William Elford Leach

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William Elford Leach (born February 2, 1790 in Plymouth , † August 26, 1836 in the Palazzo San Sebastiano near Tortona ) was a British zoologist and marine biologist .


At the age of twelve he went to Exeter to school to anatomy and chemistry to study. At that time he was already collecting samples from Plymouth Sound and along the Devon coast. At the age of 17 he began studying medicine at St Bartholomew's Hospital in London and finally completed his training after further studies at the University of Edinburgh and the University of St Andrews .

His old interest in zoology revived (circa 1813), after which he became assistant librarian in the zoological department of the British Museum . During this time he was busy organizing and sorting out collections. Many of them have received little or no attention since they were brought to the museum by Hans Sloane . Some time later he got the post of assistant head of the natural history department and became an expert on molluscs and crustaceans . Furthermore, he dealt with insects , mammals and birds .

Leach's naming was a bit strange: He named 27 species after his friend John Cranch (1758–1816), who collected many African species and later died on the HMS Congo . In 1818 he named nine genera after Caroline and variants of this name, possibly his wife's name.

In 1817 he became a member of the Royal Society in London and in 1818 he was elected a member of the Leopoldina . He suffered a nervous breakdown in 1821 , presumably due to overwork. In March 1822 he left the museum and was taken to the mainland by his older sister, where he was supposed to recover. They traveled through France , Italy and Greece . North of Genoa , in the Palazzo San Sebastiano near Tortona , he died of cholera .

Initial descriptions

He founded the family of swimming beetles (Dytiscidae) LEACH in the zoological system in 1815 and is u. a. First describer of the mussel Cristaria plicata LEACH 1814.


The bird species Dacelo leachii was named in his honor .


  • The zoological miscellany. E. Nodder & Son, London 1814-17.
  • Malacostraca podophthalmata Britanniae or Descriptions of such British species of the Linnean genus Cancer as have their eyes elevated on footstalks. Sowerby, London 1815-75 (pm)
  • Systematic Catalog of the specimens of the indigenous mammalia and birds that are preserved in the British Museum. London 1816.
  • On the genera and species of Eproboscideous insects and on the arrangement of Oestrideous insects. Neill, Edinburgh 1817.
  • Molluscorum Britanniæ synopsis. A synopsis of the mollusca of Great Britain. (written 1820), van Voorst, London 1852 (pm)