S2A3 Biographical Database of Southern African Science




Fry, Reverend John (natural history)

Born: 13 April 1802, Desford, Leicester, United Kingdom.
Died: 25 October 1861, at sea.

John Fry, naval chaplain and clergyman of the English Episcopal Church, was the son of Reverend John Fry and his wife Martha, born Larken. John junior entered Trinity College, Cambridge, in December 1820 and qualified as Bachelor of Arts (BA) in 1826. He served as a naval chaplain for many years, touching at the Cape of Good Hope in 1827 and 1828. During his second visit he married Catharina Reyniera de Wet. In 1831 he was the chaplain on HMS Maidstone when the ship called at the Cape. In July that year, following the death of His Majesty's Astronomer at the Cape, Reverend Fearon Fallows*, Commodore Schomberg appointed Fry in temporary charge of the Royal Observatory, Cape of Good Hope. He resided at the observatory for three months and during that time made a detailed inventory of the property. His duties there were taken over by Lieutenant W. Meadows*, first assistant at the observatory, who arrived from England on 4 November 1831.

Fry's wife died in 1839. That same year he became one of the part-time chaplains at St Pauls Church, Rondebosch (now part of Cape Town). In 1843 he was appointed as the only chaplain at Rondebosch, a post he held until his death in 1861. He had a reputation for eccentricity, but was a successful gardener and an exceptionally keen naturalist with numerous correspondents. In 1840 he informed the government of the Cape Colony that he and others were about to undertake an expedition from Algoa Bay to the Rashan Mountains [not identified], and would be crossing the boundary of the colony. In 1845 he wrote a letter to the editor of the South African Commercial Advertiser in support of the establishment of a botanic garden in Cape Town and three years later subscribed two guineas to the project. In his letter of 1845 he drew attention to a request by the Earl of Derby, who was then president of the Zoological Society of London, for live animals. Subsequently he wrote 72 letters to the Earl in connection with the export of live animals from the Cape to England.

In 1856-1857, and again in 1861, Fry was acting curator of the South African Museum for short periods, during the absence of curator E.L. Layard*. Around 1860 he served on the committee of the Cape of Good Hope Horticultural and Floricultural Society. He was granted leave in 1861 and was presumably on his way to Britain when he died at sea. The non-marine mollusc Pupa fryana was named after him by W.H. Benson*.

Reverend Fry should not be confused with another John Fry, the first secretary of the Port Elizabeth Natural History Society from 1866 until February 1867, who presented a snake and some moths at a meeting of the society in December 1866.


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

Cairns, M. St Paul's churchyard, Rondebosch. Familia, 1978, Vol. 15(3), pp. 57-61, 66-68.

Cape of Good Hope almanac and annual register, 1856 and 1857: Ecclassiastical directory; and 1860: Cape of Good Hope Horticultural and floricultural Society.

Fry, John. In: South African settlers. http://www.southafricansettlers.com/?p=8634 Retrieved 14 December 2016.

National Automated Archival Information Retrieval System (NAAIRS). http://www.national.archives.gov.za/naairs.htm Documents relating to Fry, John/Fry, Rev.

Rudner, I. The earliest natural history museums and collectors in South Africa. South African Journal of Science, 1982, Vol. 78, pp. 434-437.

South African Commercial Advertiser 12 April 1845, p. 2, "Botanic Gardens"; 17 May 1848, p. 4, "Botanic Garden, Cape Town".

South African Magazine, 1867, Vol. 1, pp. 129-130 and 198-199: Port Elizabeth Natural History Society.

St Pauls Church, Rondebosch. http://www.stpaulsrondebosch.co.za/buildings.htm as on 14 December 2016.

Summers, R.F.H. A history of the South African Museum, 1825-1875. Cape Town: Balkema, 1975.

Warner, B. Royal Observatory, Cape of Good Hope, 1820-1831. Dordrecht: Kluwer, 1995.


Compiled by: C. Plug


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