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Society for the History of Natural History

Awards, Honours and Medals

Alwynne Cooper Wheeler

Alwynne Cooper Wheeler

Alwyne Cooper Wheeler (1929–2005), known to everyone as Wyn, made a unique contribution to the Society for the History of Natural History.

Not only was he an elected councillor (1960–1966) and variously an officer of the Society – Honorary Secretary (1966–1972) and later President (1987–1990) – but he also, and most notably, served as Honorary Editor of the Society’s various publications intermittently from 1967 to 1999. During the three years of his presidency he resumed the editorship of Archives of natural history.

The Society elected Wyn an Honorary Member in 1986, and that same year he was also one of the original nine recipients of The Founders’ Medal. In 2001, the twenty-eighth volume of Archives of natural history was dedicated to Alwyne Wheeler “to mark his retirement in 1999 as Editor, and in acknowledgement of his achievements in that office”.

It was Wyn’s wish that instead of a gift to mark his retirement, the Society should establish a fund to assist young people make an original contribution to the study of the history of natural history. The Alwyne Wheeler Bursary provides grants to enable young scholars to attend the Society’s conferences and meetings.

Wyn Wheeler joined the Society for the Bibliography of Natural History in 1960, but before that, in January 1956, he had had a paper on “The Zoophylacium of Laurens Theodore Gronovius” published in the Society’s Journal. Having joined he was quickly elected a member of the Society’s Committee. When Alex Townsend, who had been “Secretary-Editor and Treasurer”, died on 31 December 1964 the Society was precipitated into a period of crisis. Tony Harvey succeeded him as Treasurer (and served in that office for 40 years until 2004), while Francis Griffin was re-appointed to the post Secretary. However, at a special committee meeting on 12 May 1966, following Griffin’s resignation, Wyn Wheeler was appointed to replace him – Wyn was formally elected Honorary Secretary and Editor at the AGM held in the Linnean Society on 11 October 1966. Wyn relinquished the secretaryship in 1972, remaining as Editor until the AGM in April 1975 at which he handed over to V. T. H. Parry.

In the summer of 1978, after Victor Parry had announced his intention to resign as Editor, Wyn was recalled from retirement, co-opted to the Committee and resumed his editorial role. He was formally re-elected Honorary Editor at the AGM convened in the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, on 3 April 1979. During the following years, he also undertook the editing of the Society’s three Special Publications: History in the service of systematics (1981); Contributions to the history of North American natural history (1983); and From Linnaeus to Darwin: commentaries on the history of biology and geology (1985). (J. H. Price was co-editor of the first and third of these publications.) Apart from a brief interlude in 1987-1989, Wyn Wheeler served as editor until he retired in 1999.

Adapted from Archives of natural history 33 (2): 363-365. 2006.

E. Charles Nelson

Honorary Editor, Archives of natural history.