S2A3 Biographical Database of Southern African Science

Stebbing, Rev Thomas R R (invertebrate zoology)

Born: 6 February 1835, London, England.
Died: 8 July 1926, Tunbridge Wells, England.

Thomas R.R. Stebbing, British zoologist and Church of England clergyman, was educated at King's College, London, where he obtained the degree Bachelor of Arts (BA) in 1855. Continuing his studies at Worcester College, Oxford, he was awarded the degree Master of Arts (MA) in 1859. That same year he was ordained and began his teaching career. For example, from 1865 to 1867 he was a tutor at Worcester College. Meanwhile he began his studies in natural history in 1863. In 1867 he married Anne Saunders, who was a botanist and illustrator. After his marriage he settled in Torquay as a tutor and school master, and began writing on natural history, Darwinism and theology. He was a confirmed Darwinist and in his polemical Essays on Darwinism (1871) and later publications supported evolution by means of natural selection. His first zoological papers, in which he described new species of Crustacea (including two from South Africa), were published in 1873. Soon thereafter he began studying the amphipod Crustacea, a group on which he specialised for the rest of his life.

Tebbing moved to Tunbridge Wells in 1877 and gave up teaching for the study of natural history and writing. Most of his publications dealt with the taxonomy of the amphipod Crustacea, a subject on which he wrote more than 100 papers. For several years he was kept busy describing the Amphipoda collected by the Challenger Expedition during 1872-1876. His monograph on this work was published in 1888 and included an extensive annotated bibliography of the group and the history of its classification. Other publications by him included a biography of the Scottish naturalist David Robertson (1891), A history of Crustacea; recent Malacostraca (1893), a monograph on the gammaridean Amphipoda (1906), and a monograph on the (crustacean) order Cumacea (1913). He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of London (1896), the Linnean Society (1895), and the Zoological Society of London. During 1903-1907 he was the zoological secretary of the Linnaen Society and the next year was awarded its gold medal. In 1892 he became a life member of the British Association for the Advancement of Science and by 1905 served on the Association's General Committee as well as on four of its committees dealing with zoological investigations.

Stebbing contributed extensively to the study of the Crustacea of South Africa over a period of more than twenty years. During the last few years of the nineteenth century the marine biologist of the Cape Colony, J.D.F. Gilchrist*, sent him crustaceans collected during the marine biological survey of Cape waters. Stebbing described these and later collections, including many new species, in a series of twelve substantial papers under the title "South African Crustacea". The first two papers were initially published in the Report of the Government Biologist for 1900 (pp. 90-151) and 1902 (pp. 88-195). Later they were included in Marine Investigations in South Africa (Vol. 1, 1902 and Vol. 2, 1904), as was the third paper (Vol. 4, 1908, pp. 21-123). The fourth and fifth papers, the latter titled "General catalogue of South African Crustacea" were published in the Annals of the South African Museum (Vol. 6, 1908 and 1910). These publications, with a paper on plankton by P.T. Cleve*, introduced the descriptive phase of South African biological oceanography (the study of marine organisms smaller than 13 mm). The remaining papers in Stebbing's series were all published in the Annals of the South African Museum, in 1912, 1914, 1915, 1917, 1920, 1921 and 1924.

Meanwhile he had also been studying Crustacea from Natal, leading to several papers in the Annals of the Durban Museum. Two of these, on "The Malacostraca of Durban Bay" (Vol. 1, 1914-1917, pp. 435-450 and Vol. 2, 1917-1920, pp. 263-278), dealt with the group including crabs, prawns, shrimps, lobsters and crayfish. The rest (Vol. 2, pp. 1-33, 47-75, 119-125 and Vol. 3, 1921, pp. 12-26) described the Malacostraca and other Crustacea of Natal in general.

List of sources:
Annals of the Durban Museum, 1914-1947, Vol. 1-3.

Annals of the South African Museum: List of papers published in Volumes I-XXX. Cape Town: South African Museum, 1938.

British Association for the Advancement of Science. Report of the seventy-fifth meeting... South Africa, 1905.

Cape of Good Hope. Report of the Marine Biologist, 1899, 1900, 1902.

Cape of Good Hope, Department of Agriculture. Marine Investigations in South Africa, 1902-1908, Vols 1-4.

Griffiths, C.L. Crustacean systematics in South Africa - status and historical overview. Transactions of the Royal Society of South Africa, 1999, Vol. 54(1), pp. 43-52.

Hutchings, L. & Field, J.G. Biological oceanography in South Africa, 1896-1996: Observations, mechanisms, monitoring and modelling. In A.I.L. Payne & J.R.E. Lutjeharms, A century of marine science in South Africa (pp. 81-120). Cape Town: Sea Fisheries Research Institute and Royal Society of South Africa, 1997.

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

Royal Society of London. Catalogue of scientific papers [1800-1900]. London: Royal Society, 1867-1925.

Oxford dictionary of national biography. Oxford University Press, 2004.

Who was who, Vol. 2, 4th ed. London: Adam & Black, 1967.

Compiled by: C. Plug