John Berney, 1822 - 1903

by Brian Stevenson
last updated March, 2021

John Berney was an avid microscopist with a wide range of interests. He was a long-time Fellow of the Royal Microscopical Society (and an occasional officer), and a member of the Quekett Microscopical Society. In 1870, he helped found the Croydon Microscopical Club, and served for many years as President, Vice President, and/or Librarian.

To judge from historical records, Berney produced a large number of microscope slides for his personal use. Those that are known are well made, with neat printing on labels that bear his name and address (Figure 1). Interestingly, although Berney was a Fellow of the RMS from 1866 until the end of his life, his known labels do not include the initials "F.R.M.S.", as was common among Fellows. Noting that when Berney exhibited at joint meetings with the RMS and the Croydon MS he placed his entries with the Croydon club, and that he was a founder and officer of the Croydon society, it appears that he gave his main allegiance to Croydon.

Figure 1. A ca. 1880 microscope slide that was prepared by John Berney.


Figure 2. Acarus tellarius (red spider mite), mounted by John Berney (see Figure 1). It is a common pest of house plants. Photographed with a 10x objective lens and C-mounted digital SLR camera.


John Berney's parents, Edward and Philippa (nee Perryman), were English, raised and married in Croydon (south of London, across the Thames River). Their first child was born during 1813 in Croydon. Edward was evidently a businessman or government official, as the next child was born in Amsterdam during 1815. John was born on May 11, 1822, in Cleves, Westphalia (Kleve, Westfalen), Prussia. Father Edward died in Cleves on January 12, 1831, and his family returned home to Croydon.

The 1841 census of England listed John Berney as being a "articled clerk", and living with his mother, four siblings, an aunt, and three house servants. In 1851, John lived with is mother, three siblings, three nieces, and three servants. He was then working as a "surveyor". He later added "architect" to his repertoire, and operated a surveying and architectural business until his death.

John married Elizabeth Owens on October 28, 1851. Together they had nine children, eight of whom lived to adulthood. Son Frederick Lee Berney went on to become a noted ornithologist in Australia. The 1861 census recorded John, Elizabeth, and five children at 61 North End, Croydon, along with a cook, a housemaid, and two nurses (at least one of whom would have been a wet nurse to their 8 month-old daughter, Minnie). All other census records show that the Berney continued to enjoy the comforts of multiple servants. Unfortunately, Elizabeth died in 1880.

With a sufficient income and free time, John Berney took up the popular hobby of microscopy. He joined the Royal Microscopical Society in 1866, and the Quekett Microscopical Society in 1868. In 1871, Berney was elected to the Council of the RMS.

In 1870, Berney joined with several neighbors to form the Croydon Microscopical Club. He was a member of that society's original Council. He soon took on the additional role of Librarian, whereupon the Club announced that "Members would have the opportunity of changing their books at Mr. Berney's house, North End, any time between ten in the morning and six in the evening". Later that year, "The sum of Ten Pounds having been voted for the purchase of books, the Committee solicited from the members suggestions of the names of works likely to be serviceable to the Club, but as only two or three were sent in, no purchase has been made. The Committee have, however, received an estimate for the supply of several standard works. Five pounds was also voted for the purchase of a cabinet for holding mounted microscopic objects. This has been bought, and the cabinet is in the care of the Librarian, Mr. J. Berney, who will be pleased to receive, on behalf of the Club, presentations of slides".

By 1871, John Berney had developed into an excellent slide-maker, and was acknowledged as such by CMC members. From the Club's Proceedings and Transactions: "At the Annual Meeting last year the President kindly announced his intention to give a 'mounting cabinet', of the value of £5, as a prize to any Member of the Club - an amateur - who, at a given date before the next Annual Meeting, should exhibit the best six dozen microscopic slides of his own mounting … The competitors for the President's prize were Mr. J. Berney, Mr. C. W. Hovendon, Mr. J. S. Johnson, and Mr. K. McKean. The judges were Captain Tyler, F.L.S., and Dr. Millar, F.L.S., whose reports, awarding the prize to Mr. Berney, were then read. The President presented the cabinet to Mr. Berney, and to each of the unsuccessful competitors he also presented a case of instruments used in the dissection of microscopical objects".

Berney resigned from the Quekett Microscopical Club between 1884 and 1887. He remained a member of the Royal and Croydon Microscopical Societies until his death.

John Berney passed away on September 9, 1903. The Croydon Natural History and Scientific Society wrote, "During the past year the Society has had to regret the loss of one of its prominent and oldest members in the death, on September 9th, in his eighty-second year, of Mr. John Berney, who had been a member from the formation of the original Croydon Microscopical Club in 1870, and was President during the years 1883 and 1884. Mr. Berney's chief interest was in entomology, and his collection of insects found in the locality contained many fine series and several varieties arranged with great care. He had also collected in the New Forest. He also took much interest in microscopy, and gave a paper on Mounting Objects for the Microscope at one of the Conversational Meetings. Mr. Berney will be specially remembered for his exceedingly kind and genial manner, and for his readiness on all occasions to assist others, especially younger members; also for the trouble which he took for many years in the arrangements for the Annual Soirees, his practical knowledge of such matters contributing very largely to the success of these meetings. Mr. Berney was a member of the Royal and Quekett Microscopical Societies".

Figure 3. John Berney's home at 61 North End, Croydon. Adapted for nonprofit, educational purposes from


The British Journal Photographic Almanac and Photographer's Daily Companion (1898) "Croydon Microscopical and Natural History Club … Vice Presidents … John Berney, F.R.M.S.", page 582

The Commercial and General Directory of the Town and Parish of Croydon (1865) "Surveyors: Berney, John 61 North end", F. Warren, Croydon

England census and other records, accessed through

The Journal of the Quekett Microscopical Club (1878) "Members … May 22, 1868 Berney, John, F.R.M.S., 61 North-end, Croydon", Vol. 5

Journal of the Royal Microscopical Society (1879) "Fellows … 1866 Berney, John, 61, North-end, Croydon, Surrey"

The Monthly Microscopical Journal (1871) Officers and Council of the Royal Microscopical Society, page 198

Probate of the will of John Berney (1903) "Berney John of the 'Close' Chatsworth-road Croydon Surrey died 9 September 1903 Probate London 24 December to Elizabeth Berney spinster and Henry Berney architect and surveyor Effects £3604 18s 6d", accessed through

Proceedings and Transactions of the Croydon Microscopical & Natural History Club (1871) pages 8 and 14

Proceedings and Transactions of the Croydon Microscopical & Natural History Club (1903) Obituary notice; the late John Berney, page xi

The Year-book of the Scientific and Learned Societies of Great Britain and Ireland (1884) Croydon Microscopical and Natural History Club, page 75