Ray Lankester

Ray Lankester

Infobox Scientist
name = Ray Lankester
box_width =

image_width = 220px
caption = Ray Lankester by Leslie Ward, "Vanity Fair" 1905
birth_date = 1847
birth_place = London
death_date = 1929
death_place = London
residence =
citizenship =
nationality = British
ethnicity =
field = Zoology
work_institutions = University College London
Oxford University
British Museum (Natural History)
alma_mater = Christ Church, Oxford
doctoral_advisor =
doctoral_students =
known_for = Evolution, Rationalism
author_abbrev_bot =
author_abbrev_zoo =
influences = Thomas Henry Huxley
influenced = E.S. Goodrich
WFR Weldon
prizes = Kt 1906; Copley Medal 1913
religion =
footnotes =

Sir E. Ray Lankester KCB, FRS (May 15, 1847August 13, 1929) was a British zoologist, born in London.New International Encyclopaedia]


E. (Edwin: his first name was never full spelt) Ray Lankester was the son of Edwin Lankester, a doctor-naturalist who helped abolish cholera in London. Ray Lankester was probably named after the naturalist John Ray: his father had just edited the memorials of John Ray for the Ray Society.

In 1855 Ray went to boarding school at Leatherhead, and in 1858 to St Paul's School. His university education was at Downing College, Cambridge and Christ Church, Oxford; he transferred from Downing, after five terms, at his parents' behest because Christ's had better teaching in the form of the newly appointed George Rolleston. [Lester, 1995:17-19]

Lankester achieved first-class honours in 1868. His education was rounded off by study visits to Vienna, Leipzig and Jena, and he did some work at the Marine Station at Naples. He took the examination to become a Fellow of Exeter College, Oxford, and studied under Huxley before taking his MA.

Lankester therefore had a far better education than most English biologists of the previous generation, such as Huxley, Wallace and Bates. Even so, it could be argued that the influence of his father Edwin and his friends were just as important. Huxley was a close friend of the family, and whilst still a child Ray met Hooker, Henfry, Clifford, Gosse, Owen, Forbes, Carpenter, Lyell, Murchison, Henslow and Darwin! [Lester, 1995:9-11]

He was a large man with a large presence, of warm human sympathies and in his childhood a great admirer of Abraham Lincoln. His interventions, responses and advocacies were often colourful and forceful, as befitted an admirer of Huxley, for whom he worked as a demonstrator when a young man. In his personal manner he was not so adept as Huxley, and he made enemies by his rudeness. [Huxley, 1970:129] This undoubtedly damaged and limited the second half of his career.

Lankester appears, thinly disguised, in several novels. He is the model for Sir Roderick Dover in H.G. Wells' "Marriage" (Wells had been one of his students), and in Robert Briffault's "Europa", which contains a brilliant portrait of Lankester, including his friendship with Karl Marx. He has also been suggested for Professor Challenger in Arthur Conan Doyle's "The Lost World", [Lester, 1995: 60, 187-8; 199-202] but Doyle himself said that Challenger was based on a professor of physiology at the University of Edinburgh named William Rutherford. [pxxiii in the Oxford ed of "The Lost World". William Rutherford (1839–1899), holder of the Edinburgh Chair of Physiology from 1874.] [Arthur Conan Doyle 1930. "Memories and adventures". Murray, London 1930. p32]

Lankester never married. A finely decorated memorial plaque to him can be seen at the Golders Green Crematorium, Hoop Lane, London.


Lankester became a Fellow of Exeter College, Oxford in 1873. He co-edited the "Quarterly Journal of Microscopical Science" which his father had founded. From 1869 until his death he edited this journal (jointly with his father, 1869–71). He worked as one of Huxley's team at the new buildings in South Kensington, and after the tragic death of Francis Balfour became Huxley's intended successor.

