Albany Hancock (1806-1873)

Albany Hancock, older brother of John Hancock, was a highly respected and skilled anatomist and artist with wide-ranging zoological interests. He published more than seventy scientific papers, mainly on lesser-known groups of invertebrates, and had a large circle of correspondents including Charles Darwin, Richard Owen and Thomas Henry Huxley.

Together with Joshua Alder and a number of other naturalists, he founded the Natural History Society of Northumberland, Durham and Newcastle upon Tyne in 1829 and served on the council as an honorary curator. He was awarded an honorary membership of the Imperial and Royal Zoological and Botanical Society of Vienna and became a Fellow of the Linnean Society in 1862.

Albany Hancock, Nudibranchs and the Hancock Museum

Albany Hancock was born at the north end of the Tyne Bridge, Newcastle into a working class but well educated family who owned a saddler and ironmongery business. Albany’s father John, died young, but he had been an amateur naturalist and left the children a legacy of books and his collections of plants, insects and shells.

He went to school in Newcastle and eventually served as a clerk to Thomas Charter, a solicitor. After completing his training he worked in London but returned to Newcastle in 1830 where he set up his own business in an office over the shop of his friend Joshua Alder.

Hancock was unhappy in the role of solicitor, giving it up to study natural history full-time as his interest in marine biology and other zoological pursuits became paramount.

Albany began a study of the marine animals known as nudibranchs, in 1842, with Joshua Alder and by 1844 they had discovered and described two new genera and thirty-one new species. Their joint enterprise The Monograph of the British Nudibranchiate Mollusca published between 1844 and 1855 by the Ray Society in London brought them a world wide reputation. The descriptions and classification of the species were the joint work of Hancock and Alder but it was mainly Hancock who meticulously drew and coloured the plates for the monograph.

The original watercolour drawings were later presented to the Society after his death and displayed in the Hancock Museum for many years. They suffered fading due to the effects of light and were removed. Recently some of the watercolours were conserved and framed for display in an exhibition in 2006.

Albany Hancock was regarded as a mild mannered man with a kind and gentle disposition, although a little studious and serious.   He never married but lived with his brother John and sister Mary Jane, also both unmarried, at 4 St Mary’s Terrace, opposite the Hancock Museum.

In 1891, the museum then known as the ‘New Museum’ of the Natural History Society of Northumberland, Durham and Newcastle-upon-Tyne was named the Hancock Museum as a lasting memorial to two important and influential local naturalists Albany and John Hancock.

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