S2A3 Biographical Database of Southern African Science

Benson, Mr William H (conchology)

Born: 1803, Place not known.
Died: 1870, Place not known.

William H. Benson was an accomplished English conchologist and naturalist. During his career, from 1821 to 1865, he published almost 100 papers on Mollusca from various parts of the world, but mainly from India and other countries bordering the Indian Ocean. He spent the first part of his professional life in India, where he arrived in 1821 as the country's first serious malacologist, and remained for some 25 years. Hence all his papers up to 1846 dealt with Indian molluscs and appeared in either the Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal or the Journal of Natural History of Calcutta. He visited the Cape, probably on his way back to England, in about 1846, for the next year his "Notes on the capture of Paussi at the Cape of Good Hope", dealing with ants' nest beetles, were published in the Transactions of the Entomological Society. During his visit he also collected shells at Green Point.

Benson was a prolific writer, particularly on non-marine molluscs. Over the next eighteen years several of his papers in the Annals and Magazine of Natural History dealt with shells from South Africa: "Characters of several new East Indian and South African Helices, with remarks on some other species of the genus occurring at the Cape of Good Hope" (1850, 1851); "Characters of Tomichia, a new palustrine testaceous mollusk from southern Africa" (1851); "Notes on the genus Cyclostoma, and characters of some new species from India, Borneo and Natal" (1852); "Characters of new land shells, collected by Edgar L. Layard, Esq. in Ceylon" (1853); "New land shells collected by E.L. Layard, chiefly in Africa" (1856) - at this time Layard* was Curator of the South African Museum in Cape Town; and "Descriptions of new species of Helix and Pupa, from the Colony of the Cape of Good Hope" (1864). His shell collection went to the Cambridge University Museum. The southern African gasteropods Granula bensoni (Reeve, 1865) and Nerita bensoni (R├ęcluz, 1850) were named in his honour.

Benson later returned to the study of ants' nest beetles, publishing a paper on two species of the genus Paussus, with reference to specimens from the Cape of Good Hope, in the Annals and Magazine of Natural History (1861).

List of sources:
Barnard, K.H. Personal names in South African conchology. Cape Town: Conchological Society of SA, 1965.

Kilburn, R. & Rippey, E. Sea shells of southern Africa. Johannesburg: Macmillan, 1982.

Naggs, F. William Benson and the early study of land snails in British India and Ceylon. Archives of Natural History, 1997, Vol. 24(1), pp. 37-88.

National Union Catalogue, pre-1956 imprints. London: Mansell, 1968-1980.

Royal Society of London. Catalogue of scientific papers. London: Royal Society, 1867-1925.

Compiled by: C. Plug