John George Wood

Birth: 1827


John George Wood (1827-1889) was a writer on natural history. He was born the eldest son of John Freeman Wood, a surgeon, and his wife Juliana Lisetta (born Arntz) in London on 21 July 1827. Being weakly he was educated at home, and, his father having removed to Oxford in 1830, he led an outdoor life, which gave full scope for the development of his innate love of all natural history pursuits.

In 1838 he was placed under his uncle, the Rev. George Edward Gepp, at Ashbourne grammar school in Derbyshire, where he remained till his seventeenth year. Returning then to Oxford, he matriculated at Merton College on 17 Oct. 1844. The following year he obtained the Jackson scholarship. He graduated B.A. in 1848, proceeding M.A. in 1851. For a time he worked under (Sir) Henry Acland in the anatomical museum. In 1851 his first book, 'The Illustrated Natural History,' was published. In 1852 he was ordained deacon by Samuel Wilberforce [q. v.], bishop of Oxford, and became curate of the parish of St. Thomas the Martyr, Oxford. In 1854 he was ordained priest. The same year he resigned his Oxford curacy and returned to literary work till April 1856, when he was appointed chaplain to St. Bartholomew's Hospital. In 1858 he was also appointed to a readership at Christ Church, Newgate Street. He resigned his chaplaincy in 1862 and the readership in 1863 on account of ill-health, and removed to Belvedere, near Woolwich. He voluntarily assisted in the work of the neighbouring parish of Erith till the death of the vicar, Archdeacon Smith, in 1873. Owing to his influence choral services were introduced, and the efficiency of his choir led to his appointment as precentor of the Canterbury Diocesan Choral Union, whose annual festivals he conducted from 1869 to 1875.

From as early a period as 1856 Wood delivered occasional lectures on natural history subjects; but in 1879, having given a series of six lectures in Brixton, he resolved to take up lecturing as a second profession, and, assisted by George H. Robinson, manager of the book court at the Crystal Palace, who acted as his agent, sketch-lectures, as they were termed, were arranged for the winter months. These lasted ten seasons (1879-88), and took him to all parts of the country and to America, where he delivered the Lowell lectures at Boston in 1883-4. The conspicuous feature of these lectures was the blackboard illustrations, drawn in coloured pastilles, the outcome of very careful study and practice. In December 1876 he quitted Belvedere, and, after several changes, settled in 1878 in Upper Norwood. Here he continued the production of those numerous works which brought him fame and his publishers profit, till he died while on a lecturing tour at Coventry on 3 March 1889. He was buried in that town. He was a fellow of the Linnean Society of London from January 1854 to June 1877. On 15 Feb. 1859 he married Jane Eleanor, fourth daughter of John Ellis of the Home Office.

Wood's writings were in no sense scientific, and are not to be gauged by the standard exacted in modern scientific research. He was least successful in those books in which a systematic treatment of the subject was imperative, and was himself conscious of their shortcomings. Nor did he make any attempt at fine writing, his single object throughout being to popularise the study of natural history by rendering it interesting and intelligible to non-scientific minds. In this he was thoroughly successful; and to him was due the impulse that, coming at the right moment, turned public attention to the subject, while not a few naturalists of to-day owe their first inspiration to his writings. To the theory of evolution he was at first decidedly opposed, but later in life he modified his opinions.

