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Charles Davies Sherborn

1861 - 1942

Hans E. Thalmann

Students of foraminifera the world over, and especially the staff members of the Department of Micropaleontology at the American Museum of Natural History who compiled the tremendous "Catalogue of Foraminifera," will always remember Dr. Charles D. Sherborn with deep gratitude.

Dr. Sherborn was born in Chelsea on June 30, 1861. He started school at the early age of three and won first class honors in his favorite subject, geology, before he was fourteen years old. This distinction gave him a life ticket to the Library of the South Kensington Museum. At the age of fourteen, he started to earn his own living in a bookseller's and stationer's shop and continued in this occupation for the next seven years; this was followed by a period of employment in a tailoring enterprise. His spare time he spent at the South Kensington Library, or on collecting trips in the vicinity of London.

Around 1883-1884 the young naturalist Sherborn made the acquaintance of the then retired Professor Rupert Jones, who had settled in Chelsea in order to pursue his studies on the ostracoda and foraminifera of the English Crag. Sherborn soon became Rupert Jones' assistant and friend and this association lasted for nearly thirty years, until Jones' death in 1911. Under Jones' tutorship Sherborn acquired the skill and method of describing and drawing microfossils. This activity necessitated frequent visits to the British Museum of Natural History, the House of Science to which Sherborn became attached heart and soul. There he prepared and issued his "opera immensi laboris," bibliographies and indexes of enormous and everlasting importance and value for every serious student of the Natural Sciences.

A visit to the Continent in 1884-1885 brought Sherborn in contact the then leading geologists and paleontologists: Quatrefages, Brongniart, Dollfus and Deniker in France, Dollo and van den Broeck in Belgium, Favre and Renevier in Switzerland, von Benecke and Steinmann in Germany. After his return to London, and in order to earn a living, he served for a time as secretary in a school of electrical engineering and later at the Middlesex Hospital. But his searching mind and his innate wish to have a scientific career and to devote all his time to Natural Science, led him finally to become a member of the staff of the British Museum. His association with Rupert Jones brought him in contact with fossil foraminifera, first as an illustrator, then as co-author with T. R. Jones, F. Chapman, H. W. Burrows, W. D. Crick, and G. Bailey. A series of important papers was published between 1886 and 1897 in collaboration with one or another of the scientists cited. These dealt with the microfaunas of the Jurassic, Cretaceous, and Tertiary of England. During Sherborn's whole life his interest in the geology and stratigraphy of England never ceased in spite of his erudition in archaeology, numismatics, and bibliophily. It is amazing that one man could master so many subjects, and on top of it all, compile indexes and bibliographies, especially the one-man magnum opus "Index Animalium...since 1758." This enormous work was published between the years 1902 and 1933.

We micropaleontologists will be forever grateful to Sherborn for his invaluable "Bibliography of the Foraminifera" (1888), and for the excellent "Index to the Genera and Species of Foraminifera" (1893-1896). The latter was compiled so thoroughly and completely that hardly any reference to a species or subspecies of foraminifera ever published before 1890 is missing. This "Index" provided the base for the Ellis-Messina "Catalogue of Foraminifera," and stimulated the writer to compile a similar index for the period between 1890 and 1930. Although arrangements had been made with the publisher, Dr. W. Junk, The Hague, to issue seriatim the index for 1890 to 1930, shortly before the outbreak of the Second World War, the manuscript was lost in Palembang (Sumatra) during the Japanese occupation of Indonesia. Who will undertake again this time consuming compilation for the period 1890 to 1930?

Sherborn's life and activities and achievments have been admirably described in an excellent biography by J. R. Norman: "Squire: Memories of Charles Davies Sherborn," published by George G. Harrap & Co. in London, 1944. Although Sherborn's last strictly micropaleontological paper appeared in 1897, paleontologists are nonetheless deeply grateful for his critical remarks regarding the date of publication of many old works, as for instance those by Pallas, Sowerby, d'Orbigny, Costa, Waldheim, and others. To these must be added his wonderful biography of "The Life of Richard Owen" (1894), and his latest paper "Where is the....Collection?" (1940).

Sherborn, who remained a pipe-smoking bachelor all his life long, found in Dr. Norman such a deeply understanding and able biographer that reference is made to his book. Here one will find the fullest appraisal of a life spent exclusively in and for Science, the story of Sherborn the geologist, the bibliophile, the bibliographer, indexer, friend of antiquities, historian and collector. It portrays Sherborn in his domestic and social life, his activities in scientific societies and clubs - a most lively and readable memorial to the "Squire" as Sherborn was endearingly called by his friends at the British Museum - Sherborn's beloved "B. M."

Sherborn died at the age of 81 on June 22, 1942, in his home at Petersborough Road 49, London, after a sudden heart attack. His last words to his friend, Dr. W. H. T. Tams, were: "Tams .... I am done for." So ended peacefully a rich, long, well-spent life, the life of Charles Davies Sherborn, Doctor of Science honorts causa of Oxford University, the scientist and gentleman of whom Dr. H. Dighton Thomas said: "Friend, you served us well."

Reproduced From: The Micropaleontologist, Vol. 3, No. 3 (Jul., 1949), pp. 19-21
Publisher by: The Micropaleontology Project, Inc.
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