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Department of Zoology


Stanley Gardiner (he was always known by his middle name) occupied the Chair of Zoology from 1909 until 1937. Like all the previous incumbents of the Chair, he is already the subject of a very balanced short biography in the booklet Professors and Portraits, by William Foster and Paula McPhee, published in 2016 as part of the celebrations to mark the 150th Anniversary of the Department of Zoology. Stanley Gardiner was the third holder of the Chair, and, as William Foster and Paula McPhee emphasise, the only holder of the Chair so far to have field work at the centre of his research. Gardiner's work during most of his career concerned corals and coral reefs, in terms of both taxonomy and, in a somewhat pioneering spirit, ecology.

John Stanley Gardiner was born on 24th January 1872, in the Jordanstown district of Belfast, to the Reverend John Jephson Gardiner and Sarah McTier, whom he had married in 1868. Jephson Gardiner was an Anglican clergyman of Trinity College, Dublin, and in 1868 was chaplain to Lord Dufferin in Carrickfergus. Stanley was the younger of two sons and, sadly, his mother died five months after his birth. In 1874, Jephson Gardiner moved his family to Wiltshire, and then in 1876 to near Guildford in Surrey, where both sons were sent to a local boarding school.

Several sources provide details of Stanley Gardiner's personal and professional life. Many of his papers are in the archives of Gonville and Caius College, and others are in the archive of The Natural History Museum. However, there are two major sources. The first is the extensive memoir of Gardiner published by Sir Clive Forster-Cooper in February 1947 in Obituary Notices of Fellows of the Royal Society 5: 541-553. Forster-Cooper, who himself died in August 1947, had been Director of the University Museum of Zoology, Cambridge from 1914 until 1938 when he left to take up the Directorship of the British Museum (Natural History). In his early career, Forster-Cooper was closely linked to Stanley Gardiner. He accompanied Gardiner on an expedition to the Maldive and Laccadive Islands in 1900, and assisted Gardiner in his studies of corals and coral reefs. Forster-Cooper continued his own interest in marine biology, working particularly in the Indian Ocean, and so in 1905 it was natural that he again accompany Gardiner on the Percy Sladen Expedition to the Indian Ocean, returning to Cambridge in 1906 to work on the coral and other material they had collected. Although Forster-Cooper's subsequent interests shifted principally to the study of fossil mammals, his close personal and scientific acquaintance with Gardiner made him an obvious choice as Gardiner's obituarist for The Royal Society.

A second major source of information on Stanley Gardiner is the very complete account of Gardiner's main scientific work on corals by Barbara E. Brown (2007) in 'The Legacy of Professor John Stanley Gardiner FRS to Reef Science' in Notes and Records of The Royal Society 61: 207-217. In the abstract to her account, Barbara Brown notes that 'His contributions to reef origins and reef morphology have been discussed by others but little has been made of his zoological studies, which were well ahead of their time, and his significant influence on the Great Barrier Reef Expedition 1928-29, which proved to be a major breakthrough in the study of coral reefs'. Barbara Brown's fascinating and engaging account should be the first port of call for anyone with a serious interest in Gardiner’s scientific work.

Forster-Cooper, in his obituary, implies that the foundations of the young Gardiner's interest in zoology might have come from the period when his father was Rector of Black Torrington in Devon, when Stanley (rather like the young Darwin) spent much of his time fishing and shooting. It is clear, however, that Gardiner's years at Marlborough College (from 1885-90) were formative for his serious interest in natural history, particularly through the familiar route of ornithology. He was nurtured and supported by several of his schoolmasters, and, for at least one year, the influence of Edward Meyrick, F.R.S, who was a master at the school (and a well-regarded entomologist) was substantial. In 1891 Gardiner proceeded to Gonville and Caius College to read Natural Sciences. After an increasingly distinguished undergraduate career, he graduated in 1894 with a first class degree in Zoology. He also found time to represent the University in the hockey team against Oxford in 1894, and again, as a graduate, in 1895. Gardiner's teachers in the Department were Adam Sedgwick (the principal influence), Alfred Newton (who had been Professor of Zoology since 1866), Arthur Shipley, Sidney Harmer, Hans Gadow and William Bateson (every one an F.R.S.). After graduation, Gardiner occupied the University of Cambridge Table at the Naples Zoological Station like Adam Sedgwick's famous mentor, Francis Maitland Balfour, before him. Balfour had died at the age of 30 in 1882, so when Gardiner was an undergraduate he would have been well aware, through Sedgwick, of the magnitude of the loss to Cambridge zoology that Balfour's death represented. Adam Sedgwick became the second holder of the Chair of Zoology for just two years, from 1907-09, after Newton's death in post, and, of course, it was from Sedgwick (who defected to Imperial College, London) that Gardiner inherited the Chair.

Barbara Brown points out how crucial to Gardiner's scientific development was his participation in the Royal Society Coral Reef Boring Expedition to Funafuti in the Ellice Islands in 1896, because this was his first direct encounter with coral reefs. He paid his own expenses but was allowed to choose his own program of studies consistent with assisting as required in the main objectives of the Expedition. A major theme of Gardiner's experiences in observing and collecting corals was the extent of intraspecific variation in corals, a theme to which he was to return. As well as being a meticulous observer and an assiduous collector, Gardiner frequently took an experimental approach to problems, particularly to those problems raised by the nature of feeding in corals. For example, he was clearly a pioneer in investigating the role of unicellular algae within the coral tissues in coral nutrition, a topic to which he returned again and again throughout his career. Gardiner also conducted experiments in transplanting corals between sites and in colony growth and tissue regeneration. As well as contributing many zoological specimens to the University Museum of Zoology, Gardiner also brought back much ethnological material from Rotuma and Fiji, some of which remains in the University's current ethnological collections.

