Linda Hall Library
Science, Engineering & Technology Information for the World

William Spottiswoode, an English mathematician and businessman, was born Jan. 11, 1825. Spottiswoode, in addition to his mathematical work, ran a printing firm that he inherited from his father. The firm, Eyre & Spottiswoode, were “printers to the King” (even though the reigning monarch was a Queen, Victoria), so they printed a variety of government publications, including the five “Arctic Blue Books” that we exhibited in Ice: A Victorian Romance. The firm also printed a number of books for the publisher, John Murray, including many works by Thomas Huxley and Charles Lyell. Although Spottiswoode did not print the Origin of Species (published by Murray), Spottiswoode was a good friend of Darwin, and he was the ninth and last member of the X-Club that was founded in 1864 to further the cause of Darwinism. Spottiswoode became president of the Royal Society of London in 1878, and when Darwin died in 1882, it was Spottiswoode who arranged a state funeral and an improbable burial in Westminster Abbey for Darwin (first image). Spottiswoode was also one of the eight pallbearers at the funeral (others included Huxley and Alfred Russel Wallace). Spottiswoode himself was buried in Westminster Abbey when he died the next year.

The Royal Society of London owns a portrait of Spottiswoode, painted by John Collier in 1884, after Spottiswoode’s death (second image). Collier is best known for a portrait he did of Darwin in 1881, the original of which is in the Linnean Society, and a copy, painted by Collier himself in 1883 for Darwin’s family, is now in the National Portrait Gallery in London (third image).

Dr. William B. Ashworth, Jr., Consultant for the History of Science, Linda Hall Library and Associate Professor, Department of History, University of Missouri-Kansas City. Comments or corrections are welcome; please direct to