Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Hancock, Albany
HANCOCK, ALBANY (1806–1873), zoologist, was second son and third child of John Hancock, a saddler and ironmonger of Newcastle-on-Tyne, a man of exceptional cultivation, possessing a microscope and a small library containing works of Pliny, Linnæus, Lister, Donovan, and Bewick, and the 'Philosophical Transactions.' John Hancock had also made collections of plants, insects, and especially of shells, and though he died when Albany was six years old, so thoroughly did his widow carry on his teaching that, of their six children, four devoted themselves to the study of natural history. Of these Thomas studied geology, Mary devoted herself to drawing natural history objects, and John and Albany are best known as zoologists. There was some Huguenot blood, of Lorraine, and more remotely of Bohemian, origin, in the family. Albany was born at Bridge End, Newcastle, on Christmas eve, 1806, received a good education as times then went, and was articled to a solicitor in Newcastle when nineteen. Though the occupation was uncongenial, after serving his time he took an office over the shop of his friend, Joshua Alder [q. v.], to await practice on his own account in 1830. He had already in the previous year become one of the original members of the Natural History Society of Northumberland, Durham, and Newcastle, and communicated some notes to Alder's 'Catalogue of Land and Freshwater Shells,' published in 1830. He soon abandoned the law, and joined a manufacturing firm; but this proved no more to his taste. His associates were Thomas Bewick [q. v.], who died in 1828, William Robertson, an able botanist, his neighbour Alder, and Wingate, an ornithologist; and subsequently William Hutton, John Thornhill, and R. B. Bowman, all botanists, W. C. Hewitson and Dr. D. Embleton, zoologists, and Thomas Atthey and Richard Howse, palæontologists. A correspondence is extant, dating from 1832, with Dr. (afterwards Sir) W. J. Hooker, then professor at Glasgow, and Dr. Johnston, the marine zoologist of Berwick, with reference to a proposed quarto work on British birds, some of the plates for which Hancock's brother John had already executed. Though this work was never carried out, it bore fruit in the magnificent John Hancock collection of birds now in the Natural History Museum at Newcastle. Clever with his fingers from boyhood, Hancock from 1835 to 1840 devoted his time very largely to modelling in clay and plaster.
The first of the long list of his scientific papers, of which over seventy appear in the Royal Society's Catalogue, bears date 1836. These are short notes on birds in Jardine's 'Magazine of Zoology and Botany.' The great work of his life began in his association about 1842 with Alder in the study of the mollusca. The main result of this partnership was the 'Monograph of British Nudibranchiate Mollusca,' published by the Ray Society between 1845 and 1855. In this work many of the descriptions and most of the drawings for the eighty-three coloured plates, including all those that are anatomical, are the work of Hancock. The plates are remarkable alike for beauty of drawing and for delicacy of colour. The type specimens and original drawings are preserved in the Newcastle Museum. Having described many new species, Hancock in 1844 began, in conjunction with Dr. Embleton, lecturer on anatomy at the Newcastle School of Medicine, an exhaustive inquiry into the structure of ALolis, a genus of nudibranchs, with special reference to Quatrefages's theory of phlebenterism. This joint research extended to 1849, and was followed between 1850 and 1852 by a similar investigation of the genus Doris, the l sea-lemon.' Meanwhile Hancock had taken an active part in promoting polytechnic exhibitions at Newcastle in 1840 and 1848, and in founding the Tyneside Naturalists' Field Club in 1846. To the 'Transactions' of this club he contributed a series of papers on the boring apparatus of sponges, mollusks, and barnacles. In 1857 he published in the 'Philosophical Transactions' one of his most valuable contributions to anatomy, 'The Organisation of Brachiopoda,' and in the following year he was awarded the royal medal of the society ; but he was too modest to become a candidate for fellowship, or even to accept the presidency of any of the local societies. In 1862 he became a fellow of the Linnean Society, and in 1868 there appeared in the journal of that society his paper 'On the Anatomy and Physiology of the Tunicata,' which was the preliminary to a proposed monograph of the British representatives of the group which he was never able to complete. In 1863, on the occasion of the meeting of the British Association, he, in conjunction with his brother John, got together a magnificent collection of scientific and artistic treasures in the Newcastle Central Exchange ; and for many years he was an active member of the Literary and Philosophical Society. Though fond of social intercourse, he allowed himself insufficient rest or exercise, and ruined his health. Unable for three years to work at his microscope, the gift of Lady Armstrong, with characteristic energy he turned his attention to the fossil fish and reptiles of the permian and carboniferous series, and produced, in conjunction with Thomas Atthey, and afterwards with Richard Howse, no less than fifteen papers upon them. Hancock died 24 Oct. 1873. He was not married.
[Trans. Northumberland Nat. Hist. Soc. 1875, v. 118, by Dr. D. Embleton, with a bibliography and a portrait from a photograph; Nature, 1874, ix. 43, by H. B. Brady; Annals and Mag. Nat. Hist. 4th ser. 1873, xii. 495, by J. E. Gray; Roy. Soc. Cat. Scient. Papers, iii. 156-8, vii. 900-1.]