Edward Horsnaill, 1836 – 1913

by Brian Stevenson
last updated October, 2014

Edward Horsnaill was an amateur naturalist, particularly noted for his studies of sea life near his home in Kent. He was born and raised in Dover, then moved down the coast to Folkestone in his later life. Horsnaill left behind a substantial number of microscope slides, some bearing labels pre-printed his name and address (Figure 1). There are no indications that Horsnaill ever sold any of his slides, so all would have come either from his personal collection or from exchanges with other naturalists. Notably, in 1900 Richard Kerr acknowledged assistance in producing his book Hidden Beauties of Nature from “Mr. C. W. Locke, the well-known optical lantern and slide maker, and from Mr. E. Horsnaill, the marine biologist, of Dover”. Thus, Horsnaill was known to colleagues as a biologist, not a slide maker. Horsnaill’s primary occupation was furniture construction and upholstery.

Figure 1. Examples of microscope slides produced by Edward Horsnaill. Numerous mounts of thin-section stones are known, although I located only one published reference to Horsnaill studying minerals, a March, 1900 presentation on flints from Asia Minor. That, plus the use of labels printed with his name, suggest that Horsnaill’s mineral slides were produced later in his life. Also shown on the top row of are balsam mounts of a tick and gill fans from a marine worm, fluid balsam deep-mounts of starfish, and a very deep, dry mount of a polyzoan. Horsnaill wrote on the starfish Uraster rubens and Sun Star (Solaster papposa) in 1871, and the illustrated slides may have been part of the research he conducted for that publication. On the bottom row are two papered slides with Horsnaill’s handwriting. Horsnaill’s name is written on the back of the right slide, in another hand, probably by another biologist with whom he had exchanged slides (see Figures 4 and 5). The style of these slide, involving paper wrappings, indicates that they were produced before those shown in the top row, possibly the 1860s.


Edward was born in 1836, the only known son of William and Mary Horsnaill. William was an ironmonger and furniture maker, inheriting the business at 11 Snargate St., Dover from his father. An 1831 publication referred to the shop as “Horsnaill & Son”. In 1840, Pigot’s Directory recorded William as being a “cabinetmaker & upholsterer, ironmonger, and house agent”. Melville’s 1858 Directory of Kent described the business as a “cabinet, upholstery, and paper hanging warehouse”. An 1851 advertisement in The British Friend sought to recruit an assistant for the “furnishing ironmongery trade” (Figure 2A). Examples of their work are described in the catalogue of the 1853 Great Industrial Exhibition in Dublin (Figure 2B).

Edward’s father had an elder sister named Sarah, who in 1806 married Samuel Wheeler. Sarah and Samuel Wheeler had four children, two of whom survived infancy. The younger surviving son was Edmund Wheeler (1808-1884), who became one of the best known microscope slide-makers of the Victorian era. Wheeler initially worked as an ironmonger, and likely learned the trade with his uncle. Wheeler’s nephew from his wife’s side, Frederick Enock, worked with Wheeler for many years and is also famous for his microscope slide preparations. Interactions between Edward and cousins Edmund and Frederick may have played instructive roles in Edward’s keen interest in microscopy.

Figure 2. (A) Request for an assistant to help the Horsnaill furniture business, from The British Friend, January, 1851. Edward was away from home at this time, attending the Ackworth School. (B) Entry information from the Great Industrial Exhibition, Dublin, 1853. The Horsnaills’ street address was misspelled. (C) Advertisement for boarders, from The British Friend, 1854.


Edward attended the Ackworth School for the 1850-51 academic year. This was a well-respected boarding school operated by the Society of Friends (Quakers). He would probably have become familiar with microscope slide makers and Ackworth teachers John Watson and Thomas Sharpe.

Horsnaill attended Ackworth for only one year. The family may have experienced financial difficulties, and/or Edward may have been needed at home to work in the business. The 1851 census described father William as a 75-year old retired upholsterer and operator of a boarding house. The family advertised in The British Friend for boarders in 1854 (Figure 2C). Edward’s father died in 1855. Mother Mary continued to run the furniture business until her death in 1865. During 1861, the Horsnaills’ business employed 2 men and 2 boys.

