Etheridge, Robert (DNB12)

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ETHERIDGE, ROBERT (1819–1903), palaeontologist, born at Ross, Herefordshire, on 3 Dec. 1819, was elder of two sons of Thomas Etheridge, shipper, of Gloucester, by his wife Hannah Pardoe, of a Worcestershire family. Through his mother he was cousin to Dr. John Beddoe [q. v. Suppl. II]. His paternal grandfather, formerly a seaman, and later harbour- master at Bristol, gave Robert shells and other natural objects or 'curiosities' from various countries, and stimulated the boy to form a museum of local plants, fossils, and other geological specimens. Educated at the grammar school at Ross, he served as usher there and at a school at Bristol, and after filling a post in a business house in that city, in 1850 he was made curator of the museum of the Bristol Philosophical Institution. All his leisure had been devoted to natural science. He worked hard at the museum till 1857, acting for five of the seven years as lecturer in vegetable physiology and botany in the Bristol Medical School. In 1857 he gave course of lectures at the Bristol Mining School on 'Geology: its Relation and Bearing upon Mining,' published in 1859 An active member of the Cotteswold Naturalists' Club, Etheridge in 1856, while on a visit to the earl of Ducie at Tortworth Court, was introduced to Sir Roderick Impey Murchison [q. v.], their director-general of the geological survey. This led to his appointment in as assistant palaeontologist to the geological survey; and on the retirement of J. W. Salter he became palæontologist in 1863. Here his principal task was the naming of the invertebrate fossils collected during the progress of the geological survey and arranged in the Museum of Practical Geology at Jermyn Street; aid was also given at times to the officers in the field. Etheridge's results were embodied in memoirs published during 1858-81. He also assisted Professor Huxley by giving demonstrations in palaeontology to students of the Royal School of Mines, and he and Huxley jointly prepared a catalogue of the fossils in the museum, which was published in 1865. At this date Etheridge began to make a list of all the known British fossils, with references to their geological formations and to published figures and descriptions. When completed up to 1888 it was reckoned that about 18,000 species had been catalogued. Only one volume of this great work, that dealing with the palæozoic fossils, was published ('Fossils of the British Islands, Stratigraphically and Zoologically arranged,' vol. i. Palæozoic Species. 1888). In 1881 Etheridge was appointed assistant keeper in geology at the British Museum natural history branch at Cromwell Road, where he laboured till his retirement from the public service in 1891.

Etheridge was elected F.R.S. in 1871, and afterwards served on the council and as vice-president of the Royal Society. He was awarded the Murchison medal by the council of the Geological Society in 1880, and was president from 1880 to 1882. He was also president of section C at the meeting of the British Association in 1882, and treasurer of the Palæontographical Society from 1880 to 1903. He was created an honorary fellow of King's College, London, in 1890, and received the first Bolitho medal from the Royal Geological Society of Cornwall in 1896. Etheridge was an assistant editor of the 'Geological Magazine' from 1865 until the close of his life. Always active and genial, he died at Chelsea, London, on 18 Dec. 1903, aged eighty-four, and was buried at Brompton cemetery. He was three times married, and by his first wife he had an only child, Robert Etheridge the younger, now curator of the Australian Museum at Sydney, New South Wales.

Among Etheridge's communications to scientific societies were papers on the palæontology of parts of Queensland, tho Himalayas, Brazil, and the Arctic regions. In England he had given special attention to the Rhætic beds, and afterwards to the Devonian system. When the sequence of strata in North Devon was challenged by Joseph Beete Jukes [q. v.] in 1866, Etheridge was instructed by Murchison to investigate the evidence, and the results were published by the Geological Society in 1867 in an elaborate paper 'On the Physical Structure of West Somerset and North Devon, and on the Palæontological Value of the Devonian Fossils.' Later discoveries, by Dr. H. Hicks, of Lower Devonian (or possibly Silurian) fossils in the Morte slates, showed that the sequem of strata in North Devon was not so clear as Etheridge and others had maintained. To questions of water-supply Etheridge gave much practical attention, and in later years he acted as consulting geologist to the promoters of the Dover coal-boring. Etheridge published 'Stratigraphical Geology and Palaeontology' (1887). He also prepared the third edition of John Phillips's 'Illustrations of the Geology of Yorkshire' (part i. 1875), and he re-wrote the second edition of part ii. of Phillips's 'Manual of Geology' (1885).

[Obituary by Dr. Henry Woodward, Geol. Mag., Jan. 1904, p. 42 (with portrait and bibliography); memoirs by H. B. Woodward in Proc. Roy. Soc. lxxv. 1905, and in Proc. Bristol Nat. Soc. ser. 2, vol. x. 1904, p. 175 (with portrait).]

H. B. W.