Newport, George

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(b. 4 July 1803, Canterbury, England; d. 7 April 1854, London, England)

entomology, natural history.

Newport was the son of a wheelwright and after receiving a simple schooling, he became an apprentice to his father’s trade at age fourteen. During the next nine years he read widely in many subjects and by dint of tireless application extended his scanty education. From an early age he had been interested in insect life, and now he began serious entomological studies that were to continue throughout his life. He took advantage of the Canterbury Philosophical and Literary Institution and made liberal use of its library, lectures, and natural history collections. In 1825 and 1826 he gave lectures there on mechanics, and in 1826 he became general exhibitor of the museum when the institution’s new building was opened. Among his various activities were lectures and demonstrations on entomology, and he donated many specimens of British insects, which he himself had preserved.

During the two-year tenure of this post, Newport became acquainted with William Henry Weekes, a surgeon of Sandwich, and in 1828 he began an apprenticeship with him. Throughout his early life he suffered with him. Throughout his early life he suffered great privations and was at times dependent upon friends for financial support, debts which he in later life honorably liquidated. After his apprenticeship Newport enrolled in the University of London (now University College, London), on 16 January 1832. In 1835 he was admitted a licentiate of the Society of Apothecaries of London and a member of the Royal College of Surgeons of England, which at that time was the usual combination of diplomas for medical practice. Newport held the post of house surgeon to the Chichester Infirmary until January 1837, when he established himself in practice gradually declined; and when in 1847 he was awarded a pension from the civil list of £100 per annum for his contributions to natural history, he was able to devote all his time to research.

Newport never married, and as his habits were of the most frugal kind he was able to subsist on this limited income. His extensive researches were rewarded with several honors. On 11 December 1843 he was elected a fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons of England, of which he was one of the original 300 fellows, and from 1844 to 1845 he was president of the Entomological Society. On 26 March 1846 he became a fellow of the Royal Society, and at the time of his death he was a Member of Council. He was also a fellow of the Linnean Society and of several foreign natural history societies. He contracted an illness—from which he died—in the marshy ground west of London while collecting research material.

Newport was a man of the strictest honesty, both in his scientific studies and in his dealings with the world. He had a nervous temperament and a morbid sensitivity to criticism which caused him to make enemies readily. He possessed unwearied patience and remarkable digital dexterity, evidenced in his dissections, demonstrations, and insect preparations; he could draw equally well with either hand; and his powers of observation were acute. He was exceedingly zealous and industrious and was interested only in the advancement of science. His services were commemorated in a public monument in Kensal Green Cemetery, erected by fellows of the Royal Society and of the Linnean Society.

Newport’s contributions to biology lay mostly within the field of entomology and the embryology of the Insecta and Amphibia. His first papers—sufficiently important and original to appear in the Philosophical Transactions—were on the bumblebee, butterflies, and moths; and he investigated the nervous system, respiration, and temperautre of these and other insects. He also published many subsequent papers on insect structure, which included an important survey of Insecta (1839). For his essay on the turnip fly (1838) he was awarded a medal by the Agricultural Society of Saffron Walden. Newport’s most outstanding contribution to biology was his discovery that during fertilization in higher animals impregnation of the ovum by the spermatozoon is by penetration and not just by contact as previously thought. For his work on the frog (1851) he was awarded the Royal Medal of the Royal Society. He was also the first to observe the coincidence between the first plane of cleavage in the egg made by the spermatozoon at its place of entry and the median plane of the body of the embryo and thus of the adult body (1854).


I. Original Works. A list of Newport’s writings (thirty-five items produced during a period of twenty-two years) is in Proceedings of the Royal Society, 7 (1855), 281–283. They were published mainly in periodicals; his excellent article on Insecta appeared in Robert B. Todd, ed., The Cyclopedia of Anatomy and Physiology, II (London, 1836–1839), 835–994, and his prize essay on the turnip fly was a monograph, Observations on the Anatomy, Habits, and Economy of “Athalia centrifoliae”, the Saw-fly of the Turnip, and on the Means Adopted for the Prevention of Its Ravages (London, 1838). His Catalogue of the Myriapoda in the British Museum (London, 1856) appeared posthumously. “Of Newport’s earlier papers those on Sphinx are outstanding; “On the Nervous System of the Sphinx Ligustri”, in Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, pt. 2 (1832), 383–398; and “On the Nervous System of the Sphinx During the Latter Stages of Its Pupa and Imago States”, ibid., pt. 2 (1834), 389–423.

Newport’s classic papers on embryology are “On the Impregnation of the Ovum in Amphibia”, Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, 1st ser., 141 (1851), 169–242; “On the Impregnation of the Ovum in Amphibia (2nd Series Revised), and on the Direct Agency of the Spermatozoon,”, ibid., 143 (1853), 233–290; and “Researches on the Impregnation of the Ovum in the Amphibia,” ibid., 144 (1854), 229–244; this article contains material selected and arranged by G. V. Ellis from the author’s MSS after his death.

II. Secondary Literature. There are only a few brief biographical notices on Newport; the best are proceedings of the Linnean Society of London, 2 (1855), 309–312; Dictionary of National Biography, 14 (1844), 357–358; Gentleman’s Magazine (June 1854), 660–661; Medical Times and Gazette (London), n.s. 8 (1854), 392–393; Proceedings of the Royal Society, 7 (1855), 278–285; and Plarr’s Lives of the Fellows of the Royal College of Surgeons of England, 2 (1930), 95–96. An account of his epitaph is in Lancet (1855), 2 , 554.

Newport’s embryological investigations are discussed in F. J. Cole, Early Theories of Sexual Generation (Oxford, 1930), 193–196, and in A. W. Meyer, The Rise of Embryology (Stanford, 1939), 188–190

Edwin Clarke

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