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Thomas Graves (1802–1856)

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Thomas Graves (1802 – 28 August 1856) was an officer of the Royal Navy and naturalist who worked extensively in the Mediterranean.



Thomas Graves was born in Belfast in 1802 and entered the Navy in 1816. In 1827 he was promoted to lieutenant in HMS Adventure, under the command of Philip Parker King and surveying on the South American station. A survey of Lough Neagh under the Right Honourable the Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty followed and was prosecuted in 1831 to 1832.[1] Survey work in the Mediterranean began in 1836 when as lieutenant-commander he was given charge of his own ship, HMS Mastiff.[2] His next Mediterranean command was in 1841 on HMS Beacon.[3][4] Thomas Abel Brimage Spratt was serving officer on both ships and on the Beacon he was joined by Edward Forbes and William Thompson.[5]

Early in 1841 his friend Captain Graves, of H.M. surveying ship, the Beacon, then laid up at Malta, paid a visit to Belfast. Acting in conformity with that devotion to science by which he had been ever distinguished. Captain Graves took measures to obtain from the Admiralty, for Mr. Edward Forbes—the late (alas ! that we should have to speak of him as the late) eminent Professor of Natural History in the University of Edinburgh—the honorary appointment of Naturalist to his vessel, then about to proceed to the Aegean. A survey of the Island of Candia was at that time in contemplation. On his arrival in Belfast, Captain Graves kindly invited Mr. Thompson to join the party, and succeeded in inducing him to do so, as a most welcome guest.[6]

Forbes converted every one on board, officers and men alike, into ardent naturalists. They dredged successfully at a greater depth (230 fathoms) than anyone had done before and Forbes later defined, in the Aegean, eight zones of depth characterised by peculiar assemblages of animals.[7][8]

After some months of surveying and dredging amongst the Isles of Greece, the Beacon was ordered to the coast of Lycia for the purpose of conveying to England the carved marbles and inscriptions found in the ruins of Xanthus by Sir Charles Fellows.[7]

His next tour of duty was as captain of HMS Ceylon between 1846 and 1847, where he became reacquainted with Robert Templeton and then he returned to the Mediterranean as captain of HMS Volage.[9] In 1853 he was made Superintendent of Ports at Malta.[10] Graves died in Malta on 28 August 1856, from a wound inflicted by Maltese boatman Giuseppe Meli. Meli was later tried for Graves's murder.

Species named to honour GravesEdit

  • Pompilus gravesi Alexander Henry Haliday, 1837 Descriptions etc., of the insects collected by Captain P.P. King, R.N., F.R.S. in the survey of the straits of Magellan.Descriptions etc. of the hymenoptera. Transactions of the Linnean Society of London 7: 316–331.[4] includes descriptions of other new species collected by Graves
  • Trochus gravesi.[8]
  • Cascellius gravesi John Curtis, 1839 X. Descriptions, &c. of the Insects collected by Captain P. P. KING, R.N. F.R.S. & L.S. in the Survey of the Straits of Magellan.Transactions of the Linnean Society of London Volume 18, Issue 2, pages 181–205, [5]


Thomas Graves R.N. was a Member of the Belfast Natural History Society and an Associate Royal Geographical Society.

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ ' Ligar, 1834 Ordnance Survey Memoirs of Ireland – Parishes of County Antrim VII 1832 – 1838 [1]
  2. ^ "HMS Mastiff (from William Loney RN – Victorian naval surgeon.Life and times".
  3. ^ ' John Knox Laughton, Spratt, Thomas Abel Brimage Dictionary of National Biography, 1885–1900, Volume 53 s:Spratt, Thomas Abel Brimage (DNB00)
  4. ^ "HMS Beacon (from William Loney RN – Victorian naval surgeon.Life and times".
  5. ^ ' William Thompson, 1856, The Natural History of Ireland Volume 4: Mammalia, reptiles and fishes. Also, invertebrata Henry G. Bohn, London
  6. ^ ' Robert Patterson, 1856, Memoir of the Late William Thompson, Esq., President of the Natural and Philosophical Society of Belfast in The Natural History of Ireland Volume 4: Mammalia, reptiles and fishes. Also, invertebrata Henry G. Bohn, London
  7. ^ a b Founders of oceanography and their work; an introduction to the science of the sea New York, Longmans, Green & Co.; London, E. Arnold & Co. [2]
  8. ^ a b Forbes, E., 1844 Report on the Mollusca and Radiata of the Aegean Sea, and on their distribution, considered as bearing on geology. Report of the British Association for the Advancement of Science for 1843. pp. 129–193 [3]
  9. ^ "HMS Volage (from William Loney RN – Victorian naval surgeon.Life and times".
  10. ^ "Naval Career (from William Loney RN – Victorian naval surgeon.Life and times".