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Portrait of William Stimpson, ca.1862.
Smithsonian Institution Archives.

William Stimpson

William Stimpson (1832-1872) was a student of the eminent naturalist Jean Louis Agassiz at Harvard University in 1850. He first arrived at the Smithsonian in 1852 after a collecting expedition on the Canadian island of Grand Manan. Making use of the Smithsonian’s Natural History Laboratory, William Stimpson prepared a catalogue of the specimens that he had collected.

While at the Smithsonian, Stimpson studied and cataloged its large collection of marine invertebrates as well as the over 5,000 specimens he had collected on the North Pacific Exploring Expedition (1853-1856).

Stimpson was appointed director of the Chicago Academy of Sciences in 1866 for which he secured the loan of most of the Smithsonian’s invertebrate collections for the academy. These collections and his life’s work, including original notes and drawings, were destroyed in 1871 when the Academy burned in the great Chicago fire. Devastated by the loss, the disaster may have exacerbated Stimpson’s already frail health; he succumbed to tuberculosis at the age of forty, less than eight months after the fire.


Laboratory of Natural History, illustration from: “An Account of the
Smithsonian Institution...,” by William J. Rhees, 1856, Smithsonian
photograph number 43804-F.

Both John H. Richard and William Stimpson studied the Institution’s natural history specimens and drew illustrations in the Laboratory of Natural History, seen in this engraving found in the first guide book to the Smithsonian. The laboratory was located on the first floor of the east range of the building. A chemical laboratory occupied an adjacent room. Both laboratories were located directly behind the stage of the 900 seat lecture hall that featured a balcony and benches arranged in a semi-circle. Scientists would set up their experiments on a table in the laboratory which would then be carried on stage for demonstration.

 

Stimpson's "Synopsis of the Marine Invertebrata of Grand Manan..." published in Smithsonian Contributions Knowledge (vol.VI) was illustrated with fifty-three figures arranged on three pages. The illustrations in this report reflected the growing trend in scientific illustration away from pictorial documentation and toward the use of simple outline drawings delineating important anatomical details of the animals. Stimpson was only twenty-one years old when he published this sixty-six page monograph.

Figures:

1. ACTINIA CARNEOLA.
2. “ SIPUNCULOIDES.
3. GRAMMARIA ROBUSTA.
4. ACAULIS PRIMARIUS.
5: ASTERACANTHION ALBULUS.
6. TUBULIPORA DIVISA.
7. IDMONEA PRUINOSA.
8. CRISIA CRIBRARIA.
9. HIPPOTHOA RUGOSA.
10. LEPRALIA CANDIDA.
11. “ RUBENS.
12. FLUSTRA SOLIDA.
13. NEÆRA PELLUCIDA.
14. DORIS PLANULATA.
15. Not systematically characterised.
16. LEPTOPLANA ELLIPSOIDES.
17. NAREDA SUPERBA.
18. OMMATOPLEA STIMPSONII.
19. STERNASPIS FOSSOR.
20. LUMARA FLAVA.
21. TECTURELLA FLACCIDA.
22. BRADA, n.g.
23. NEREIS DENTICULATA.
24. “ GRANDIS.
25. ENONELLA BICARINATA.
26. EUNICE VIVIDA.
27. CRYPTONOTA CITRINA.
2R. CYPRIDINA EXCISA.
29. JÆRA COPIOSA.
30. ASELLODES ALTA.
31. PRANIZA CERINA.
32. LEPTOTHOE DANÆ.
33. CERAPUS RUBRICORNIS.
34. “ FUCICOLA.
35. “ FASCIATUS.
36. ALLORCHESTES LITTORALIS.
37. LEUCOTHOE GRANDIMANUS.

Title page

Plate I

Plate II

Plate III
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