Wynne-Edwards (left) and colleagues (including 
Sandy Anderson, right, Baffin Island, 1950. 

Wynne-Edwards was born in Leeds and graduated in zoology at Oxford in 1927. After a brief stint studying crustaceans and fish at the Marine Biological Laboratory in Plymouth, he lectured at Bristol University before moving to Montreal in 1930, where he taught at McGill University until 1946. During his voyages across the Atlantic, Wynne-Edwards established himself as a pioneer in marine ornithology studying the seasonal migrations of seabirds, for which he won the Walker Prize of the Boston Natural History Society, an award he was to win for a second time for later work on the post-glacial distribution of plants.  
After the War, Wynne-Edwards was appointed to the Regius Chair of Natural History at Aberdeen, a post he held until his retirement in 1974. During this time he built up one of the most respected zoology departments in the world. He also established an upland research group, an ecological field station on the Ythan Estuary and was Chairman of the Natural Environment Research Council.
In the early days, he actively pursued various projects and expeditions to the arctic as well as teaching. However, his book Animal Dispersion in Relation to Social Behaviour (1962) was his most important scientific achievement. In this, he  developed his controversial ideas of group selection, and spawned a generation of research around the world. A man of quiet but utterly determined personality, he was an inspiring teacher and outstanding naturalist, and one of the 20th century's intellectual giants of biology.


Interviews with Wynne-Edwards, 1985.
MS 3620/1/36
 & MS 3620/1/38 

The following excerpt is from one of two lengthy interviews with Wynne-Edwards in the archives. 

"The Zoology Museum contains many tragedies, some of them go back to Macgillivray's time. William Macgillivray was appointed professor in 1841, and died still in office in 1852. Like Ritchie, he came here from what was then the museum of the Royal College of Surgeons in Edinburgh, where he had spent many years but he was a graduate of King's College and he came back to Aberdeen to the chair in Marischal College. His period in Edinburgh overlapped the time when Charles Darwin was a medical student there and Charles Darwin found him out and got to know him and had an extremely high opinion of him, which is recorded in Darwin's autobiography. He was also discovered by the famous French-American ornithologist, John James Audubon, the man who produced the elephant folio volumes of hand coloured plates of the Birds of North America, which is one of the most valued items in the world of books at the present time. Copies when they came on the market always change hands in seven figure numbers of pounds - passed the million pound mark, a good many years ago. Macgillivray spent quite a lot of time canvassing support in Europe and especially in England, in Scotland. He [Audubon] needed to have subscribers and he went round with his folio of plates which grew as time went on and obtained subscriptions from wealthy people who would buy the book when it was printed. He also eventually had it printed in Britain. He spent several years in Edinburgh because he had found Macgillivray there, he and Macgillivray and their wives and families got on extremely well together although people of very diverse background and he found in MacGillivray a professional zoologist with a vast knowledge of ornithology who in fact wrote a twelve volume work which came out to accompany the plates. Plates in the elephant folio, which means the size of a large newspaper opened out, was dictated by the fact that all the birds were shown at natural size and the wild turkey required that much height in order to get it an a page. MacGillivray wrote these twelve volumes which were published simultaneously and were called Ornithological Biography. They didn't appear under Macgillivray's name. He was a very kind hearted but rather self-effacing person and there's no acknowledgement of the fact that they were written by him but someone like me that got to know MacGillivray's style very well could easily tell that they were his compilation with very little from the person to whom they were ascribed, who was Audubon."  


Clyde Inlet, expedition tents, c.20th May 1950 Mount Eglinton, 1950 

 


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