William Crawford Williamson

William Crawford Williamson (November 24, 1816 – June 23, 1895) was an English naturalist.

Williamson was born at Scarborough. His father, John Williamson, after beginning life as a gardener, became a well-known local naturalist, who, in conjunction with William Bean, first explored the rich fossiliferous beds of the Yorkshire coast. He was for many years curator of the Scarborough natural history museum, and the younger Williamson was thus from the first brought up among scientific surroundings and in association with scientific people. William Smith, the "father of English geology," lived for two years in the Williamsons' house. Young Williamson's maternal grandfather was a lapidary, and from him he learnt the art of cutting stones, an accomplishment which he found of great use in later years, when he undertook his work on the structure of fossil plants.

Williamson very early made a beginning as an original contributor to science. When little more than sixteen he published a paper on the rare birds of Yorkshire, and a little later (in 1834) presented to the Geological Society of London his first memoir on the Mesozoic fossils of his native district. In the meantime he had assisted Lindley and Hutton in the preparation of their "Fossil Flora of Great Britain". On entering the medical profession he still found time to carry on his scientific work during his student days, and for three years acted as curator of the Natural History Society's museum at Manchester. After completing his medical studies at University College, London, in 1841, he returned to Manchester to practise his profession, in which he met with much success. When Owen's College at Manchester was founded in 1851 he became professor of natural history there, with the duty of teaching geology, zoology and botany. A very necessary division of labour took place as additional professors were appointed, but he retained the chair of botany down to 1892. Shortly afterwards he removed to Clapham, where he died.

Williamson's teaching work was not confined to his university classes, for he was also a successful popular lecturer, especially for the Gilchrist Trustees. His scientific work, pursued with remarkable energy throughout life, in the midst of official and professional duties, had a wide scope. In geology, his early work on the zones of distribution of Mesozoic fossils (begun in 1834), and on the part played by microscopic organisms in the formation of marine deposits (1845), was of fundamental importance. In zoology, his investigations of the development of the teeth and bones of fishes (1842–1851), and on recent Foraminifera, a group on which he wrote a monograph for the Ray Society in 1857, were no less valuable. In botany, in addition to a remarkable memoir on the minute structure of Volvox (1852), his work on the structure of fossil plants established British palaeobotany on a scientific basis; on the ground of these researches Williamson may rank with Adolphe Theodore Brongniart as one of the founders of this branch of science.

A full account of Williamson's career can be found in his autobiography, entitled "Reminiscences of a Yorkshire Naturalist", edited by his wife (London, 1896).



NAME = Williamson, William Crawford
SHORT DESCRIPTION = English naturalist
DATE OF BIRTH = November 24, 1816
PLACE OF BIRTH = Scarborough, North Yorkshire, England
DATE OF DEATH = June 23, 1895

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