This Day In History: 1791-05-31


Emanuel Mendez da Costa (1717 – 1791) died on this day.
He was an English naturalist, primarily a conchologist. Da Costa was one of the first Jewish Fellows of the Royal Society of London, employed as a clerk (1763) with responsibility for the museum, library and member’s subscriptions, was discovered to be withholding members’ subscription fees (1767), convicted of fraud, and sentenced to five years in debtors’ prison. His works include Elements of Conchology, or An Introduction to the Knowledge of Shells (1776) where the word conchology appears for the first time, “This peculiar branch of the History of Nature I shall call Conchology”, and British Conchology (1778).
Da Costa objected to the language used by Linnaeus in describing bivalves, words usually associated with the intimate anatomy of the human female, seeing it as licentious and having no place in science.

Da Costa described around 160 species and is likely honoured in the name of bivalve genus, Dacosta, and in the names of a number of species under dacostae.