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Bennett, George (1804-1893)

Identity Statement

Reference code(s): GB 0114 MS0147
Held at: Royal College of Surgeons of England
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Full title: Bennett, George (1804-1893)
Date(s): 1877-1879
Level of description: Collection (fonds)
Extent: 2 boxes
Name of creator(s): Bennett | George | 1804-1893 | surgeon and naturalist


Administrative/Biographical history:

George Bennett was born in Plymouth, in 1804. He visited Ceylon and Mauritius in 1819. When he returned to England, he studied medicine in Plymouth and London, and entered the Middlesex Hospital and the Windmill Street School, where his masters were Charles Bell, Herbert Mayo, and Caesar Hawkins. After qualifying he went to New Zealand, and studied coniferous trees including the Thuja pine, the Kawaka of the Maoris. He also found a live Pearly Nautilus in 1829, and sent the unique specimen to his friend Richard Owen, at that time assistant to William Clift at the Royal College of Surgeons' Museum. Owen to wrote a brilliant description of it which was published in 1882. In the Asiatic Journal, he published an account of the Polynesian dialects and of the practice of medicine. Bennett visited Java, Sumatra, Singapore, and China after leaving Australia, and embodied his observations in his well-known work, The Wanderings of a Naturalist in New South Wales, Batavia, Pedir Coast, Singapore and China, published in two volumes by Bentley in 1834. In 1834 he was awarded the Honorary Gold Medal by the Royal College of Surgeons for his discovery of the Pearly Nautilus and for preparations illustrating the developmental history of the kangaroo and ornithorhyncus (platypus). He was elected a Corresponding Member of the Zoological Society of London in 1832. The Zoological Society awarded him its Silver Medal in 1862. Bennett settled in New South Wales after 1834, and began to practise in Sydney in 1836 in order to add to the income (1OO per annum) derived from the Secretaryship of the Australian Museum Committee, to which he was appointed by the Secretary of State for the Colonies on the advice of the President of the Royal College of Surgeons and other College authorities. He published his best-known book Gatherings of a Naturalist (1860). It is a store-house of facts as to the natural and general history of Australia. He was appointed an Associate and a Member of the Committee of the Biological Section of the British Association (Aberdeen) in 1859, and held the same positions at the Oxford (1860) and Plymouth (1877) Meetings. He was elected a Member of the Board of Examiners in the Faculty of Medicine in the University of Sydney in 1856, and three years later Professor Harvey dedicated to him Volume II of his Phytologia Australica. In 1860 he was appointed a Member of the Imperial Australian Zoological and Botanical Society. An Acclimatization Society having been formed in Sydney in 1861, he delivered a lecture on 'Acclimatization and its Adaptation to Australia', which was afterwards published by the Melbourne Acclimatization Society and largely distributed in Sydney. He was Honorary Secretary of the Sydney Acclimatization Society from 1868-1871. At the end of his tenure of office a long correspondence was carried on with the Government of India on the subject of the cultivation of silk, and that portion of it which related to New South Wales was published by the Government (1870). Bennett also corresponded with Japan on the same subject, and was sent full information and a collection of choice eggs to found an Australian silk-worm industry. He became a member of the Imperial Society of Cherbourg in 1864 and a corresponding member of the Royal Society of Tasmania. In 1871 he began a search for fossil mammalia and reptilia and discovered many important new specimens in the Queensland drifts. Bennett was awarded the Silver Medal of the Acclimatization Society of Victoria in 1878 in recognition of his services in their cause, and in 1874 he was appointed Honorary Consulting Physician to St Vincent's Hospital, Sydney. He took a trip to Europe in 1877, travelling via North America, and returned in 1879 via Bombay and Ceylon. During this visit he was elected Corresponding Member of the Literary and Philosophical Society of Liverpool, Honorary Member of the Geographical Society of Rome, Fellow of the Royal Colonial Institute, and Honorary Corresponding Secretary. He acted as Executive Commissioner representing the Ceylon Government at the Sydney International Exhibition (1879-1880), and in 1882 was elected President of the New South Wales Zoological Society. In 1888 he was elected President of the Natural History Association, and was re-elected in 1891, when the Society was re-named the Field Naturalists' Society of New South Wales. In this year he presented a stained glass window to the Medical School of Sydney University. The Clarke Memorial Medal of the Royal Society (NSW), awarded 'for Meritorious Contributions to the Geology, Mineralogy, or Natural History of Australia to men of science, whether resident in Australia or elsewhere', was bestowed upon him in 1890, and the same year he bequeathed scientific works to the value of over 2000 to the Library of Sydney University. The gift included the valuable works of John Gould, with whom he had been much associated, and whom, with many other leading naturalists, such as Cumming, he often mentions in his letters. For the last ten years of his life Bennett took little active part in the work of his profession, though he continued to act as Co-examiner in Materia Medica and Therapeutics at the University, subjects in which he had always been greatly interested. He died in 1898.


Scope and content/abstract:

Papers of George Bennett, 1877-1879, comprising 3 volumes of a typescript travel diary relating to Australia (Sydney); Europe (England, France, Italy, Germany); America (San Francisco); and India (Bombay).

Access & Use

Language/scripts of material:

System of arrangement:

As outlined in Scope and Content.

Conditions governing access:

By written appointment only.

Conditions governing reproduction:

No photocopying permitted.

Finding aids:

Additional manuscripts catalogue.

Archival Information

Archival history:

Immediate source of acquisition:

Donated by Sir Victor Marcus Coppleson in c 1955.

Allied Materials

Related material:

Letters to Richard Owen and documents regarding donation of specimens to the Hunterian Museum, are held in the Owen collection and Autograph Letters Series.

Publication note:

Description Notes

Archivist's note:
Compiled by Anya Turner.
Source: The Lives of the Fellows of the Royal College of Surgeons of England, Volume 1, Page 85.

Rules or conventions:
Compiled in compliance with General International Standard Archival Description, ISAD(G), second edition, 2000; National Council on Archives Rules for the Construction of Personal, Place and Corporate Names, 1997.

Date(s) of descriptions:
Sep 2008

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