Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Shaw, George

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SHAW, GEORGE (1751–1813), naturalist, the younger of two sons of Timothy Shaw, was born on 10 Dec. 1751 at Bierton, Buckinghamshire, where his father was vicar. He was educated at home by his father till 1765, when he entered Magdalen Hall, Oxford. He graduated B.A. on 16 May 1769, and M.A. on 16 May 1772. He was ordained deacon in 1774 at Buckden, and performed duty at Stoke and Buckland, chapels-of-ease to Bierton.

His love for natural history, which showed itself in infancy, led him to abandon the church as a profession and he went to Edinburgh to study medicine for three years. Returning to Oxford, he was appointed deputy botanical lecturer. On 17 Oct. 1787 he was admitted to the degrees of bachelor and doctor of medicine (being then a member of Magdalen College), and the same year he set up in practice in London.

In 1788 he took part in founding the Linnean Society of London, and became one of its vice-presidents. In the following year he was elected a fellow of the Royal Society. In 1791 he was appointed assistant-keeper of the natural history section of the British Museum, and was made keeper in 1807, on the death of Dr. Edward Whitaker Gray [q. v.] He retained the post till his death, in the residence attached to the museum, on 22 July 1813.

Shaw had a tenacious memory, wrote Latin with facility, elegance, and purity, and sometimes lapsed into poetry. He delivered lectures on zoology at the Royal Institution in 1806 and 1807, and repeated them at the Surrey Institution in 1809. He was an indefatigable worker, and in his ‘Philosophical Transactions Abridged’ (18 vols. 4to, London, 1809) dealt with all the papers on natural history, nearly fifteen hundred in number, inserting the Linnean names of the species and adding references to later works.

He was author of:

  1. ‘Speculum Linnæanum’ (describing eight coloured plates of James Sowerby [q. v.]), 4to. London, 1790.
  2. ‘Museum Leverianum,’ 2 pts. 4to, London, 1792–96.
  3. ‘Zoology of New Holland,’ vol. i. (being descriptions of plates by J. Sowerby), 4to, London, 1794.
  4. ‘Cimelia Physica’ (of which he wrote the descriptions to the series of plates by J. F. Miller), fol. London, 1796.
  5. ‘General Zoology,’ vols. i.–viii. 8vo, London, 1800–1812; the remainder, vols. ix.–xiv. (birds), was by James Francis Stephens [q. v.]
  6. ‘The Naturalists' Miscellany’ (also entitled ‘Vivarium Naturæ’), 24 vols., with coloured plates by Frederick P. Nodder [q. v.] (and afterwards E. and R. P. Nodder), 4to, London, 1789–1813 (this work was subsequently continued by William Elford Leach [q. v.] and Nodder as the ‘Zoological Miscellany’).

Shaw also wrote an account of the animals for J. White's ‘Journal of a Voyage to New South Wales’ (4to, 1790), and the descriptions of the plates in part ii. of ‘Select Specimens of British Plants,’ edited by S. Freeman (fol. 1797), as well as the descriptions of plates xvi–xviii in James Sowerby's ‘English Botany’ (Mag. Nat. Hist. i. 304). Seven papers by him on zoological subjects appeared in the ‘Transactions’ of the Linnean Society of London between 1791 and 1800.

An engraved portrait by Holl, from a painting by Russell, is included in Thornton's ‘New Illustrations of the Sexual System of Linnæus.’

[Gent. Mag. 1813, ii. 290–2; Brit. Mus. Cat.; Royal. Soc. Cat.]

B. B. W.