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Professor F.E. Fritsch, 1879-1954

Prof. F.E. Fritsch
Prof. F.E. Fritsch

The book for which Fritsch may be best known is 'The Structure and Reproduction of the Algae'. He also revised, indeed largely rewrote, G.S. West's 'British Freshwater Algae'. His other publications include several reviews of ecological, taxonomic, classificatory, morphological and evolutionary aspects of phycology.

The career of Felix Eugen Fritsch took him to the University of Munich, University College London, and the Royal Botanic Gardens (Kew). Following this he started a new Botany department at what is now Queen Mary College, University of London. He became professor in 1924 and retired in 1948.

For many years he had been concerned about the lack of a British freshwater biological station, and later highlighted this unsatisfactory situation in his presidential address to the British Association for the Advancement of Science. In 1929 the Freshwater Biological Association (FBA) was founded, and in 1931 it was decided that work would start in three rented rooms at Wray Castle in the English Lake District. The staff consisted of two recent graduates and a boy, with a student to do research. From these humble beginnings arose one of the best and most famous freshwater biological organisations in the world and one with a strong phycological section. Fritsch was chairman of the FBA's Council until his death and came 'nearer than anyone else to being its the FBA's) founder' (Anon. 1955). As his wife said –‘it was his favourite child’.

Another institution owes its existence in large part to Fritsch: The Culture Collection of Algae and Protozoa, started by Dr E.G. Pringsheim. In 1938, Dr Pringsheim arrived in England from the German University in Prague, a refugee from Nazism. Fritsch helped him and played a major part in getting him to the University of Cambridge. It was as a result of his advocacy that the Botany Department made space for Pringsheim's culture collection, soon to be enlarged by British isolates. Later, the University took over responsibility for the collection until NERC (Natural Environmental Research Council) made special provision for it. The freshwater and marine parts of this are now housed at the Dunstaffnage Marine Laboratory at Oban under the management of the Scottish Association for Marine Science.

In 1912, Fritsch started to put illustrations of freshwater algae onto foolscap sheets of paper. These were cut out of, or traced from, published papers. As the collection grew, so it became ever more useful to students and visiting phycologists. We, his research students, called it his scrap collection. He would work on it when too tired to do other things, and enlarged and improved the Collection in his retirement. At his death there were about 20,000 such illustrations. The Fritsch Collection of Illustrations of Freshwater Algae now contains millions of illustrations, and a microfiche edition is available.