Dictionary of National Biography, 1901 supplement/Busk, George

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BUSK, GEORGE (1807–1886), man of science, second son of Robert Busk (1768-1835), merchant of St. Petersburg, and his wife Jane, daughter of John Westly, customs house clerk at St. Petersburg, was born at St. Petersburg on 12 Aug. 1807. His grandfather, Sir Wadsworth Busk, was attorney-general of the Isle of Man, and Hans Busk the elder [q. v.] was his uncle.

George was educated at Dr. Hartley's school, Bingley, Yorkshire, where his passion for natural history was abundantly gratified, and he afterwards served six years as an articled student of the College of Surgeons under George Beaman, completing his medical education as a student at St. Thomas's and St. Bartholomew's hospitals. After being admitted a member of the College of Surgeons, Busk was appointed in 1832 assistant surgeon on board the Grampus, the seamen's hospital ship at Greenwich; thence he was transferred to the Dreadnought, which replaced it, becoming in time full surgeon. During his service he worked out the pathology of cholera, and made important observations on scurvy.

In 1855 he retired from the service, settled in London, and discontinued private practice in order to devote himself to scientific pursuits, at first principally to the microscopic investigation of the lower forms of life, and especially the Bryozoa ( = Polyzoa), of which group he was the first to formulate a scientific arrangement in 1856 for an article in the ‘English Cyclopædia.’ In 1863 he attended the conference to discuss the question of the age and authenticity of the human jaw found at Moulin Quignon. His attention being thus drawn to palæontological problems, he next year visited the Gibraltar caves in company with Dr. Falconer, and henceforth devoted much time and attention to the study of cave faunas, and later on to ethnology.

His public occupations were very numerous. He was nominated a fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons of England, when fellowships were first established by the charter of 1843, was elected a member of its council in 1863, and a member of its board of examiners five years after, becoming vice-president later on, and president in 1871. He was for upwards of twenty-five years examiner in physiology and anatomy for the Indian medical service, and afterwards for the regular army and navy. He held the Hunterian professorship for three years, and was a trustee of the Hunterian Museum. He was a member of the senate of the university of London, and for many years treasurer of the Royal Institution. He became later one of the governors of Charterhouse School, and was the first home office inspector under the Cruelty to Animals Act.

The Royal Society elected him a fellow in 1850, and he was four times nominated a vice-president, besides often serving on its council. He received the royal medal in 1871. He had been elected a fellow of the Linnean Society in December 1846, acted as its zoological secretary from 1857 to 1868, and, besides serving frequently on its council, was vice-president several times between 1869 and 1882. He joined the Geological Society in 1859, twice served on its council, and was the recipient of the Lyell medal in 1878, and the Wollaston medal in 1885. He became a fellow of the Zoological Society in 1856, assisted in the foundation of the Microscopical Society in 1839, was its president in 1848 and 1849, and elected honorary fellow in 1869. He was also a member of council of the Anthropological Institute from its foundation in 1871, and its president in 1873 and 1874. Besides all these he was a member of many medical societies and minor scientific bodies.

He died at his house, 32 Harley Street, London, on 10 Aug. 1886. On 12 Aug. 1843 Busk married his cousin Ellen, youngest daughter of Jacob Hans Busk of Theobalds, Hertfordshire.

A portrait in oils, painted in 1884 by his daughter, Miss E. M. Busk, hangs in the apartments of the Linnean Society at Burlington House.

In addition to some seventy or eighty papers on scientific subjects contributed to various journals from 1841 onwards, Busk was author of:

  1. ‘Catalogue of Marine Polyzoa in the British Museum,’ 3 pts. London, 1852–1875, 12mo and 8vo.
  2. ‘A Monograph of the Fossil Polyzoa of the Crag’ [Pal. Soc. Monog.], London, 1859, 4to.
  3. ‘Report on the Polyzoa collected by H.M.S. Challenger,’ London, 1884–6, 2 vols. 4to.

This, his most important work, was completed with the assistance of his eldest daughter, Jane, during his last illness. A work on ‘Crania Typica’ was projected and the plates drawn, but the text was never completed. He also contributed descriptions of Bryozoa to MacGillivray's ‘Narrative of the Voyage of H.M.S. Rattlesnake’ (1852), P. P. Carpenter's ‘Catalogue of Mazatlan Shells’ (1857), Sir G. S. Nares's ‘Narrative of a Voyage to the Polar Sea’ (1878), Tizard and Sir J. Murray's ‘Exploration of the Faroe Channel’ (1882), an article on ‘Venomous Insects and Reptiles’ to T. Holmes's ‘System of Surgery’ (1860), and ‘Descriptions of the Animal Remains found in Brixham Cave’ to Sir J. Prestwich's ‘Report on the Exploration of Brixham Cave’ (1873). He moreover published translations of various important reports and papers on botany, zoology, and medicine for the Ray and Sydenham societies, chief of which were Steenstrup's ‘On the Alternation of Generations’ (1845), and Koelliker's ‘Manual of Human Histology’ (2 vols. 1853–4), the latter in co-operation with Thomas Henry Huxley [q. v. Suppl.] He edited the ‘Microscopic Journal’ for 1842, the ‘Quarterly Journal of Microscopical Science’ from 1853 to 1868, the ‘Natural History Review’ from 1861 to 1865, and the ‘Journal of the Ethnological Society’ for 1869 and 1870.

The name Buskia was given in his honour to a genus of Bryozoa by Alder in 1856, and again by Tenison-Woods in 1877. His collection of Bryozoa is now at the Natural History Museum, South Kensington.

[Medico-Chirurg. Trans. 1887, lxx. 23; Quarterly Journal Geol. Soc. xliii. Proc. 40; Proc. Linn. Soc. 1886–7, p. 36; Times, 11 Aug. 1886; private information; Nat. Hist. Mus. Cat.; Royal Soc. Cat.]

B. B. W.