Zoology has been taught at Manchester since the foundation of Owens College in 1851 when William Crawford Williamson was appointed (half-time) professor of natural history with responsibilities to teach botany, physiology, geology and zoology. Williamson's very considerable teaching burden was progressively reduced in the 1870s, with the creation of an independent chairs in geology (1872), and zoology (1879).
Williamson embodied to a large degree the older traditions of 'natural history', with its strong bias to taxonomic classification. From the 1860s onwards this approach was challenged by a 'New Biology', influenced by the research methods of German university biologists. The 'New Biology' saw the subject as a synthetic discipline, based on laboratory research and grounded in the physico-chemical aspects of the subject, and which gave greater weight to the dynamic life processes studied by physiology and embryology. This newer approach was influential with scientists in London and Cambridge, particularly T.H. Huxley. The appointment of Arthur Milnes Marshall (1852-1893) as professor of zoology at Owens in 1879 led to this approach being adopted at Manchester. Marshall had been trained in the new biological methods at Cambridge University. A dynamic administrator and an inspiring teacher, Marshall modernised the zoology curriculum, introducing courses in elementary biology and embryology, and lobbied for the establishment of dedicated research laboratories. In 1887, the Beyer laboratories were opened, funded by a local industrialist, C. F. Beyer.
Marshall's involvement in departmental and general university administration circumscribed his research activities, although he did write several textbooks. He was however successful in encouraging the research efforts of others. Marshall oversaw the publication of the earlier volumes of Studies from the Biological Laboratory of Owens College (4 vols 1886-1899) to publicise the research work of botany and zoology departments, and there is evidence that he played a hand in a number of the papers. He recruited demonstrators and assistant lecturers such Marcus Hartog, C.H. Hurst and R. Assheton, and used the Bishop Berkeley Fellowships, established by the College in 1881, to promote for postgraduate research; of the 43 Fellowships awarded up to 1895, 7 were for zoologists. He founded the Owens College Biological Society in 1879 where staff and students could discuss their subjects in an informal manner. Marshall's death in a mountaineering accident at Scafell in the Lake District in late 1893 was unsurprisingly a severe blow not only for the Department but for the College as a whole.
Marshall was succeeded by Sydney Hickson (1859-1940) in 1894. Hickson, who held the chair until 1926, was a marine zoologist and an expert in the study of corals. His early years at Manchester were given over to reforming the zoology curriculum to establish the subject independently as an honours subject. Marshall had introduced an honours degree in zoology in 1885, but recruitment of students had been slow; the great majority of his students continued to be pre-clinical medical students. Hickson also believed in the value of a general science degree, which would encompass chemistry, botany and zoology. Hickson wanted courses to encompass practical work including field trips, and he promoted applied zoology in areas such as public health and fisheries research. The Department developed a research reputation in such areas as entomology , protozoology and vertebrate zoology, especially of fishes. F. W. Gamble (assistant lecturer and demonstrator from 1894-1908) undertook research into the anatomy of Arenicola and the colour physiology of crustacea; James Ashworth produced studies of the anatomy of Alcyonaria and Xenia , before leaving to become professor of natural history at Edinburgh. Agricultural entomology became a specialism of the Department, in response to the interest shown in this subject both by domestic and colonial agriculturalists. Gordon Hewitt was appointed lecturer in economic zoology in 1907, specialising in house and saw flies. Hewitt 's expertise in economic entomology led to his appointment as entomologist to the Dominion of Canada in 1909. He was succeeded by Joseph Mangan, a former Platt Scholar in the department, who undertook research into strawberry and lettuce pests of local farmers, as well as pests in cotton bales. Mangan in turn was replaced by R.A. Wardle in 1913, who researched blowflies and crane flies, and later worked on the zoological section of the Empire Cotton Growers Corporation cotton research project at the University.
Overall, Hickson's administration of the department saw steady growth in staff and students, with the emergence of distinct research specialisms. When Hickson retired in 1926, he was succeeded by J.S. Dunkerly (1881-1930) , previously a lecturer at the University of Glasgow. Dunkerly was a protozoologist and an authority on Flagellates. Unfortunately, his short tenure of the chair was plagued by ill-health and he died in 1931. Herbert Graham Cannon (1897-1963), previously professor of zoology at Sheffield, was elected to the Beyer chair in his place.
