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Cymdeithas Naturiaethwyr



Professor William Newton Parker, PH.D. (1857-1923) 27th President

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We have a full and detailed obituary for him in volume LVII of the Transactions for 1924

W. N. PARKER, PH.D., F.Z.S. 1857-1923.

By the death of Dr. W. N. Parker, the Society suffered the loss of one of its most earnest workers. He joined the Society on his coming to Cardiff, and at once made his presence felt by his enthusiasm.

In 1887, feeling the need of a less formal meeting ground than was provided by the meetings of the Society, he was instrumental in forming the Biological Section (afterwards the Biological and Geological Section), and accepted the duties of Hon. Secretary, an office which he held with conspicuous success for some seventeen years on relinquishing this post he became President of the Section. He was also elected President of the Society for the 1899-1900 Session.

Those who had the privilege of being associated with him in the work of the Section will recall with pleasure the encouragement he always gave to anyone who contributed to the meetings and the interest he showed in the work of others.

We are indebted to his colleague at the University, Mr. H. S. Harrison, for the following more personal details

The University of Wales and its Colleges owe much to those who have worked faithfully in their interests during the last half-century, and William Newton Parker had borne his share of the burden from the earliest years. Following on a short period of lecturing at Aberystwyth, he joined the staff of University College, Cardiff, at its inception in 1883. At first, and for many years, he was in charge of the department of Biology, and after the emancipation of Botany he remained as Professor of Zoology until his retirement in 1922.

During this period of nearly forty years whilst he passed through youth and maturity he did not spare himself in his work for the College, and he saw many changes. But they were slow to affect the material conditions under which his teaching was carried on, and it was in rather uninspiring surroundings that he spent the greater part of his long term of office. If to make a man an Emeritus Professor is to indicate that he has earned his retirement, then never was an honourable title more honourably won.

"Many generations of students passed through Parker's hands, and the news of his death must have brought to the minds of numbers of them remembrances of his conscientious teaching, his great sympathy and patience, and his deep interest in their welfare.

Parker avoided rather than sought publicity and prominence, but he played his part on many Councils and Committees with ability and goodwill, his level judgment and wide tolerance enabling him to render valuable service.

As a zoological investigator he ranged over a wide field, from fishes to mammals, and he published a number of valuable papers. Originally trained for engineering, he changed over to biology (heredity was perhaps too much for him) and before coming to Cardiff he had the good fortune to work under Huxley in London and Balfour in Cambridge. His research in Germany on the Lung-fish, Protopterus, gained for him, in 1886, the Ph.D. of the University of Freiburg, and it was there also that he met his future wife, the daughter of the late Professor Weismann.

The association with Freiburg led to the translation of books by Weismann ('The Germ Plasm: a theory of heredity'), and Weidersheim (' Comparative Anatomy of Vertebrates '). The excellent text-book, An Elementary Course of Practical Zoology,' was nominally a joint production with his brother, Professor T. J. Parker, but most of the work was done after the death of the latter.

Of W. N. Parker's personal qualities much could be said, and those who knew him best will realise how difficult it is to do justice to his innate kindness and generosity, to his keen sense of honour and truth. As my chief, colleague, and friend, I knew him for seven years, and to know him was to trust him absolutely. He was always fairer to others than to himself, and he preferred to think well even of those whose actions and motives he could not approve. After 1904, my meetings with him were all too infrequent, but I always found him the same, genial and ready to help, shouldering other people's burdens as well as his own, unobtrusive and sincere in his sympathy with misfortune.

His love for his home and family was deeply rooted in his nature, and was indeed the main pivot of his existence. His many friends in Cardiff and elsewhere have felt a keen sense of loss at his going, but it is impossible for us to realise the calamity of his death to those for whom he lived."

A list of his contributions to the meetings of the Society and Section is appended.


  • 1886. Apr. 29th On Amphibians. (Printed in Transactions, Vol. XVIII.).

  • 1887. Mar. 3rd The newly discovered Median Eye in Lizards. (Printed in Transactions, Vol. XIX., Part 1).

  • 1887. Mar. 31st Trawling off Lundy.

  • 1888. Dec. 13th The habits and structure of the African Mud-fish. (Printed in Transactions, Vol. XX., Part II.)