Edward Horsnaill married Sarah Horsnaill in 1866. She does not appear to have been a close relative, despite their shared last name. They had 6 children over the next 15 years, five girls and a boy. The family’s finances seem to have been reasonably decent, as they employed a young woman as a live-in servant at the times of the 1881 and 1891 censuses.

Edward’s first recorded foray into the sciences was his joining the Kent Archaeological Society in July, 1861. He joined the East Kent Natural History Society by 1870. Horsnaill published a 5-page article on “pygmy crustaceans” in Hardwicke’s Science-Gossip in 1870. This scientific examination of two small crabs of the Dover shoreline was accompanied with well-drawn figures made by Horsnaill, presumably using a camera lucida (Figure 3). Regarding Horsnaill’s artwork, the acknowledgment he received from Robert Kerr in 1900 was for assistance with illustrations for Kerr’s book. Other identified scientific publications by Horsnaill include an 1871 article on starfish, an 1878 article on an anemone, an 1878 article on making aquariums and an 1880 article on a parasite of bees, all in Hardwicke‘s Science-Gossip. The two slides of starfish shown in Figure 1 (above) are of species described by Horsnaill in his 1871 paper, and probably figured in his research at that time. Horsnaill contributed chapters to the 1899 book Handbook to Dover, published that year to accompany that year’s meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, in Dover. It was described as “a special handbook to Dover and the neighbourhood, containing articles on the history and antiquities, the geology, the entomology, the vertebrate fauna, the botany, the climate, the river and tides, the docks and other engineering works, the trade, commerce, and industries. This book is illustrated with maps and plans, some of which contain new work. The information given in the maps and plans and the articles, written by specialists on the subjects they deal with, will, it is hoped, render the work not only useful on the occasion of the British Association's visit, but also of some permanent value.”

Figure 3. Some figures from Edward Horsnaill’s 5-page paper on “Pygmy Crustaceans”, Hardwicke’s Science-Gossip, 1870. Horsnaill also made a presentation on this subject to the East Kent Natural History Society in 1869. The highly-detailed illustrations indicate that Horsnaill was skilled at minute observations and in the use of the camera lucida.


Horsnaill advertised slides for exchange in Hardwicke’s Science-Gossip in 1876 and in 1883 (Figure 4). The bee parasite slides offered in 1883 were probably connected with his studies of that insect which he published on in 1880 (see above). These are the only two exchange offers I found in this popular scientific magazine, although evidence indicates that he distributed microscope slides not mentioned in those advertisements (Figure 5).

Figure 4. Offers to exchange slides from Edward Horsnaill that were published in Hardwicke’s Science-Gossip during 1876 (A) and 1883 (B). (C) One of Horsnaill’s slides of Braula coeca that he advertised for exchange in 1883 (the insect’s name was misspelled in the Science-Gossip advertisement).


Figure 5. A result of a slide exchange between Horsnaill and a contemporary microscopist, Henry E. Freeman. The labeling indicates that this was produced by Horsnaill, then acquired by Freeman. Freeman published numerous offers to exchange slides throughout the late 1800s.


Edward retired from the upholstery business by 1901. He, Sarah and four of their daughters had moved to 298 London Rd., still in Dover. During 1900, and presumably other years, Horsnaill served as a trustee of the Bennett charity, which served local “poor and needy persons”.

Some time later, Horsnaill moved to 35 Morehall Ave., Folkestone, being reported to be an inhabitant of that town in 1908. He was active in the Folkestone Natural History and Microscopical Society, and served as Curator of the Folkestone Museum. He died in 1913, at the age of 76.



Many thanks to Janice Webb for sharing valuable genealogical information on the Horsnaill family, and to Peter Hodds, for assistance in identifying Edward Horsnaill’s microscope slides.



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Horsnaill, Edward (1871) Uraster rubens, Hardwicke’s Science-Gossip, Vol. 7, page 41

Horsnaill, Edward (1878) Sagartia sphyrodeta, Hardwicke’s Science-Gossip, Vol. 14, pages 16-17

Horsnaill, Edward (1871) Cement for marine aquaria, Hardwicke’s Science-Gossip, Vol. 14, page 23

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