Dictionary of National Biography, 1901 supplement/McCoy, Frederick
McCOY, Sir FREDERICK (1823–1899), naturalist and geologist, son of Simon McCoy, a Dublin physician, was born in that city in 1823. After passing through a course of medical study there and at Cambridge, and before reaching the age when he could begin to practise, he was diverted to natural science by undertaking the arrangement of the collections of the Geological Society of Ireland and of the Royal Irish Academy. Sir Richard John Griffith[q. v.] then engaged him to make the palaeontological investigations required for the 'Geological Map of Ireland.' The results of these studies were published in two volumes, one entitled 'Synopsis of the Carboniferous Limestone Fossils in Ireland,' 1844, the other 'Synopsis of the Silurian Fossils of Ireland,' 1846, and during the later part of the time thus employed he was a member of the regular staff of the Survey. In 1846, on the invitation of Adam Sedgwick [q. v.], he went to Cambridge to arrange the collection in the Woodwardian Museum. McCoy was continuously engaged in that university till 1850, when he was appointed professor of mineralogy and geology at Queen's College, Belfast. But, as his Cambridge work was still unfinished, he returned thither for a few months in the spring and autumn of each year. During these intervals he aided Sedgwick in Cornwall in 1851, at May Hill in 1852 and 1853. and in South Wales in 1854. In that year he completed the description of the fossils in the Woodwardian Museum, and was appointed to the chair of natural science in the new university of Melbourne, leaving England for this post in the autumn. The results of his studies at Cambridge were finally published in a volume entitled 'British Palæozoic Rocks and Fossils,' 1854. This was restricted to the fossils; for Sedgwick, who contributed an introduction, had intended to write another volume describing the rocks. McCoy's new office was no sinecure, for he had to cover the whole field of natural history; nevertheless he acted as palæontologist to the Geological Survey in its earlier stages, and was founder of the National Museum of Natural History and Geology at Melbourne, of which he was director until his death, besides taking an active interest in municipal affairs and serving as a justice of the peace. He was also chairman of the first royal commission for international and intercolonial exhibitions for the colony of Victoria. The later part of his life was spent at his house 'Maritima,' Brighton Beach, about nine miles from Melbourne, where he died on 13 May 1899. He married Anna Maria, daughter of Thomas Harrison, a solicitor, of Dublin. His wife died in 1886, and in the following year he lost his son Henry, a barrister practising in New Zealand, who had married in 1870 and left a family of seven children. His only daughter, Emily Mary McCoy, also died before him.
McCoy throughout his long life was the most indefatigable of men. He lived very plainly, and did much of his work between ten at night and three in the morning, not requiring more than five hours' sleep. So, notwithstanding the official duties and the books already enumerated, he published two works for the government of Victoria, one entitled 'Prodromus of the Zoology of Victoria' (1878 sqq.), the other 'Prodromus of the Palæontology of Victoria,' each appearing in 'decades' at intervals during thirty of the fifty-eight years covered by his publications; and he also wrote no less than sixty-nine papers, dealing, in addition to some zoological topics, with almost every branch of palæontology. In fact, according to report, he was more engrossed in research than in the duties of his chair. He was conspicuous for his antagonism to the views of Charles Robert Darwin [q. v.]
McCoy was elected F.G.S. in 1852, and received from that society its Murchison medal in 1879. In 1880 he was made a F.R.S. The honorary degree of doctor of science was conferred on him by Cambridge in 1886, where he was also an honorary member of the Philosophical Society, as well as of the Royal Society of Australia, the Imperial Society of Naturalists of Moscow, and of many other British and foreign societies. He was awarded the Emperor of Austria's gold medal for arts and sciences, was a knight chevalier of the royal order of the crown of Italy, was created C.M.G. in 1886, and K.C.M.G. in 1891.
[Obituary notices in the Geological Magazine, 1899, p. 283; The Quarterly Journal of the Geological Society, 56, lix; the Year-book of the Royal Society, 1900, p. 196, by H[enry] W[oodward], and Nature, lx. 83, by H[enry] B[olingbroke] W[oodward]; frequent references in Sedgwick's Life and Letters, vol. ii., with information from Frederick II. McCoy, esq. (grandson), and others.]