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Biographical entry Busk, George (1807 - 1866)

M.R.C.S., Nov. 19th, 1830; F.R.C.S., Dec. 11th, 1843, one of the original 300 Fellows; President, 1871; F.R.S., 1850.

  • Image of Busk, George
12 August 1807
St Petersburg, Russia
10 August 1866
London, UK
Biologist and Naval surgeon


Born at St. Petersburgh on Aug. 12th, 1807, the second son of Robert Busk (1768-1835), merchant, and a member of the English colony there, by his wife Jane, daughter of John Westly, Custom House clerk at St. Petersburgh. His grandfather, Sir Wadsworth Busk, was Attorney-General of the Isle of Man. Hans Buck (1772-1862), scholar-poet, was his uncle; Hans Busk the Younger (1816-1862), a principal founder of the Volunteer movement in England, was his cousin. George Busk was educated at Dr. Hartley's School, Bingley, Yorkshire, and seved a six years' apprenticeship to George Beaman, being articled at the Royal College of Surgeons. He was a student at St. Thomas's Hospital, and for one session at St. Bartholomew's. In 1832 he was appointed Assistant Surgeon to the Grampus, the Seamen's Hospital Ship at Greenwich, and afterwards to the Dreadnought which replaced it. He served in this capacity for twenty-five years. During his service he worked out the pathology of cholera and made important observations on scurvy.

In 1843 he was one of the first batch of Fellows of the College; from 1856-1859 he was Hunterian Professor of Comparative Anatomy and Physiology; from 1863-1880 a Member of the Council; a Member of the Court of Examiners from 1868-1872; Chairman of the Midwifery Board in 1870; Vice-President for the year 1872-1873, and again in 1879-1880; President in 1871; and Trustee of the Hunterian Collection from 1870-1876. He was a Member of the Senate of the University of London, and was for a long period an Examiner for the Naval, Indian, and Army Medical Services. He was also a Governor of the Charterhouse, Treasurer of the Royal Institution, and the first Home Office Inspector under the Cruelty to Animals (Vivisection) Act. The last office he held until 1885, performing the difficult and delicate duties with such tact and impartiality as gained him the esteem both of physiologists and of the Home Office.

When he resigned his post of Surgeon to the Dreadnought in 1855, Busk retired from the active practice of his profession and turned to the more congenial subject of biology. In this department he did excellent work, more especially in connection with the Bryozoa (Polyzoa), of which group he was the first to formulate a scientific arrangement which appeared in 1856 in his article in the English Cyclopaedia. His collection is now in the Natural History Museum at South Kensington. The name Buskia was given in his honour to a genus of Bryozoa by Alder in 1856, and again by Tenison-Woods in 1877. The Royal Society elected him a Fellow in 1850, and he was four times nominated a Vice-President, besides often serving on the Council. He received the Royal Medal in 1871. He was elected a Fellow of the Linnean Society in December, 1846, acted as its Zoological Secretary from 1857-1868, served frequently on the Council, and was Vice-President several times between 1869 and 1882. He joined the Geological Society in 1859, served twice on the Council, was the recipient of the Lyell Medal in 1878, and of the Wollaston medal in 1885. He became a Fellow of the Zoological Society in 1856, assisted in the formation of the Microscopical Society in 1839, and was its President in 1848 and 1849. He was one of the Editors of the Quarterly Journal of Microcopical Science.

In 1863 he attended the conference to discuss the question of the age and authenticity of the human jaw found at Moulin Quignon. His attention being thus drawn to palaeolontogical problems, he visited the Gibraltar Caves in company with Dr. Falconer, and henceforth devoted much time to the study of cave fauna and later to ethnology. He was President of the Ethnological Society before it was merged in the Anthropological Institute, of which he was President in 1873 and 1874. One result of his visit to Gibraltar was his gift of the Gibraltar Skull to the Museum of the College. He died at his house, 32 Harley Street, London, on Aug. 10th, 1866. He married on Aug. 12th, 1843, his cousin Ellen, youngest daughter of Jacob Hans Busk, of Theobalds, Hertfordshire, and by her had two daughters.

Busk was full of knowledge, an unwearying collector of facts, a devoted labourer in the paths of science, and cautious in the conclusions he drew from his observations. He wrote but little in surgery, though his surgical work at the Dreadnought was altogether admirable and he was an excellent operator. He was a man of unaffected simplicity and gentleness of character, without a trace of vanity, a devoted friend, and an upright, honest gentleman.

A good portrait painted by his daughter, Miss E. M. Busk, hangs in the Meeting-room of the Linnean Society at Burlington House. It was presented by the subscribers in 1885. There is a fine engraved portrait by Maguire and a large photograph of him as an old man. Both are in the College collection.

A Catalogue of Marine Polyzoa in the British Museum, 3 parts, London, 1852-75.
Report on the Polyzoa collected by H. M. S. Challenger, 4to, 2 vols., London, 1884-6.
An article on "Venomous Insects and Reptiles" in Holmes's System of Surgery, 1860.
He was a joint translator with T. H. Huxley of Von K├Âlliker's Manual of Human Histology for the Sydenham Society, 2 vols., London, 1853-4, and he translated and edited Wedl's Rudiments of Pathological Histology also for the Sydenham Society in 1855.
Buck was editor of the Microscopical Journal for 1842, and of the Quarterly Journal of Microscopical Science from 1853-1868; of the Natural History Review from 1861-1865; and of the Journal of the Ethnological Society for 1869-70.
Notable amongst his papers in the Philosophical Transactions are: (1) "Extinct Elephants in Malta", and (2) "Teeth of Ungulates".

Sources used to compile this entry: [MacCormac's Address of Welcome, 1900, 160. Dict. Nat. Biog., Supplement 1, 1909, 357. Proc. Linnean Soc., 1888-96, 34.].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England