Blanford, William Thomas (DNB12)

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BLANFORD, WILLIAM THOMAS (1832–1905), geologist and zoologist, born on 7 Oct. 1832 at 27 Bouverie Street, London, was eldest of four sons of William Blanford by his wife, Elizabeth Simpson; Henry Francis Blanford [q. v. Suppl. I] was a younger brother. At fourteen he left a private school at Brighton for Paris, where he remained till March 1848. After a serious illness he spent two years in a mercantile house at Civita Vecchia, returning to England in 1851, when he joined his father's business of carver and guilder, studying at the school of design, Somerset House. Next year he followed his brother Henry to the Royal School of Mines, gaining at the end of the two years' course the duke of Cornwall's and the council's scholarships. In 1854 he studied at the mining school of Freiberg in Saxony, and late in the autumn both brothers left England for India with appointments on its geological survey.

Their first work was to examine a coalfield near Talchir, about 60 miles N.W. of Cuttack in Orissa. The chief results were the separation of the coal measures into an upper and lower division and the discovery of boulders in the fine silt of the Talchir strata which Blanford rightly concluded bore marks of ice action. At the outbreak of the mutiny he was busy surveying, and had a narrow escape, in returning to Calcutta where he joined the volunteer guards. The danger ended, he resumed work in the field, and was engaged in 18589 on the Rariganj coalfield. After November 1860 he spent two years in investigating the geology of Burma, discovering an extinct volcano near Pagan, and making extensive zoological collections.

In November 1862, on returning from leave in England, he was raised to the post of deputy superintendent, and employed during the next four years in the survey of the Bombay presidency, determining among other things the age of the Deccan traps. Late in 1867 he was attached to the Abyssinian expedition and accompanied the troops to Magdala, making large collections, both geological and zoological. Work on these occupied much time after his return to India in October 1868, and brought him to England on six months' service leave; the outcome was his valuable book, 'Observations on the Geology and the Zoology of Abyssinia' (1870).

He resumed field work in India, and by the end of the season of 1871 had traversed nearly the whole peninsula on foot or horseback. Attached to the Persian Boundary commission, he went to Teheran, visited the Elburz Mountains, and returned to England from the Caspian by Moscow, arriving home in September 1872. The hardships of this expedition affected his health, and during two years' enforced leave he prepared a volume for the report of the boundary commission (published in 1876). Some important work on the geology of Sind was done after his return to India in 1874, but his time was chiefly occupied by office duties in Calcutta. Here he joined with his chief, Henry Benedict Medlicott [q. v. Suppl. II], in writing a 'Manual of the Geology of India' (1879), fully one-half of which was Blanford's work. He was again home on furlough from 1879 to 1881, during which he attended the geological congress at Bologna. After he returned to India in October 1881, field work brought on an attack of fever which rendered retirement from the service prudent. Settling in London he recovered his health and took an active part in scientific societies, writing numerous papers, and editing for the government of India a series of books on the fauna of British India. To this series he contributed two volumes on the mammals (1888 and 1891) and two on birds (vols. iii. and iv., 1895 and 1898); he was engaged at his death on a volume on the land and fresh-water molluscs, which was completed by Lieut.-colonel H. H. Godwin-Austen, and published in 1908. At the Montreal meeting of the British Association in 1884 he was president of the geological section; he also took part in the Toronto meeting and visited Vancouver Island in 1897. He was secretary, member of council, vice-president, and treasurer, as well as president, of the Geological Society (1888-90), delivering addresses on the nomenclature and classification of geological formations and on the permanence of ocean basins, to which he gave a guarded adherence. The society awarded him the Wollaston medal in 1882. He was elected F.R.S. in 1874, receiving a royal medal in 1901. The degree of LL.D. was conferred upon him by Montreal University in 1884, the Italian order of St. Maurice and St. Lazarus in 1881; and he was made C.I.E. in 1904. His published papers are nearly 170 in number, and embrace a great variety of subjects. 'His many-sided accomplishments gave him a notable place among geologists, geographers, palaeontologists, and zoologists.' He was master of the Cordwainers' Company 1900-1. He shot well, and on the whole enjoyed good health till near the end. He died in London on 23 June ]905. He married in February 1883 Ida Gertrude, daughter of Mr. R. T. Bellhouse, an artist. His widow survived him with two sons and a daughter.

[Nature, lxxii.; Geol. Mag. (with portrait), 1906; Quarterly Journal of Geological Soc., 1906; Proc. Roy. Soc. lxxix. B, 1907; information from T. Blanford, Esq. (brother); personal knowledge.]

T. G. B.