Henry Dresser and Victorian ornithology

Birds, books and business

By Henry A. McGhie

Henry Dresser and Victorian ornithology


  • eBook

Book Information

  • Format: Hardcover
  • ISBN: 978-1-7849-9413-6
  • Pages: 368
  • Publisher: Manchester University Press
  • Price: £25.00
  • Published Date: November 2017
  • BIC Category: History, Zoology: birds (ornithology), History of science, History & Archaeology, c 1500 onwards to present day, Biography: science, technology & medicine, HISTORY / Modern / 19th Century, HISTORY / Europe / Great Britain, SCIENCE / History, BIOGRAPHY & AUTOBIOGRAPHY / Science & Technology, SCIENCE / Life Sciences / Zoology / Ornithology, Biography: science, technology & medicine, Humanities / Modern history to 20th century: c 1700 to c 1900, Mathematics & science / History of science, Birds (Ornithology)


This book explores the life of Henry Dresser (1838-1915), one of the most productive British ornithologists of the mid-late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and is largely based on previously unpublished archival material. Dresser travelled widely and spent time in Texas during the American Civil War. He built enormous collections of skins and eggs of birds from Europe, North America and Asia, which formed the basis of over 100 publications, including some of the finest bird books of the late nineteenth century. Dresser was a leading figure in scientific society and in the early bird conservation movement; his correspondence and diaries reveal the inner workings, motivations, personal relationships and rivalries that existed among the leading ornithologists.


'This is a magnificent exploration of (British) Victorianornithology, which brings to life many of the key figures of the period withtheir frequently very strained relationships.'
Alan Knox, British Birds l l l , January 2018

'The title (and concept behind the title) promises exciting and entertaining reading.'
'A book with a strong central plot/thread. A look at the past with relevance to the future. Definitely worth a read.'
Karl Schulze-Hagen, Vogelwarte

'Historians and scientists will find the book engaging, and Manchester University Press has done an impressive job of reproducing an enormous number of illustrations and plates (including some beautiful colour ones).'
Paul Lawrence Farber, Annals of Science, January 2018

'The book itself is comprehensive but remains eminently readable, and as such it constitutes an important addition to the history of ornithology.'
Peter Lack, British Trust for Ornithology

'Henry Dresser was one of the leading ornithologists in Britain during the latter half of the 19th century and the early 20th. In this book, Henry McGhie has drawn on previously unpublished diaries, letters and photographs held in Manchester Museum and archives held elsewhere, and written a vivid and comprehensive biography of this key figure . This is an informative, entertaining and generously illustrated book, representing excellent value.'
Bob McGowan, Scottish Birds


Henry A. McGhie is Head of Collections and Curator of Zoology at Manchester Museum, the University of Manchester


1 Family background and early life
2 Texas: the big adventure
3 Settling down to business
4 Early exploits in ornithological society
5 Collecting
6 'Discovering' the birds of Europe, I
7 'Discovering' the birds of Europe, II
8 Making <i>The Birds of Europe</i>
9 A central figure: society life in the 1870s
10 The 1880s: the rise of rivalry
11 The 1890s: the continuing rise of the British Museum (Natural History)
12 Working independently, 1900-5
13 The grand finale: the <i>Eggs of the Birds of Europe</i>
14 Time for a change
15 Legacies
Bibliography of Henry Dresser
Index of birds

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