George Parker Bidder III

George Parker Bidder was the MBA’s president between 1939 and 1945, serving as the Association’s fourth president. His predecessor was Lord Moyne, and he was followed by Sir James Gray. (For more on the MBA’s presidents, please see here.)

Early years

At the MBA

The Company of Biologists

The SZN and Parker's Hotel

Bidder's poetry

Scientific contributions

The Bidder Family

Further resources

Early years

George Parker Bidder III was born on 21 May 1863 in London. He went to school in Brighton (King’s Preparatory School) and Harrow School. While still in school, he began to demonstrate a great aptitude for poetry, winning the Head Master’s Prize for English Verse in 1881. Upon finishing school, Bidder went to University College, London where he attended lectures by E. Ray Lankester who was then was Jordell Professor of Zoology. After one year, he moved to Trinity College, Cambridge as an Exhibitioner and Mathematics and Science, and took the Natural Sciences Tripos in 1884 and 1886. In 1887, 1888 and 1889, Bidder conducted research at the Stazione Zoologica in Naples (SZN), occupying the Cambridge table. (The SNZ, as did the MBA, operated a system of table occupation to encourage visitors to make use of the laboratories’ facilities. The MBA still has this system in place for its members; see here.)

Over the following years (1890, 1891 and 1893), Bidder would continue his research in Naples but as the guest of Anton Dohrn, the Stazione’s founder. Bidder's principal area of work was sponges and he carried out much experimental work; however, he did not publish his results immediately until much later.

At the MBA

Bidder visited the MBA’s laboratory in Plymouth in 1890, but did not return to work there until 1893. There, he continued his work on sponges and met E. J. Allen who was working on Floridian sponge fisheries. Allen called upon Bidder for assistance and what followed was an article by Bidder on the improvement of sponge fisheries in the Journal of the Marine Biological Association (available here). The article is noteworthy for being ahead of its time, according to F. S. Russell (JMBA 34, 1955), who noted Bidder’s recommendation that divers use “water spectacles”.

After Bidder’s father’s death in 1896, Bidder became occupied with looking after the family’s diverse businesses, including a colliery, a dry dock and a Danish gas company.

In 1899, Bidder married Marion Greenwood and the couple moved to Plymouth. The same year, Bidder became a member of the MBA Council, the governing body of the Association. (See here for information on the MBA’s current Council.) Bidder and his wife would stay in Plymouth until 1902 when they would move to Cambridge.

After his return to Cambridge and for about 10 years thereafter, Bidder was ill with tuberculosis and was all but unable to work at a microscope. He instead spent time reading and studying geology and coastal erosion. Around this time, he also became more and more involved in the running of the MBA, being especially helpful with regards to ships. In 1902, he purchased a trawler (Khedive, renamed Huxley) to loan to the MBA so that the Association could carry out work in the North Sea and English Channel for the International Council for the Exploration of the Seas. When the ship was sold in 1907, the profit was used to establish the MBA's Ray Lankester Investigatorship, which is still running today. (See here.)

Overall, Bidder’s financial contributions to the MBA allowed the Association and the Citadel Hill Laboratory to develop, and these were greatly acknowledged in the MBA’s annual reports of the period.

The Company of Biologists

Bidder’s attentions were, characteristically, not limited to a single enterprise, and in 1925, Bidder founded the Company of Biologists, in order to save the Journal of Experimental Biology from bankruptcy. The journal had started in 1923, but was in financial straits by 1925. Bidder therefore decided to purchase the journal and set up the Company of Biologists to run it. Bidder designed the seal for the Company with the Egyptian hieroglyphs“life” (ankh) and “truth” (ma’at). The symbols are surrounded by the phrase “caedenti cedit” which translates as “Truth yields to investigation.” Given the Company's subsequent success, when Bidder purchased the Quarterly Journal of Microscopical Science (today the Journal of Cell Science) in 1946, he donated it to the Company. The two journals purchased by Bidder are today two of the five which the Company publishes, the others being Development, Disease Models & Mechanisms and Biology Open. (See here for more information).

Today, the Company of Biologists continues to promote research in the biological sciences and is a UK-registered charity.

The SNZ and Parker’s Hotel

Bidder remained closely involved with the Stazione and was instrumental in helping the SNZ during World War II, helping to secure a grant from the Royal Society. The legendary story about how Bidder purchased a hotel in 1890 near the Stazione so that he could sleep late is true, and the Grand Hotel Parkers is still running today, though Bidder sold it in 1908.

Bidder’s poetry

Following from his early success at Harrow, Bidder continued to write poetry. In 1899, he published “By Southern Shore” and “Merlin’s Youth” (available here). He also published an article called “Arcus” in the Journal of Philology in 1920. (Full reference here.) These writings bear witness to Bidder's varied interests, complementing his scientific work and business ventures.

Scientific contributions

Bidder’s primary area of work was sponges, and especially their hydraulics, to which most of his publications relate. He also perfected a bottom-trailer bottle which would drift in currents. These were used to help decipher bottom-water movements and especially compare them to the movements of bottom-feeder animals. Through this work, Bidder concluded that “the experiments confirm the view of those naturalists who suppose that bottom feeders, like trout, tend to move against the current” (Bidder qtd. in Russell's JMBA obituary)

Bidder died on 31 December 1954 at the age of 90 after a short illness. The obituary, which appreared the following day in the Times and which Russell quoted in his own hommage, reads as follows:

"But perhaps he brought to the service of humanity and of science qualities rarer and more important than those which have given other men greater reputations. For the timely help and wise advice which he gave to many, both scientists and non-scientists, were guided by unusually understanding sympathy, and were completely unselfish. These qualities had as their natural symbol his unfailing and distinguished courtesy; and that also helped to give its characteristic style to that sturdy bearded figure with white tie, Inverness cape, and quite unconsciously patrician bearing, whose departure many men and women in all branches of study and in all ranks of society will now most sorely regret."

The Bidder Family

Bidder’s paternal grandfather was George Parker Bidder (1806-1878), the Victorian calculating prodigy known as “The Calculating Boy.” Bidder’s father was George Parker Bidder II, QC.

On his mother’s side, his grandfather was John Robinson McClean, FRS, a politician (MP) and engineer. His mother Anna McClean (1839-1910).

Bidder married Marion Greenwood in 1899; together they had 2 children: Caroline Greenwood Bidder and Anna McClean Bidder (1903-2001).

Further resources

The Bidder Library is held at the National Marine Biological Library and comprises 39 volumes of reprints which used to belong to Bidder. See here for more information.

A list of Bidder’s publications held at the National Marine Biological Library is available here.

A list of Bidder’s publications in the Journal of the Marine Biological Association is available here.

A description of Bidder’s papers held in the MBA Archive Collection is available here.

The Company of Biologists website: here.


Russell, F.S. (1955) “George Parker Bidder: 1863-1953”Journal of the Marine Biological Association of the United Kingdom, 34(1): 1-13. Available here. This contains a list of Bidder’s publications.

Haines, C. M. C (2004) “Bidder, George Parker (1863–1953)” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press; doi: 10.1093/ref:odnb/31877.

For information on George Parker Bidder III at the “Clan Barker Family History" website, please click here. [Last accessed 19/08/2013.]

Information compiled with help from Professor Simon Maddrell and the Company of Biologists.


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