Bensley, Benjamin Arthur

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(1875 -1934)


B.A. University of Toronto (1896)
Fellow in the Department of Biology (1896-1899)
Fellow at Columbia University (1899-1902)
Lecturer of Zoology (1902)
Associate Professor of Zoology (1906)
Professor of Zoology (1914)
Head of the Department of Biology (1912-1934)
Director of the Royal Ontario Museum of Zoology (1912-1934)
Director of the Georgian Bay Biological Station
Ontario Fisheries Research Laboratory (1921)

Benjamin Arthur Bensley entered into the field of Natural Science as an undergraduate at the University of Toronto in 1892, graduating with honours in 1896 at the age of 21. Immediately following, Bensley was appointed as Fellow in the Department of Biology and taught at the University of Toronto for three years until 1899 when he was appointed to a fellowship at Columbia University. During his time at the University of Toronto, Bensley taught in the area of botany and frequently conducted classes in the absence of Dr. Jeffrey.

Bensley received his Ph.D. in 1902 from Columbia University in the area of evolution and marsupial dentition, after which he returned to the University of Toronto as a lecturer in Zoology. In 1906 he was promoted to the position of associate professor. In 1912, when Professor Ramsay Wright retired as head of the Department of Biology, Bensley was his successor and acting head until two years following when he became the official head of the department and full professor. He was also appointed as director of the Royal Ontario Museum of Zoology at this time, and held both positions until his death in January 1934.

During his time as Department Head, the Department of Botany became independent from the Department of Biology in 1916. From that point forward, the Department of Biology only housed studies in the area of animal life-sciences. In 1919 Bensley also appointed the first lecturer in the emerging subject of genetics, Mr. John Wood MacArthur.

The most important publication that Dr. Bensley had published was a segment of his doctoral thesis, a study of the "Evolution of the Australian Marsupialia," which appeared in the Transactions of the Linnean Society. Other research topics that Dr. Bensley investigated were in the field of vertebrate paleontology and comparative dental anatomy.

B.A. Bensley wrote on the directions for the dissection of the rabbit, which were based to some extent on the work of Krause, but were for the most part original. These were largely used for his purposes as lecturer in the Department of Biology, then later elaborated upon extensively and illustrated to be published as a book by the University of Toronto Press in 1909. The book went through 5 editions before Bensley's death, and became the authority on the anatomy of the rabbit. At least three more editions of this publication were made with the help of E. Horne Craigie after Bensley's death.

He had succeeded his elder brother, Robert Russell Bensley as Director of the Georgian Bay Biological Station and in 1915 published The Fishes of Georgian Bay. In 1921, with the aid of a grant from the provincial government, B.A. Bensley created a unit within the Department of Biology at the University of Toronto, entitled the Ontario Fisheries Research Laboratory.


Craigie, H.E. A History of the Department of Zoology of the University of Toronto. Toronto, ON: University of Toronto Press, 1962.

Hubband, Jennifer Mary. A science on the scales: the rise of Canadian Atlantic fisheries biology. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2006.