Forster-Cooper records that when Gardiner returned from his travels in the Ellice Islands, he was appointed a Demonstrator, under Sedgwick, and from 1898 he was a Balfour Student for two years. In March 1899 he embarked on his expedition to the Laccadives and Maldives, accompanied by L.A. Borradaile. As Forster-Cooper tactfully puts it, 'Unfortunately Dr Borradaile ... was forced by an injudicious exposure to the sun to leave for England at an earlier date'. (So they were not all impossibly tough in those days.) As mentioned above, Forster-Cooper himself now joined Gardiner for the later part of the expedition, and so draws on his own recollections. The account of a participant is bound to be more detailed, and perhaps to have a more romantic flavour, but certainly the details of Gardiner's delivery from near-fatal malaria suggest that the expedition had its moments. The following quote from Forster-Cooper gives an impression of the young Gardiner:

 'Except for the attacks of malaria, of which he felt the effects for some time after his return home, Gardiner exhibited an energy and activity which were characteristic of him. The work was often strenuous and it was normal to be working on a reef in water up to the waist or sometimes deeper from sunrise to midday. Then would follow the preservation of the collections, note and label writing followed by land collecting or boat dredging. Gardiner never seemed to tire and was never out of humour ... Gardiner as a professor may have appeared to young students as a kindly but perhaps solemn gentleman. They would have been surprised could they have seen him on 25 December 1899 half-way up the rigging of the schooner mending the rattlins, the crew having all been sent ashore for the day. It was raining hard and as he worked there was a curious rumbling sound which on reaching the deck was, according to him, a Christmas carol. Among his many excellencies one could not include any flair for vocal music.'

Forster-Cooper follows this engaging account by providing, in an understated manner, the information that, on his return from the Maldives in 1900, Gardiner married Rachel Florence Dening of Ottery St Mary. They set up house in Cambridge, but the following year Florence died suddenly after a miscarriage. Forster-Cooper and Gardiner seem to have been good and loyal friends, and after a period of trauma and sadness, Gardiner returned to social life, sometimes rather over-enthusiastically. As Forster-Cooper records, on one of their many local expeditions, 'Gardiner made one experiment in the use of a motor-cycle, then in its early days. Never lacking in courage he set off without any preliminary practice, but a telegraph pole intervened and thereafter he resumed the use of an ordinary bicycle.' Doubtless Gardiner's experiences in life aided his work as Dean of College for Caius, where he was clearly highly regarded, and had a particular feeling for the difficulties of students from overseas.

After his 1905 travels in the Indian Ocean, Gardiner returned to Cambridge. In 1908 he was elected to the Royal Society, and undertook another scientifically productive voyage in the Indian Ocean. Barbara Brown gives full and fascinating accounts of what she calls Gardiner's 'Expeditionary Period'. In 1909 Gardiner was appointed University Lecturer in Zoology. In the same year, on his return from a trip to America, he was elected to the Chair of Zoology, and got married, for the second time, to Edith Willcock who was a chemist and had been at Newnham College (1900-04). His life now centred on Cambridge and the Department. He was already an enthusiastic gardener and took up sailing with the same sudden and complete engagement that seemed characteristic. By now the Gardiners had the first of their two daughters.

In 1911, Gardiner took on George Matthai, from India, as a research student to work on coral histology. Matthai took the study a great deal further than was originally planned. Much of the information that we now value about the cell biology of corals was established, pioneered, or influenced by Matthai's work.

Gardiner remained in Cambridge during the First World War (he was now 42) but assisted the war-effort in various projects concerned with productivity. He and his wife moved house in 1914, and with more land they were able to keep pigs, rabbits and poultry to help local food supply. In later years, he was to return, yet again, to coral reefs with his involvement in the planning of the Great Barrier Reef Expedition of 1928-29. Gardiner remained engaged with the development and publication of the results of this Expedition for a long while after it ended, and it is still regarded as an important milestone in the study of coral biology and reef formation. Throughout his tenure of the Chair of Zoology, Gardiner was active in promoting and supporting Wicken Fen as a nature reserve, and he contributed greatly to efforts to establish faunal surveys and fauna lists and guides. In 1927, Gardiner established Sidnie Manton as a Demonstrator in comparative anatomy. She was the first woman in such a post, and, of course, that reflected her now legendary ability in invertebrate anatomy; but it also is a credit to Gardiner that he was prepared to swim against the prevailing tide in making the appointment

Forster-Cooper gives a clear and extensive account of Stanley Gardiner's legacy in terms of the structure and organisation of the Department of Zoology. For example, the Department's main 1934 building was planned and constructed towards the end of Gardiner's tenure, although much of the planning was done by James Gray, who was taught by Gardiner and succeeded him in the Chair of Zoology. In the new building, Gardiner ensured that emphasis was placed on creating the Balfour Library as an important component, and he created a stable home there for the Newton Library.

Stanley Gardiner retired in 1937, two years before the outbreak of the Second World War. During that War, and despite increasing difficulties with health (his malaria had continued to affect him periodically since he first contracted it) he again contributed personally to food production. On 28th February 1945, Gardiner died of influenza; he was 74, and left his wife and two daughters. As a result of a bequest by Gardiner, the Department administers the John Stanley Gardiner Studentships.

The last word goes to Gardiner's friend Forster-Cooper. Here is his account of Gardiner in action:

'Of his success as a lecturer opinions could differ. His delivery was handicapped by a somewhat husky voice and his subject matter sometimes made cryptic by his peculiarly indirect method of approach. He had a quality that can only be described as 'puckishness', for at times he would make some zoological statement so unorthodox as to leave his listeners in a condition of puzzled amazement. This, however, was done of set purpose. He wanted his class to wonder in order that thereafter they might reflect and remember.'

Dr. Adrian Friday