William Saville-Kent

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William Saville-Kent
William Saville-Kent.jpg
William Saville-Kent
Born(1845-07-10)July 10, 1845
DiedOctober 11, 1908(1908-10-11) (aged 63)
Alma materKing's College London
Royal School of Mines
Known forStudy of coral reefs, oysters
Scientific career
FieldsMarine Biology
InstitutionsRoyal Society of Queensland
Doctoral advisorThomas Henry Huxley

William Saville-Kent (10 July 1845, Sidmouth, Devon – 11 October 1908, Bournemouth, Dorset) was an English marine biologist and author.[1]

Early life[edit]

Born in Sidmouth, Saville-Kent's childhood was marred by several unfortunate events. First was the death of his mother. This was followed a few years later by the murder of his half-brother, which led to national media coverage and great family upheaval; then came the subsequent conviction for that crime of his sister, Constance, five years later, following a confession. The detective responsible for the investigation of his half-brother's murder, Detective Inspector Jack Whicher, also suspected that William was an accomplice, but no charges were ever made. Constance was sentenced to life in prison, which at the time was twenty years.[2]


Saville-Kent was educated at King's College London, and then at the Royal School of Mines under T. H. Huxley. He held various jobs in Britain, including at the British Museum from 1866 to 1872. In 1869, he became a member of the Zoological Society of London and in 1873 of the Linnean Society. In 1870, Saville-Kent received a grant from the Royal Society to conduct a dredging survey off Portugal. He worked at the Brighton Aquarium (1872–1873), then at the Manchester Aquarium (1873–1876). He went on to work for various other aquariums, before returning to Brighton in 1879.[3]

Saville-Kent married in 1872, but his wife died three years later. He remarried in 1876.


On the recommendation of Huxley, in 1884 Saville-Kent became Inspector of Fisheries in Tasmania. In 1889, he became Commissioner of Fisheries for Queensland, and in 1892, Commissioner of Fisheries for Western Australia, a position he held until 1895. During this time he experimented with culturing pearls on Thursday Island; his experiments were successful, and modern-day spherical cultured pearls are primarily the result of discoveries he made. These discoveries were later patented by Dr. Tokichi Nishikawa of Japan, who had heard of Saville-Kent's techniques. Later, Saville-Kent went on to chair the Royal Society of Queensland from 1889–1890.[4]

His book documentation of the Great Barrier Reef was the pioneering publication, attracted worldwide attention, and was for decades the definitive work on this landform.[5]

His sister Constance had joined him in Australia in 1886, changing her name to Ruth Emilie Kaye and training as a nurse.[6]


Saville-Kent was a pioneer of the concept of sustainable fisheries. While at the Brighton Aquarium he witnessed a lobster lay eggs and charted the growth and development of the offspring. His goal was to see lobster and other commercial species of fish farmed as a sustainable resource.[7]

Saville-Kent died in 1908, in Bournemouth. He is buried in All Saints' churchyard, Milford on Sea.[8]

Published works[edit]

  • A Manual of the Infusoria, 1880, 1881, 1882 (3 Vol.)
  • The Great Barrier Reef, 1893
  • The Naturalist in Australia, 1897


  1. ^ "Obituary: W. Saville-Kent". Nature. 78 (2034): 641–642. 22 Oct 1908. doi:10.1038/078640a0.
  2. ^ Altick, Richard (1970). Victorian Studies in Scarlet: Murders and Manners in the Age of Victoria. New York: Norton. p. 53. ISBN 978-0-393-33624-5.
  3. ^ Love, Rosaleen (2 May 2001). Reefscape: Reflections on the Great Barrier Reef. Joseph Henry Press. pp. 98–104. ISBN 978-0-309-17136-6.
  4. ^ Bowen, James; Bowen, Margarita (8 November 2002). The Great Barrier Reef: History, Science, Heritage. Cambridge University Press. p. 262. ISBN 978-1-139-44064-6.
  5. ^ The Suspicions of Mr Whicher, by Kate Summerscale, Raincoast publishers, 2008
  6. ^ The Suspicions of Mr Whicher: or the murder at Road Hill House, Kate Summerscale, Bloomsbury, 2008, pp. 228-229
  7. ^ Saville-Kent, William (1883). Handbook of the Marine and Freshwater Fishes of the British Islands: (including an Enumeration of Every Species). W. Clowes and Sons. pp. 90–94.
  8. ^ Harrison, A. J. (2004). "Kent, William Saville- (1845–1908)". The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/63022.
  9. ^ IPNI.  Kent.


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