Thomas Alan Stephenson was born in 1898 at Burnham-on-Sea, Somerset, the eldest son of Dr Thomas Stephenson, a Wesleyan Minister and distinguished botanist.
Thomas Alan soon became interested in natural history and commenced a degree at University College, Aberystwyth, but in 1915 illness forced him to abandon the course. However during this time he had started to study sea anemones, for which he would later become world-famous. He showed such great potential that, unusually, he was taken on to the college staff. He later qualified with a doctorate awarded in recognition of his published papers.
Stephenson's first major collecting trip was with the Natural History Museum Great Barrier Reef Expedition (1928-29), for whom he wrote the scientific papers on the Australian corals in the official report. From 1947 to 1948 he studied the Pacific and Atlantic coasts of North America, and in 1952 he spent three months in Bermuda. As always, Stephenson's scientific work was meticulous. In addition to studying individual species, he conducted extensive surveys to investigate the biology of marine organisms. He was also a particularly gifted artist. Sea anemones gave him tremendous scope to express his love of colours, patterns and diversity of the animal world in water. He wrote the definitive two- volume work, British Sea Anemones (1928-1935) for the Ray Society and many more papers on sea anemones and the marine biology of South Africa and North America, illustrated with his own delightful paintings.
Stephenson went on to hold a succession of academic posts: lecturer in zoology at University College London 1922-1930, Chair of Zoology at the University of Cape Town 1930-1940, and Chair of Zoology at Aberystwyth 1940-1961. He was made a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1951. In 1922 he married Anne Wood, who often travelled with him and collaborated on his scientific work. Stephenson died in 1961.
This drawing of iridescent seaweeds on the shore of North Rock, Bermuda, was probably painted in the summer of 1952 when Stephenson spent three months on the island. In this painting, Stephenson conveys the beauty and colours of marine life in a rock pool rather than any individual organism.
Seaweeds are large marine algae that grow almost exclusively in the shallow waters at the edge of the world's oceans and play a very important ecological role in many marine communities. A food source for marine animals such as sea urchins and fishes, they also provide shelter for numerous fishes, invertebrates, birds and mammals.
Seaweeds possess holdfasts, which are used as anchors and are made up of many fingerlike projections called haptera.
The library holds several more paintings by Stephenson including some that were published in British Sea Anemones (1928-1935), and has some examples of field notes and diagrams done on the Great Barrier Reef expedition, 1928-29.
Since its donation to the Museum, this drawing has not been on public display.
Cavaliere, A. R. (1994) Marine Algae of Bermuda: A Field Guide to Common Inshore and Shallow Water Species. Special Publication. Bermuda Biological Station for Research no. 33. 140pp.
Stephenson, T. A. (1928-35) The British Sea Anemones. Ray Society Vols 113, 121: London. 148pp, 426pp.
Yonge, C.M. (1981). Thomas Alan Stephenson 1898-1961. Dictionary
of National Biography, 1961-1970, pp.979-980.