Dr. Jonathan Couch, Cornwall's foremost naturalist

Dr. Jonathan Couch

Dr. Jonathan Couch (1789-1870) was Cornwall's foremost naturalist in the 19th century.

Jonathan Couch was born in Polperro on 15th March 1789, only child of Richard Couch and Philippa Minards He went to Dame School in Polperro, and then Bodmin Grammar School, and the united medical schools of Guy's and St. Thomas's in London.

He returned to Polperro in 1810 combining his skill as a doctor with his passion for natural history. He was the local doctor and apothecary, a zoologist, ichthyologist, botanist, archaeologist and classical scholar. He applied his surgical skills to the dissection and study of the fish that were important to the welfare of Polperro.

He made hundreds of drawings of the fish he dissected, and ran a jet of water over the dissection as he painted, so that the colours would not fade. His major work was Fishes of the British Islands, published in four volumes between 1862 and 1865. This contained 256 water colours and drawings and is both an artistic and scientific work. Copies of some of his original drawings of fish landed at Polperro, used to illustrate his Fishes of the British Islands, are on display at the Polperro Heritage Museum.

He married three times. His first wife, Jane Prynn Rundle died in childbirth in 1810. His second wife, Jane Quiller, produced six children, two of whom became doctors. After her death in 1857, Jonathan was married a third time at the age of 70 to Sarah Lander Roose, a local girl who was just 22.

After his death in 1870 his grandson, Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch, described Jonathan Couch as "a patient man of science who spent his life observing the habits of fish, without attempting to teach the Almighty how to improve them."

His book on Cornish Birds can be bought today.This work draws on the Royal Institution of Cornwall's collection of his material, in particular his hitherto unpublished study of Cornish birds begun in 1829 and his "Journal of Natural History" of which ten of its 12 volumes had been lost for over a century. His other most notable publication is his History of Polperro published in 1871 shortly after his death, with an introduction by his son Thomas Quiller Couch.


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