Educated at Rossall School and Oxford, he joined the Geological Survey in 1862, and in 1869 became curator of the Manchester museum, a post which he retained till 1890.
In 1875 he surveyed Lake Titicaca, Peru, examined the copper mines of Peru and Chile, and made a collection of Peruvian antiquities for that museum, of which he was curator from 1874 to 1885.
It was administered under the empire by a curator of praetorian rank, as were the other important roads of Italy.
He was also a curator of the Bodleian Library, an honorary fellow of Queen's College, a governor of Winchester College and a visitor of Greenwich Observatory.
It was cultivated in England in the 17th century, and the name C. lusitanica was given by Philip Miller, the curator of the Chelsea Physick garden, in 1768, in reference to its supposed Portuguese origin.
Dupont, curator of the Botanic station at Mahe, who visited Aldabra in 1906, says: "The specimens represented, besides being partly peculiar, mostly belong to the Mascarenes, Madagascar and Comoros species.
He was also a member of the Academy, and of the Academy of Moral and Political Science, and curator of the Department of Antiquities at the Louvre (from 1870).
The early collectors of natural curiosities were the founders of zoological science, and to this day the naturalisttraveller and his correlative, the museum curator and systematist, play a most important part in the progress of zoology.
Of the museum, which originally belonged to the defunct Banff Institution and was afterwards taken over by the town council, Thomas Edward - the "working naturalist," whose life was so sympathetically written by Samuel Smiles - was curator for a few years.
On returning home he devoted himself to the improvement of the family estates, and in 1855 was elected assistant curator of the Calvinist church at Nagyszalonta, in succession to his father.
The chief object of the author, who had been naturalist to the Niger Expedition, and curator to the Museum of the Zoological Society of London, was to figure the animals contained in its gardens or described in its Proceedings, which until the year 1848 were not illustrated.
He was one of the best men of business in the university, and held various important posts, among which were those of delegate of the press, curator of the university galleries, manager of the Bible department of the press, and private secretary to successive chancellors of the university.
In 1849 he became curator of the Natural History Museum at Wiesbaden, and began to study the Tertiary strata of the Mayence Basin, and also the Devonian fossils of the Rhenish provinces, on which he published elaborate memoirs.