Frederick Wever Sharpus, 1812 - 1897
by Brian Stevenson
last updated september, 2010
Sharpus was an amateur naturalist who became adept at making microscope slides, in particular, mounts of aquatic animals such as starfish and sea urchins. As far as is known, he spent his entire life in the London area, working as a merchant, manufacturer and landlord. He was a long-time corresponding member of the Birmingham Natural History and Microscopical Society and its later incarnation, the Birmingham Natural History and Philosophical Society. I did not find any records of him being associated with any London-area microscopical societies. Although I do not have access to all records from the Birmingham Society, I was unable to locate any mentions of Sharpus actually attending a meeting. Instead, William R. Hughes always presented Sharpus’ slides at functions. Hughes was Treasurer of the City of Birmingham, indicating that Sharpus was well connected. Some examples of Sharpus’ work are shown in Figure 1.
Figure 1. (A) Examples of microscope slides prepared by Frederick Sharpus. The specimens shown are all sea life, subjects for which Sharpus is best known. The left two slides have his name etched into the glass. Two of these slides match published descriptions of slides donated by Sharpus to the Birmingham Natural History and Microscopical Society: “Mysis fabrici”, donated November 27, 1883, and “curious and interesting pincer-like organs…of the Star-Fish (Uraster glacialis)…termed Pedicellaria”, donated November 1, 1880 (see below). (B) Sharpus’ engraved name, magnified and contrast-enhanced. The handwriting is very similar to that on the labels, and is likely Sharpus’ signature. The autograph on the “Mysis fabrici - Opossum Shrimp” slide has a backward slant, as do the labels on many of Sharpus’ slides. (C) Magnified views of the slides’ labels, to illustrate Sharpus’ delicate handwriting and unique style. There are a number of similarities between Sharpus’ handwriting and that of the earlier professional slide makers known by the initials “J. & T.J.”, and confusion between the two makers’ works often occurs. However, side-by-side comparisons will reveal significant differences in letter structure.
Frederick Wever Sharpus was born June 27, 1812, and christened July 26 at St. Martin in the Fields. He married Sarah Sandford in February, 1837. There are no records of the couple having had any children. A niece named Delphia Mauricio lived with the Sharpus couple at the times of the 1841 and 1851 censuses. The 1841 census recorded Frederick’s occupation as what appears to be “China Man.” Neighbors included a printer, fishmongers, and merchants, so his job may have been merchant of chinaware. The 1851 census unambiguously recorded his as “merchant”. The 1861 census recorded Frederick as being a “proprietor of houses”, and in 1871 he was living off “houses & dividends”. A servant lived at the house in 1841 and 1881, but not in 1851, ’61 or ’71. In 1881, Sharpus was described as a “ribbon manufacturer” - based upon his previous occupations and his connection to wealthy men such as W.R. Hughes, it is reasonable to assume that Sharpus owned the ribbon factory. Sarah died during the winter of 1891, and Frederick followed 6 years later, during the winter of 1897.
The earliest printed record I found of Frederick Sharpus, microscopist, came from the 1878 Annual Report of the Birmingham Natural History and Microscopical Society. This journal evolved the next year into The Midland Naturalist. At the 1878 Annual Meeting, “Mr. W. R. Hughes exhibited, on behalf of Mr. F. W. Sharpus, a mounted specimen of Ophiocoma, with six rays instead of five, and a series of microscopic slides of marine objects, beautifully mounted, and accompanied with full directions as to the mode of preparation. This series Mr. Hughes, on behalf of Mr. Sharpus, presented to the Society”. Ophiocoma is a starfish, the brittle star.
The 1879 Midland Naturalist included a report of “Mr. Sharpus’s Method of Mounting”, reproduced below as Figure 2. This is of interest both as a historical document and as a source of information on mounting for modern slide makers.
The 1878 Conversazione of the Birmingham Natural History and Microscopical Society included specimens from Sharpus: “Mr. W. R. Hughes, numerous specimens of echinodermata and other objects illustrating marine zoology, prepared by Mr. Sharpus, of London”. Several other notable microscopists displayed that night: “Mr. Washington Teasdale (Leeds) exhibited some very fine specimens of ruled patterns on glass, also sections of Nerium oleander, showing cellular tissue breaking through cortical layer to form a leaf-bud . . . Mr. Thos. Bolton, two microscopes, with a large selection of living objects, rotifers, diatoms, &c., and revolving table, with slate top, for microscopical purposes . . . Mr. E. Wheeler, of London, 1,000 microscopical preparations, no two alike, including Nobert’s lines, Moller’s typen-platten, with three microscopes . . . Rev. J. E. Vize, microscope and slides of hepaticae, fungi, lichens, mosses, &c.
