One of the great things about the Shelf Lives Exhibition is that it has allowed me to get to know more about our special collections and the people they belonged to. We have about 60 books which belonged to the marine biologist George Parker Bidder (1863-1953). Bidder came from a talented family. His father George was a QC and amateur astronomer. His grandfather, another George, was known as ‘Calculating Boy’ and along with being famed for his mathematical ability was also an engineer working alongside Robert Stephenson on railway construction. The family continued this tradition with Bidder’s wife Marion Greenwood, a physiologist who was the first woman to give a paper in person to the Royal Society in 1895. One of their daughters, Anna, became first President of Lucy Cavendish College and was a successful zoologist.
The Bidder Collection covers a range of subjects including physiology, natural history, zoology, and calculus. It also contains works by well known scientists such as Thomas Henry Huxley, Charles Darwin, Francis Galton, Richard Owen, Whipple Library favourite J.G. Wood, and E. Ray Lankester. Bidder spent a year studying under Lankester at University College London and he later established a fund in his old lecturer’s name which allowed investigators to work at the marine biology laboratory at Plymouth.
A number of the books in the collection have been annotated or signed. A treatise on zoology: part 2, the Porifera and Coelentera by Minchin, Fowler and Bourne, which was edited by E. Ray Lankester (STORE 168:7), has been heavily annotated throughout the section on sponges as this was Bidders special area of interest. Another book of interest is Guide to the aquarium of the zoological station at Naples (STORE 168:11). Bidder spent a lot of time in Naples working at the Zoological Station during the late 1880s to the early 1890’s and continued to visit into the next decade. In 1889 Bidder purchased the hotel he was staying in at Naples after being woken up and told he had to leave as the hotel was being sold. He renamed the hotel “Parker’s Hotel” and continued to own it until 1922. (It is still open today, should you want to stay there). One book, Representative men in literature, science and art by E. Watford (STORE 169:23), has a handwritten letter inside from Carroll W. Ansdell, thanking the Bidder’s for providing her with a photograph relating to her father Richard Ansdell (1815-1885), a painter of animals and sports who had exhibited at the Royal Academy. The letter has a hand written note in pencil initialled “GPB” giving more details relating to the contents of the letter.
Bidder and his family lived at Cavendish Corner on Hills Road (now the EF International Language School) for much of their time in Cambridge. It was here that he spent 10 years as a semi-invalid suffering from tuberculosis from which he made a full recovery. When he died in 1953 his obituary in Nature described him as “the last of his kind-that of the great amateur biologists of the past century”.
C.F.A. Pantin. Obituaries: Dr. G.P. Bidder, Nature 1st May 1954 Vol 173 pg.802
Oxford Dictionary of National Biography
F.S. Russell. George Parker Bidder 1863-1953. Journal of Marine Biological Association 34 (1) 1955 pp. 1-13