Arthur Smith Woodward biography

A talented geologist and palaeontologist, Arthur Smith Woodward built his scientific reputation on meticulous studies of fossil fish. Many of these still inform current research projects.

Woodward was appointed assistant keeper of the Geology Department in 1892. He then succeeded Henry Woodward (no relation) as Keeper in 1901 aged 37, retiring in 1924. He died at his home in Haywards Heath in 1944.

Early career

Woodward joined the Museum at South Kensington in August 1882 aged 18, having beaten 13 other candidates in an examination.

When he arrived, the South Kensington building had only been open to the public for 16 months. Woodward immediately began working on public displays of fossils.

Around this time the Museum acquired the extensive fossil fish collections of Sir Philip Grey Egerton and William Willoughby Cole, the 3rd Earl of Enniskillen. 

These collections contained many important type specimens as well as specimens described by Louis Agassiz in his monumental work on fossil fishes Recherches sur les Poissons Fossiles (1833-1843). 

Catalogue of fossil fishes

Perhaps inspired by the lectures of Ramsay H. Traquair (1840-1912) in 1883, Woodward began to devote all his energy to the study of fossil fish.

This culminated in the four-part Catalogue of the Fossil Fishes in the British Museum (Natural History), published between 1989 and 1901, which was and remains an important reference point for fossil fish researchers.

Woodward published extensively throughout his career at the Museum and after he retired. He was made a fellow of the Royal Society in 1901, received many awards and was knighted on retirement.

King of the fishes: read more about Arthur Smith Woodward