Wood was author of: 1. 'The Illustrated Natural History,' London [1851-]1853, 8vo; new editions in 1855 and 1893. 2. 'Sketches and Anecdotes of Animal Life,' 2nd ser., London, 1852, 8vo, and 1855; another edit. entitled 'Animal Traits and Characteristics,' 1860. 3. 'Bees: their Habits, and Management,' London, 1853, 8vo; other editions up to 1893. 4. 'Every Boy's Book' (under the pseudonym of 'George Forrest, Esq., M.A.'), London 1855, 8vo. 5. 'My Feathered Friends,' London, 1856, 8vo; new edit. 1858. 6. 'The Common Objects of the Seashore,' London, 1857, 8vo; other editions to 1886. 7. 'The Common Objects of the Country,' London, 1858, 8vo; other editions to 1886. 8. 'Zoology: Mammalia,' London, 1858, 8vo. 9. 'A Handbook of Gymnastics' (under the pseudonym of 'George Forrest, Esq., M.A.'), London, 1858, 8vo. 10. 'A Handbook of Swimming and Skating' (under the same pseudonym), London, 1858, 8vo. 11. 'The Playground' (under the same pseudonym), London, 1858, 8vo; new edit. 1884. 12. 'Routledge's Illustrated Natural History,' London [1859-]1863, 3 vols. 8vo; new edit. 1883-9. 13. 'Natural History Picture-Book for Children,' London, 1861-3, 3 pts. 4to. 14. 'Common Objects of the Microscope' (in conjunction with Tuffen West), London, 1861, 8vo. 15. 'Athletic Sports' (including reissues of Nos. 9 and 10), London, 1861, 8vo. 16. 'Glimpses into Petland,' London, 1863, 8vo; 2nd edit., entitled 'Petland Revisited,' London, 1882, 8vo; reissued in 1884 and 1890. 17. 'Our Garden Friends and Foes,' London, [1863] 1864, 8vo; new edit. 1882. 18. 'Archery, Fencing' (written in conjunction with 'Stonehenge'), London, 1863, 16mo. 19. 'Athletic Sports and Manly Exercises' (also with 'Stonehenge'), London, 1864, 16mo. 20. 'The Handbook of Manly Exercises' (by 'Stonehenge,' 'George Forrest,' and others), London, 1864, 16mo. 21. 'Old Testament History in Simple Language,' London, 1864, 8vo. 22. 'New Testament History in Simple Language,' London, 1864, 8vo. 23. 'Homes without Hands,' London, 1864-5, 8vo; new editions in 1883 and 1892. 24. 'The Common Shells of the Sea-shore,' London, 1865, 8vo. 25. 'The Boys' Own Treasury of Sports and Pastimes' (written with others), London, 1866, 8vo. 26. 'Croquet,' London, 1866, 32mo. 27. 'Routledge's Popular Natural History,' London, 1867, 4to; 4th edit. 1885. 28. 'The Fresh and Salt Water Aquarium,' London, 1868, 8vo. 29. 'The Natural History of Man,' London, 1868-70, 8vo. 30. 'Bible Animals,' London, 1869-71, 8vo; new editions 1883 and 1892. 31. 'The Common Moths of England,' London [1870], 8vo. 32. 'Common British Beetles,' London, 1870, 8vo; new edit. 1875. 33. 'The Modern Playmate,' London [1870], 8vo; new editions 1875, and as 'The Boys' Modern Playmate,' in 1880 and 1890. 34. 'Insects at Home,' London, 1871[-2], 8vo; new editions 1883 and 1892. 35. 'The Calendar of the Months,' London, 1873, 8vo. 36. 'Insects Abroad,' London, 1874; new editions 1883 and 1892. 37. 'Man and Beast; Here and Hereafter,' London, 1874, 2 vols. 8vo; 5th edit. 1882. 38. 'Out of Doors,' London, 1874, 8vo; new editions 1882 and 1890. 39. 'Trespassers,' London, 1875, 8vo. 40. 'Nature's Teachings,' London [1876-]1877, 8vo; new edit. 1883-7. 41. 'English Scenery Illustrated,' London [1877], fol. 42. 'The Lane and Field,' London, 1879, 8vo. 43. 'The Field Naturalist's Handbook' (with T. Wood), London [1879-80], 8vo; 5th edit. 1893. 44. 'Common British Insects' (from No. 35), London, 1882, 8vo. 45. 'Hughes's Illustrated Anecdotal Natural History' (with T. Wood), London, 1882, 8vo. 46. 'Natural History Readers,' 4th ser. London, 1882-4, 8vo. 47. 'Half-hours in Field and Forest,' London, 1884, 12mo; 2nd edit. 1886. 48. 'Half-hours with a Naturalist: Rambles near the Shore,' London, 1885, 8vo; 2nd edit. 1888. 49. 'Horse and Man,' London, 1885, 8vo. 50. 'Illustrated Stable Maxims' (London, 1885), s. sh. 51. 'My Back-yard Zoo,' London, 1885, 12mo; new edit. 1893. 52. 'Handy Natural History,' London, 1886, 4to. 53. 'Man and his Handiwork,' London, 8vo. 54. 'Illustrated Natural History for Young People,' London, 1887, 8vo. 55. 'The Romance of Animal Life,' London, 1887, 8vo. 56. 'Birds and Beasts,' London [1888], 8vo. 57. 'The Brook and its Banks' (reprinted from the 'Girls' Own Paper'), London, 1889, 4to. 58. 'The Dominion of Man,' London, 1889, 8vo. 59. 'The Zoo' (reprinted from the 'Child's Pictorial'), 2nd ser., London, 1888-9, 4to; 3rd ser. (with T. Wood), 1892. Portions of a number of these works were reissued with fresh titles.

He edited: 1. White's 'Natural History of Selborne' (to which he added notes), London, 1854, 8vo. 2. 'A Tour round my Garden; translated from the French of Alphonse Karr,' London, 1855, 8vo. 3. 'The Boys' Own Magazine,' 1865. 4. 'Beeton's Annual,' 1866. 5. 'Episodes of Insect Life,' 1867, 8vo. 6. Rennie's 'Insect Architecture,' 1869. 7. Waterton's 'Wanderings in South America' (to which he added a biography and explanatory index), London, 1879, 8vo; issued in popular form in 1882, 4to. He also contributed many popular articles to various magazines, including those for children, in England and America.

[The Rev. J. G. Wood, London, 1890, 8vo (by his son, the Rev. T. Wood); Crockford, 1889; information kindly supplied by the Rev. T. Wood, and by the assistant-secretary to the Linnean Society of London; Brit. Mus. Cat.]


Bernard Barham Woodward, Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 62. pgs. 366-367.

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