Flower, William Henry (DNB01)
FLOWER, Sir WILLIAM HENRY (1831–1899), director of the Natural History Museum, London, second son of Edward Fordham Flower [q. v.] of Stratford-on-Avon, was born in that town on 30 Nov. 1831. He was educated at University College, and after studying medicine and surgery at the Middlesex Hospital he graduated M.B. at London University in 1851. While a student he obtained Dr. Sharpey's gold medal in physiology and Professor Grant's silver medal in zoology. His life as a medical practitioner was hardly begun when he volunteered in 1854 for medical service in the Russian war. During the campaign he saw active service in the field as well as hospital practice at Scutari. The fatigues of the war caused a temporary break-down of health, and led him to return home and retire from the army. The office of assistant-surgeon coupled with the duties of lecturer upon anatomy and curator of the museum at the Middlesex Hospital, conferred upon him soon after his return, led him to divide his time between surgery and comparative anatomy. During that period he wrote his only works upon surgery, consisting of an article in Holmes's 'System of Surgery,' and a handbook entitled 'Diagrams of the Nerves of the Human Body' (London, 1861, fol.; 3rd ed. 1881, 4to; translated into French in 1888, and into Italian in 1890).
Beyond a few papers published at this period, Flower's zoological work hardly began until his appointment in 1861 to the post of curator of the Hunterian museum at the Royal College of Surgeons. From that date he began to contribute largely and frequently to the 'Proceedings' and 'Transactions' of the Royal and Zoological Societies.
From 1861 to 1884 Flower was curator of the College of Surgeons museum. During that long period he contributed greatly to the extension of that unrivalled collection of anatomical preparations. The duty of collecting and arranging the materials acquired for display led to the production of a long series of memoirs upon vertebrate, almost entirely mammalian, anatomy. These memoirs served as the basis of Flower's 'Osteology of the Mammalia.' published in 1870. After the retirement in 1869 of Thomas Henry Huxley [q. v. Suppl.], Flower was in 1870 appointed to the additional office of Hunterian professor of comparative anatomy and physiology at the College of Surgeons. During the tenure of that professorship he expounded the collections to scientific audiences; one of his best-known series of lectures was upon the digestive organs of the mammalia.
Flower's official connection with the Zoological Society, which ended only with his life, was initiated by his election to the council in 1862. He served continuously until 1869, and after the expiration of a year was nominated a vice-president. Retiring in 1875 he was re-elected to the council (again as a vice-president) in 1876. After the death of the Marquis of Tweeddale Flower was elected president of the society on 5 Feb. 1879. This office he occupied until his death, having thus held the presidency for twenty years, a period only exceeded by one former president (the Earl of Derby), and then by one year only. Much of Flower's leisure was devoted to the affairs of the Zoological Society; urbane and businesslike, he was seldom absent from the chair at the society's meetings, and every detail of its business whether scientific or financial was thoroughly explored by him.
Flower was elected a fellow of the Royal Society in 1864. He served three periods on the council of this society, viz. 1868-70, 1876-78, and 1884-6. He was also for a period a vice-president. The society awarded him a royal medal in 1882.
On the retirement of Sir Richard Owen [q. v.] in 1884, Flower succeeded him as director of the Natural History Museum. To this important post he brought experience and initiative, and he has been justly pronounced 'an originator and inventor in museum work.' Both sides of the museum the popular as well as the scientific were industriously cultivated by him. The collection of animals for the scientific worker was developed, and students of the rich material contained In the national collection were encouraged. Flower very properly felt, however, that the duty of a curator of a great national institution was also to teach the non-scientific public; he accordingly formed a large collection, which was displayed in the central hall of the museum with a view to illustrating the main facts of zoology and botany. This admirable selection of specimens remains to attest his unusual competence as a museum director. The main idea in the collection, intended for the guidance of the uninstructed public, is the 'interest and beauty of each specimen selected for the public eye,' and the careful avoidance of distracting attention by the multiplication and crowding of objects. As much as possible is shown by a single preparation, and no detail of mounting, background, or lettering was too trivial for elaborate consideration. The 'Index Collection' as it has been termed is an effective text-book of comparative anatomy, beautifully illustrated by the actual objects, and elucidated by sufficient explanatory labels. The remains of extinct forms are often placed in juxtaposition to their living relatives, and the unnatural divorce of recent and fossil animals, which is commonly inevitable in museums, is here avoided.
