Adam Sedgwick


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Laura Helen Elizabeth Robinson

Adam Sedgwick 612

  • Born: 1854, Norwich, Norfolk
  • Marriage: Laura Helen Elizabeth Robinson in 1892
  • Died: 27 February 1913, South Kensington, London aged 59 13

bullet  General Notes:

From The Times, February 28, 1913
We regret to announce the death of Professor Adam Sedgwick, F.R.S.,
Professor of Zoology at the Imperial College of Science and
Technology, which occured yesterday at his residence in South
Kensington. He had been in failing health for about 18 months.
Adam Sedgwick was born at Norwich in 1854, but his parents' home,
where his childhood was passed, was at Dent, in Yorkshire. His father
was vicar of Dent; he belonged to a family which had been settled in
the neighbourhood for several hundred years. To the same family
belonged Adam Sedgwick, Professor of Geology at Cambridge.
Early Research Work
Educated at Marlborough, Sedgwick went up to Trinity College,
Cambridge, in 1874. His original intention was to be a doctor, but he
soon came under the spell of that brilliant genius Frank Balfour,
whose assistant he became. But his own daring originality soon
asserted itself and he executed some researches in embryology on his
own account, in which he arrived at views which were not altogether in
accord with those of his friend and teacher. In 1881 the University
was induced to found a Professorship of Animal Embryology for Balfour,
since it was mainly the embryological side of biology that his studies
had been directed. The tragic death of Balfour while on a
mountain-climbing expedition in the Alps in the following year left
the newly-founded school without a head, and Sedgwick was chosen to
fill Balfour's place. The University, however, would not consent to
continue the Chair of Animal Embryology, but created instead a
Readership of Animal Morphology at a beggarly salary of 100, and to
this Sedgwick was appointed. He had been made Fellow of his college
in 1880, and he was now made lecturer and put on the permanent staff
of the college, and so was enabled to accept such a pittance. Trinity
thus, as on several other occasions, nobly stepped in and endowed
scientific teaching when the University was unwilling to do so.
Sedgwick succeeded to the Professorship of Zoology at Cambridge when
Professor Alfred Newton died in 1907, and thus for 25 years he did the
work, without either the emoluments or the University status of a
professor. He built up a splendidly eqipped laboratory and filled it
with eager and interested students; he systemized the teaching of
biology and embryolgy in a way that had never been attempted before;
he collected round him a band of research workers, and sent his pupils
all over the world to occupy professional chairs and other important
biological positions. All this work was carried out with the cordial
sympathy of Professor Newton, and the relations between Sedgwick and
Newton were most friendly and harmonious.
Shortly after taking charge of the Biological School at Cambridge
Sedgwick made a voyage to the Cape to study the extraordinary form
Peripatus which had been discovered by Guilding in 1826, and of which
the zoological position as indicated by the researches of Professor
Moseley seemed to be half way between the Annelida and the Arthropoda.
As a result of that expedition he collected material which enabled him
to work out the development of this form in great detail, and the
papers which he published on this subject between the years of 1884
and 1888 constitute one of the classics of zoology. Before the series
had been completed Sedgwick had been elected a Fellow of the Royal
Society, and he served twice on the Council. He was called on to
serve on every important committee which was constituted to deal with
biological subjects, and his advice carried greater weight than that
of almost any other zoologist in the country.
In 1892 he married Miss Laura Robinson, a daughter of Captain
Robinson, of Armagh, and in 1897 he accepted the position of tutor of
Trinity College. Although he devoted his vacations to the production
of a standard text-book of zoology, which is the best complete
exposition of the subject which has as yet been published in English,
yet he was no longer able to engage in research himself. When he
finally succeeded to the Chair of Zoology he threw himself heartily
into the work of the reorganization of the zoological school.
Removal to London
About this time the Government resolved to amalgamate the Royal
College of Science, the Royal School of Mines, and the City and Guilds
Engineering School into a new college, to be termed the Imperial
College of Science and Technology, and in particular it was resolved
to revive, re-equip, and restaff the School of Zoology, which, since
the death of Professor Howers, Huxley's successor, had been somewhat
neglected. Professor Sedgwick was asked to join a committee whose
duty it was to select a Professor of Zoology for the new college.
When the committee presented their report to the governors, that board
unanimously besought Professor Sedgwick himself to occupy the
position. This offer he declined twice, but ultimately accepted from
a sense of duty. Accordingly in 1909 he resigned the Chair of Zoology
in Cambridge and came to London as Professor of Zoology in the
Imperial College of Science. He devoted himself at once to the task
of reorganizing the department, and courses of lectures in those
branches of the subject which are of special economic importance were
organized. In every way Professor Sedgwick's efforts were bearing
fruit when, to the dismay of all his friends, his health began to
fail, and at the end of 1912 he had to go abroad for the winter.
In reviewing the general scope of Sedgwick's contributions to science
it is important to bear in mind the peculiar cast of his mind. He had
not the calm judicial character of his friend and teacher Balfour.
Sedgwick's temper was rather that of the pioneer and the prophet. He
used to brood over his new discoveries, and eventually to give
expression to them in rather violent terms, which certainly roused
opposition. But most of Sedgwick's ideas are coming to their own.
For example, nothing met with so little favour as Sedgwick's attack on
the cell-theory; at least, on that form of it which regarded the body
of a higher animal as being a cell-republic, the real vital units
being the cells. Yet the researches of Driesch and other workers in
developmental mechanics have gone far to confirm Sedgwick's
conclusions, a confirmation all the more impressive because these
workers, with the parochialism so characteristic of many German
scientists, appear to be totally unconscious of Sedgwick's work.
Sedgwick's clarification of the confused ideas masquerading under the
names of "mesoderm", "body-cavity", &c., was of fundamental importance
for our conception of animal structure; his conclusions have now
passed into the commonplaces of elementary teaching for English and
American students.
Of Sedgwick the man it is difficult to write without fear of
exaggeration. He had in a high degree the gift of inspiring
affection, and his very eccentricities seemed only to endear him the
more to his attached pupils and friends.
He is survived by his wife and three children - two sons and a
daughter. The elder son, after a brilliant career at Westminster
School, has entered Cambridge as foundation scholar of Trinity. His
wife, admired by all Sedgwick's friends for her Irish wit and
attractiveness, did much to render his house a charming resort for his
scientific colleagues.


bullet  Noted events in his life were:

1. Census UK 1911: 1911, 2 Sumner Place, Kensington, London.

2. Resided: 27 February 1913, 2 Sumner Place, Kensington, London. 13

3. He had an estate probated on 9 May 1913 in London. 13


Adam married Laura Helen Elizabeth Robinson, daughter of Captain William Robinson and Florinda Susanna Kidd, in 1892. (Laura Helen Elizabeth Robinson was born in 1874 and died on 8 December 1950 in The Grosvenor Hospital for Women, Vincent Square, London 13.)

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