Papers of Professor Francis Joseph Cole

F. J. Cole was born in London, England on 3 February 1872. On leaving school Cole became a journalist and for a time worked on local newspapers in Surrey and Sussex and then in Fleet Street. However this work didn't satisfy Cole's thirst for knowledge and his aim was to go to Oxford and read zoology. He prepared himself for University entrance and learnt zoology at the Royal College of Science, under Professor G. B. Howes, and he also attended lectures at the Royal Institution by Dr J. G. Romanes, who encouraged him to enter Christ Church, Oxford, and to act as his assistant in research. When Romanes became ill, Cole was obliged to leave Oxford, however Romanes recommended him to Professor Cossar Ewart, Professor of Natural History at the University of Edinburgh and in 1892, Cole became his private assistant. During this time Cole began his series of researches on the brain and cranial nerves of fishes.

In 1894 he left Edinburgh on his appointment as lecturer in zoology at Liverpool University College, later the University of Liverpool. He stayed there for twelve years and in 1901 was able to combine work during term time at Liverpool with research during vacation at Jesus College, Oxford. In this way he obtained a B.Sc. degree at Oxford by research in 1905.

In 1898 he married Annie Clow Menzies. Their only son became a farmer in Ontario, Canada.

In 1906 Cole took up an appointment as lecturer in zoology at University College, Reading, and in the following year became the first occupant of the chair of zoology, which he held until his retirement in 1939. In these thirty-two years he built up a flourishing department, founded a Museum of Comparative Anatomy which is now called by his name, pursued his research, worked actively for the foundation of the University of Reading, and collected a magnificent library of early works on medicine and comparative anatomy. He became an expert on ecclesiastical architecture and wrote a book on the Church of St. Mary, Cholsey, Berkshire, applying scientific methods to the solution of an architectural problem.

He was awarded the Rolleston Prize at Oxford in 1902 for his researches on the cranial nerves of fishes, Chimaera. Later he published a series of papers on the myxinoid fishes and received the Neill Gold Medal and Prize of the Royal Society of Edinburgh in 1908. His D. Sc., Oxford, followed in 1910.

During World War I he was commissioned in the 4th Territorial Battalion of the Essex Regiment and was stationed on the east coast in charge of a coastal gun emplacement. Returning to Reading after the war he turned more and more to the history of biology. In 1925 he delivered two lectures at King's College, London, on the history of protozoology. These were published in the following year. In 1926 he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society. The year 1930 saw the publication of his Early Theories of Sexual Generation.

His interest in protozoology led him to the works of the early microscopists. In 1937 he published two papers on the zoological researches of Leeuwenhoek, and in the following year his lecture to the Quekett Microscopical Club on "Microscopical Science in Holland in the Seventeenth Century" was printed. In 1951 he gave the Wilkins Lecture before the Royal Society, his subject being "The History of Microdissection." His major work, A History of Comparative Anatomy from Aristotle to the Eighteenth Century, appeared in 1944. During his retirement he wrote many essay reviews, as well as papers on historical subjects, such as "The History of Albrecht Dürer's Rhinoceros in Zoological Literature" (1953). His last publication, written at the age of 85, was entitled "Obiter dicta bibliographica" (1958) and described his activities as a book collector. He suffered a fatal stroke on 27th January 1959.

Taken from an article written by N.B. Eales in the Journal of the History of Medicine and Allied Sciences 1959, Vol. XIV, No. 1

The papers in the Cole collection include research for his academic writings and many of the publications mentioned above, bibliographies and indexes relating to his library and bibliographic studies and some personal papers and photographic material.

More information

  • Catalogue of the Papers of F J Cole  (PDF)
  • A full description is available from our online database
  • See also: papers relating to Cole in the University History Collection and the Zoology Department records at MS 5501; photographs of Cole and the Zoology department within the University photograph collection MS 5305; the catalogues of the Cole Museum MS 5486
  • Manuscript number MS 5315
University of Reading correspondence, personal papers cole francis joseph

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