Flower was not in a literal sense a teacher of zoology. He trained no pupils in research, nor did he save in early days as lecturer at the Middlesex Hospital ground students in the rudiments of his science, but he was an occasional exponent, and the collections which he fostered or initiated offer admirable opportunities of study.
Flower's achievements won him many distinctions. He was an honorary LL.D. of Dublin and Edinburgh, and D.C.L. of Durham University. He presided over both the zoological and anthropological sections of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, and in 1889 was elected president of the British Association for the Newcastle meeting. The address which he gave on that occasion related to the management of museums and to 'museum policy' in general. He was also honorary member of many foreign learned societies and institutions, and obtained those coveted distinctions, the corresponding membership of the Institute of France, and the Prussian order, 'Pour le Merite.' He was made a C.B. in 1887 and a K.C.B. in 1892.
Failing health compelled Flower to retire from the directorship of the Natural History Museum in 1898, and he died on 1 July 1899 at his house in Stanhope Gardens, London; he was cremated at Woking on the 5th, and his remains were interred at Stone, Buckinghamshire. He married, in 1858, Georgiana Rosetta, daughter of Admiral William Henry Smyth [q. v.], who survived him with three sons and three daughters. A portrait by the Chevalier Schmidt of Berlin is in the possession of Lady Flower, and a bust has been placed in the Natural History Museum.
Although a convinced adherent of Darwin and of Wallace's theory of evolution by natural selection, Flower did not occupy himself much with the theoretical part of his subject, save to expound its generalities in addresses. He is not associated with any original contributions to the philosophy of zoology. His original work, however, is both abundant and solid. No anatomist was more careful in recording new facts. Inferences from observed fact are not frequent in his memoirs; hence his work will probably need little correction. 'Caution and reticence in generalisation distinguish all Flower's scientific writings.'
The actual investigations undertaken by Flower relate almost exclusively to the mammalia, including man; and the new facts he discovered about their anatomy were very numerous and of the highest value. The two most salient memoirs which we owe to his researches concern the marsupials and the monotremata. Flower was the first to demonstrate that the marsupials (kangaroos, wombats, &c.) departed from the arrangement found in other mammals in that they possess throughout life a dentition of which but a single tooth is changed. This discovery has been abundantly confirmed. It served at the time to separate the pouch-bearing marsupials from other mammals; but the interval has been since to some extent filled up. In the monotremata he showed that the brain of echidna possessed the four optic lobes of other mammals, and that these egg-laying quadrupeds were so far unlike the lower vertebrata. He thus assisted in the consolidation of the group mammalia, and helped to dispose of the idea that these creatures were to be looked upon as forming a group totally apart from the mammals. In the same rank, or nearly so, may perhaps be mentioned some of his many contributions to the structure of the brain of apes and lemurs. In 'Observations on the Posterior Lobes of the Quadrumana,' published in the 'Philosophical Transactions' for 1862, he showed, at the time that the controversy was raging as to the differences between the brain of apes and of man, that certain supposed differences between men and apes did not exist. The investigations upon the brain of the lemurs (Trans. Zool. Soc. 1862) helped to show that those animals were really to be placed in the same great group as that which contains the monkeys and man. The brain indeed was a favourite subject of his investigation, and many animals of diverse groups were studied by him.
Flower's contributions to scientific literature of less general importance deal with a great variety of mammalian types; their aim was more zoological than morphological. He attempted to delineate accurately the structure of a large series of animals, whose structure was, at the time that he wrote, either unknown or little known, as well as to seize upon facts which appeared to form a secure basis for classification. Two of his most important memoirs of the latter kind are those relating to the classification of the carnivora (Proc. Zool. Soc. 1896), and of the rhinoceroses (ib. 1875). In these memoirs a large number of facts are reviewed, and the arrangement of the members of the groups inter se deduced from the material described. The results arrived at have been largely adopted by the writers of handbooks, though the validity of the conclusions in the case of the carnivora has been to some extent weakened by the consideration of extinct forms. Another important memoir of a like scope was that upon the arrangement of the order edentata (ib. 1882), which displayed the author at his best; in a really masterly survey of the facts Flower put forward, more clearly and succinctly than had been done before, the reasons for separating the American edentates from their supposed Asiatic and African allies.
