MACLEAY, William Sharp (1792-1865)

MACLEAY, William Sharp (1792-1865)
eldest son of Alexander Macleay (q.v.), was born in London on 21 July 1792. He was educated at Westminster School and Trinity College, Cambridge, where he graduated with honours in 1814. He was appointed attaché to the British embassy at Paris, and secretary to the board for liquidating British claims on the French government, and following his father in taking an interest in natural history became friendly with Cuvier, and other celebrated men of science. In 1819 he published at London Horae Entomologicae; or Essays on the Annulose Animals, Parts 1 and 2. He returned to England in 1825 and published Annulosa Javanica; or an Attempt to illustrate the Natural Affinities and Analogies of the Insects collected in Java by T. Horsfield No. 1 (all published). In 1825 he was made H.B.M. Commissioner of Arbitration to the British and Spanish court of commission for the abolition of the slave trade, at Havana, and later judge to the mixed tribunal of justice. He remained there for 10 years and retired on a pension of £900 a year. He had established a reputation as a scientist and in 1837 was elected to the council of the Linnean Society and to the council of the Zoological Society. He was president of section D at the meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science held at Liverpool in September of the same year. In 1838 in a paper on the "Annulosa of South Africa", he mentioned his intention of going to Australia "for the next three or four years". He arrived in Sydney in March 1839 and it became his home for the remainder of his life. For a time he was interested in marine fauna on which he did some work, and he made large additions to his natural history collections. He took a great interest in the Australian Museum and was first a committee-man and then a trustee from 1841 to 1862. This kept him in touch with everyone in Sydney really interested in science, and visiting scientists made a point of meeting him. He was particularly friendly with Robert Lowe, afterwards Lord Sherbrooke (q.v.), and Mrs Lowe in a letter quoted in Martin's (q.v.) life of her husband speaks with enthusiasm of the beauty of Macleay's house and garden at Elizabeth Bay, Sydney. He fell into ill-health about 1862, and died on 26 January 1865. He was unmarried.
Macleay was studious and somewhat retiring in his habits. He was an excellent classical scholar, had a wide knowledge of history and biography, and his powers as a scientist struck everyone he met. The mass of his work is not great, his two volumes have been mentioned and in addition he wrote a comparatively small number of papers for scientific journals. His health was affected by his residence at Havana, and it is probable that after he came to Australia he found it difficult to make sustained efforts. His position as a scientist was, however, early recognized, Huxley in 1848 spoke of him as "the celebrated propounder of the Quinary system". The reference is to theories brought forward in his first book. In another place Huxley refers to him as "a great man in the naturalist world". His obituary notice in the Proceedings of the Linnean Society, London, 1864-5, stated that his Horae Entomologicae "contained some of the most important speculations as to the affinities or relations of various groups of animals to each other ever offered to the world, and of which it is almost impossible to overrate the suggestive value".
The Sydney Morning Herald, 30 January 1865; J. J. Fletcher, The Macleay Memorial Volume, p. IX; J. J. Fletcher, Proceedings of the Linnean Society of New South Wales, vol. XLV, p. 591; A. P. Martin, Life and Letters of Viscount Sherbrooke.

Dictionary of Australian Biography by PERCIVAL SERLE. . 1949.

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