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Henry Bowman Brady, 1835-1891

Department of Palaeontology,
British Museum of Natural History,
Cromwell Road, London, England

Of the numerous foraminiferal collections in the British Museum (Natural History), none is more important, more famous, or more frequently consulted than that of the "Challenger Expedition", monographed by H. B. Brady in 1884. This work set a new standard for British students of the Foraminifera and ensured that the name of its author would be as familiar today as those of Alcide d'Orbigny and Joseph A. Cushman. It is therefore fitting that almost a century after the publication of Brady's greatest work we should consider the kind of man he was, and enquire how it came about that, despite poor health, he accomplished more in two very different fields than most vigorous men who devote themselves energetically to one.

Henry Brady was born on February 22nd, 1835, in the small town of Gateshead in N.E. England. His father, a respected medical practitioner and surgeon, was also a keen naturalist and he communicated this interest to his two sons, of whom the elder, George S. Brady, was later to occupy the Chair of Natural History in the University of Durham and to achieve international recognition for his work on the Ostracoda. Brady senior was a member of the Society of Religious Friends (Quakers), and the moral values of this order were certainly passed on to the younger brother who, although giving up the outward symbols of the Society at an early age, nevertheless remained a member and retained a fittingly staid demeanour throughout his life.

Henry Brady received his education at two Quaker Schools in the north of England, and was fortunate enough to have his early interest in Natural History fostered by his teachers. On leaving school at the age of fifteen, apparently after an unexceptional career, he was apprenticed for four years to a chemist in Leeds, after which he studied for a short time at the Newcastle College of Medicine. In 1855, after passing his examinations in pharmacy, and while still under the age of twenty-one, he set himself up as a wholesale and retail pharmacist in Newcastle-­upon-Tyne. His conspicuous ability soon gained him the support of the medical profession and the confidence of the public, and his business, which included substantial exports and the sale of scientific apparatus, flourished. Indeed, so well did it prosper that in 1876, at the age of forty-one, he was able to retire and devote the rest of his life to the pursuit of his main interest-the Foraminifera.

There can be no doubt that the foundation of Brady's later scientific success was laid during his career as a pharmacist, for although highly successful in pharmacy and commerce, he was no ordinary businessman. Once his own business was established he concerned himself with the organization of the pharmaceutical profession. He was largely respon­sible for the institution of the British Pharmaceutical Conference, of which body he served as Treasurer from 1864-1870, and as President in 1872 and 1873. For many years he served on the Council of the Pharmaceutical Society and was a member of the Board of Examiners (his special responsibility being botany), resigning in 1870 only because the long train journey from Newcastle to London taxed his health too severely in winter. He did much to promote the scientific education of pharmaceutical chemists and was instrumental in turning the Pharma­ceutical journal (to which he contributed a number of valuable papers) from a monthly into a weekly publication. In addition to these activities, he found time to lecture in botany at the Durham College of Science. So great was his energy and so highly was he esteemed by his pro­fessional colleagues that he was elected an Honorary Member of the American Pharmaceutical Association, the Philadelphia College of Pharmacy, and of the Pharmaceutical Societies of St Petersburg and Vienna. It is not, therefore, surprising that he was regarded by his contemporaries as "a glutton for work". Yet in the midst of all these time-consuming professional duties, Brady became an active member of the Northumberland, Durham and Newcastle-upon-Tyne Natural History Society and of the Tyneside Naturalists' Field Club, the latter being the second oldest, and perhaps the most respected club of its kind in the country. As might be expected, his first paper on the Foraminifera (1863) is to be found in the Transactions of the Naturalists Field Club. When he retired from pharmacy in 1876 he was already the author of more than twenty papers and monographs on foraminifera; no small achievement for a business man who had devoted a large proportion of his leisure time to the organizational affairs of his professional calling.

Brady must, of course, have been greatly assisted in his scientific career by his memberships of the local Natural History Society and Field Club, for these enabled him to meet and mix with many eminent local naturalists of the day. This, together with his extraordinary ability and the fact that his brother was already a respected professional naturalist, doubtless accounts for his rapid acceptance into the inner circle of nineteenth century workers on foraminifera. By 1865 he had begun a lasting collaboration with W. K. Parker and T. Rupert Jones, and a few years later (1869) was co-author of an important paper on Parkeria and Loftusia with Professor W. B. Carpenter. It is interesting to note that the preparation of this monograph marked the beginning of his long association with Mr. A. T. Hollick, the skilled draughtsman and lithographer, from whose pencil flowed the stream of beautiful drawings which so richly illustrate Brady's later publications. In 1874, two years before his retirement from business, Brady was elected to fellowship of the Royal Society.

