Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Jones, John Winter
JONES, JOHN WINTER (1805–1881), principal librarian of the British Museum, was born on 16 June 1805 at Lambeth. His family came originally from Carmarthenshire; his father, John Jones, was the editor of the ‘Naval Chronicle’ and the ‘European Magazine.’ His grandfather was Giles Jones, author of ‘Goody Two Shoes’ [see under Jones, Griffith, (1722–1786)], and Stephen Jones [q. v.], editor of Baker's ‘Biographia Dramatica,’ was his uncle. His mother, Mary Walker, was a cousin of the painter Smirke. He was educated at St. Paul's School (1813–21), and after quitting it became the pupil of Bythewood, the first conveyancer of his day, with a view to being called to the chancery bar. In 1823, at the age of eighteen, he published a translation of all the quotations in foreign languages in Blackstone's ‘Commentaries.’ His intentions with respect to his profession were defeated by a long illness, caused by improper medical treatment, which for a time occasioned a total loss of voice. He applied himself to the study of languages and literature, and about 1835 accepted an engagement as travelling secretary to the charity commissioners, in hopes of a restoration of his health through open-air exercise. This object was attained after two years' employment, in the course of which he visited many parts of England. The peregrinations of the commission terminated in 1837, and in April of that year, chiefly through the recommendation of Mr. Johnstone, a member of the commission, and of Nicholas Carlisle, secretary to the society of antiquaries, Jones was appointed an assistant in the library of the British Museum, on the eve of the greatest transformation that institution has known. In the following July Panizzi became keeper of printed books, and entered upon the course of reform and extension which has given the library its present place among the libraries of the world. Two great steps were imperative, the removal of the books from Montague House to the new buildings, and the preparation of a code of rules for the catalogue which the trustees had determined to produce. In the former undertaking Jones rendered important service, and the latter was in great measure his own. The famous ninety-one rules, the foundation of all subsequent achievement in the department of scientific cataloguing, were, indeed, prepared by a committee presided over by Panizzi himself, but none acquainted with the men or the work will doubt that Jones had the principal hand in them. When the catalogue was commenced in 1839 he acted as its general reviser, performing at the same time a vast number of miscellaneous duties, and serving as Panizzi's right hand in all emergencies. He was urgently recommended for special promotion on several occasions, but his position remained unaltered until, upon the death of the Rev. Richard Garnett [q.v.] in 1850, he became assistant-keeper of printed books, succeeding Panizzi as keeper upon the latter's appointment as principal librarian in March 1856. The great event of his assistant-keepership was the erection of the new reading-room and its accessories; and although this grand conception was undoubtedly Panizzi's, it is no less certain that Jones was consulted upon every detail. A great accession of space was thus obtained, and the grant for purchases, long curtailed for lack of space for new acquisitions, was consequently restored to the amount at which it had previously stood. Much additional labour was thus thrown on the new keeper, whose administration was not in other respects eventful, but was distinguished by industry, regularity, and the general attainment of a high standard of efficiency. His reputation as an excellent man of business, combined with the warm support of Panizzi, gained for Jones the appointment of principal librarian upon Panizzi's retirement in 1866. As in his former employments, he here approved himself a diligent and prudent official, and was indefatigable in keeping the existing machinery in working order. His methodical habits and soundness of judgment recommended him strongly to the trustees, and he was especially esteemed by those who, like Mr. Grote, Sir David Dundas, and Mr. Walpole, took a warm personal interest in the working of the institution. In 1872 he presided over a commission designed to have brought the South Kensington Museum under the management of the trustees of the British Museum, but this scheme was not carried out. The building of the Natural History Museum was prosecuted under him; during his administration, also, the Castellani collection of antiquities was acquired for the nation, and new excavations were undertaken in Assyria. The condition of the staff, moreover, was considerably improved after protracted negotiations with the treasury. On the conclusion of this harassing business Jones's health became seriously affected, and failing to restore it by a temporary retirement into Cornwall, he resigned in August 1878. He had previously been elected president of the Library Association of the United Kingdom, and took the chair at its first congress, October 1877. His last years were spent partly at Penzance, partly at Henley, where he had built a house, and where he died suddenly of disease of the heart, 7 Sept. 1881. Unostentatious and undemonstrative, he possessed warm feelings and strong affections, and his dry reserve concealed geniality and humour.
Jones edited and translated several books for the Hakluyt Society; contributed largely to the unfinished 'Biographical Dictionary' of the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge; wrote on public libraries in the 'North British Review' for May 1851 and the 'Quarterly Review' for July 1858; and on archæology and bibliography in the ‘Proceedings’ of the Society of Antiquaries, of which he was a vice-president. After his retirement from the Museum he delivered at Penzance, and privately printed, a lecture on the Assyrian excavations, in which he was deeply interested.
[R. Garnett in Transactions of the Library Association for 1882; private information; personal knowledge.]