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When an 18-year-old Arthur Smith Woodward arrived at the new home of the natural history collections of the British Museum on Cromwell Road, South Kensington in August 1882, he could not have envisaged the treasure trove of vertebrate fossils that awaited him. Even before the move to South Kensington, the collections already contained many fossil fish specimens first described and figured by the famous Swiss zoologist and geologist Louis Agassiz in his monumental work Recherches sur les Poissons Fossiles. The fabulous fossil fish collections of Lord Egerton and the Earl of Enniskillen arrived shortly after, including many more of Agassiz’s type specimens. However, Agassiz had left much work undone and ideas on fossil fish systematics had changed in the 50 years since he had started publishing his research. Making full use of the collection, and adding to it, Smith Woodward embarked on a scientific career that was to see him become the world’s leading authority on fossil fishes. When he retired from the Museum at the age of 60, his successors inherited the most extensive and well-documented collection of fossil fishes in the world.

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