Ref NoMS/395
TitleLetters to W.T. Thiselton-Dyer - G.J. Romanes
AdminHistoryGeorge John Romanes (1848 - 1894) was a Canadian-Scottish evolutionary biologist, physiologist, writer, lecturer and a Fellow of the Royal Society, the Zoological Society and the Linnean Society. He is best known for his work on comparative psychology in humans and animals and helped to promote Charles Darwin’s theories of evolution and natural selection.

Romanes was born on 20 May 1848 in Kingston, Canada, the youngest son of Rev. Prof. George Romanes and his wife, Isabella Cair Smith. Despite being born in Canada, Romanes lived in London and temporarily in Germany and Italy before going to Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge, in 1867 to study medicine and physiology. It was during his time at Cambridge that he befriended Charles Darwin and became his assistant researcher. Before passing away Darwin shared his unpublished writings and research with Romanes, which influenced Romanes' ideas and inspired him to publish his own papers.

Romanes was a prolific writer and had been awarded the Burney prize at Cambridge in 1873 for an essay. He also wrote papers on the nervous systems of the Medusae (Jellyfish) and Echinoderms and continued to research the physiology of Invertebrates at University College London. It was for his work on Medusae that resulted in his admission as a member of the Royal Society in 1879. However, much of Romanes’ writings focused on applying Darwin’s theories to psychology in humans and animals and how physiological selection is the driving force behind the production of new species. These ideas were met with scepticism by scientists, but Romanes persevered and wrote the books ‘Animal Intelligence’, ‘Mental Evolution in Animals’, ‘Mental Evolution in Man’ and ‘Darwin After Darwin’.

In addition to his writings Romanes became a Fellow of the Zoological Society and lectured at the Royal Institution, the University of Cambridge, the University of Edinburgh and the University of Oxford where he founded the ‘Romanes Lectures’. He was also elected as a Fellow of the Linnean Society in 1875 and served as the society’s Zoological Secretary between 1881 and 1885. After 3 years of poor health, Romanes died on 23 May 1894, aged 46, leaving a widow (Ethel) and 6 children, 5 boys and 1 girl.
Sir William Turner Thiselton-Dyer (1843 - 1928) was a botanist, the third director of the Royal Botanical Gardens at Kew and a Fellow of the University of London, the Royal Society and the Linnean Society.

Thiselton-Dyer was born in Westminster on 28 July 1843, the son of William George Thiselton-Dyer, a physician, and Catherine Jane (née Firminger), a botanist. He attended King’s College School and initially went to King’s College to study medicine, but transferred to Christ Church College, Oxford, where he graduated in Mathematics. He continued his education at Oxford and received a further degree from the university’s Natural Sciences School.

Following his education Thiselton-Dyer held positions with multiple academic institutions including the Chair of Natural History at the Royal Agricultural College, Cirencester, (1868), the Chair of Botany at the Royal College of Science for Ireland, Dublin, (1872) and professor of Botany at the Royal Horticultural Society at South Kensington and Chiswick. Whilst working at these institutions Thiselton-Dyer corresponded with and eventually met Joseph Dalton Hooker, who at that time was the director of the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew, and assisted him in preparing part of the scientific work, ‘Flora of India’, which described flowering plants native to India.

Thiselton-Dyer continued to work with Hooker as the Assistant Director at the Royal Botanic Gardens from 1875 and became the Gardens’ Director from 1885 to 1905. He also married Harriet Anne Hooker, the eldest daughter of J.D. Hooker in 1877 and they had a son and a daughter together. During his time at Kew he prepared and edited the ‘Flora Capensis’, the ‘Flora of Tropical Africa’ and the ‘Index Kewensis’. He also supported botanical establishments in British colonies, introduced rubber and cacao plantations to Sri Lanka and Malaya, designed a rock garden for the Royal Botanic Gardens and supervised the Jodrell Laboratory.

For his achievements Thiselton-Dyer was elected into the Linnean Society in 1872 where he served on the council multiple times and was the vice-president from 1885-1887. He was also later elected fellow of the Royal Society in 1882 with the support of Charles Darwin and George Bentham, fellow of the University of London, awarded with the Order of Saint Michael and Saint George in 1899 for his services in British colonies, appointed the Royal Commissioner to the Paris International Exhibition and the St. Louis Exposition and was the botanical adviser to the Secretary of State for the Colonies from 1902 to 1906. Towards the end of his life he ended his connection with the societies he was a member of except the Linnean Society and devoted his time to studying Classics.

Sir William Turner Thiselton-Dyer died on 23 December 1928.
DescriptionComprises letters from George John Romanes to William Turner Thiselton-Dyer.
N.B. Letters numbered 1-12 have a London address; nos. 13-18 were written in Oxford.

1. 1882 Jan 6. Appointment of E. Ray Lankester to a Chair; politics. [See Huxley Papers, Imperial College]
2. 1883 May 26. Comments on the proofs of Allen's book.
3. 1883 May 30. Considerate of Dyer to help Nature which was "going to the dogs between fine arts and theology".
4. 1887 Jan 7. Is experimenting on plants to test the hypothesis of physiological selection. Includes a letter from George Nicholson.
5. 1888 Mar 2. (To Baker). Has received 4 packets of seed from Botanical Gardens, Berkeley, California.
6. 1888 Dec 20. Asks for genus of plants to which Dyer had alluded
7. 1888 Dec 25. Sterility and fertility of plants
8. 1888 Dec 26. Sterility of plants.
9. 1888 Dec 27. Theory of sterility and fertility; Darwin.
10. 1889 Jan 7. Will need to experiment for years to come; Darwinian theory; natural selection.
11. 1890 Mar 21. "… anything published in Nature might as well never have been published at all"; Dyer's "intelligent" friends are incapable of perceiving other than the most familiar relations.
12. 1890 Mar 26. Thinks little of professional naturalists; Lankester is about the worst of the lot.
13. 1891 Sep 10. More about academic opponents. He believes he is dying.
14. 1893 Jun 15. Millais' opinion has not changed; isolation of the species.
15. 1893 Jun 22. He and Millais share Dyer's opinion on dormant fertilisation; does not understand in what respect part of his previous letter to Dyer does not tally with another.
16. 1893 Jun 27. Allied species being cross-sterile.
17 . 1893 Sep 15. Cross-sterility.
18. 1893 Sep 26. Chatter.
19. 1913 Nov 12. [Dyer to Benjamin Daydon Jackson]. Encloses announcements; Hooker thinks they should be recorded but Bentham scorns them; has tried unsuccessfully to make peace between Romanes and Wallace.
Extent1 folder
NotesListed by C.M. Hutt. List amended by J. Sellick 2011.
Finding_AidsTranscriptions available.
Creator NameRomanes, George John
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