OWEN, SIR RICHARD (1804-1892), English biologist, was born at Lancaster on July 20, 1804. In 1820 he was appren ticed to a local surgeon and apothecary, and in 1824 he proceeded as a medical student to the university of Edinburgh. After com pleting his medical course in St. Bartholomew's Hospital, London, where he came under the influence of the eminent surgeon, John Abernethy, he contemplated a professional career; but being in duced by Abernethy to accept the position of assistant to William Clift, conservator of the museum of the Royal College of Sur geons, he devoted himself to the more congenial work of scientific research. He prepared an important series of catalogues of the Hunterian collection in the Royal College of Surgeons; and in the course of this work acquired the unrivalled knowledge of comparative anatomy which facilitated his researches on the remains of extinct animals. In 1836 he was appointed Hunterian professor in the Royal College of Surgeons, in 1849 he succeeded Clift as conservator, and in 1856 he became superintendent of the natural history department of the British Museum. He then devoted his energies to a scheme for a National Museum of Natural History, which eventually resulted in the removal of the natural history collections of the British Museum to a new build ing at South Kensington, the British Museum (Natural History). He retained office until the completion of this work in 1884, when he received the K.C.B., and thenceforward lived in retirement at Sheen Lodge, Richmond Park, until his death on Dec. 18, 1892.
While occupied with cataloguing the Hunterian collection, Owen seized every opportunity of dissecting fresh subjects. He had the privilege of investigating the animals which died in the Zoological Society's gardens ; and when that society began to publish scientific proceedings in 1831, he was the most volumi nous contributor of anatomical papers. His first notable publi cation, however, was his Memoir on the Pearly Nautilus (1832), which was soon recognized as a classic. Henceforth he continued to make important contributions to every department of com parative anatomy and zoology for over fifty years. Among Entozoa his most noteworthy discovery was that of Trichina spiralis (1835), the parasite infesting the muscles of man in the disease now termed trichinosis. (See also, however, the article on
PAGET, SIR JAMES.) He also studied the Brachiopoda, Mollusca and he proposed the universally-accepted subdivision of the Cephalopoda into the two orders of Dibranchiata and Tetra branchiata (1832). The problematical Arthropod Limulus was also the subject of a special memoir by him in 1873.
Owen's technical descriptions of the Vertebrata were still more numerous and extensive than those of the invertebrate animals. He not only studied existing forms, but also devoted great atten tion to the remains of extinct groups, and immediately followed Cuvier as a pioneer in vertebrate palaeontology. Early in his career he made exhaustive studies of teeth, both of existing and extinct animals, and published his work on Odontography (1840 1845). Most of his work on reptiles related to the skeletons of extinct forms, and his chief memoirs on British specimens were reprinted in a connected series in his History of British Fossil Reptiles (4 vols., 1849-1884). He also wrote widely on extinct birds. With regard to living mammals, the more striking of Owen's contributions relate to the monotremes, marsupials, and the anthropoid apes. Most of his writings on mammals, however, deal with extinct forms. Sir Thomas Mitchell's discovery of fossil bones in New South Wales provided material for the first of Owen's long series of papers on the extinct mammals of Australia, which were eventually reprinted in book-form in 1877.
Owen's detailed memoirs and descriptions require laborious attention in reading, on account of their nomenclature and am biguous modes of expression. But it must be remembered that he was a pioneer in concise anatomical nomenclature.