Rhodes University Zoology and Entomology Department
Rhodes University Zoology and Entomology Department
Rhodes University Zoology and Entomology Department – See Details Below:
THE EARLY YEARS (1905–1936)
Within the first 12 months of the founding of Rhodes University College (31 May 1904), the Chair of Zoology was established. In 1905 James Edwin Duerden (Figure 1a) was appointed to this Chair at a salary of £500 per annum, £150 of which was paid by the Albany Museum (an arrangement that ceased in 1910). He arrived in May of that year (Currey, 1970) and he occupied this position for 27 years (Figure 1b is a photo- graph of Duerden shortly after he retired). Initially, he was the only staff member of the Department. James Duerden was born in Burnley, England, on the 7th of April 1865. He received his early tertiary education at the Royal College of Science in London (1885–1889) where he gained their Associateship in Zoology. From 1893 to 1895 he worked as a demonstrator in Biology and Palaeontology at the Royal College of Science for Ireland, Dublin. During this time he carried out research on bryozoans and hydroids. In 1895 he accepted a position of Curator of the Museum at the Institute of Jamaica, Kingston, where he began to work on corals, and by 1900 he had been awarded his PhD by Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore. After temporary positions at the Universities of North Carolina and Michigan, he secured a permanent post at the very new and small Rhodes University.
Students entering Rhodes at this time were able to register for a Bachelor of Arts degree in science, the registration fee for
which was £5.5s per term. Duerden offered an intermediate course (1 year), an advanced course (2nd and 3rd year) and an Honours course (4th year). He ran the courses on classical lines with strong emphasis on an understanding of animal anatomy and taxonomy, which reflected Duerden’s own interests. To quote an early University calendar entry, the course was “designed for those who wish to gain a general knowledge of animal life and biological methods and principles”. In addition, the Department of Zoology combined with Selmar Schonland (Department of Botany) to offer a course in Biology (this course was discontinued in 1914, but re-established in 1971). How- ever, Duerden was more advanced in his outlook than many of his contemporaries as he also offered a course in Applied Biol- ogy. Duerden wanted to develop this applied aspect of zoology and he and Schonland campaigned long and hard to establish a Department of Agriculture at Rhodes and to have ‘Agriculture’ included in the curriculum (Currey, 1970). Despite their best efforts lobbying both the University and the government, they were unsuccessful. For the zoology practical classes students were provided with small razors, dissecting implements and blow pipes (use unknown!). Recommended text books were: Thomson, Outline of Zoology; Wells & Davies, Text Book of Zool- ogy and Parker & Hasswell, Text Book of Zoology (2 volumes). In each course students attended three lectures per week (each 50 minutes long) and two laboratory sessions.
Figure 2. The new science block shortly after its completion in 1914. Zoology occupied the ground floor in 1916. Photograph from the Cory Library.
larly held on Saturday mornings at 09h50. As courses were not semesterised, students sat all examinations in December. The intermediate course had one theory paper and one practical, each Advanced Course, two papers and an all-day practical. Honours students were rigorously examined with three theory papers and one practical examination that lasted two days!
During the early years of Rhodes, students were bound by strict regulations, for example: “Men students only enter the main building of the college by the door on the right and women students only by that on the left of the central entrance of the main building”. Smoking was not allowed in the college precincts except in the men’s common room, and academic dress had to be worn by students during lectures.
The first Honours students to graduate in Zoology (with a BA) were C.F. Heathcote and W.A. Visser in 1909. In 1910 the only Honours graduate, G.S. Grobbelaar, obtained a class I Honours degree, the first to be conferred by the Department. During the next 10 years the Department only had one Hon- ours student, W.M.B. Tooke, who graduated in 1914. After 1913, the zoology Honours degree was discontinued and not offered again until 1945. Despite the declining student numbers due to the impact World War I, a new science block was built in 1914 (Figure 2) and, in 1916, the Zoology Department took occupation of the ground floor. In 1916 there were 116 students only at Rhodes (Currey, 1970), which is about the size of our current 1st year zoology intake! Rhodes was further affected by the influenza epidemic in 1918, and in October of that year Zoology (and all other departments) was forced to suspend classes until February of 1919. During 1919, however, Bachelor of Science degrees were first conferred, and science at Rhodes began to develop. The BSc degree was a three-year degree (now called 1st, 2nd and 3rd year) and V. Seagull (appropriately enough) was the first student to graduate in 1919 with a BSc in Zoology and Chemistry.
The next decade (1920–1930) saw a number of notable changes at Rhodes, which ultimately affected Zoology. The rule dictating separate entrances for men and women was abolished (1921), laboratory fees were introduced (7 shillings & 6 pence per term for 1 year; 10 shillings per term for subsequent years), electric lighting powered by a generator was installed into laboratories (1924), and in 1921 4th and 5th year courses were offered in Zoology for the degree of MSc Zoology pro- duced its first two MSc students (V.F. Fitzsimmons and M.F.I. Ritchie) in 1923 (Figure 4). In 1925, Council decided to move Zoology as the science block was becoming too congested. The Department was given a converted gymnasium nearby (situ-
Figure 3. Dr Gwendolin Trude Brock, acting Head of Department from 1933–36. Photograph from Zoology & Entomology archives.
ated between Botany and Beit women’s residence) as its new premises. From correspondence with graduates the building was rather uninspiring. It consisted of one large laboratory, also used as a lecture room that could accommodate about 50 students.
In 1924, Zoology had been given an additional member of staff, Gwendolin Trude Brock (BSc) (Figure 3) who was appointed as a demonstrator. Duerden had therefore run the Zoology department for 20 years by himself. Despite this he had time to carry out a considerable amount of research and during his 27 years at Rhodes he published 109 papers (most in South African journals), being sole author on nearly all of them.
After his arrival at Rhodes, Duerden at first continued to publish on corals. Grahamstown clearly was not an ideal place to study corals and he soon turned his attention to vertebrates, initially the taxonomy and morphology of reptiles. Much of this work must have been undertaken in the Albany museum where he was a curator. He also became friendly with many farmers in the Albany and surrounding districts where the ostrich feather industry flourished at that time. Their problems (especially the husbandry of ostriches, Struthio camelus) imme- diately became his special interest. He soon became a world authority on these birds and between 1906 and 1924 he published 56 articles on ostrich biology. His studies were the first scientific investigations of ostrich morphology, the structure and formation of feathers, breeding, development and genetics, as well as behaviour. Although the majority of Duerden’s papers appeared in South African journals, he also published ostrich research in international journals such as the Journal of Heredity (Duerden, 1918), American Naturalist (Duerden, 1919a, 1920a) Journal of Genetics (Duerden, 1919b, 1920b), Science (Duerden, 1920c) and Nature (Duerden, 1920d,e) (a complete bibliography of Duerden’s work whilst at Rhodes is available from the Department). However, with the advent of World War I, the demand for feathers ceased and the resultant slump in ostrich farming caused widespread financial ruin. Duerden promptly switched to work on Merino (Ovis aries) wool. Working in close collaboration with the Grootfontein Agricultural College in Middleburg, he became a pioneer in wool research. He linked his laboratory studies with practical