  • 1899. Oct. 19th Presidential Address. (Printed in Transactions, Vol. XXXII., 1899-1900.)

  • 1913. Jan. 23rd Fishes and Frogs as Nest-Builders and Nurses.


  • 1887. Oct. 20th The Objects of the Section.

  • 1888. Oct. 18th Rudimentary teeth in the Hag-fish and Duck-billed Platypus.

  • 1891. Jan. 12th The supposed hereditary effects of Mutilations and Maternal Impressions.

  • 1891. Apr. 17th Remarks on Local Marine Specimens and on Young Specimens of Ornithorhynchus and Echidna.

  • 1893. Jan. 19th Recent Researches on Cell-division and Fertilization.

  • 1893. Mar. 2nd Remarks on Viviparous Sharks and Skates.

  • 1894. Apr. 12th On Semon's recent researches on the Habits and Embryology of Ceratodus.

  • 1894. Dec. 6th Remarks on so-called Vegetable Caterpillar of New Zealand.

  • 1893. May. 4th Remarks on the galls of Vaucheria, bisexual flowers in Pinus sylvestris and Lychnis diuma and on some botanical models.

  • 1890. Apr. 30th Notes on the Lungless Salamandra perperspicillata, etc., and on a large Angler Fish (Lophius piscatorius).

  • 1896. Dec. 3rd Notes on Echinorynus spinosus and its parasites (Distome).

  • 1901. Nov. 14th Note on the Okapi.

  • 1903. Feb. 12th Notes and specimens received from various members.

  • 1903-04. Oct. 22nd, Nov. 12th, Feb. 11th, Mar. 10th Comments on various exhibits.

  • 1906. May 3rd (1) On a specimen of the African Clawed Frog (Xenopus). (2) On an entire specimen, and a skeleton of the Porpoise.

  • 1906. Dec. 13th A luminous British Centipede.

  • 1907. Oct. 24th Marine Lamprey (Petromyzon marinus).

Whilst there are a number of references to him in local newspapers, they are not in the scales of our last few presidents and are mostly in relation to the activities of the Cardiff Naturalists' Society, The University and the British Association visit to Cardiff. One striking exception to this is the following article that relates to the purchase of his fathers' library by Mr H.M. Thompson who then gave them to the Free Library. There is no indication on why Mr Thompson was doing the purchasing.

Mr H. M. Thompson's Gift. South Wales Echo 11th July 1891

Mr H. M. Thompson's Gift. South Wales Echo 11th July 1891

In the obituary above it lists him as the translator of Weismanns' book The Germ Plasm: a theory of heredity. from a printed copy of the book it is possible to see that he was aided in this effort by Miss Harriet Ronnsfeldt who was daughter of William Ronnfeldt 17th President

The Germ-Plasm Frontspiece 1893

The Germ-Plasm Frontspiece 1893

he was clearly well thought of by a large number of members of the society as is shown by these excerpts from the Evening Express of 8th March 1905 describing a celebration dinner in his honour: -

A very pleasant and interesting evening was spent by the members of the biological and geological section of this society on Tuesday at a supper held at the Park Hotel in honour of Professor W. N. Parker, Fellow of the Zoological Society, who, after eighteen years' service, retires from the hon. secretaryship of the section.

The company numbered 40... The chairman having given the loyal toasts, Mr. Drane proposed "Our Section," and Mr. J. J. Neale seconded. The Chairman then proposed the toast of "Our Guest," and in glowing terms spoke of the work Dr. Parker had done for the society generally since his association with it. Dr. Charles Vatchell seconded, and Dr. Rhys Griffiths, in speaking of the good works of Dr. Parker, and particularly in Welsh education matters, wound up his speech with several complimentary phrases in Welsh.

The toast was received with musical honours, and Dr. Parker, replying, thanked the members for their kindnesses, and said that he had no intention of leaving them or Cardiff. He spoke of the value of men like the late Mr. Peter Price and Mr. J. Storrie, and entreated all present to find the men, who, unknown, did research work, and get them to become members.

Back to the 150th Anniversary index

Before this... Charles Tanfield Vachell (1848-1914) 13th, 19th and 26th President

Next up... Joshua John Neale, J.P. 28th and 45th President

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