Ronald Winckworth, 1884-1950

By A. E. Ellis

Extracted from Journal of Conchology, Volume 23, pp. 157–162.

RONALD WINCKWORTH, the third and youngest son of Charles Trew Winckworth, surgeon, and Alice (née Braby), both originally from Horsham, Sussex, was born at Brighton 12 July 1884, and died at his home in South Norwood, Surrey, 6 September 1950. He entered Epsom College with a scholarship in 1896 and ieft in 1902. He took a prominent part in the Epsom College Natural History Society, of which he was secretary during his last two years at school. He became secretary of the geological section of the Society in 1899, and frequently read papers. An article by him on "The Geology of Brighton" appeared in the 9th Report of the Society, for the year 1897, page 46; this must be his first scientific publication. In Report No. 10, p. 81, is printed a summary of a lecture he gave on "Mineral Properties". He built up a representative collection of chalk fossils, and on his leaving school the Society deplored the loss of "a most energetic secretary in Winckworth, who for several years has done us good service" (Report No. 14, p. 57).

After some temporary teaching appointments (Cleveland House, Weymouth, 1902–03; Ascham House, Easthourne, 1903–05; St. Bees School, 1905–06), he won an open exhibition to Jesus College, Oxford, where he read mathematics, graduating B.A. in 1910; he proceeded to the degree of M.A. in 1919. Winckworth rowed in his College VIII, and in his last year at Oxford was High Master of Jesus College Elizabethane Society. Between going down from the University and the outhreak of war, he held further teaching posts (Radley College, 1911; Wellington College, 1911 ; teacher of mathematics, Brighton Technical School, 1912–14). In August 1914 he joined the Navy as Seaman, R.N.V.R., being commissioned as Assistant Paymaster in March 1915 and later Paymaster Lieutenant, R.N.R. After a period of service in H.M.Y. Medusa on yacht patrol off southern Ireland and Orkney and in the North Sea, he was transferred to H.M.S. Underwing, a Q-boat, as Paymaster in charge: this ship was engaged mainly in convoy service, based on Gibraltar. He was in some other ships for short terms of service. The official designation Paymaster gives but an inadequate conception of Winckworth’s naval service, for he became expert at gunnery and navigation and was the finest type of naval officer, inspired with an intense love of the sea and ships and a single-minded devotion to duty.

After the war, Winckworth spent a year as assistant at the Marine Biological Association’s laboratory at Plymouth, and was then engaged in miscellaneous lecturing and teaching until 1922, when he became instructor in navigation at Pangbourne Nautical College for two years. In October 1924 he went to India to visit his brother, Colonel H. C. Winckworth (obituary in J. Conchol. 23, 21), and travelled for six months in South India and Ceylon. In October 1925 he started work at the Royal Society on publications and as Librarian, becoming Assistant Secretary in 1932 and Assistant Editor in 1937. He retired rn 1944 owing to heart trouble, acerbated by the strain of civil defence duties, but continued occasional work as consulting editor. Sir Edward Salisbury writes: "The high standard reached by the Society’s publications during the past twenty-five years is in no small measure due to the assiduous care and attention he devoted to them and to his widespread knowledge of the scientific background, in particular on the biological side. His loyal assistance to the Society, the affectionate regard in which he was held and his happy personal relations with many of its Fellows will make his loss the more deeply felt." In August 1947 he went to the Seychelles Islands, together with Mrs. Winckworth, to stay with his brother in Mahé. For months he had eagerly looked forward to this holiday, but on 23 October his brother died, and the bereavement affected him profoundly. His own health was further impaired by the shock of the motor accident which hastened his brother’s end.

Winckworth belonged to a number of learned societies: Linnean Society (Vice-President, 1945–47), Royal Geographical Society, Zoological Society, Marine Biological Association, Malacological Society (Editor 1928–47, President 1939–42), Conchological Society (elected 1913, Marine Recorder 1924–31, President 1930–31), and was a founder member of the Association for the study of Systematics in relation to general Biology and the Society for the Bibliography of Natural History. He was one of the four British men of science invited by the Musée d’Histoire Naturelle to attend the Lamarck bicentenary celebrations in Paris in June 1946, and he was again in Paris in July 1948 for the 13th International Congress of Zoology. Another side of his character found expression in Freemasonry: he joined the Royal Clarence Lodge, 271, in 1919, was Master in 1928, and Provincial Grand Standard Bearer in 1937; he joined the Lennox Chapter in 1929, of which he was Principal in 1936 and 1949, becoming Provincial Assistant Grand Director of Ceremonies in 1939 and Provincial Deputy Grand Registrar in 1948.

