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Davidson, Thomas (1817-1885) (DNB00)


DAVIDSON, THOMAS (1817–1885), palæontologist, was born in Edinburgh on 17 May 1817, his family being extensive land proprietors in Midlothian. From the age of six he was educated in France, Italy, and Switzerland, and soon showed marked talents for natural history and painting. He passed several years in Paris attending the best scientific lectures, and in 1832 the reading of Lyell's ‘Principles of Geology,’ together with the teaching and companionship of Constant Prevost, led him to give much attention to geology and palæontology. After a short period of study at Edinburgh University in 1835–6, Davidson returned in 1836 to the continent, and made geological tours in several countries. In 1837 Von Buch, the distinguished Prussian geologist, induced him to devote himself to the study of the brachiopods, an important class of recent and fossil molluscs, then much needing elucidation. For some years, however, he continued much attached to painting, and was a successful pupil of Paul Delaroche and Horace Vernet; and his artistic talent subsequently was of great value in producing an unrivalled series of plates illustrating his chosen study. Davidson continued to travel, study, and collect specimens, and at last undertook to write a monograph of the British fossil brachiopods for the Palæontographical Society. Its publication commenced in 1850 and ended in 1870, forming three large quarto volumes; but supplements afterwards appeared, the whole work making six volumes, containing over 3,000 pages of text and 250 plates, all the figures being executed by himself and presented to the society. Davidson also wrote the article ‘Brachiopoda’ in the ninth edition of the ‘Encyclopædia Britannica,’ and described the brachiopods collected by the Challenger expedition (Challenger Reports, vol. i. 1880). All his work is sound and accurate.

In 1857 Davidson was elected F.R.S., in 1865 he received from the Geological Society of London the Wollaston medal, in 1870 he was awarded one of the royal medals of the Royal Society, and in 1882 he was created LL.D. of St. Andrew's University.

Throughout his life Davidson showed marked generosity and unselfishness, being ever ready to aid students. He interested himself greatly in the foundation of the free library and museum at Brighton, where he long resided, and he was permanent chairman of the museum committee at his death (16 Dec. 1885). He bequeathed to the nation his valuable collection of recent and fossil brachiopods, together with his books and original drawings. They are preserved in the British Museum of Natural History at South Kensington.

Davidson left for posthumous publication a monograph of the recent brachiopoda, in three parts, since published by the Linnean Society. He also made many contributions to British and foreign scientific journals and transactions, a list of which will be found in the Royal Society's ‘Catalogue of Scientific Papers.’ Revised French and German editions of his general introduction to, and classification of, the brachiopoda were published in 1856.

[Proc. Roy. Soc. xxxix. (1885), viii–xi, obituary notice by R. Etheridge.]

G. T. B.