Ray Lankester bigraphy, stories - Zoologist

Ray Lankester : biography

15 May 1847 - 15 August 1929

Sir E. Ray Lankester KCB, FRS (15 May 1847 – 13 August 1929) was a British zoologist, born in London.New International Encyclopaedia

An invertebrate zoologist and evolutionary biologist, he held chairs at University College London and Oxford University. He was the third Director of the Natural History Museum, and was awarded the Copley Medal of the Royal Society.


E. (Edwin: his first name was never used) Ray Lankester was the son of Edwin Lankester, a coroner and doctor-naturalist who helped abolish cholera in London. Ray Lankester was probably named after the naturalist John Ray: his father had just edited the memorials of John Ray for the Ray Society.

In 1855 Ray went to boarding school at Leatherhead, and in 1858 to St Paul's School. His university education was at Downing College, Cambridge and Christ Church, Oxford; he transferred from Downing, after five terms, at his parents' behest because Christ Church had better teaching in the form of the newly appointed George Rolleston.Lester, 1995:17-19

Lankester achieved first-class honours in 1868. His education was rounded off by study visits to Vienna, Leipzig and Jena, and he did some work at the Stazione Zoologica at Naples. He took the examination to become a Fellow of Exeter College, Oxford, and studied under Thomas H. Huxley before taking his MA.

Lankester therefore had a far better education than most English biologists of the previous generation, such as Huxley, Wallace and Bates. Even so, it could be argued that the influence of his father Edwin and his friends were just as important. Huxley Upon Huxley's death, as a memorial tribute, Lankester and Sir Michael Foster edited his collected works in 4 volumes. was a close friend of the family, and whilst still a child Ray met Hooker, Henfry, Clifford, Gosse, Owen, Forbes, Carpenter, Lyell, Murchison, Henslow and Darwin.Lester, 1995:9-11

He was a large man with a large presence, of warm human sympathies and in his childhood a great admirer of Abraham Lincoln. His interventions, responses and advocacies were often colourful and forceful, as befitted an admirer of Huxley, for whom he worked as a demonstrator when a young man. In his personal manner he was not so adept as Huxley, and he made enemies by his rudeness.Huxley, 1970:129 This undoubtedly damaged and limited the second half of his career.

Lankester appears, thinly disguised, in several novels. He is the model for Sir Roderick Dover in H.G. Wells' Marriage (Wells had been one of his students), and in Robert Briffault's Europa, which contains a brilliant portrait of Lankester, including his friendship with Karl Marx. He has also been suggested for Professor Challenger in Arthur Conan Doyle's The Lost World,Lester, 1995: 60, 187-8; 199-202 but Doyle himself said that Challenger was based on a professor of physiology at the University of Edinburgh named William Rutherford.pxxiii in the Oxford ed of The Lost World. William Rutherford (1839–1899), holder of the Edinburgh Chair of Physiology from 1874.Arthur Conan Doyle 1930. Memories and adventures. Murray, London 1930. p32

Lankester never married. A finely decorated memorial plaque to him can be seen at the Golders Green Crematorium, Hoop Lane, London.



In 1903 he was invited to deliver the Royal Institution Christmas Lecture on Extinct Animals.

Publications and the Lankester Pamphlets

His professional writings include:

  • A Monograph of the Cephalaspidian Fishes (1870)
  • Developmental History of the Mollusca (1875)
  • Degeneration: a chapter in Darwinism (1880)
  • Limulus: An Arachnid (1881)
  • The Advancement of Science (1889), collected essays
  • A Treatise on Zoölogy (1900–09), (editor)
  • Extinct Animals (1905)
  • Nature and Man (1905)
  • Fireside Science (1934)

The Lankester Pamplets are held at the National Marine Biological Library at the Marine Biological Association in Plymouth. These consist of 43 volumes of reprints, with an author index.The Lankester Pamphets at the National Marine Biological Library: http://www.mba.ac.uk/NMBL/collection/special_collections.htm

Living octopus

Living octopus

In countries which are located near sea coasts, sea food is an important part of national cuisine