Winckworth was not attracted by organized games or competitive sports, but was an enthusiastic oarsman and a strong swimmer, and was happy in any kind of small craft at sea. He was fond of skating and a tireless walker, delighting in long and strenuous tramps over downs, moors and fells, particularly in his beloved Sussex or the Lake District, which he knew intimately. He was gifted with an exceptional flair for languages, and took up the study of Sanskrit as a recreation while still at school; he was conversant with a number of European languages, and had considerable knowledge of Russian and some Indian languages. Although he took his degree in mathematics, he might equally well have graduated in ancient or modern languages or in natural science. Without any academic training in the subject, he could hold his own with any professional zoologist. Possessed of a phenomenal power of memory, his breadth of knowledge of a wide range of subjects was impressive: he might fairly be said to have known something about most things and everything about some things. Besides geology, Winckworth’s early interests included astronomy and alphabets, and he made a collection of Echinoderms, which was presented to Brighton Municipal Museum. He named and arranged his brother’s comprehensive collection of Indian butterflies, now in the Hope Department of Oxford University Museum, and had a small collection of British and Indian crabs.

Winckworth was acknowledged by conchologists all over the world as one of the foremost authorities of his time on marine Mollusca, more particularly those of European seas and the Indian Ocean. His collection of British marine shells, begun in 1911, was one of the most complete ever formed, most of the specimens, all neatly labelled with precise data and attractively displayed, having been taken alive by himself in shore-collecting or dredging all round the coast from Shetland to the Channel Islands. This collection, with which was incorporated the Mason collection purchased in 1924 (J. Conchol. 21, 186), went to Liverpool Public Museums in 1939, where more than half of it was destroyed in an air raid two years later. Winckworth presented me with his collection of British non-marine Mollusca, which, incorporated with my own, is now in Epsom College museum. Even while serving in the Navy, Winckworth contrived to do a considerable amount of collecting, first in Orkney and later in Spain and Senegal. On his arrival at Plymouth after the end of the war, all his baggage, including the specimens collected while he was stationed at Gibraltar, was stolen and never retrieved. Winckworth’s object in disposing of his British collections was to make room for the rapidly expanding collection of shells from India and the Indian Ocean, made by his brother and by himself, on his visits to India and Ceylon. This fine collection comprises large series of exactly localized specimens of nearly every species occurring in those seas, in many cases growth stages from young to adult being represented. Latterly Winckworth paid particular attention to Nudibranchs, of which he built up a considerable collection, supplemented with accurate drawings and copious notes. He proposed nearly 30 new specific trivial names and 8 generic names; 9 species were dedicated to him by other authors.

Winckworth’s contribution to natural science cannot be fully assessed from his published papers, numerous and important though these are, for his influence on the work of others was great. He was constantly in touch by personal contact or by correspondence with all the principal workers on Mollusca, and his profound knowledge of the phylum and extensive acquaintance with its literature were always made unreservedly available, often at the expense of much time and trouble to himself, to all who sought his assistance and advice. There was a time when he contemplated writing a book on British marine Mollusca, or doing a revision of or supplement to Jeffreys’s British Conchology, but owing to pressure of other work and his later specialization on Mollusca of the Indian Ocean, this project, which he alone could have carried into effect, was shelved and finally, when his health broke down, relinquished. He did, however, publish a List of the Marine Mollusca of the British Isles, in his presidential address to the Conchological Society in 1931. Winckworth’s List, universally accepted as the standard one for nomenclature, is the most widely used and generally useful of all his publications, and though emendations will doubtless have to be made from time to time (he himself has published several), it is not likely to be superseded for many years to come.

Winckworth possessed a very comprehensive library of books and periodicals dealing with Mollusca, besides masses of systematically filed reprints and manuscript notes, and card indices of shells and conchologists. He was as much interested in the bibliography and personalia of con-chology as in the animals themselves, and knew every work and worker on the group. In commissioning him to write the articles on Mollusca for the new (1950) edition of Chambers’s Encyclopaedia, the editors showed acute discernment, for his knowledge was encyclopaedic. As editor of the Proceedings of the Malacological Society for nearly twenty years, he set a standard which all editors should seek to emulate. The scheme adopted by the Conchological Society for the division of the British marine area into census areas was devised by Winckworth (J. Conchol. 16, 152).

Winckworth married Margaret Wallace, of Edinburgh, 26 December 1926; she died in 1939. He married her friend, Alison Mary Cruickshank, of Musselburgh, 2 April 1943.

When composing an obituary it is conventional to observe the time-honoured maxim, de mortuis nihil nisi bonum. In writing of Ronald Winckworth this necessitates no suppression or misrepresentation, and those acquainted with him will be the last to impute any exaggerated eulogy to this very inadequate tribute to the memory of my old friend. That he was a very learned man his writings testify; erudition extending far beyond the limits of his special subject was manifest in conversation. Endowed with a genius for friendship and singleness of heart, he saw nothing but the best in everybody and inspired affection and respect in all who knew him. With an utter indifference to money, he was generous often beyond what he could well afford and delighted in bestowing hospitality. By nature neat and methodical, all his work was characterized by meticulous accuracy and exhaustive thoroughness. Setting himself the highest standard, he expected the same of others, and while ever ready with encouragement or commendation, he was intolerant of anything slipshod or superficial. His keen sense of humour and unfailing goodwill made him the ideal companion, and it is an incalculable privilege to have shared the selfless friendship and wise counsel of this fine man.

