Quoy, Jean-René-Constant

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(A. Maillé, Vendee, France, 10 November 1790; d. St.-Jean-de-Liversay. France, 4 July 1869)


Quoy is best known to science for the zoological collections he brought back to France in his capacity as naturalist-voyager in the French navy. The eldest child in a large family, he was the son of Jean Quoy, a surgeon, and Louise Arsonneau. For several generations there had been surgeons in the family—even his grandmother had become a surgeon in 1760. To escape the dangers of the civil war in hie Vendée, Quoy was sent to his aunt and grandfather at Luche. In 1806, at age sixteen, he entered the School of Naval Medicine at nearby Rocheport. Beginning in 1807, he served as a surgeon on vessels engaged in wartime missions. On the mission of the Loire to regain the He de Bourbon (now Réunion), he collected and described natural history specimens at the request of the Rochefort Council of Health. This mission awakened his interest in natural history. In 1814 Quoy defended a Latin dissertation, Epistolae dominae de nonulllis pavoribus effectihus, and received the M.D. at Montpellier, although he had never studied there.

At the end of the Napoleonic Wars, Quoy was named surgeon-major of the corvette Uranie, under the command of Louis-Claude de Freycinet. The Uranie was to make a scientific voyage around the world, the main object of which was to determine the form of the terrestrial globe in the southern hemisphere. Also to be studied were magnetic and meteorological phenomena, natural history, ethnology, and geography. Freycinet established an important precedent for scientific voyages by insisting that all scientific work be carried out by members of the navy rather than professional scholars. This stipulation produced a group of French naturalist-voyagers, members of the Naval Health Service, who brought back natural history materials to the scientists in Paris.

On the Uranie, Quoy was placed in charge of zoology. His colleagues were J. P. Gaimard, second surgeon, who worked with Quoy on zoology, and Charles Gaudichaud-Beaupre, pharmacist, who handled botany. The corvette left France in September 1817 and visited Rio de Janeiro, the Cape of Good Hope, the Marianas, Hawaii, and the south of Australia. Returning to France via Cape Horn, the Vranie was shipwrecked in the Falkland Islands. All the collections were submerged, but parts were later recovered. A large portion of the bird and insect collections was lost. After the voyagers returned to France in November 1820, Quoy and Gaimard were called to Paris to publish the zoology of the voyage. Quoy then met Cuvier and Blainville, as well as the other scholars of the capital; and he and Gaimard presented several papers at the Academy of Sciences.

According to Cuvier, the zoology of the voyage, published in 1824, contained 254 animal sketches or anatomical studies, including 227 new species, as well as a textual description of eighty additional new species. The work was arranged according to Cuviefs classification, beginning with the cranium and a description of the Papuans. For each area Quoy and Gaimard discussed the geographical distribution and the habits of its animals. On the whole they confined themselves to detailed descriptions of their findings and avoided theorizing as much as possible.

After completing the zoology of the voyage, Quoy returned to Rochefort, where he won a competition for the professorship of anatomy at the School of Naval Medicine (1824). In 1826, despite poor health and an exemption from sea duty by virtue of his title of professor, Quoy sought the position of surgeon-major on the scientific voyage of the Astrolabe under the command of J.-S.-C Dumont d’Urville. Since Gaimard had already been appointed surgeon-major, Quoy was named zoologist. Pierre-Adolphe Lesson was adjoint for botany. The Astrolabe left Toulon in April 1826 and visited Australia, New Zealand, New Guinea, and several other nearby islands. Hoping to avoid losses like those incurred when the Uranie was shipwrecked, Quoy and Gaimard sent materials and sketches to Paris from each major stopover. Quoy carefully sketched and colored each object twice. Now aware that the mollusks and zoophytes most attracted the attention of the Paris zoologists, he concentrated on finding new species of these animals. Instead of merely collecting their shells, he sketched the entire animals as soon as possible in their natural colors. Quoy also particularly sought new and colorful fish for Cuvier’s Histoire des poissons.

