In the opening years of the 19th century, Devonian naturalist William Elford Leach was one of the world's leading zoologists. He was a friend of Lamarck and of Cuvier, and his influence was recognised from Russia in the east to the United States in the west. Virtually single-handed he modernised the zoology of a fortress Britain, isolated by twenty years of European war. He taught the man who taught Darwin and he prepared the way to make Britain the birthplace of Natural Selection, then he sank silently from view, all but forgotten for two hundred years.
Elford Leach was a child of war. While he worked the British invaded the United States and burned Washington, but their greatest enemy was Napoleon. A young British General called Arthur Wellesley was sent to evict the French from Portugal and Spain. With him went Elford Leach's brother, Captain Jonathan Leach of the 95th Rifles. By the time Napoleon was defeated, Wellesley would be the Duke of Wellington and Jonathan Leach would be a Lieutenant-Colonel and a decorated veteran of Waterloo.
The Leach family of Plymouth is a microcosm of Britain during one of its most dynamic and turbulent periods: writhing in social, political and industrial revolutions and poised on the verge of armed revolt. Rifle-Green By Nature is their story.
Keith Harrison worked as a marine biologist for Dorset County Council, Nottingham University and The Natural History Museum, London. It was while working at The Natural History Museum that he became interested in William Elford Leach, who had worked at the museum's forebear, the Natural History Department of the British Museum.