Wright, Edward Perceval (1834–1910), naturalist, was born 27 December 1834 in Dublin, eldest of five sons in a family of ten children of Edward Thomas Wright (1810–81), barrister, and Charlotte (née Wright), his wife and cousin. He was educated at home, and at 16 became a clerk in a commercial company, but after studying natural science under George James Allman (qv), professor of botany, he entered TCD and graduated BA (1857), MB (1858), MA (1859), MD (1862). He also took (1860) an MA ad eundem (Oxon.), and was admitted licentiate of (R)K&QCP(I) (1859), and fellow (by examination) of RCSI (1862).
While still a student, he made his first contribution to natural science as a founder (1854) and an editor (1854–66) of the Natural History Review; he contributed articles on the flora and fauna of the south and west of Ireland and made abstracts of important papers published on the Continent. In 1857, while exploring the Mitchelstown caves with A. H. Haliday (qv), he discovered blind springtails and was the first to promote interest in the living fauna of Irish caves. On graduation, he was appointed professor of botany (1857–62, 1865–9) at Dr Steevens' Hospital Medical School, Dublin, and director of the Zoological Museum (1857–69) and lecturer in zoology (1858–69) at TCD, and was elected MRIA (1857).
His intention was to become an oculist, and after graduating MD (1862) he studied ophthalmic surgery in Berlin, Vienna, and Paris. Returning to Dublin, he established a practice and was appointed ophthalmic surgeon and lecturer in ophthalmology at Dr Steevens' Hospital (1863–9). He published papers in medical journals and translated from German F. C. Donder's treatise ‘The pathogeny of squint’ (1864); but after his appointment as locum tenens (1865–6) for W. H. Harvey (qv), professor of botany, he decided to devote his life to science, and was appointed professor of botany (1869–1904) and keeper of the herbarium (1870–1910) in TCD.
A fluent lecturer (known as ‘Botany Wright’), he was a great stimulus to his students and fellow scientists. A first-class naturalist, abounding in energy and enthusiasm, he became an authority on Irish flora and fauna; he botanised in the Aran Islands (1865) and published ‘Notes on the flora of the islands of Arran, west of Ireland’ (Proceedings of the Natural History Society of Dublin, v (1865–6), 96–105), which was his principal contribution to Irish botany. He visited the Kilkenny coal measures and subsequently published, jointly with T. H. Huxley, a memoir: ‘On a collection of fossils from the Jarrow colliery’ (Geological Magazine, iii (1865), 165–71). He gained international recognition after gathering valuable collections of fauna and flora, previously unknown to botanists, and published fascinating papers in various journals relating to his expeditions to the Seychelles Islands (1867) – where he was acting government medical officer and supervised the leper camps of the Isle Curieuse – and his excursions to Sicily and Portugal (1868). Other publications include memoirs (begun in 1877) on the structure and development of algae. The list of his papers in the Royal Society catalogue show the breadth of his scientific interests; his contributions to zoology include his revision of G. L. Figuier's Ocean world (1872) and adaptations of his Mammalia (1875); he published Animal life (1879), which was reissued as Cassell's concise natural history (1885), and was joint author with Theophilus Studer of the Report on the Alcyonaria collected by the H.M.S. Challenger . . . 1873–1876 (1889).
Wright contributed significantly to the preservation and development of the herbarium during a difficult period in its history, rearranging, indexing, and adding to its collection, which included specimens collected from Ireland, the Italian Alps, Switzerland, the Pyrenees (1894), and Algiers (1895). He wrote ‘The herbarium of Trinity College: a retrospect’ in Notes from the Botanical School of Trinity College, Dublin, i (1896–1905), 1–14; the journal was published at his own expense (1896–1905). Resigning from his chair (1904) due to failing health, he continued as keeper of the herbarium, to which he presented his valuable collection of botanical books and journals.
Elected fellow of the Linnean Society (1859) and of the Zoological Society of London, he gave valuable service to several learned societies: elected (1870) to the council of the RIA, he served as secretary (1874–77, 1883–99) and editor of publications (1883–99), and was awarded its Cunningham gold medal (1883). Secretary of the Royal Geological Society of Ireland (1858), of the Dublin University Zoological and Botanical Association, and of the Natural History Section of the British Association for many years from 1858, he was president of the Natural History Society of Dublin (1872) and an original member (1857) of the Dublin Microscopical Club, whose meetings were held in his rooms at TCD. An editor of the Journal of Anatomy and Physiology (1866) and of the publications of the Royal Dublin Society, he was a corresponding member of foreign medical and scientific societies.
A striking personality, genial, amusing, and always courteous, he was highly regarded by his many friends; he had a great affection for his university, for Ireland and its history, and was a trustee and elected president (1900–03) of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland and a trustee of the NLI. A JP for Co. Dublin, he sympathised with the policies of Isaac Butt (qv), supported home rule, and received letters (15, 17 August 1891) from Parnell (qv), concerning the launching of an independent newspaper (NLI Ms 10, 514). No confirmation, however, has been found for the assertion that he was a founder member of the Irish Protestant Home Rule Association. He died 2 March 1910 in his rooms at TCD, where he had lived since the death of his wife, and was buried in Mount Jerome cemetery, Dublin. He married (1872) Emily Shaw (d. 1886); they had no children. His fine library, containing mostly scientific books but also works relating to Ireland, was sold by auction at Messrs. Hodgson, Chancery Lane, London, in the same month (April 1910) as the library of his younger brother Charles Henry Hamilton Wright (qv) (IBL, i, no. 11 (June 1910), 148, 155–6).