Wallich, George Charles

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(b. Calcutta, India, November 1815; d. Marylebone, London, England, 31 March 1899), medicine, zoology.

Wallich was the eldest son of Nathaniel Wallich, superintendent of the botanical gardens at Calcutta from 1815 to 1850. He was sent to Beverley (Yorkshire) and, later, to Reading Grammar School. After attending the arts classes at King’s College, Aberdeen, he received an M. D. at Edinburgh University in 1836. Ironically, a classmate was Edward Forbes, proponent of the azoic theory, which held that the absolute depth to which life extended in the seas was 300 fathoms.

Wallich entered the Indian army in 1838, served in the Sutlej (1842) and Punjab (1847) campaigns with distinction, and was field surgeon during the Sonthal rebellion (1855 – 1856). He was invalided to England in 1857 and spent two years recuperating on Guernsey before settling in Kensington.

In 1860 Wallich shipped as naturalist on H.M.S. Bulldog, under the command of Sir Francis Leopold McClintock, to survey the proposed north Atlantic telegraph route between Great Britain and America (2 July – 11 November). A single sounding during October in 1,260 fathoms (lat. 59° 27’N., long. 26°41’W.) brought up thirteen living starfishes (Ophiocomae) from the bottom—incontrovertible, although at the time generally disregarded, evidence that “The conditions prevailing at great depths …are not incompatible with the maintenance of animal life” as well as “…the inference that the deep sea has its own special fauna.” Although he wrote extensively on this discovery, the majority of Wallich’s scientific publications dealt with the Protozoa. He entered the Bathybius controversy with trenchancy, correctly opposing Huxley, who in the course of examining a ten-year-old collection of sea-bottom samples, found a gelatinous substance that he took to be a primitive form of life and named after Ernst Haeckel. The substance was later determined by J. Y. Buchanan to be a precipitate of calcium sulfate caused by the alcohol in which the samples were preserved.

The year before his death, Wallich was awarded the gold medal of the Linnean Society of London “in recognition of his researches into the problems connected with bathybial and pelagic life.”


I. Original Works. Wallich’s writings include Notes on the Presence of Animal Life at Vast Depths in the Sea (London, 1860); “Results of Soundings in the North Atlantic.” in Annals and Magazine of Natural History, 3rd ser., 6 (1860), 457 – 458; “On the Existence of Animal Life at Great Depths in the Sea,” ibid., 7 (1861), 396 – 399; The North Atlantic Sea-Bed (London, 1862); “On the Value of the Distinctive Characters in Amoeba,” in Annals and Magazine of Natural History, 3rd ser., 12 (1863), 111 – 151; “On the Vital Functions of the Deep-Sea Protozoa,” in Monthly Microscopical Journal, 1 (1869), 32 – 41; “On the Radiolaria as an Order of the Protozoa,” in Popular Science Review, 17 (1878), 267 – 281, 368 – 382; “The Threshold of Evolution,” ibid., 19 (1880), 143 – 155; and “Critical Observations on Prof. Leidy’s ‘Freshwater Rhizopods of North America,’ and Classification of the Rhizopods in General,” in Annals and Magazine of Natural History, 5th ser., 16 (1885), 317 – 334, 453 – 473.

II. Secondary Literature. See “Surgeon-Major G. C. Wallich, M.D.:” in Nature. 60 (4 May 1899), 13; and obituaries in Indian Medical Gazette, 34 (1899), 227 – 228; Lancet (8 Apr. 1899), 997; Journal of the Royal Microscopical Society (1899), 263 – 264; and Transactions and Proceedings of the Botanical Society of Edinburgh, 21 (1900), 222 – 224.

Daniel Merriman