John Latham published a listing of all the known birds of the world in his General Synopsis of Birds – the first such undertaking in Britain for many years – and later added to it an Index Ornithologicus in Latin, to conform to current practice. He rubbed shoulders with Joseph Banks and other eminent scientists of the day, and was duly elected fellow of the Royal Society and the Society of Antiquaries. He was one of the founder members of the Linnean Society. Retirement took him to the historic market town of Romsey, where he threw himself just as vigorously into another of his interests: collecting the artefacts of the past. He copied historical documents and recorded oral tradition, and gathered it all together in seven illustrated volumes, thereby preserving some original material that has since been lost. His name is still revered by historians in Romsey. When tragedy struck, leaving him almost destitute at the age of 80, he was obliged to move to Winchester to live with his married daughter Ann Wickam. Nothing daunted, he set about publishing an even more compendious History of Birds, to include all the latest discoveries. He had the intellectual curiosity of his age, and prodigious energy to boot. We are indebted to him for his instinct to preserve and classify, and yet his name is all but forgotten now.
"If you are a well-travelled birder, then it is likely that you will be familiar with the surname Latham. Latham’s snipe Gallinago hardwickii is perhaps the most widely known of the four species bearing this name – closely followed by Latham’s forest francolin Francolinus lathami.
John Latham was born in Kent in 1740 and became a renowned doctor, practising for many years at Dartford, Kent, and later settling in Romsey, Hampshire. Apart from helping to establish the Linnean Society, he was a distinguished ornithologist and possessed a fine collection of bird specimens. As a bird collector Latham did not travel the world, but he did receive numerous specimens from many countries, from which he described many species new to science, particularly from Australia. His two main works were A General Synopsis of Birds (1781–1802) and A General History of Birds (1821–28).
This short booklet explores Latham’s life, from his days as a highly successful surgeon to his retirement in Hampshire. It is clear that this was a man who could not resist the opportunity to understand and describe everything around him. He was fascinated by the local history of Hampshire and this booklet quotes liberally from his letters to a wide range of correspondents including Thomas Pennant and Joseph Banks. He died in 1837 having made a considerable contribution to the ornithological world."
- Keith Betton, www.britishbirds.co.uk, 20-12-2012
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