S2A3 Biographical Database of Southern African Science

Wood, Mr John (natural history)

Born: 1858, Perthshire, Scotland.
Died: 23 December 1918, East London, South Africa.

John Wood, businessman and naturalist, was attracted to all branches of natural history while still a youth in Scotland. However, he became a banker and after coming to South Africa held important posts in the Bank of Africa at Paarl, Kimberley, Johannesburg and East London until about 1906. He then took over control of the South African branch of McDougal Bros, manufacturers of sheep and cattle dip, until his death. In this position he travelled all over southern Africa and was able to provide farmers with valuable advice on stock diseases and plant pests. He also continued his studies in natural history and, although he did not publish much, provided local museums with important specimens and observations. As a lover of nature his interests included palaeontology, botany, zoology, and archaeology, to each of which he made some noteworthy contribution. He recorded his observations in extensive notes, which he hoped to publish after his retirement. When he died these were left to the East London Public Library.

During 1894-1895 Wood resided in Aliwal North, where he recorded observations of the local birds. These were published under the title "The birds of Aliwal North" in Scientific African (March 1896, pp. 74-77). In 1904 he became a member of the recently founded South African Ornithologists Union and served on its council from 1906 to 1908. Subsequently he published two papers in its Journal, namely "Bird notes from East London, Cape Province" (1911, Vol. 7(2), pp. 80-88) and "The Curlew in South Africa" (1915, Vol. 11(1), pp. 20-25). He was still a member when the union amalgamated with the Transvaal Biological society in 1916 to form the South African Biological Society, and thus automatically became a foundation member of the latter.

By 1899 he lived in East London and that year elucidated the life history of one of the local specis of mantid flies by finding its larvae inside the egg-sacs of Palystes spiders. The larvae fed upon the eggs and spun their cocoons in the spiders' nests. He sent several egg-sacs tenanted by larvae to the South African Museum in Cape Town, where his observations and specimens were hailed as the most interesting entomological discovery of the year. He also presented the museum with some mammal skins, lizards, scorpions and spiders this year.

Wood collected prehistoric stone artefacts at various places in South Africa, which he donated to the South African Museum in 1905. Later he collected archaeological material from the prehistoric shell mounds near East London, which he presented, with photographs, to the Albany Museum, Grahamstown, in 1910.

He collected Cretaceous fossils at Need's Camp, near East London, which he divided between the Albany Museum (1909) and the South African Museum (1910). Also in 1910 he donated reptilian fossils from Smithfield to the Albany Museum. His contribution to botany consisted in collecting some 150 specimens for E.E. Galpin*. The specimens went to the National Herbarium in Pretoria. While residing in East London he sent marine specimens to the marine biologist J.D.F. Gilchrist* in Cape Town, and the mollusc Tethys woodi was named after him. He was an early member of the South African Association for the Advancement of Science and served on its council from 1903 to 1905.

This John Wood should not be confused with either of two contemporaries: John Wood*, who published a geological map of the Witwatersrand gold fields, and John E. Wood* of Grahamstown and East London, who also donated stone artefacts and fossils to the Albany Museum during the first decade of the twentieth century.

List of sources:
Albany Museum. Annual report, 1910.

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

Cape of Good Hope. Report of the committee of the Albany Museum, 1909.

Cape of Good Hope. Report of the trustees of the South African Museum, 1899, 1905.

Gunn, M. & Codd, L.E. Botanical exploration of southern Africa. Cape Town: Balkema, 1981.

Obituary: John Wood. South African Journal of Natural History, 1920, Vol. 2(1), pp. 125-126.

South African Association for the Advancement of Science. Report, 1903, 1904, 1905/6, 1910.

South African Journal of Natural History, 1918, Vol. 1(1), pp. 8-15: Roll of Foundation Members [of the SA Biological Society].

South African Ornithologists Union. Journal, 1906-1915, Vol. 2-11.

Union of South Africa. Report of the South African Museum, 1910.

Wood, Jno. The birds of Aliwal North. Scientific African, March 1896, pp. 74-77.

Compiled by: C. Plug