William Sharp Macleay
William Sharp Macleay or McLeay (21 July 1792 – 26 January 1865) was
a British civil servant and entomologist.
After graduating, he worked for the British embassy in Paris,
following his interest in natural history at the same time, publishing
essays on insects and corresponding with Charles Darwin.
Macleay moved to Havana, Cuba, where he was in turn commissioner of
arbitration, commissary judge and then judge. Retiring from this work,
he emigrated to
Australia where he continued to collect insects and
studied marine natural history.
1 Early life
2 Early scientific career
7 External links
Macleay was born in London, eldest son of
Alexander Macleay who named
him for his then business partner, fellow wine merchant William Sharp.
Westminster School and Trinity College, Cambridge
graduating with honours in 1814. He was then appointed attaché to
the British embassy at Paris, and secretary to the board for
liquidating British claims on the French government, and following his
father in taking an interest in natural history became friendly with
Georges Cuvier, and other celebrated men of science.
Early scientific career
Macleay's principal work was Horae Entomologicae; or, Essays on the
Annulose Animals, parts 1-2 (1819–1821). The first part of Horae
Entomologicae included a reexamination of Linnaeus' genus Scarabaeus
(twelfth edition of Systema Naturae, 1767) within the taxonomic
context of Pierre Andre Latreille's "Lamellicornes" becoming the first
monographer of what today is the family Scarabaeidae. He also
published Annulosa Javanica or an Attempt to illustrate the Natural
Affinities and Analogies of the Insects collected in Java by T.
Horsfield, no. 1 (London, 1825).
Classification of insects under the
Quinarian system by Macleay,
schematic diagram from an 1845 book by James Rennie.
Other minor publications on insects including Remarks on the
devastation occasioned by Hylobius abietis in fir plantations in the
Zoological Journal and several notes in the Transactions of the
Entomological Society of London. Macleay sent many insects to
Frederick William Hope, which are now preserved in the Hope Department
Entomology at Oxford University. He was also a correspondent of
Charles Darwin, though he disagreed fervently with the latter's
theories of evolution.
Macleay was the originator of the short-lived
Quinarian system of
classification, which is used extensively in his Horae Entomologicae.
This was an attempt to classify animals into related groups and was
put forward in Part 2 of his book Horae Entomologicae (1821).
According to his reasoning, each major group of animals could be
subdivided into 5 subgroups, and each sub-group could be further
divided into 5. MacLeay was one of the first systematists to note the
difference between similarity due to true relation, called affinity,
and similarity due to function, called analogy. Major groups united by
affinities could also be related to other groups or subgroups by
overlaps known as osculations, based on analogy. As precursors of the
concepts of homology and homoplasy, these proposals were taken very
seriously at the time, and Charles Darwin, who got to know Macleay
after he returned from the Beagle voyage, tried to fit Quinarian ideas
into his evolutionary schemes up to about 1845 (see "The Development
of Darwin's Theory" by Dov Ospovat, 1981). The ideas were also taken
up by William Swainson, Nicholas Aylward Vigors, and others.
In 1825, Macleay was appointed British commissioner of arbitration to
the joint British and Spanish Court of Commission in Havana, Cuba, for
the abolition of the slave trade; he became commissary judge in 1830,
and then was appointed judge to the Mixed Tribunal of Justice in 1833.
He retired in 1836 (at the age of 44) on a pension of £900.
Throughout these years he also maintained a correspondence with his
sister Frances (Fanny) Leonora Macleay (1793–1836).  These
letters typically convey a harsh, even severe impression of his
Macleay had maintained his scientific work whilst in
Havana and was
elected to the Linnean Society, of which his father had been Secretary
(1798–1825), and the Zoological Society. He was elected president of
the natural history section of the British Association for the
Advancement of Science.
Macleay emigrated to
Australia in 1839, living briefly at the Colonial
Secretary's House in Macquarie Place with his parents before moving in
September of that year to the family's still unfinished Elizabeth Bay
House. He took possession of the estate in 1845 having taken on his
father Alexander's considerable debts and the mortgages on the
property (he formally inherited it in 1848). In an attempt to raise
funds he also sold furniture he had acquired in
London on behalf of
his father but for which he had never been reimbursed. He did not
however complete the house, and it remained without its planned
colonnade. The house became a meeting place for a small circle of
intellectuals and naturalists, though Macleay was not known for being
actively sociable. Thomas Mitchell Jnr satirised the house and owner:
'Bleak House blears blindly o'er Eliza's Bay, chill as its owner's
hospitality' (Carlin, p45). Macleay was interested in the natural
history of Australia, the marine fauna around
Port Jackson in
particular. Later he collected a large number of Australian insects;
on his death these were bequeathed to his cousin William John Macleay,
whose interest in natural history he encouraged and who in 1888
transferred them to the Macleay Museum, University of Sydney, for
which act he was knighted. He also encouraged the scientific interests
of his brother George Macleay.
Macleay lived alone at
Elizabeth Bay House
Elizabeth Bay House until his death on 26
^ "Macleay, William Sharp (FML810WS)". A Cambridge Alumni Database.
University of Cambridge.
^ a b Boulger 1893.
Boulger, George Simonds (1893). "Macleay, William Sharp". In
Lee, Sidney. Dictionary of National Biography. 35. London: Smith,
Elder & Co.
A.Y. Swainston (1985). William Sharp Macleay, Linnean, 1 (5) :
Serle, Percival (1949). "Macleay, William Sharp". Dictionary of
Australian Biography. Sydney: Angus and Robertson.
David S. Macmillan, 'Macleay, William Sharp (1792 - 1865)', Australian
Dictionary of Biography, Volume 2, MUP, 1967, pp. 182–183
Carlin, Scott. (2000) Elizabeth Bay House: A History and a Guide.
Sydney, Historic Houses Trust.
Additional resources listed by the Australian Dictionary of Biography:
P. P. King, Narrative of a Survey of the Intertropical and Western
Coasts of Australia, vols 1-2 (Lond, 1827)
Linnean Society of New South Wales, Macleay Memorial Volume, ed J. J.
Fletcher (Syd, 1893)
Calcutta Journal of Natural History, July 1841
Annals of Natural History, 8 (1841), 9 (1842)
Tasmanian Journal of Natural Science, 3 (1849)
Macleay papers (
University of Sydney
University of Sydney Archives)
Macleay, William Sharp (1792-1865) National Library of Australia,
Trove, People and Organisation record for William Sharp Macleay
About the Macleay Museum
Elizabeth Bay House
Elizabeth Bay House guidebook online version
ISNI: 0000 0000 6316 6682