Flower, Prof. William Henry

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Flower, Prof. William Henry

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30 November 1831 - 1 July 1899


(from Wikipedia entry)

Sir William Henry Flower KCB FRCS FRS (30 November 1831 – 1 July 1899) was an English comparative anatomist and surgeon. Flower became a leading authority on mammals, and especially on the primate brain. He supported Thomas Henry Huxley in an important controversy with Richard Owen about the human brain, and eventually succeeded Owen as Director of the Natural History Museum. lower was born at his father's house in Glade Valley "The Hill", Stratford-upon-Avon. His father, Edward Fordham Flower, had lived in America and was an opponent of the slave trade; the family's antecedents were Puritan. When Edward Flower returned to England, he founded a brewery in Stratford-on-Avon and married Celina Greaves. William was at first taught by his mother, and went to a boarding school in Edgbaston at 11.

In 1844 at 13 William was sent to a school in Worksop run by a German headmaster, Dr. Heldenmaier. There were ten hours daily schooling, and this included science (rare at that time). Flower was made Curator of the school museum, and for almost the rest of his life he was a museum curator of one kind or another.

William's interest in natural history appears to have been further fostered in early life by interactions with Rev. P.B. Brodie, an enthusiastic zoologist and geologist. William wrote later in life in his book, Essays on Museums, that he was pleased to create a museum as a boy with a miscellaneous collection of natural history objects, kept at first in a cardboard box, but subsequently housed in a cupboard. In 1854 Flower joined the Army Medical Service, and went out to serve in the Crimean War. He was gazetted as Assistant-Surgeon to the 63rd Regiment of Foot; and in July 1854 embarked with his regiment at Cork for Constantinople. In four months Flower's Regiment was reduced in strength by almost one half, from cold and exposure, infectious diseases and enemy action.

Flower resigned from the army in 1855 due to ill-health. In recognition of his services, he received from the hands of Queen Victoria the Crimea Medal with clasps for Alma, Inkerman, Balaclava, and Sebastopol; he received the Turkish medal later. In the spring of 1857 Flower took the diploma for the Fellowship of the Royal College of Surgeons (FRCS); and joined the staff of the Middlesex Hospital as Demonstrator in Anatomy. In 1859 he was made Assistant-Surgeon at the Middlesex, Curator of the Anatomical Museum and also Lecturer on Comparative Anatomy. His 1859 lecture to the Royal United Services Institute on practical surgery for naval and military officers was the direct result of his Crimean experience. It summarised the first aid knowledge needed by all soldiers to help the wounded before a surgeon was available (see also field hospital; military medicine).

He married Georgina Rosetta, the youngest daughter of Admiral William Henry Smyth, an astronomer, and sometime Hydrographer to the Admiralty and Foreign Secretary to the Royal Society. The wedding took place on 15 April 1858 at the church of Stone, in Buckinghamshire. In 1860 London intellectual life was alive with talk of evolution. Flower had long been interested in natural history, and now he decided to move his career in that direction, probably under the influence of Thomas Henry Huxley, who was also a comparative anatomist, and Fullerian Professor at the Royal Institution at the time. Flower's first contact with Huxley came about from his early friendship with George Busk, Surgeon to the Seamen's Hospital of HMS Dreadnought (a land base near Portsmouth). Busk was an FRS, became PRCS, and a member of the X Club. Flower succeeded John Thomas Quekett as Conservator of the Hunterian Museum of the Royal College of Surgeons of England on the recommendation of Huxley and others. He started work in January 1862 and held the post for 22 years.

Flower became associated with Huxley's controversy with Richard Owen concerning the human brain. Owen had erroneously said that the human brain had structures that were not present in other mammals, and separated man off into a Sub-Class of its own instead of a genus in the primates. Huxley contradicted this in a debate at the BA meeting in 1860, and promised a demonstration in due course.

Back in London, Huxley consulted with every expert on the brain that he knew, and that included Flower. His conclusions were made public in 1860 in lectures and publications, but most of the demonstrations were done by Flower using monkey brains rather than the scarce ape brains. Over the years, Flower published papers on the brains of four species of monkey, and acted as Huxley's partner in demonstrations at subsequent BA meetings. At the 1862 meeting in Cambridge when Owen read a paper maintaining his claims, Flower stood up and said "I happen to have in my pocket a monkey's brain" — and produced the object in question! (report in the Times). Few doubted that the small object had Huxley's finger-prints on it...

Another interesting angle on Flower was his combination of religious belief with complete and unequivocal acceptance of evolution. His point of view was close to that of Asa Gray, the American botanist, who wrote a pamphlet entitled Natural Selection not inconsistent with Natural Theology. As the years passed this co-existence of ideas became ever more common with those Christians who were not wedded to literal belief in all aspects of the Bible. In 1883 Flower gave an address to the Church Congress in Reading on evolution: "The bearing of science on religion" (reprinted in his Essays on Museums).

In 1870 he became Hunterian Professor of Comparative Anatomy in succession to Huxley and commenced a series of lectures that ran for fourteen years, all on aspects of the Mammalia. The essence was published in his books of 1870 and 1891. He was President of the Zoological Society of London from 1879 to 1899. In 1882 he was awarded the Royal Medal of the Royal Society.

For more information, see Wikipedia entry at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Henry_Flower .


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Welby, Victoria, Lady, 1837-1912 (1837-1912)

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Created 2015-10-28 by Anna St.Onge.


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