W. H. Turton (1856–1938)

W. H. Turton (1856-1938)

Extracted from Journal of Conchology, Volume 21, pp. 66–68

William Harry Turton was born in India in 1856, the second son of Colonel Joseph Turton R.A. His father died of wounds received in the Mutiny on a voyage home from India and was buried in the Red Sea.

He had a brilliant school career at Clifton, winning the geographical gold medal among other distinctions; thence he passed into the "Shop" at Woolwich, won the Pollock gold medal, and  eventually passed out first into the Royal Engineers.
From 1884 to i886 he was stationed in St. Helena and it was during this time that we first hear of him as a conchologist. He brought home an extensive collection of shells, both marine* and terrestrial,** which was worked out by Edgar Smith, and contained a very large number of new species. The land shells included eleven undescribed forms and constituted a very adequate representation of both the living and the extinct species.

In his marine collecting Turton was indefatigable in sifting the sand and shingle which is found in but a few spots on the coast and he also dredged in depths up to about 80 fathoms.

His collection is probably a fairly complete one of the fauna - including as it does such a large percentage of small forms as Rissoidae, Rissoinidae, small Turridae and Pyramidellidae The types types all in the British Museum.

Turton went all through the Boer War in South Africa and there gained his D.S.O. His service out there introduced him, of course, to the Cape marine molluscan fauna, and his retirement with the rank of Lieut.-Colonel soon after the War, at the end of twenty-six years' work, gave him uninterrupted scope for shell collecting; he determined to make Port Alfred at the mouth of the Kowie River the cenfre of his researches.

He gradually evolved the idea of working a fixed stretch of beach and of trying to record from it a larger number of species that had ever been taken from such a locus before.

He therefore mapped out a 10 mile line from the Kasouga River on the west of Port Alfred to the West Kleinmond River on the east, constituting about 11 miles of beach as very fully explained in the preface of his Marine Shells of Port Alfred.

In 1935 Turton's health completely broke down and he was obliged to leave Clifton, Bristol. After a year at Minehead he moved again to a small house that he had bought at Northlew, Devon, early this year, and died there on 16th June.

Turton used to say that he had three hobbies to which, after his retirement from the army, he tried to devote an equal portion of each year, viz. Genealogy, Conchology and Christianity.

In the last subject be is widely known as the author of The Truth of Christianity, which has been translated into a great number of languages including Chinese, Japanese, and Arabic, and of which he was contemplating the issue of a thirteenth edition at the time of his death.

He was a well-known member of the Genealogical Society arid here again he published a magnum opus, just ten years ago, entitled The Plantagenet Ancestry. The Times Literary Supplement of 2nd August, 1928 said: “Colonel Turton makes use of an ingenious system of semicircles for dealing with the first five or six generations of the ancestors of a given person. This greatly economizes space in comparison with the ordinary method of displaying an ascending pedigree. Colonel Turton’s list of ancestors contains a fine and varied selection of picturesque and powerful persons, famous saints and notorious sinners.” Altogether over 7,000 ancestors of Edward IV and his wife are given.

In Conchologv I have already referred to his excellent work in St. Helena. Otherwise his energies were almost entirely concent:rated on the shells of Port Alfred, which he visited first in 1902 and subsequently on five occasions.

The 1902 gatherings were confided to Edgar Smith for naming and describing, and the results appeared in the Journal of Malacology vol. xi, pp. 21-44, plates ii and iii, 1904. In such gatherings there is always a residue of young or beach-rolled specimens which cannot be named with any certainty: Turton thought that more might have been named, and the friction which had already occurred years ago over the St. Helena collection became acute.

The next collections were, therefore, offered to the Washington Museum and ten years later, in 1915, appeared Bull. U.S. Nat. Mus. 91, under the title of "Report on the Turton Collection of South African Marine Mollusks with Additional Notes on other South African Shells contained in the U.S. Nat. Museum".

The idea of a record number of species from his marked-out beach became more and more of an obsession as time went on, and eventually Turton determined, after his visit to Port Alfred n 1923-4. to describe, himself, everything that remained which he considered new. His Marine Shells of Port Alfred, 331 pp. and 70 plates, appeared in 1932, and one cannot call it anything but a most unfortunate and deplorable piece of work. Of course each form to which a new name is therein given will have to be judged on its merits, but one cannot help surmising that only a small percentage of the supposed novelties will survive careful scrutiny. So far the only groups that have undergone this scrutiny are the Chitons and the Patellas, with the result that in neither is a single one of the “new” species and varieties considered to have any claim to stand.

One rather curious point about this book may be mentioned; it was published towards the end of 1932—the preface is dated November, 1932, and my copy is dated Christmas, 1932, by the author—but on 14th February, 1933, Turton published a leaflet containing (1) a number of errata, (2) twenty new specific or varietal names to replace as many in his book which proved to be preoccupied. It seems as if this leaflet can only be regarded as a 2nd edition.

It has been so regarded in the Zoological Record, vol. lxx (1933) Mollusca, p. 39. A list of the preoccupied names and of the new substitutes was also inserted later in the same year in this Journal. vol. xix, pp. 370, 371, and constitutes, I believe, the only paper that Turton ever contributed to any of the conchological serials.

The book itself was printed by the Oxford University Press at a cost of about £650. The photographic plates are decidedly good.

Turton was a great-nephew of Dr. William Turton, well known for his Conchological Dictionary, Manual of the Land and Freshwater Shells of the British Isles, and other conchological works.

* P..Z.S., 1890, pp. 247-317, pls. xxi-xxiv, Ann. Mag. N.H. (6), vol. 10, pp.121-135, pl. xii, 1892.
** P..Z.S., 1892, pp. 258-270, pls. xxi, xxii.