Henry Dresser and Victorian Ornithology

Henry Dresser and Victorian Ornithology
Henry A. McGhie
Publisher:  Manchester University Press, Manchester
Page Count:  366
ISBN Number:  9781784994136

This is the first more or less comprehensive biography of a man who was one of the more important influences on ornithology in the latter half of the 19th century, Henry Dresser. It is based especially on the Dresser archive material and the large collections of skins and eggs accumulated by Dresser which are now in the Manchester Museum where Henry McGhie is Head of Collections and Curator of Zoology.

Dresser’s main claim to ornithological fame is the compilation and publishing of two multi-volume books: The History of the Birds of Europe originally published in 84 parts between 1871 and 1882; and Eggs of the Birds of Europe published in 24 parts between 1905 and 1910. These were both monumental tasks – the BWP of the time – and were written largely single-handedly and based on his own extensive collections, which he had accumulated from many people over many years. How he managed to find the time is unclear because, unlike many Victorian gentleman-naturalists, Dresser had a full-time job running his family businesses and which, in the early days especially, involved quite extensive travelling. And these businesses were successful enough to fully support his ornithological activities. He also found time to be heavily involved in the BOU and other scientific societies, and he wrote many and various other papers and notes. A full bibliography is included.

The book itself is comprehensive but remains eminently readable, and as such it constitutes an important addition to the history of ornithology.

Peter Lack