zeal, speedily acquiring a high reputation among librarians. During his tenure of this post the library was transferred in August 1890 to the handsome building opposite to the Irish National Museum, designed by Sir Thomas Deane [q. v. Suppl.], the internal arrangements of which were based entirely on Archer’s carefully considered recommendations. Archer resigned his post in 1895, and he died, unmarried, at his residence, 52 Lower Mount Street, Dublin, on 14 Aug. 1897.

Archer’s scientific skill, knowledge, and capacity were, according to the testimony of competent judges, out of all proportion to his public reputation. He was not only an indefatigable worker, but possessed in a marked degree that scientific imagination which is essential to the highest results in research. He was an excellent linguist, and acquired a knowledge of German, French, and the Scandinavian languages the better to pursue his favourite science.

Archer’s chief work as librarian was ‘his admirable dictionary catalogue of the National Library, and the adopting of the decimal notation and classification for shelf arrangement, a system . . . almost unknown when Archer first adhered to it’ (Report of National Library of Ireland for 1890). ‘Apart from the scientific enthusiasm which dominated his character, Archer had a singular charm of manner, a gentleness and refinement of disposition almost feminine. . . . There was no lack of robustness, however, about his scientific insight; but a quaint sense of humour would always parry a contentious criticism’ (Proceedings of Royal Society, vol. lxii.)

[Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy, vol. iv. 3rd ser. 1898; Proceedings of the Royal Society, vol. lxii.; Notes from the Botanical School, Trinity College, Dublin, June 1898, by Prof. E. P. Wright, M.D.; The Irish Naturalist, vol. vi. Oct. 1897, with portrait; The Library, ix. 203, with portrait; Proceedings of the Natural History Society of Dublin; The Reports of the National Library, 1877–95; Proceedings of the Dublin Microscopical Society; private information.]

C. L. F.