Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Gray, George Robert

GRAY, GEORGE ROBERT (1808–1872), zoologist, the youngest son of Samuel Frederick Gray [q. v.], was born at Chelsea July 1808, and educated at Merchant Taylors' School. At an early age he assisted John George Children [q. v.] in arranging his extensive collection of insects. In 1831 he became an assistant in the zoological department of the British Museum, and subsequently published various catalogues of sections of the insects and birds. He contributed to the entomological portion of the English edition of Cuvier's ‘Animal Kingdom,’ and to the ‘Proceedings of the Zoological Society.’ In 1833 appeared his ‘Entomology of Australia.’ In 1840 he printed privately a ‘List of the Genera of Birds,’ containing 1,065 genera, noting the type species on which each genus was founded; a second edition in 1841 extended the list to 1,232 genera; the third edition (1855) contained 2,403 genera and subgenera. In 1842 he and Prince C. L. Bonaparte assisted Agassiz in the ‘Nomenclator Zoologicus.’ Finally, near the end of his life, his great ‘Hand-List of the Genera and Species of Birds’ (1869–72) enumerated more than eleven thousand species, and recorded forty thousand specific names given by various authors. The utility of this work was marred by the want of references, and it rapidly passed out of date. His most valuable work was the ‘Genera of Birds,’ in three folio volumes, excellently illustrated by D. W. Mitchell and J. Wolf (1844–9); it brought the number of recorded species of birds up to date, and was a starting-point for much subsequent progress in ornithology. He was elected a fellow of the Royal Society in 1866, and was a member of the ‘Academia Economico-Agraria dei Georgofili’ of Florence. He died on 5 May 1872. His work lacked originality, and he was over-sensitive to criticism, especially from younger men.

[Annals and Magazine of Natural History, 4th ser. ix. 480, 1872; Athenæum, 11 May 1872; Brit. Mus. Cat.; private information.]

G. T. B.