S2A3 Biographical Database of Southern African Science

Stimpson, Dr William (conchology)

Born: 14 February 1832, Boston, Massachusetts, United States.
Died: 26 May 1872, Ilchester, Maryland, United States.

William Stimpson, American naturalist and conchologist, developed an interest in natural history at an early age. After completing his high school education in Boston in 1848 he entered the Boston Latin School later that year. He was the first shell collector to employ deep sea dredging in his work. At the young age of 19 he published a revision, in Latin, of the mestaceous molluscs of New England entitled Shells of new England (Boston, 1851, 56p). From 1853 to 1856 he was employed as naturalist on the United States North Pacific Exploring Expedition. In 1853 the expedition visited the Cape of Good Hope and anchored in Simon's Bay from 12 September to 9 November. Stimpson collected many shells, both on the beach and by dredging, in Simon's Bay, False Bay and at the Cape of Good Hope. The specimens went to the United States National Museum. Most of the new species were described by the American malacologist Augustus A. Gould during 1859-1861 and by Paul Bartsch (1915), who illustrated Gould's type specimens for the first time. The species Natica stimpsoni and Turritella stimpsoni were named after him.

Following his return from the expedition Stimpson worked on its collections at the Smithsonian Institution, Washington, for nine years, though he also visited Europe to collect specimens during this time. He published over 50 scientific papers, most of the earlier ones in the Proceedings of the Boston Society of Natural History, describing mainly new species and collections of molluscs, crustaceans, and other marine invertebrates from the North American shores. His most important monographs were The Crustacea and Echinodermata of the Pacific shore of North America (1857), Researches upon the Hydrobiinae and allied forms; chiefly made upon the material in the museum of the Smithsonian Institution (1865), and Report on the Crustacea... collected by the North Pacific exploring expedition, 1853-1856, published long after his death in 1907.

Stimpson qualified as Doctor of Medicine (MD) at Columbia University in 1860 but continued his work in natural history. In 1865 he became director of the Chicago Academy of Sciences and three years later was elected as the youngest member of the National Academy of Sciences. He gathered huge collections of natural history specimens and numerous manuscripts from naturalists all over the world at the Chicago Academy, but all of it was destroyed in the great Chicago fire of October 1871. He never recovered from this loss.

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

Bartsch, P. Report on the Turton collection of South African marine molluscs, with additional notes on other South African shells contained in the United States National Museum. Smithsonian Institution, United States National Museum, Bulletin 91, 1915.

Dictionary of American biography. New York: Scribner, 1927-1936.

Kensley, B. Sea-shells of southern Africa: Gasteropods. Cape Town: Maskew Miller, 1973.

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.

World who's who in science. Chicago: Marquis, 1968.

Compiled by: C. Plug