Lankester was appointed Jodrell Professor of Zoology at University College London from 1874 to 1890, Linacre Professor of Comparative Anatomy at Oxford University from 1891 to 1898, and director of the Natural History Museum from 1898 to 1907. He was a founder in 1884 of the Marine Biological Association at Plymouth. Influential as teacher and writer on biological theories, comparative anatomy, and evolution, Lankester studied the protozoa, mollusca, and arthropoda. He was knighted in 1907, and was awarded the Copley Medal of the Royal Society in 1913. [Lester, 1995]

At University College London (the 'Godless Institute of Gower Street') Lankester taught W.F.R. Weldon (1860-1906) who went on to succeed him in the chair at UCL. Another interesting student was Alfred Gibbs Bourne, who went on to hold senior positions in biology and education in the Indian Empire. When Lankester left to take up the Linacre chair at Oxford in 1891, the Grant Museum at UCL continued to grow under Weldon who added a number of extremely rare specimens. Weldon is perhaps best known for founding the science of biometry with Francis Galton (1822-1911) and Karl Pearson (1857-1936). He followed Lankester to Oxford in 1899. [ [http://www.ucl.ac.uk/museums/zoology/collections/history History of the Grant Museum 1827 - present] ]

After Huxley the most important influence on his thought was August Weismann, the German zoologist who rejected Lamarkism, and wholeheartedly advocated natural selection as the key force in evolution at a time when other biologists had doubts. Weismann's separation of germplasm (genetic material) from soma (somatic cells) was an idea which took many years before its significance was generally appreciated. Lankester was one of the first to see its importance: his full acceptance of selection came after reading Weismann's essays, some of which he translated into English.

Lankester was hugely influential, though perhaps more as a teacher than as a researcher. Ernst Mayr said "It was Lankester who founded a school of selectionism at Oxford". [Mayr, 1982:535] Those he influenced (in addition to Weldon) included Edwin Stephen Goodrich (Linacre chair in zoology at Oxford 1921-46) and (indirectly) Julian Huxley (the evolutionary synthesis). In turn their disciples, such as E.B. Ford (ecological genetics), Gavin de Beer (embryology and evolution), Charles Elton (ecology) and Alister Hardy (marine biology) held sway during the middle years of the 20th century.

As a zoologist Lankester was a comparative anatomist of the Huxley school, working mostly on invertebrates. He was the first to show the relationship of the horseshoe crab or "Limulus" to the Arachnida. His "Limulus" specimens can still be seen in the Grant Museum of Zoology at UCL today. He was also a voluminous writer on biology for the general readership; in this he followed the example of his old mentor, Huxley.

Trouble at the Museum

In Lankester's time the Natural History Museum had its own building in South Kensington, but in financial and administrative matters it was subordinate to the British Museum. Moreover, the Superintendent (= Director) of the NHM was the subordinate of the Principal Librarian of the BM, a fact which was bound to cause trouble since that august person was not a scientist. [Gunther, Albert 1975. "A century of zoology at the British Museum through the lives of two Keepers, 1815-1914". London.] [Gunther, Albert 1981. "The founders of science at the British Museum", 1753-1900. Halesworth, London.] [Stearne, William T. 1981. "The Natural History Museum at South Kensington". London.] We can see that the struggle which took place was one aspect of the struggle undertaken, in their different ways, by Owen, Hooker, Huxley and Tydall to emancipate science from enslavement by traditional forces.

There was trouble from the moment Lankester put forward his candidature for the office vacated by Sir William Flower, who was on the point of death. The Principal Librarian, Sir Edward Maunde Thomson, the palaeographer, was also the Secretary to the Trustees, and hence in a strong position to get his own way. There is good evidence that Thomson, an efficient and dominant figure, intended to take control of the whole Museum, including the Natural History departments. [Mitchell, P. Chalmers. 1937. "My fill of days". London. p170 et seq] [Sir John Evans to Lankester, Lankester family papers; reported in Lester p128-9.] In the absence of Huxley, who had led most of the battles for over thirty years, it was left to the younger generation to battle for the independence of science, Mitchell, Poulton, and Weldon were his main supporters, and together they lobbied the Trustees, the Government and in the press to get their point over. Finally Lankester was appointed instead of Lazarus Fletcher (a relative nonentity). [Lester Chapter 11, p127 et seq.]