After a three-year voyage, the Astrolabe returned to Marseilles in March 1829 with two living babirusas, the first in Europe. Again Quoy went to Paris to prepare the zoology of the voyage for publication. He had brought back over 4,000 sketches, many his own, depicting 1,200 different species. His descriptive work was admired by Cuvier for its patient analysis and accuracy of detail. The materials were deposited at the Muséun d’Histoire Nam relic, where naturalists made exact catalogs. Quoy worked with Cuvier several hours a day on their classification.

The zoology of the Astrolabe voyage was published in four volumes plus an atlas from 1830 to 1832. In keeping with the expanded knowledge of comparative anatomy, the descriptions and sketches contained many more anatomical details than those of the Urenie voyage. For each animal Quoy gave all its dimensions and a long list of nomenclature. He gave special attention to the age. sex, and form of the sternum of each bird. The mollusks were presented with detailed anatomies, many made by Blainville. In the first section of the zoology, which dealt with anthropology. Quoy and Gaimard divided the natives of Polynesia into two races, the yellow and the black. Their findings, they said, supported Gall’s ideas on the influence of climate on the physical constitution of man.

Quoy was elected correspondent of the Academy of Sciences in May 1830. In 1832, when Cuvier died, Blainville took his chair of comparative anatomy at the Muséum d’ Histoire Naturelle, hoping that Quoy would succeed him as professor of mollusks and zoophytes at the museum. But in the wake of a series of complex intrigues, Quoy, who was the nominee of the museum, lost to Achille Valenciennes, the candidate supported by the Academy of Sciences. Quoy, who hated intrigue, never recovered from having lost this opportunity. He left natural history and henceforth devoted all his energies to the Naval Health Service. As first physician-in-chief, he served at Toulon and Brest until 1848, when he was named inspector general, the highest officer in the Health Service. He retired in 1858.

Quoy never married. He was known as a religious, modest, studious, somewhat austere man, with a strong sense of duty and of hierarchy.


I. Original Works. Quoy and Gaimard published the zoology of their two voyages: Voyage autour du monde … execute sur les corvettes de S.M. l’Uranie et la Physicienne, pendant les années 1817, 1818, 1819 et 1820, public par M. Louis de Freycinet, … Zoologie, 2 vols. atals (Paris, 1824), and Voyage de decouvertes de l’Astrolabe exécuté par ordre du roi, pendant les annees 1826, 1827, 1828, 1829, sous le commandant de M. J. Dumont d’Urville. Zoologie, 4 vols, plus 2-vol. atlas (Paris, 1830–1832). Most of Quoy’s memoirs were written with Gaimard. A list is in Royal Society Catalogue of Scientific Papers, IV, 66–67; as well as in Charles Berger and Henri Rey. Répertoire bibliographique des travaque des médecins francçise, 1698–1873 (Paris, 1874), published as an app. to Archives de médecine navale, 31 (1874).

A very complete list of MSS is in the Noël thesis (see below). 201–209. The most important MS collection is “Dossier Quoy” at the Bibliothèque Municipale de La Rochellc. For an important letter from Quoy to J. Desjardins de Maurice describing his relations with Cuvier and other scholars, sec E. T. Hamy. “Notes intimes sur Georges Cuvier, redigees en 1836, par Dr.Quoy pour son ami J. Desjardins de Maurice,” in Archives de médecine navale, 86 (1906), 450–475.

II. Secondary Literature. Yvan Delteil collected all the MS sources for a life of Quoy but died (1957) before completing his work; he left his materials to Jean-Pierre Noël, who wrote an M.D. dissertation on Quoy: J. R. C. Quoy (1790–1869). Inspecteur general du Service de sante de la marine. Médecin-naturaliste-navigateur. Sa vie—son milieu—son oeuvre (Bordeaux, 1960). It has very complete information on Quoy’s life but lacks a satisfactory analysis of his scientific achievements. There is a good bibliography of secondary sources relating to Quoy and his milieu, 197–200. Particularly to be noted are C. Maher, Éloge de J. R. C. Quoy (Rochefort, 1869), also in Archives de medecine navale, 12 (1869), 402–422; and Yvan Delteil, “L’enfance de J.-R.-C. Quoy,” in Histoire de la medecine, 6 (1956), no. 11, 21–34.

Toby A. Appel