Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Waterhouse, George Robert

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WATERHOUSE, GEORGE ROBERT (1810–1888), naturalist, son of James Edward Waterhouse, solicitor's clerk, and student of entomology, by his wife, Mary Newman, was born at Somers Town on 6 March 1810. In 1821 he was sent to school at Koekelberg, near Brussels. In the summer of 1824 he returned to England, and was articled to an architect. On the expiration of his apprenticeship he for a time followed that profession, among his works being the laying out of Charles Knight's garden in the Vale of Health, Hampstead, and the designs for the ornamentation of St. Dunstan's Church.

Waterhouse inherited from his father a taste for entomology. In 1833 he and Frederick William Hope [q. v.] initiated the Entomological Society of London, Waterhouse accepting the post of honorary curator. He was its president in 1849–50.

For some time he was engaged in writing the natural history articles for Knight's ‘Penny Cyclopædia.’ In 1835 he was appointed curator to the museum of the Royal Institution at Liverpool, an appointment he exchanged in 1836 for the curatorship of the Zoological Society of London. He began at once to make a catalogue of the mammals in their museum, and completed it in the following spring. Owing to the fact that the classification he adopted did not accord with the then fashionable quinary system, his list was not published till 1838; it was followed by a supplement in 1839.

Although he declined an invitation to accompany Darwin on the celebrated voyage of the Beagle, Darwin on his return placed the mammals in Waterhouse's hands for description (Zool. Voyage of the Beagle, pt. ii. 1840), as well as the coleoptera (described in various scientific journals). In November 1843 he was appointed an assistant in the mineralogical branch of the department of natural history in the British Museum, and of this section, then styled the mineralogical and geological branch, he became keeper in 1851, while in 1857, when the two subjects were separated, he became keeper of the department of geology: that post he held till his retirement in 1880. He died at Putney on 21 Jan. 1888. He married, on 21 Dec. 1834, Elizabeth Ann, daughter of G. L. J. Griesbach of Windsor, a musician.

Waterhouse studied more especially the coleoptera, and devoted much time to the group Heteromera, for which he had at one time prepared a scheme of classification, but, owing to the loss of his notes, this was never published. His dissections made for the purpose are now in the British Museum (natural history) with the type specimens from his collection.

He began in 1844 a ‘Natural History of the Mammalia,’ which occupied his leisure time till 1848, when, chiefly owing to the outbreak of the French revolution, the publisher, M. Hippolyte Baillière, was unable to continue the work. The two volumes completed (8vo, London, 1846–48) contain the account of the Marsupialia and Rodentia, and are still considered to be among the most valuable contributions to the knowledge of these groups.

Waterhouse was a zealous curator, and it was under his auspices that the celebrated skeleton of the Archæopteryx was acquired by the nation.

Besides the works already named, Waterhouse was author of:

  1. ‘Catalogue of British Coleoptera,’ London, 1858, 8vo.
  2. ‘Pocket Catalogue of British Coleoptera,’ London, 1861, 8vo.

He also assisted Agassiz with the mammalian portion of the latter's ‘Nomenclator Zoologicus’ (1842), and contributed some 120 papers on natural history subjects to various scientific journals between 1833 and 1866.

[Trans. Entom. Soc. London, 1888, Proc. pp. lxx–lxxvi; information kindly supplied by his son, Mr. C. O. Waterhouse; Brit. Mus. Cat.; Royal Soc. Cat.]

B. B. W.