MC:F35 Papers of Robert William Theodore Gunther
Robert William Theodore Gunther FRS (1869–1940; D 1888–93, F 1897–1928) was a zoologist, museum curator and historian of science, born 23 August 1869 in Surbiton, Surrey. He was the only child of the zoologist Albert Charles Lewis Gotthilf Günther (1830–1914) and Roberta, who died ten days after he was born. Gunther occasionally spelled himself Günther, though Gunther will be used in this catalogue.
He attended University College School, and developed an interest in botany when his family moved to Kew in 1883. In 1887 he successfully applied for a Demyship at Magdalen College, Oxford, taking it up the following year. Under his tutor, Edward Chapman, he developed a lifelong love of Oxford and its scientific history. He achieved a First in Morphology (now called zoology) in 1892. The University’s Biological Scholarship allowed him to spend 2 years at the Marine Zoological Research Laboratory in Naples. He married Amy (1868–1964) in 1900. Magdalen appointed him a lecturer in natural science in 1894, then a tutor and fellow 1896–1920, then a research fellow until 1928.
While at Magdalen he supervised the Daubeny laboratory, lectured in biology, was librarian, published works relating to college history and was curator of the Botanic Garden. By 1908 he had come to disagree with the College’s attitude towards science funding, and became preoccupied with establishing a science museum. In 1917 he decided upon the restoration of the Old Ashmolean building to become a museum, which later saw the foundation of the Museum of the History of Science in 1924. In 1935 the museum was formally created. He was appointed Oxford’s first reader in the history of science in 1934, which he retained without stipend, and later resigned from in protest.
After a week in hospital with gastric disorder, he died in his sleep of heart disease on 9 March 1940. His elder son, Eustace Rolfe, died a couple of months later when he was shot by a special constable whilst making an inspection of Neatishead Hall. His younger son Albert Everard Gunther (1904–1998; C 1922–25) was an important benefactor of his father’s museum, and his biographer (1967).
The majority of Gunther’s papers were presented to the college by his son Albert, and can be found in MC:P233. Other parts of his papers can be found in the archives of the Museum of the History of Science, Oxford. This collection contains papers related to Gunther that came to the archives by other means. The provenance of all them is unknown, except for MC:F35/MS4/1, which was transferred from the Library to the archives in October 2014 as Accession No. 14/151.
- Gunther published extensively between 1920 and 1937, mostly at his own expense. His most notable publications were:
- Early Science in Oxford (14 volumes, 1920–45),
- Oxford Gardens (1912),
- Early British Botanists and their Gardens (1922)
- Astrolabes of the World (1932).
- Roger Hutchins, ‘Gunther, Robert William Theodore (1869–1940)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004
- P.V.M. Benecke, ‘The Magdalen College Record 1934’ (Magdalen College Association 1934), pages 107–108.
Catalogued May 2011 by Sean Rippington; recatalogued in October 1914.
The collection is divided into the following series:
MC:F35/MS2 Papers relating to College History
MC:F35/MS3 Papers relating to Botanical History
MC:F35/MS4 Papers relating to former pupils of Gunther
MC:F35/P1 Photographs owned by Gunther