TitleLeonard Doncaster (1877-1920), geneticist of Sheffield
AdminHistoryLeonard Doncaster was born on 31 Dec 1877 at 95 Hanover Street, Sheffield. He was the eldest son of Samuel Doncaster, iron merchant and steel manufacturer, and Emma Doncaster (and grandson of Daniel Doncaster, steel manufacturer and merchant of Sheffield).

The family were living at Wood Lane, Ecclesall Bierlow in 1881. A note in Leonard Doncaster's 1893 diary states his address as Fernwood, Abbeydale, Sheffield and Leighton Park School, Reading.

Leonard was a 'founder boy' at Leighton Park School (founded on Quaker principles) in Reading, and was admitted as a scholar at King's College, University of Cambridge in 1896. He was a Walsingham Medallist, 1902; gained his M.A. in 1903 and Sc.D. in 1913.

He became Assistant Superintendent at the Museum of Zoology in 1902. He was a Fellow of the Royal Society (FRS) Lecturer in Zoology at Birmingham University from 1906-1910. He returned to Cambridge in 1910 to become Superintendent of the Museum of Zoology.

The 1911 census records Leonard Doncaster (aged 33) married to Dora Priestman Doncaster, with a child, Gertrude, at 'Whinfell', Whirlow in Sheffield (along with his parents, siblings and five servants).

He was awarded the Trail Medal of the Linnaean Society in 1915.

During the First World War he acted as bacteriologist to the First Eastern General Hospital, Cambridge, and afterwards joined the Friends Ambulance Unit at Dunkirk. He was Professor of Zoology, Liverpool University, 1919-1920. He was a prominent worker on the problem of heredity from the cytological standpoint. He was the author of The Determination of Sex (New York: G. P. Putnam's sons, 1914).

Throughout his life, he travelled extensively throughout Europe and kept diaries (from the age of 13) of his observations on natural history during his travels, which he illustrated profusely with colour-wash drawings and photographs.

He died of sarcoma on 28 May 1920; William Bateson, biologist and geneticist, wrote his obituary in 'Nature'.

(Sources: Cambridge University Alumni, 1261-1900; 1881 census; 1911 census)
DescriptionThe references to 'The Woods' are Ecclesall Woods; the 'dams' are Beauchief Abbey dams. The caretaker of the dams was called Damms, thus the reputed saying by Samuel Doncaster (his father), 'tell Damms to dam the dam'.

Various initials can be recognised but many not easily. 'C' was his younger brother Charles; 'B' was his much younger brother Basil. 'M' was his younger sister Mollie; 'N' was his much younger sister Nora.

References to Abbeydale, Sheffield have been picked out later, and noted on a typescript sheet (accession file: 1987/33). These details have been added to the catalogue although detailed indexing of other places is lacking.

Natural history diaries, 1892 - 1920 (LD2437/1-16)

Essay or talk entitled 'The Migration of Birds' (LD2437/17)
Date1892 - 1920
Extent17 items
RelatedMaterialBirmingham Archives, Heritage and Photography Service:
Volume of newcuttings relating to the death of Professor Leonard Doncaster, F.R.S., of the Zoological Department, University of Liverpool and formerly of Birmingham University, 1920 (MS 1366/E/2)

Department of Zoology, University of Cambridge:
Painting of Leonard Doncaster by David Muirhead, 1920 (accession no.3)
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