Professor Brian G. Gardiner PPLS (1932-2021)

Published on

Above - Linnean Society Past Presidents, left to right: Professor Gordon McGregor Reid PPLS, Professor Sam Berry PPLS, Professor Brian G. Gardiner PPLS and Professor David Cutler PPLS.

Brian G. Gardiner

Brian G. Gardiner (Courtesy N. Gardiner)

It is with much sadness that we write of the passing of Professor Brian G. Gardiner PPLS on 22 January 2021 from acute respiratory failure. Brian was a good friend of the Society and its Fellows for many years, and in many guises.

Born in 1932, Brian’s academic career began at Queen Elizabeth College (which later merged with King’s College London), where he would go on to become Professor of Palaeontology. He was interested in the anatomy, taxonomy and evolution of fishes, particularly actinopterygians (ray-finned fishes). Two fossil fish genera are named for him: Gardinerichthys and Gardinerpiscis, both from the Permian period. Brian made an impact on many areas of taxonomy, from describing seven new genera and species of palaeoniscids (early ray-finned fishes that flourished from the Silurian to the late Cretaceous), to his vocal and unstinting support of phylogenetic systematics (cladistics). Brian, along with other colleagues, was instrumental in bringing cladistics to a wider audience with the now infamous salmon-lungfish-cow correspondence in the pages of Nature, which began in 1978 and continued for nearly three years, through until late 1981.

Brian also investigated the perpetrators of the infamous Piltdown Man hoax of 1912 (thought to be 'the missing link').

Professor Brian G. Gardiner, President of the Linnean Society (1994-97)

Professor Brian G. Gardiner, President of the Linnean Society (1994-97) (© The Linnean Society of London)

His impact on the Linnean Society was just as great. He was admitted as a Fellow in June 1968, and in 1971 became a member of the Society’s Council. In 1974, botanist Professor Irene Manton PPLS became the Society’s first female President, and Brian was asked to become Zoological Secretary, a role which he oversaw until 1980. Brian himself said that Irene encouraged him to put together a newsletter to keep the Fellowship informed, which he did, until 1981. It was soon resolved that a more substantial newsletter was needed; in 1983 the matter was agreed upon by Council, and in early 1984 the first issue of The Linnean appeared, with Brian as Editor. The first issue included an article on the admission of the first women Fellows. Brian would oversee the Editorship of The Linnean (with the assistance of Dr Mary Morris FLS) until 2013.

During this time, Brian was also elected as President of the Linnean Society (1994–97). He reintroduced the tradition of wearing ‘the Society’s tricorn hat’ when admitting new Fellows—something that perhaps paints a picture of his humour and fondness for the Society and Fellowship.

Gina Douglas, Honorary Archivist, was Librarian when Brian was President and fondly remembers:


We could always hear Brian coming up the stairs to the Library from his characteristic gait, and the accompanying low whistling.

A longer celebration of Professor Brian G. Gardiner PPLS will appear in an upcoming issue of The Linnean.