S2A3 Biographical Database of Southern African Science

Rattray, Dr George (botany, zoology)

Born: 1872, Aberdeenshire, United Kingdom.
Died: 13 May 1941, East London, South Africa.
Active in: SA.

George Rattray, teacher and naturalist, graduated as Master of Arts (MA) at King's College, University of Aberdeen, in 1894. After teaching for some time at the Annan Academy, in the very south of Scotland, he came to the Cape Colony. In 1896 he was a teacher at the Grey Institute, Port Elizabeth, but three years later he taught at the Graaff-Reinet High School. He presented a number of live succulents to Dr Selmar Schönland*, director of the Albany Museum, in 1899. Returning to Aberdeen to continue his studies he graduated as Bachelor of Science (BSc) in botany and zoology. In 1903 he again came to the Cape Colony and taught at the Boys' High School in Wellington for a year. In 1904 was appointed principal of the Boys' High School in East London, which was renamed Selbourne College a few years later, where he remained until he retired for health reasons in 1930. He was a good teacher, organiser and disciplinarian, which accounted for his success in his profession. The University of the Cape of Good Hope admitted him to its MA degree in 1909, on the basis of his MA from the University of Aberdeen.

Rattray systematically collected plants in the eastern Cape, presenting a large number of specimens to the Albany Museum in 1908, with further donations following in 1909, 1910 and 1912. However, his main interest was in cycads, which he studied in their natural habitat during his holidays. In 1910 the University of Aberdeen awarded him the degree Doctor of Science (DSc) for a thesis on the South African Cycadaceae entitled A contribution to the geographical botany of South Africa. He was mainly responsible for establishing the way in which various species of the genus Encephalartos are polinated, by small weevils that feed on the pollen of the male cone of the plants and transfers some of it to the female cone, in which they lay their eggs. His paper "Notes on the pollination of some South African Cycads" was published in the Transactions of the Royal Society of South Africa (1913, Vol. 3, pp. 259-270). Subsequently he assisted Professor H.H.W. Pearson* in his study of cycads. The South African Museum, Cape Town, received several species of Encephalartos from him in 1908. Years later he collaborated with Dr John Hutchinson in describing the Cycadaceae for Volume 5 of the Flora Capensis (1933). In addition to the Albany Museum and South African Museum, his plant specimens went to the Bolus Herbarium, University of Cape Town, and the National Herbarium in Pretoria.

Rattray was a keen observer also of animal life. During a visit to the forests of the Hogsback in the Amatola Mountains, where he made an extensive collection of plants during 1917-1920, he discovered a tiny species of frog which was named Anhydrophryne rattrayi in his honour.

He became a member of the South African Association for the Advancement of Science in 1903 and served on its council during 1907-1910. By 1920 he was a member of the South African Biological Society. In 1913 he adapted a book by John Rennie, The aims and methods of nature study, to South African requirements and had it published in London and Cape Town. He was a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society and for many years served on the East London Library Committee. In 1921 he became the first president of the East London Museum Society, which managed to open a small museum the next year. He worked actively for its expansion and in February 1931, after years of fund raising, laid the foundation stone of a proper museum building.

List of sources:

Albany Museum. Annual Report, 1910, 1912.

British Library. Ethos (e-theses online service). https://ethos.bl.uk/OrderDetails.do?uin=uk.bl.ethos.591695 as on 26 May 2020.

Cape of Good Hope. Report of the committee of the Albany Museum, 1899, 1908, 1909.

Cape of Good Hope. Report of the trustees of the South African Museum, 1908.

Courtenay-Latimer, M. A brief history of the East London Museum. Southern Africam Museums Association Bulletin (SAMAB), 1945, Vol. 3, pp. 347-348.

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

In Memoriam: George Rattray, MA, DSc, FRGS. South African Journal of Science, 1942, Vol. 39, p. xviii.

Obituary: George Rattray, 1872-1941. Journal of South African Botany, 1941, Vol. 7, p. 213.

Phillips, E.P. A brief historical sketch of the development of botanical science in South Africa and the contribution of South Africa to botany. South African Journal of Science, 1930, Vol. 27, pp. 39-80.

Royal Society of South Africa. Transactions, 1913, Vol. 3, paper by Rattray.

South African Association for the Advancement of Science. Report, 1903, 1905/6, 1907, 1908, 1910, 1918.

South African bibliography to the year 1925. London: Mansell, 1979.

South African Journal of Natural History, 1920, Vol. 1(2), list of members [of the SA Biological Society].

University of the Cape of Good Hope. Calendar, 1896/7 (advertisement of Grey Institute), and 1910/11.

Compiled by: C. Plug

Last updated: 2020-05-26 10:53:38