A list of Winckworth’s published papers, comprising between 60 and 70 titles, is to be published with an obituary in the Proceedings of the Malacological Society. With the exception of his youthful contributions to the Reports of the Epsom College Natural History Society, and a note on "A bluethroat off Norfolk in May" (British Birds 10, 41), all his writings deal with Mollusca, with the bibliography and nomenclature of the phylum and with workers thereon. He was responsible for the classification and nomenclature of the Mollusca in Plymouth Marine Fauna, 2nd edition, 1931, and 3rd edition, now in preparation. A broadcast talk which he gave on "Collecting Sea Shells"“, 18 May 1938, was published in The Wild Life Around Us.

Winckworth’s portrait forms the frontispiece of Proc. Malac. Soc. 25. Obituaries appeared in The Times, 16 September 1950, Nature 166, 673, and The Epsomian 81, Dec. 1950, 32. Others will be published by the Royal Society (Notes and Records) and the Linnean Society.

New generic names proposed by R. Winckworth

J.C. = Journal of Conchology; P.M.S. = Proceedings of the Malacological Society.

Arenomya, 1930: P.M.S. 19, 15.
Catriona, 1941: P.M.S. 24, 148 (= Trinchesia Ihering, 1879).
Clelandella, 1932: J.C. 19, 250.
Devonia, 1930: P.M.S. 19, 14.
Heteranomia, 1922: P.M.S. 15, 33.
Leucophytia, 1949: J.C. 23, 38.
Similipecten, 1932: J.C. 19, 250.
Zozia, 1930: P.M.S. 19, 15 (= Azorinus Recluz, 1869).

New specific trivial names proposed by R. Winckworth

babylonica (Odostomia), 1940: P.M.S. 24, 41.
cosinia (Lienardia), 1940: P.M.S. 24, 42.
crichtoni (Turbonilla), 1940: P.M.S. 24, 42.
elpis (Dentalium), 1927: P.M.S. 17, 168.
ferruginea (Thyasira), 1932: J.C. 19, 251.
gallensis (Acmaea), 1928: P.M.S. 18, 135.
gravelyi (Lienardia), 1940: P.M.S. 24, 43.
haddoni (Acanthopleura), 1927: P.M.S. 17, 206.
hanleyi(Nucula), 1931: P.M.S. 19, 280.
iatricus (Chiton), 1930: P.M.S. 19, 78.
indica (Tricolia), 1940: P.M.S. 24, 41.
jeffreysi (Saxicavella), 1930: P.M.S. 19, 15.
karachiensis, subsp. (Patella), 1930: P.M.S. 19, 80.
kis(Anzphithalanius), 1931: J.C. 19, 146.
lebouri(Clione), 1932: J.C. 19, 251.
mahensis (Acanthochitona), 1927: P.M.S. 17, 207.
mannarense (Dentalium), 1927: P.M.S. 17, 167.
moorei(Nucula), 1931: P.M.S. 19, 280.
nitidosa (Nucula), 1930: P.M.S. 19, 114. (= N. turgida Marshall).
penetrans(Acanthochitona), 1933: P.M.S. 20, 318.
pistis (Dentalium), 1940 : P.M.S. 24, 43.
prashadi(Sepia), 1936: P.M.S. 22, 17.
scotica (Odostomia), 1932: J.C. 19, 250.
thurstoni(Stylifer), 1936: P.M.S. 22, 18.
tomlini(Yoldiella), 1932: J.C. 19, 251.
wallacei (Chiton), 1927: P.M.S. 17, 206.(= C. lamyi Dupuis).

Two MS. names of Winckworth were published by Leloup, 1939 (Bull. Mus. Hist. nat. Beig. 15, no. 33, 9): Squamopleura stratiotes and S. salisburyi.

Species named in honour of R. Winckworth

Octopus winckworthi Robson, 1926: Ann. Mag. Nat. Hist. (9) 17, 161.
Latiaxis winckworthi Fulton, 1930: Ann. Mag. Nat. Hist. (10) 5, 251.
Vesicomya winckworthi Prashad, 1932: Siboga Exp. Pelecypoda, 153.
Solemya winckworthi Prashad, 1932 : P.M.S. 20, 179.
Tellina winckworthi Salisbury, 1934: P.M.S. 21, 90.
Sepia winckworthi Adam, 1939: Bull. Mus. Hist. Nat. Belg. 15, no. 32, 1.
Erosaria turdus winckworthi Schilder & Schilder, 1939: P.M.S. 23, 140.
Otinodoris winckworthi White, 1948: P.M.S. 27, 203.
Tropidophora winckworthi Fischer-Piette, 1949: J. Conchyl. 89, 126.
[The following species are dedicated to H. C. Winckworth :–
Ischnochiton winckworthi Leloup, 1936: (P.M.S. 22, 51),
Pleurobranchus winckworthi White, 1946: (P.M.S. 27, 52),
Euselenops winckworthi Satyamurti, 1946: (P.M.S. 27, 76).]