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Library & Archives

December 1, 2011

2011 has marked the 150th anniversary of the birth of Charles Davies Sherborn, scientific indexer extraordinaire. 


Almost all Sherborn's working life was spent at the Natural History Museum where he was employed on what we would now describe as a contract basis.


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     Charles Davies Sherborn working in  the Library at The Natural History Museum


An early curiosity with natural history developed in to a special interest in geology for Sherborn and in 1888 he began to mount and prepare fossils at the Museum.  Sherborn soon realized how useful it would be to zoologists and palaeontologists to have available an index of all scientific names (genus and species) applied to animals, including the date and place of publication. Sherborn took as his starting point the naming system for animals (and plants) devised by Carl Linnaeus in the mid 18th century and codified in his book "Systema naturae".  Possibly without fully realizing it, Sherborn had embarked on a truly stupendous task.  During 42 years from 1890 Sherborn wrote about a million index cards on which he recorded the bibliographic details relating to each species name.  These were published in the 11 volumes of the "Index Animalium" beginning in 1902.


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     Sherborn’s ‘Index  Animalium’


This monumental publication became the basis for all zoological nomenclature work having gathered together all the relevant data in one place, just as an online database does today.


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Handwritten cards compiled by  Sherborn for his publication ‘Index Animalium’




In October the Museum marked Sherborn's contribution to the development of zoological nomenclature with a symposium "Anchoring biodiversity information : from Sherborn to the 21st century and beyond"