Royal Society Publishing

Colin Patterson. 13 October 1933—9 March 1998

R.A. Fortey

Elected F.R.S. 1993


Colin Patterson was a distinguished ichthyologist and palaeontologist; no matter where his wider studies led him, he always returned to his fishes. His colleagues will recall him bending rapt over a dissecting microscope even while the tea ritual and three different conversations continued around him. His reflections upon the problems of fish taxonomy led him to examine the theory and practice of biological classification in general, and it was this work that secured his international reputation. He was one of the first to espouse cladistic methods in rationalizing the subjective techniques hitherto employed in systematics. He made important contributions to the development of the theory and practice of phylogenetics. He was an eloquent and convincing champion of the new discipline, persuading many, and alienating rather fewer, with his charismatic manner and impeccable facility for reasoning. When molecular sequence evidence became a practical source of data, Colin Patterson was among the first to realize its potential for casting light on recalcitrant phylogenetic problems. He was central to a transformation of perceptions of how, and why, we classify animals. His legacy will be that the methods he championed are now customarily employed by most systematists; he left a substantial body of scholarship on the classification and morphology of fish, and essays that will continue to stimulate thought. His lifelong work at the Natural History Museum is preserved in unparalleled collections.

Royal Society Login

Log in through your institution