Cannon was well known for his research into filter-feeding mechanisms of crustacea. He believed that functional morphology should be at the heart of the study of zoology; Zoology for Cannon was "primarily ...a knowledge of the nature and variety of animal design and an understanding of their systems of relationship and evolutionary development." This 'classical' view of zoology paid less attention to genetics, cytology, and physiology, at a time when these subjects were gaining in importance. Sceptical of Mendelian genetics, Cannon was a trenchant exponent of Lamarckianism, publishing his views in works such as The evolution of living things (1958) and Lamarck and modern genetics (1959), which increased his reputation as a controversial, and somewhat isolated, figure. Cannon made the Department into a stronghold for functional morphology. In terms of undergraduate teaching, Cannon insisted on a broad curriculum, with much practical work, dissection, sectioning and illustration (Cannon himself was a particularly skilled illustrator). Suspicious of over-specialisation, he preferred undergraduates to take the honours degree in general science rather than single honours zoology. The Department's research work during the Cannon era was unsurprisingly focused on functional morphology: Ralph Dennell carried out studies of arthropod feeding mechanisms, and Norma Millot studied the morphology and histology of the earthworm's nervous system. Subjects such as genetics and cytology were largely ignored, at least until the appointment of Ralph Dennell in 1948.
Ralph Dennell (1907-1989) was appointed to a subordinate chair in experimental zoology in 1948. An expert on arthropod morphology. Dennell revived the research output of the Department, creating an arthropod and entomological research group in the 1950s with J. G. Blower and E. J. Popham. Dennell shared Cannon's interest in functional morphology but also paid attention to biochemistry and physiology. Blower played an important role in development of ecology and became reader in ecology in 1958, while Popham worked on aquatic insect ecology. In 1961, an important appointment was made when Roger Wood became the first dedicated lecturer in genetics; Wood undertook important research into the resistance of mosquitoes to insecticides. In 1963, Dennell became Beyer professor of zoology in succession to Cannon. The following year, Arthur Cain, an expert in the population genetics of snails, was appointed to chair in experimental zoology. After Cain departed for a chair at Liverpool University, he was succeeded by Edwin Trueman (d.2000), whose research interests were in soft bodied animals, particularly the physiology of marine invertebrates. Increasingly the disciplinary boundaries between zoology and botany were becoming blurred. Joint appointments had been made in cytology and genetics. In the early 1970s a new honours degree in genetics and cell biology was instituted, due to the efforts of Roger Wood and R.D. Butler. There were new course options in marine biology, neurophysiology, parasitology, and behavioural ecology.
Some of the significant research work undertaken by members of the department between the 1960s and 1980s included: Blower's studies of the population genetics of millipedes, Derek Yalden's studies of the distribution of fauna in the Peak Park and the mammals of Ethiopia, P.D. Gabbutt's work on the biology of the pseudoscorpions, R.D. Butler's studies of the contractile systems in protozoa, and Roger Wood's work on the genetics of mosquitoes.
In 1982 Professor Trueman was succeeded by Simon Guthrie, an expert in the nervous systems of fish. The 1980s was a period of great administrative change for biological sciences at the University. In 1986, the School of Biological Sciences was created, based on the functional divisions of biochemistry, cell and structural biology, physiological sciences and environmental biology. This brought an end to the departments of botany and zoology. and most of the Department's staff elected to join the Division of Environmental Biology, with small numbers joining the Divisions of Cell and Structural Biology, and Physiological Sciences.
Professors of Zoology, University of Manchester
- Arthur Milnes Marshall 1879-1893
- Sydney John Hickson 1894-1926
- John S. Dunkerly 1926-1931
- Herbert Graham Cannon 1931-1963
- Ralph Dennell 1963-1974
- Arthur Cain 1964-1968
- Edwin Trueman 1969-1982
- D.M. Guthrie 1982-