Flower's series of memoirs upon the whales forms one of the most enduring monuments to his industry. At the time when he took up the study of this group there were but few anatomists engaged in that study, which moreover was hampered by lack of material in many museums. In carrying out these researches Flower visited and reported upon the collections in many museums in Europe, and neglected no chance of observing the stranded monsters as often as that could be done upon our own coasts. Of these memoirs the most important are perhaps his account of the little-known Berardius (Trans. Zool. Soc. 1878), a ziphioid form from the shores of New Zealand. The elaborate account of the osteology of the cachalot established among other things the great probability of there being but a single species of sperm whale of world-wide range (ib. 1869). He discovered for the first time the rudiment of a tibia in the rorqual, thus showing that this whale, like its ally the 'right' whale, is a less degenerate creature in this respect than many toothed whales where there is no trace at all of an actual hind limb, the supporting girdle alone being left. A long paper on the characters and classification of the delphinidae (Proc. Zool. Soc. 1883) is the most important of Flower's classificatory papers upon the cetacea. Its conclusions have been universally adopted by subsequent writers. In addition to the novel facts contained in the papers quoted, Flower investigated and increased existing knowledge of right whales and rorquals (ib. 1864), hyperoodon (ib. 1882), mesoplodon (Trans. Zool. Soc. 1878), the remarkable American freshwater forms inia and pontoporia (ib. 1869), the Chinese dolphin (ib. 1880), the common dolphin, the 'grampus,' and some other species. In fine it may be said that no one, except the absolute pioneers of investigation into the anatomy of whales, when everything was new, has increased our knowledge of the group more than Flower. He is fitly represented in the whale-room of the museum over which he presided by a splendid series of both skeletons and plaster casts illustrating the forms of these creatures, casts which he himself originated and carried out in detail.
As to Flower's other zoological work, two memoirs, one upon the panda, ælurus fulgens, and the other upon the aardvark, proteles cristatus, call for special mention. These are models of what such work should be. The extreme care in the description, and the illustration by appropriate woodcuts of the facts and structure of these at the time (Proc. Zool. Soc. 1869 and 1870) little-known carnivora show Flower at his best, as does also the memoir upon the musk deer (ib. 1875). Papers upon such extinct types as the remarkable ancylopod, homalodontotherium (Phil. Trans. 1873), hysenarctos (Quart. Journ. Geol. Soc.), and the Sirenian halitherium (ib. 1874), illustrate the care he bestowed upon the extinct members of the order which he selected for study.
In anthropology Flower did much work, the value of which was shown by the fact that he was from 1883 to 1885 president of the Anthropological Institute, and more than once president of the anthropological section of the British Association. His principal memoirs concern the osteology of the Fijians and of the Andamanese; a number of his more general contributions to anthropology are reprinted in No. 6 below.
His principal publications other than memoirs in the 'Transactions' of the Royal Zoological and other learned societies, and his articles on 'Mammalia,' 'Lemur,' 'Lion,' &c., in 9th ed. of 'Encyclopædia Britannica,' are: 1. 'An Introduction to the Osteology of the Mammalia,' London, 1870, 8vo; 3rd ed. (revised with the assistance of Dr. Gadow), 1885. 2. 'Catalogue of Specimens illustrating the Osteology and Development of Vertebrate Animals Recent and Extinct. Part i. : Man,' 1880. 3. 'Fashion in Deformity,' Nature Series, 1881. 4. 'The Horse: a Study in Natural History,' 1890. 5. 'An Introduction to the Study of Mammals Living and Extinct' (with Mr. Lydekker), 1891. 6. 'Essays on Museums and other Subjects,' 1898.
[Authorities referred to; Times, 3 and 6 July 1899; E. Ray Lankester's notice in Nature, 13 July 1899; W. C. M'lntosh's obituary notice in Year-book of the Royal Society, 1901, p. 205.]