Lankester was appointed in 1898, and the outcome was inevitable. Eight years of conflict with Maunde Thomson followed, with Thomson constantly interferring in the affairs of the museum and obstructing Lankester's attempt to improve the museum. Lankester resigned in 1907, at the direction of Thomson, who had discovered a clause in the regulations which allowed him to call for the resignation of officials at the age of 60. Lazarus Fletcher was appointed in his stead. There was a vast clamour in the press, and from foreign zoologists protesting at the treatment of Lankester. That Lankester had some friends in high places was shown by the Archbishop of Canterbury offering him an enhanced pension, and the kighthood that was bestowed on him the next year.

The issues raised by this affair did not end there. Eventually the NHM gained, first, its administrative freedom, then finally there was a complete separation from the BM. Today the British Library, the British Museum and the Natural History Museum all occupy separate buildings, and have complete legal, administrative and financial independence from each other.


Lankester had close family connections with Suffolk (the Woodbridge and Felixstowe area), and was an active member of the Rationalist group associated with the circle of Thomas Huxley, Samuel Laing and others. He was a friend of the Rationalist Edward Clodd of Aldeburgh. From 1901 to his death in 1929 he was Honorary President of the Ipswich Museum. He became convinced of the human workmanship of the (now unfavoured) 'Pre-palaeolithic' implements and rostro-carinates, and championed their cause at the Royal Society in 1910-1912. Through correspondence he became the scientific mentor of the Suffolk prehistorian James Reid Moir (1879-1944). He was a friend of Karl Marx in the latter's later years and was among the few persons present in his funeral. [Feuer, 1979]

Lankester was active in attempting to expose the frauds of Spiritualist mediums during the 1920s. He was an important writer of popular science, his weekly newspaper columns over many years being assembled and reprinted in a series of books entitled "Science from an Easy Chair" (first series, 1910; second series, 1912).


His writings include:
* "A Monograph of the Cephalaspidian Fishes" (1870)
* "Developmental History of the Mollusca" (1875)
* "Degeneration: a chapter in Darwinism" (1880)
* "Limulus: An Arachnid" (1881)
* "The Advancement of Science" (1889), collected essays
* "Zoölogical Articles" 1891)
* "A Treatise on Zoölogy" (1900-09), (editor)
* "Extinct Animals" (1905)
* "Nature and Man" (1905)
* "The Kingdom of Man" (1907)



id = PMID:16769556
url= http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16769556
publication-date=2006 Jun
title=Education or degeneration: E. Ray Lankester, H. G. Wells and the outline of history
periodical=Studies in history and philosophy of biological and biomedical sciences
doi = 10.1016/j.shpsc.2006.03.002
journal=Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences

*cite journal|title=The friendship of Edwin Ray Lankester and Karl Marx: the last episode in Marx's intellectual evolution|first=Lewis S.|last=Feuer|authorlink=Lewis Samuel Feuer|journal=Journal of the History of Ideas|volume=40|issue=4|year=1979|pages=633–648|doi=10.2307/2709363
id = PMID:8992527
url= http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8992527
first=M T
title=Rediscovering the science of the history of life
periodical=History and philosophy of the life sciences

*cite book|last=Huxley|first=Julian|title=Memories|publisher=Allen & Unwin|year=1970
*cite book|last=Mayr|first=Ernst|year=1982|title=The growth of biological thought|publisher=Harvard University Press
id = PMID:10397781
url= http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10397781
publication-date=1999 Jun 15
title=Huxley's bulldog: the battles of E. Ray Lankester (1846-1929)
periodical=Anat. Rec.
journal=The Anatomical Record