On retiring from pharmacy, Brady gave his undivided attention to the study of foraminifera, and in 1878 began his monumental work on the foraminifera of the Challenger Expedition, for which he eventually supplied manuscript for 814 pages of text while superintending the preparation of 115 plates of the highest quality. That he was himself an accomplished draughtsman is shown by the plates in his early publica­tions, and he was therefore well able to ensure the accuracy of Hollick's illustrations. Since the publication of Volume IX of the Challenger Report marked the culmination of Brady's scientific career, it is appropriate at this point to evaluate his contribution to science and to determine what influence, if any, he had on the subsequent course of foraminiferal research.

The hallmark of Brady's scientific output is undoubtedly its thorough­ness. By nineteenth century standards, his work is notable for its accuracy and fastidious attention to detail. Information is presented in a readily accessible form, although in a somewhat more discursive style than would be acceptable today. His papers reveal a continuing interest in, and appreciation of, ecology. As early as 1865 he clearly understood that climate, bathymmetry, salinity, etc., played important roles in governing the distribution of foraminifera, and although he was initially unaware that faunal lists could be rendered almost useless by the incorporation of names based on derived specimens, he soon realized the significance of reworking and took care to guard against the possibility of deception. Although in 1865 he advocated drying Recent foraminifera in order to assist floatation prior to picking, he must have been one of the first workers to urge the importance of preserving Recent material in alcohol so that living populations could be distinguished from empty shells. In his first paper (1863) he made the point that was to remain central to his philosophy of systematics, and which was to have the greatest single influence on his work. He wrote, "species must be understood as a relative rather than as an absolute term, in speaking of foraminifera, because there is still so much uncertainty as to the extent of the variation compatible with specific identity". This concern with variability is reiterated in later papers and explains why, at a time when other workers were erecting a plethora of new taxa, Brady-whose opportunity to indulge in this popular scientific pastime was certainly greater than most--resisted the tempta­tion and introduced new generic and specific names only when he saw them to be absolutely essential. It is arguable whether science is better or worse off as a consequence of Brady's taxonomic parsimony, but it certainly resulted in his new species standing the test of time better than many of those erected by his contemporaries.

Despite his encyclopaedic knowledge of both fossil and living fora­minifera, Brady did not attempt to introduce a classification of his own. For much of his working life he was clearly torn between the so-called "natural classification" of Carpenter (1862) and the more widely used, if somewhat "artificial", classification of Reuss (1861). In his intro­duction to the foraminifera of the Challenger Report, he set out, not for the first time, the relative merits and demerits of these classifications, finally avoiding the dilemma posed through the use of sub-orders by disregarding them and recognizing only ten families within the Order Foraminifera. Brady's work on Recent foraminifera came too early to have any major impact on subsequent ecological studies, just as his work on fossils (with the possible exception of his monograph on Carboniferous and Permian foraminifera, 1876) was also too premature to have any lasting effect on biostratigraphical or evolutionary theory. Contem­porary knowledge in these fields, was inadequate for syntheses to be attempted or for general principles to be established. Thus, Brady's main contribution to foraminiferal knowledge is to be found in his careful description and illustration of a wealth of Recent and fossil material, its value being apparent to present-day systematists and biogeographers. Yet he may have had a further, more important, and more lasting influence on later work, although its effect is more difficult to assess: namely, as an exemplar. His obvious desire to enhance scientific knowledge rather than his own reputation shines through his writing, and endures as a monument to his integrity and ability, and as an example to those of us who are privileged to follow him.

After his retirement, Brady was able to indulge his taste for foreign travel more fully than his business interests had previously permitted, although he had certainly managed to visit the United States in 1873, three years before severing his connection with the firm of "Brady & Martin". These travels were often undertaken in the winter, for in his later years particularly, the rigours of the British climate took an increasing toll of his health. He twice journeyed round the world, visiting, amongst other places, India, China, Japan, Java, the Pacific Islands, Australia, New Zealand and the U.S.A. Wherever he went he took a keen interest in the local natural history, often preparing papers on his return and occasionally composing shorter contributions while abroad, as during a brief stay in Calcutta in January, 1888.

During the last few years of his busy life, honours were showered upon Brady. In 1888 he received a gold medal from the Emperor of Austria in recognition of his services to the Imperial (Hof) Museum, Vienna; he had long been a friend of Prof. Dr F. Karrer and in 1881 had described the foraminifera obtained by the Austro-Hungarian Polar Expedition. In the same year he received the honorary degree of LL.D. from the University of Aberdeen, and served on the councils of the Royal Society and Zoological Society where his "calm and unprejudiced judgement" was doubtless as much appreciated as it had been previously by the Pharmaceutical Society. He was appointed a Corresponding Member of the Imperial Geological Institute of Vienna and an Honorary Member of the Royal Bohemian Museum, Prague; these marks of distinction being conferred upon a man who, as his friends and col­leagues have testified, was "honest, kindly, and free from any manner of guile".

