Romanes | George John | 1848-1894 | biologist

Biographical Information

Occupation, Sphere of Activity

George John Romanes (1848-1894), the eminent Darwinist scientist, was born in Canada, but brought up in London. His childhood was dogged by ill health, hampering his education, and he showed no early sign of his later brilliance. He attended Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge, graduating in the second class in 1870. Charles Darwin (1809-1882) - a personal friend of his - had substantial influence on the studies of Romanes. Despite early strong religious beliefs, Romanes was converted to Darwinism, and wrote a critical treatise on theism, under the pseudonym Physicus. At the end of his life, he wrote a second religious treatise, this time orthodox in belief, under the pseudonym of Metaphysicus.

Romanes' studies covered three related fields: physiology, psychology and evolution. He conducted a number of experiments on the jellyfish (medusa) in order to determine whether it has a nervous system. He also co-operated with James Cossar Ewart (1851-1933) and Sir Edward Sharpey Schäfer (1850-1935) on a number of his experiments. One of his controversial conclusions was that mutual infertility is the cause, rather than the effect, of separate evolution of species. His interest in psychology was actually primarily an interest in animal psychology, on which he wrote a number of works. His studies on this were considered, however, to be speculative and anthropomorphic, and were rapidly superseded by better works. They were, nonetheless, useful in starting debate on the subject.

Romanes' childhood ill health caught up with him in later life, and he moved to Oxford to escape the unhealthy atmosphere of London. He died there in 1894.


Romanes had a personal and professional friendship with Charles Darwin, and a working relationship with James Cossar Ewart and Sir Edward Sharpey Schäfer.

Other Significant Information

Notable publications:

Candid Examination of Theism,(1878)

Animal Intelligence, (1881)

Mental Evolution in Animals, (1883)

Mental Evolution in Man, (1888)

Darwin and After Darwin, (1892)

Honours, Qualifications and Appointments

1870: Batchelor of Arts (BA), Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge

1879: Elected Fellow of the Royal Society (FRS)

1882: Awarded Honorary Doctor of Law (LLD), University of Aberdeen

1886-1890: Appointed Professor at the University of Edinburgh

1888-1891: Appointed Fullerian Professor Physiology at the Royal Institution

1891: Awarded Master of Arts (MA), University of Oxford


List of sources for the biographical information:

Gillispie, Charles C, Dictionary of scientific biography, Vol. XI, (New York , Scribner's, 1975)

Lee, Sidney, Dictionary of National Biography, vol XVIII, (London, Smith, Elder & Co, 1909)

Concise Dictionary of National Biography,Vol. III, (London (England), Oxford University Press, 1992)