D’Arcy Wentworth Thompson as teacher
There has been a lot of research interest in the work of D’Arcy Wentworth Thompson in the last few years. 2017 marked the centenary of his seminal text, On Growth on Form which was celebrated with an international conference hosted jointly by the University of St Andrews and University of Dundee. The website D’Arcy 150 was set up in 2010 to celebrate 150 years since his birth. Recently, while appraising an uncatalogued archive collection, a notebook came to our attention which highlights a different aspect of D’Arcy’s life – that of teacher.
Thompson, a Cambridge graduate, was appointed a professor of Biology at University College, Dundee (which was at that time still an independent institution) in 1884, at the young age of 25. In 1917, he moved to St Andrews to take up the post of Professor of Natural History, a post he retained until his death in 1948. Thompson’s academic career at the two institutions spanned an amazing 64 years!
Catherine Carstairs, a local to St Andrews, was a student at St Andrews from 1929 to 1932. Included in her papers (ms38683/1/1) are her notebooks from her time as an undergraduate. In her second year Catherine took Natural Sciences. She kept her notes from her classes in Geology and Botany but it was her notes from her Zoology class, taught by D’Arcy Wentworth Thompson, that caught our attention.
Her lecture notes include delightful diagrams from D’Arcy’s lectures, reminiscent of the illustrations in On Growth and Form:
The notes also include a diagram of a bird (Avis), which Catherine perhaps based on the bird skeleton D’Arcy is pictured with in the iconic image of him.
The obituary for D’Arcy in The Times called him ‘one of the last of the Great Orators’. David Burt, former student of D’Arcy’s and Lecturer in Zoology at St Andrews, in his recollections said of D’Arcy
Generations of students passed through his hands and the same pellucid style and learning that characterized all he wrote and said turned his courses of lectures into an inspiring and liberal education.
Catherine graduated with an MA (with second class honours in Classics) in 1932 and became a history teacher. Catherine’s connection with D’Arcy continued through her husband, the sculptor Alfred Forrest. Forrest corresponded with D’Arcy (above) regarding the bronze bust he was commissioned to make for D’Arcy. David Burt, later commissioned Forrest to create a memorial bust of D’Arcy, now held in the University’s Museum Collections.
Catherine and Alfred Forrest treasured their connection with St Andrews. They left their estate to the benefit of postgraduate students in History and Art. As former residents of Burnwynd on the Lade Braes, they named the trust set up under the terms of Catherine’s will Burnwynd History and Art Ltd. The trust is responsible for the award of grants to support work by registered students of the University on the local history of St Andrews and the History of Art. It makes its awards each May.
Principal Archives Assistant