External links

Scanned books on [http://www.archive.org the Internet archive ]
* [http://www.archive.org/details/secretsofearthse00lankrich Secrets of earth and sea (1920)]
* [http://www.archive.org/details/zoologicalarticl00lankrich Zoological articles contributed to the "Encyclopaedia Britannica" (1891)]
* [http://www.archive.org/details/diversionsofnatu00lankrich Diversions of a naturalist (1915)]
* [http://www.archive.org/details/sciencefromeasyc00lankiala Science from an easy chair (1913)]
* [http://www.archive.org/details/kingdomofman00lankrich The kingdom of man (1907)]
* [http://www.archive.org/details/advancementofsci00lankrich The advancement of science. Occasional essays & addresses (1890)]
* [http://www.archive.org/details/sciencefrom00lankrich Science from an easy chair; a second series (1913)]
* A treatise on zoology (1900-1909)
** [http://www.archive.org/details/treatiseonzoolog01lankrich Volume 1]
** [http://www.archive.org/details/treatiseonzoolog02lankrich Volume 2]
** [http://www.archive.org/details/treatiseonzoolog03lankrich Volume 3]
** [http://www.archive.org/details/treatiseonzoolog04lankrich Volume 4]
** [http://www.archive.org/details/treatiseonzoolog05lankrich Volume 5]
** [http://www.archive.org/details/treatiseonzoolog06lankrich Volume 6]
** [http://www.archive.org/details/treatiseonzoolog07lankrich Volume 7]
** [http://www.archive.org/details/treatiseonzoolog08lankrich Volume 8]
** [http://www.archive.org/details/treatiseonzoolog09lankrich Volume 9]

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  • Ray Lankester — Saltar a navegación, búsqueda En la fila de atrás, de izquierda a derecha, F. O. Barlow, G. Elliot Smith, Charles Dawson, Arthur Smith Woodward. En la de enfrente: A. S. Underwood, Arthur Keith, W. P. Pycraft y Sir Ray Lankester. Sir Edwin Ray… …   Wikipedia Español

  • Ray Lankester — Edwin Ray Lankester, 1908 Sir Edwin Ray Lankester (* 16. Mai 1847 in London; † 13. August 1929 in Chelsea) war ein britischer Zoologe. Inhaltsverzeichnis …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • Ray Lankester — Edwin Ray Lankester Edwin Ray Lankester. Sir Lankester Edwin Ray est un zoologiste britannique, né le 15 mai 1847 à Londres et mort le 15 août 1929 dans cette même ville. Son père est le médecin et naturaliste Edwin Lankester …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Edwin Ray Lankester — Edwin Ray Lankester, 1908 Sir Edwin Ray Lankester (* 16. Mai 1847 in London; † 13. August 1929 in Chelsea) war ein britischer Zoologe. Inhaltsverzeichnis …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • Edwin Ray Lankester — Edwin Ray Lankester. Sir Lankester Edwin Ray est un zoologiste britannique, né le 15 mai 1847 à Londres et mort le 15 août 1929 dans cette même ville. Son père est le médecin et naturaliste Edwin Lankester (1814 1874). Il …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Lankester — Edwin Ray Lankester, 1908 Sir Edwin Ray Lankester (* 16. Mai 1847 in London; † 13. August 1929 in Chelsea) war ein britischer Zoologe. Inhaltsverzeichnis …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • Lankester, Sir Edwin Ray — ▪ British zoologist born May 15, 1847, London, Eng. died Aug. 15, 1929, London       British authority on general zoology at the turn of the 19th century, who made important contributions to comparative anatomy, embryology, parasitology, and… …   Universalium

  • Lankester — biographical name Sir Edwin Ray 1847 1929 English zoologist …   New Collegiate Dictionary

  • Lankester — /lang keuh steuhr, kes teuhr/, n. Sir Edwin Ray, 1847 1929, English zoologist and writer. * * * …   Universalium

  • Lankester — /ˈlæŋkəstə/ (say langkuhstuh) noun Sir Edwin Ray, 1847–1920, English zoologist …   Australian English dictionary

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