In 1889, in the company of friends, Brady embarked upon his last overseas journey, a visit to the Upper Nile. Unfortunately, he was taken seriously ill in Cairo and returned home to lead the life of a semi-invalid. He read his last short scientific paper at the October meeting of the Royal Microscopical Society in 1890, and shortly afterwards moved to Bournemouth, a resort on the south coast noted for its equable climate, where he hoped to continue his researches. However, the winter of 1890-91 proved exceptionally severe, and on January 10th, 1891, a few weeks before his fifty-sixth birthday, and still unmarried, he succumbed to an attack of pneumonia.

On the occasion of his presidential address to the Pharmaceutical Conference in 1872, Brady quoted the following words of Francis Bacon: "I hold every man to be a debtor to his profession: from the which, as men of course do seek to receive countenance and profit, so ought they to endeavour themselves by way of amends to be a help and ornament thereunto."

To be an ornament to one profession is as much as most men aspire to in a lifetime; to have been a "help and ornament" in two, marks Henry Brady as one of the truly great figures of his day.


In preparing this short biographical sketch I have drawn freely upon obituary notices by Carteight, Foster, Jones, and Anon (all 1891). I gratefully acknowledge the assistance of Mr A. P. Harvey, Palaeontology Librarian, British Museum (Natural History), in procuring much useful


Anon. (1891). Funeral of the late Mr Brady. Newcastle Daily Chronicle. January, 15th, p. 8.

Brady, H. B. (1863). Report on the Foraminifera. In "Report of the dredging expedition to the Dogger Bank and the coasts of Northumberland (H. T. Mennell, ed.). Trans. Tyneside Nat. Fld. Cl. 5, 291-294.

Brady, H. B. (1864a). Notes on foraminifera new to the British fauna. Rept. Br. Assoc. Advmt. Sci. (for 1863), pp. 100-101.

Brady, H. B. (1864b). Report on the Foraminifera. In "Report of Dredging Operations on the Coasts of Northumberland and Durham in July and August 1863" (G. S. Brady, ed.). Trans. Tyneside Nat. Fld. Clb. 6, 193-194.

Brady, H. B. (1864c). Contributions to the knowledge of the Foraminifera. On the rhizopodal fauna of the Shetlands. Trans. Linn. Soc., Lond. 24, 466-475, pl. 48.

Brady, H. B. (1865a). Report on the Foraminifera In "Reports of Deep Sea Dredging on the Coasts of Northumberland and Durham, 1862-4 (G. S.

Brady, ed.). Nat. Hist. Trans. Northumb. Newcastle-upon-Tyne 1, 51-83.

Brady, H. B. (1865b). A catalogue of the Recent Foraminifera of Northumberland and Durham. Ibid. 83-108, pl. 12.

Brady, H. B. (1876). A monograph of Carboniferous and Permian Foraminifera (the genus Fusulina excluded). Palaeontogr. Soc. Monogr., Lond. 1-166, pls 1-12.

Brady, H. B. (1884). Report on the Foraminifera dredged by H.M.S. Challenger during the years 1873-76. Rep. Scient. Results Challenger Exped. Zoology 9, 1-800, 115 pls.

Brady, H. B. (1889). On a new type of Astrorhizidae from the Bay of Bengal. Ann. Mag. nat. Hist., Lond. 3, 293-296.

Brady, H. B. (1890). Note on a new type of foraminifera of the family

Chilostomelloidae. Roy. Microsc. Soc., Lond. 3, 567-571.

Carpenter, W. B. (1862). Introduction to the study of the Foraminifera. Ray Soc., Lond. 319 pp., 22 pls.

Carpenter, W. B. and Brady, H. B. (1869). Description of Parkeria and Loftusia, two gigantic types of arenaceous foraminifera. Phil. Trans. Roy. Soc., Lond. 159, 721-754, pls 72-80.

Carteight, M. (1891). The late Mr. Brady. Pharm. J., 21, 699.

Foster, M. (1891). Henry Bowman Brady. Nature, Lond. 43, 299. Jones, T. R. (1891). Henry Bowman Brady. Geol. Mag. 8, 95-96.

Parker, W. K., Jones, T. R. and Brady, H. B. (1865). On the nomenclature of the Foraminifera. Pt. XI-The species enumerated by Batsch in 1791. Ann. Mag. nat. Hist. Ser. 3, 15, 225-232.

Reuss, A. E. (1861). Entwurf einer systematischen Zusammenstellung der Foraminiferen. Sber. Akad. Wiss. Wien. 54, 355.

Reproduced From:

  • Adams, C. G. 1978. Foraminifera Volume 3 Pp. 275-280 in R. H. Hedley and C. G. Adams, eds




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