In 1880, “Mr. W. R. Hughes, F.L.S., presented for the cabinet of the Society, on behalf of Mr. F. W. Sharpus, of London, one of the corresponding members, a series of twelve slides, prepared by the donor, illustrating the structure and functions of certain members of the class Echinodermata (Star-Fishes, Sea-Urchins, etc.) They consisted of four slides demonstrating the viviparous nature of Ophiocoma neglecta, one of the brittle-stars. Mr. Sharpus, who was the first English observer who noticed this remarkable phenomenon, communicated the fact to this Society some years ago. Four slides exhibiting the structure and central apparatus of Ophiocoma roaula (another of the brittle -stars); one Slide exhibiting the renewal of a lost leg in an extremely young specimen of Uraster rubens (the common Cross-Fish), about one-third of an inch in diameter; and two slides showing the structure of certain curious and interesting pincer-like organs, probably modified spines, of the Star-Fish (Uraster glacialis), and of the Sea-Urchin (Echinus sphaera), termed Pedicellaria, the functions of which have long been an unsolved problem to Zoologists, who are not even now quite agreed as to their exact nature. In submitting the preparations, Mr. Hughes glanced at the position of the Echinodermata as a class, and particularly at the two methods of reproduction, one by means of a pseudoembryo, and the other viviparously, as noticed by Mr. Sharpus, supplemented in some instances, as was shown in the Challenger expedition by means of a Marsupium. He also described the preparations at length, which are extremely beautiful, the method of mounting which Mr. Sharpus has by long experience as an amateur perfected, and which has already been described in the Midland Naturalist, Vol. II., p. 126. The preparations were further illustrated by drawings made by Mr. W. P. Marshall and Mr. A. W. Wills. Mr. Levick superintended the microscopical exhibition. A cordial vote of thanks was passed to Mr. Sharpus for his kind and valuable present”.
In 1882, “Mr. W. R. Hughes, F.L.S., then exhibited and presented to the Society six slides of Echinodermata and Entozoa, on behalf of Mr. F. W. Sharpus, of London, by whom they were mounted. He also gave a description of the slides and the points of interest which they illustrated. The first was a young individual of Echinus sphaera, the common egg urchin, measuring only one inch across, including the spines, mounted whole in such a manner that the student could examine the whole external anatomy in detail on either the upper or under surface. The second and third slides showed certain plates relating to the ambulacral and pore systems, and formed very beautiful objects. The fourth slide contained one of the arms of Ophiocoma rosula, the rosy brittle star, complete to the very base. This is very difficult to obtain; everyone, who has attempted to catch these brittle stars knows the facility with which they dismember themselves at the slightest provocation. The fifth and sixth slides contained perfectly mounted specimens of the liver-fluke, Fasciola hepaitica, in which the whole internal anatomy of these parasites could be observed. . Mr. Sharpus's slides are deposited in the Society's cabinet, and can be inspected by anyone who desires to see them”.
Other donations to the Birmingham society, always through W.R. Hughes, included “a series of slides … illustrating the development, structure, etc., of the Cephalopoda” (1882), “Mysis Fabricii” (1883, see Figure 1, above), “a slide mounted by Mr. Sharpus showing fossil Diatoms, Infusoria, &c, contained in Kieselguhr” (1883), “the head of Vanessa urticae (smaller tortoiseshell butterfly), and a very young specimen of Hippocampus brevirostris (the sea horse), showing the gill tufts” (1883), and “a series of twelve slides showing the anatomy of the spiders, including specimens from Australia, South Africa, &c.” (1887). On June 10, 1884, Sharpus presented, via Hughes, “six slides illustrating the larval stages in the development of the Echinodermata (Echinopoedium, etc.) prepared by the students of the Zoological Station at the Naples Aquarium”.
Frederick Sharpus was also a long-time supporter of the Ray Society, a scientific publishing organization. He donated toward the cost of publishing numerous books throughout his lifetime.
Figure 2. Tips on microscope slide preparing, from The Midland Naturalist, Volume 2, page 126, 1879.
Birmingham Natural History and Microscopical Society, Annual Report and List of Members for the year 1878, pages 26-31 and List of Members
Bragg, Joseph (1879) Mr. Sharpus’s method of mounting, The Midland Naturalist, Vol. 2, page 126
Buckler, William (1901) The Larvae of the British Butterflies and Moths, Volume 9, published by the Ray Society, Issue 77
Cameron, Peter (1885) A Monograph of the British Phytophagous Hymenoptera, Volume 2, published by the Ray Society
England vital statistics, including birth, marriage, death and census records, accessed through ancestery.co.uk and familysearch.org
Journal of the Birmingham Natural History and Philosophical Society (1894) List of members, Vol. 1, page 14
Marriage record of Frederick Wever Sharpus and Sarah Sandford (1837) St. James Clerkenwell
The Midland Naturalist (1879) The Conversazione, Vol. 2, page 171
The Midland Naturalist (1880) Reports of Societies, Vol. 3, page 286
The Midland Naturalist (1881) Annual Conversazione, Vol. 4, page 286
The Midland Naturalist (1883) Reports of Societies, Vol. 6, pages 66-67 and 262>
The Midland Naturalist (1883) Reports of Societies, Vol. 7, page 26
The Midland Naturalist (1884) Reports of Societies, Vol. 7, pages 207, 288 and 330
The Midland Naturalist (1887) Reports of Societies, Vol. 10, page 60