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Thomas Barbour (1884 – 1946) was an Americanmarker herpetologist. From 1927 until 1946, he was director of the Museum of Comparative Zoologymarker founded in 1859 by Louis Agassiz at Harvard Universitymarker in Cambrdgemarker, Massachusettsmarker.

Life and career

Thomas Barbour, the eldest of four brothers, was born in 1884 to Colonel William Barbour, and his wife, Julia Adelaide Sprague. Colonel Barbour was founder and president of The Linen Thread Company, Inc., a successful thread manufacturing enterprise having much business in the United Statesmarker, Irelandmarker, and Scotlandmarker. Although born on Martha's Vinyardmarker, Massachusettsmarker, where the family was spending the summer, Barbour grew up in Monmouthmarker, New Jerseymarker, where one of his younger brothers, William Warren Barbour, entered the political arena, eventually serving as U.S. Senator from New Jersey from 1931 to 1937 and again from 1938 to 1943.

At age fifteen, Thomas Barbour was taken to visit Harvard Universitymarker, which, entranced by its Museum of Comparative Zoologymarker, he later attended. At Harvard, he studied under Alexander Agassiz, son of Louis Agassiz. Having received his B.A., M.A., and Ph.D. from that university, Barbour joined the faculty in 1911 when his doctoral dissertation was published, and he took on the position of curator of reptiles and amphibians at the Museum of Comparative Zoology. Eventually he became the Alexander Agassiz Professor of Zoology and, in 1927, director of the museum. Although primarily interested in reptiles and amphibians, he also studied birds and insects, particularly butterflies. His biological interests, however, were remarkably diversified, and he is considered to be one of the last of a dying breed: a general naturalist.

His scientific travels took him through Africa, Asia, North America, South America, and Central America, among other regions. He particularly enjoyed Panamamarker, Costa Ricamarker, and Cubamarker, which he visited at length on at least thirty occasions beginning in 1908, generally staying in Soledad at the Harvard Botanical Gardens. Barbour served as custodian of these gardens form 1927 until his death in 1946. In his book, Naturalist in Cuba, Barbour writes, "I suspect that I am the only living American naturalist who has visited all parts of the island again and again, for I am not only a Cuban by adoption, but a devoted friend of the land and its people." In addition to the expected scientific discussion of the island's flora and fauna, Barbour provides a description of Cuban society and culture.

In 1923 and 1924, he was one of the scientists and financial benefactors who founded the Barro Colorado Islandmarker Laboratory in Panamamarker, location of the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institutemarker. The island, originally a hilltop, sits in the middle of Gatun Lakemarker, which was created when the Chagres Rivermarker was dammed during the Panama Canalmarker building project.

Along with better than 400 scholarly articles, Barbour wrote several books including the autobiographical Naturalist at Large (1943), Naturalist in Cuba (1945), A Naturalist's Scrapbook (1946), and That Vanishing Eden (1944), which explores the natural world of a remote, undeveloped Floridamarker.

In 1906, Barbour married Rosamond Pierce of Brookline, Massachusettsmarker. A two-year honeymoon took them through remote reaches of the Dutch East Indiesmarker, Indiamarker, Burmamarker, Javamarker, Chinamarker, and New Guineamarker with Barbour's wife helping him to photograph animals and collect specimens. Their union resulted in six children and eleven grandchildren. The family home was on Clarendon Street in Boston'smarker Back Baymarker, with summers spent in Beverly Farmsmarker, Massachusetts. After a brief illness, Thomas Barbour, who long had suffered from a heart condition, died in 1946.


  1. Barbour 1946. Dustjacket back flap.


  • Barbour, Thomas. Naturalist at Large. Little, Brown and Company; Boston, MA, 1943.
  • Barbour, Thomas. That Vanishing Eden: A Naturalist's Florida. Little, Brown, and Company (An Atlantic Monthly Press Book); Boston, MA, 1944.
  • Barbour, Thomas. A Naturalist in Cuba. Little, Brown and Company; Boston, MA, 1945.
  • Barbour, Thomas. A Naturalist's Scrapbook. Harvard University Press; Cambridge, MA, 1946.
  • Barbour, Thomas and Charles T. Ramsden. The Herpatology of Cuba (with an introduction by Rodolofo Ruibal). Society for the Study of Amphibians and Reptiles; Missouri, 2003. ISBN 0-916984-61-3.
  • Barbour, Thomas (nephew of Thomas Barbour). Our Families (Volumes 1 & 2). Self-printed. 1983.
  • Weeks, Edward. In Friendly Candor. Little, Brown and Company; Boston, MA, 1959.

See also

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