Tuesday, 1 January 2013

Sea, Salt and Sponges



Fairlynch Museum’s 2013 exhibition has a maritime theme: the history of local fishing and salt-making, marine conservation, paintings by local artists inspired by the area’s beautiful coastal scenery… but especially the life of Henry Carter FRS (1813-95), born 200 years ago in Budleigh Salterton.  The exhibition opens on Friday 29 March at 2.00 pm and runs until the end of September 2013. Admission is free.

Here are some facts about Henry Carter:

      Described as one of her “scientific heroes”  by Clare Valentine, Head of Collections in the Department of Zoology, Natural History Museum, London 

   The first to describe the  microscopic aquatic creature  Collodictyon triciliatum,  declared by scientists recently to be one of the world's oldest living organisms and man's remotest relative…
Image credit: Robert Clinton Rhodes

    Admired for his “wonderful” description of the sex-life of algae by Charles Darwin

  “No obscure scientist could hope for a more constant friend or more courteous correspondent than H.J. Carter Esq, of Devonshire, England” - Edward Potts (1830-1912), American naturalist

   Was the first to describe microscopic creepy-crawly amoeboid organisms such as Acanthocystis turfacea, Euglypha compressa, Pontigulasia compressa and Difflugia urceolata that he found in drains and bog-water in the Budleigh area during the 1860s
Pictured above: Euglypha compressa Carter 1864   
Image credit: Chris Carter and www.ptyxis.com

   Was the first to publish an Anglo-Mahrah vocabulary based on his experience with the Mahrah tribe of Southern Arabia

   Quoted in Jabez Hogg's best-selling book The Microscope (1854) as one of Victorian Britain's top microscopists along with Fellows of the Royal Society such as William Carpenter, Charles Darwin, Philip Gosse and Thomas Huxley

    Shared the honour of having a fungus —  Chionyphe Carteri — named after him along with the illustrator of the medical text-book Gray's Anatomy

      Awarded the Royal Society's Royal Medal in 1872

    Has a fossil from the Burgess shale in British Columbia, Choia carteri, named after him.


      Has at least 27 different species of sponge named after him
Above: Oscarella lobularis: one of the sponges found by Henry Carter at Budleigh Salterton
Image credit: Parent Gery
    Was very probably the first to discover the Budleigh fossil Orthis budleighensis which should therefore be re-named Orthis carteri

   Involved with the 1870s excavation of the prehistoric Labyrinthodont remains discovered in the Triassic sandstone strata between Budleigh Salterton and Sidmouth

    Has the Arabian Frankincense tree named after him

    Condemned the Indian caste system in 1843 for its inhumanity

   Reorganised the British Museum's sponge collection at his home in Budleigh Salterton
Above: Xestospongia testudinaria, known as the barrel sponge: one of the sponges described by Henry Carter  
Image credit: Jan Messersmith

    Reorganised Liverpool Museum's collection during a stay in the city

  “This able and indefatigable naturalist... a wonderfully careful and accurate observer” — Arthur Dendy (1865-1925), Australian zoologist

   Was the first Westerner to describe the ancient Arabian city of Al Baleed.


    The first naturalist to describe the development of Euplectella aspergillum, also known as the Venus flower basket sponge — pictured above — chosen as one of Sir David Attenborough's Top Ten prized animals on Earth in November 2012
Image credit: NOAA/Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute 

   Noted for his research while in India into the guinea-worm, a feared tropical pest which burrows into human tissue, growing to an average of over 70 cm in length

   Has a species of gecko named after him
Above: Pristurus carteri, also known as Carter's Rock Gecko
Image credit: Todd Pierson

    May have inspired Lawrence of Arabia’s interest in the Middle East

   Described as the writer who best deserved the respect and gratitude of Indian geologists

    Was one of the first of the Anglo-Indian ex-army officers to settle in Budleigh Salterton, people who were characterised —  in the words of the East Devon novelist R.F. Delderfield — by their “hard, blue eyes, fierce moustaches, and mahogany faces”

   Has been recently evoked in a book co-authored by Ishrat Syed and Kalpana Swaminathan, writing under the name of Kalpish Ratna. Published in 2012, Once Upon A Hill is a protest against the madness and greed which has alienated humanity from the natural world. It pays tribute to Carter's geological adventures in Bombay. His work infuses the book say the authors. "Without his observations we could never have had so complete a picture of Bombay's geology. He has been our most dependable guide to a city that has been built over so many times since 1850."

    “Few if any of his contemporaries could match his genius”  — Rob van Soest, former head curator of the Invertebrate section at the Zoological Museum of Amsterdam and Editor-in- Chief of the World Porifera Database

    Is the only native-born East Devon scientist and Fellow of the Royal Society to end his days in his homeland


Above: The freshwater sponge Spongilla lacustris, described by Henry Carter
Image credit: Kirt L. Onthank

•   In a letter of 30 May 1872 written from Budleigh Salterton described how he was devoting his leisure to "scientific studies" in order to follow the precept of "making fellow-creatures better and happy"

•    Has been honoured with a blue plaque on the wall of Umbrella Cottage, his Budleigh Salterton home



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