Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Symonds, William Samuel

SYMONDS, WILLIAM SAMUEL (1818–1887), geologist and author, was born at Hereford on 13 Dec. 1818, being the eldest child of William Symonds of Elsdon, Herefordshire, a member of an old west-country family, and Mary Anne Beale. He went to school at Cheltenham, and then, after reading with a private tutor, to Christ's College, Cambridge, graduating as B.A. in 1842. He was ordained to the curacy of Offenham, near Evesham, in 1843, and became rector of Pendock, Worcestershire, in 1845, inheriting the Pendock Court estate a few years afterwards on the death of his mother. From boyhood he had taken an interest in natural history, and his attention was directed to geology while he was resident at Offenham, largely by the influence of Hugh Edwin Strickland [q. v.] Pendock is a small parish, so that its rector had considerable time at his own disposal, which he devoted to the archæology and geology of the neighbourhood, extending his researches into Wales, and occasionally journeying further afield in the prosecution of his studies, as when he visited Auvergne and the Ardèche in 1874 and the two following autumns to search for traces of ancient glaciers. The results of these travels are given in the ‘Popular Science Review’ for 1876–7 and in ‘Nature’ (vols. xiii. xiv.). He was active in all local affairs and an energetic member of such societies as the Worcester Natural History Society, the Woolhope Naturalists', the Cotteswold, and the Malvern Naturalists' Field clubs, being president of the last from its foundation in 1853 to 1871. In 1877 a gradual failure of health began, which ultimately obliged him to give up parochial work. After various changes of residence, in the hope that a drier climate would effect a cure, he principally resided (from 1883) at Sunningdale in the house of his son-in-law, Sir Joseph Dalton Hooker. He died at Cheltenham on 15 Sept. 1887, and was buried on the 18th at Pendock.

He married, in 1840, Hyacinth, daughter of Samuel Kent of Upton on Severn, who survived him. They had four children; two of his three sons died before him; his only daughter married, in 1871, Sir William Jardine [q. v.], and is now the wife of Sir Joseph Dalton Hooker, K.C.S.I.

In theology, as in science, Symonds was progressive but cautious, a careful observer and reasoner. On more than one important geological question, such as the age of the reptiliferous sandstone at Elgin, and of the crystalline rocks of the Malverns and of Anglesey, he maintained opinions, the result of careful personal study, which are now far more generally admitted to be correct than at the time when he was their advocate. He had a ready pen and wrote forty-three papers on scientific subjects, contributed to the ‘Edinburgh New Philosophical Journal,’ the ‘Quarterly Journal of the Geological Society,’ the ‘Popular Science Review,’ the ‘Geological Magazine,’ &c. He also edited two works by Hugh Miller [q. v.], ‘The Cruise of the Betsy’ and ‘Rambles of a Geologist’ (published in one volume in 1858), and wrote two historical romances, ‘Malvern Chase’ (1880) and ‘Hanley Castle’ (1883), displaying great knowledge of local antiquities. Both attained popularity, the latter passing through two, the former through more than three, editions. Of a scientific character were ‘Stones of the Valley’ (1858); ‘Old Bones, or Notes for Young Naturalists’ (1859; 3rd edit. 1884); and ‘The Records of the Rocks’ (1872). The last is a mirror of the author; good geological work is blended with local natural history and archæology, and the tale is told in an easy pleasant style which gives the book an exceptional charm. His latest book, ‘Severn Straits,’ was published in 1883.

[Obituary Notice in Quart. Journ. Geol. Soc. vol. xliv. p. xliii; A Sketch of the Life of the Rev. W. S. Symonds, by the Rev. J. D. La Touche, 8vo, pp. 32; Royal Society's Catalogue of Scientific Papers; information from Lady Hooker.]

T. G. B.