There Ain’t ‘Alf Some Clever Bastards – Part Twenty Five
March 19, 2014
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Hugh Edwin Strickland (1811 – 1853)
The latest inductee to our Hall of Fame is Hugh Strickland who made his name as a geologist and ornithologist. As a boy he became interested in natural history and whilst at Oriel College, Oxford he attended the lectures of John Kidd on anatomy and William Buckland on geology. Their passion for their subjects encouraged the young Strickland to develop his passion for zoology and geology.
After graduating with a BA in 1831 and a MA the following year, our hero returned to his home near Tewkesbury and began to study the geology of the Vale of Evesham, sending papers to the Geological Society of London in 1833 and 1834. He continued with his interest in birds and having been introduced to William Hamilton accompanied him in 1835 on a trip through Asia Minor, the Thracian Bosphorus and to the Greek island of Zante. The trip was very productive and inspired Strickland to write and present to the Geological Society the following year (1836) papers on the geology of the areas. He also published a book in 1842 describing the results of his journey and subsequent trip to Armenia, entitled Researches in Asia Minor, Pontus and Armenia.
In 1842 he was commissioned by the British Association to consider developing rules for zoological nomenclature. His report went on to develop a codification based on the principle of priority which to this day is the fundamental guiding principle for biological nomenclature. In his researches Strickland did much pioneering work into the grouping and classification of birds – the result, a chart consisting of bits of paper stuck together with circles in paint identifying the groupings – and it is clear that his analytical approach took him to the cusp of realising that birds (and, by extension, all fauna) were part of an evolutionary process. He also wrote a book, with Alexander Melville, on the Dodo and other extinct birds of Mauritius and the area in 1848.
All very worthy and by 1852 he had been elected a Fellow of the Royal Society. But his claim to our Hall of Fame rests upon his untimely demise. “Poor Hugh” as he came to be known had been attending a meeting of the British Association at Hull in 1853. Having stopped off to view Flamborough Head he then went off on 14th September 1853 to examine the railway cuttings of the new Manchester, Sheffield and Lincolnshire railway near Retford. Standing a little way up the track just beyond a tunnel to make a sketch of the strata revealed by the excavations, he stepped back from the down-line on to the up-line to let a slow coal train go past. Being so near the tunnel and the noise of the coal train being deafening, our hero was unaware that he had stepped into the path of an express train. Despite the driver’s frantic attempts to stop the train, Strickland was struck and died instantaneously. His gold watch stopped upon impact, showing the time to be 20 minutes past 4. So notorious was his death that it was still being used as a warning to geology undergraduates in the 1980s not to examine railway cuttings.
Hugh Strickland, for being a martyr to your love of geology, you are a worthy inductee!
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