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Sacred Ibis: The Ornithology of Canon Henry Baker Tristram, DD, FRS

Biography / Memoir

By: William G Hale(Author)

386 pages, 64 plates with 88 colour & b/w photos and colour & b/w illustrations; 7 colour illustrations, 12 tables

Sacristy Press

Hardback | May 2016 | #230874 | ISBN-13: 9781910519134
Availability: Usually dispatched within 1-2 weeks Details
NHBS Price: £54.99 $72/€62 approx

About this book

Henry Baker Tristram was a surprising and remarkable man: explorer, ornithologist, and priest. With his wild beard (for which he required special permission from his bishop) he undertook expeditions to the Sahara and Palestine at a time when doing so was even more fraught with danger than it is today. As a founding member of the British Ornithologists' Union (BOU), he contributed regularly to its journal, Ibis, as well as other scientific journals. Tristram's nickname in the BOU was Sacred Ibis.

Tristram was a collector par excellence, acquiring extensive collections running to tens of thousands of specimens, primarily of birds, but also of plants, fish, mammals, insects, molluscs, geological samples and archaeological material. He was the first scientist to support Charles Darwin in print, and became a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1868 supported by his great friend Alfred Newton as well as Darwin.

Professor J. B. Cragg, an eminent Zoologist at Durham University, described Tristram as "the most important biological scientist to have emerged from Durham". Tristram took part in the famous "Oxford debate" between Bishop Wilberforce of Oxford and Thomas Huxley. This led to the unfortunate and incorrect assumption that Tristram subsequently gave up his support of Darwin.

Sacred Ibis follows Tristram's epic adventures and love for birds – from his boyhood on the moors of Northumberland to his time as a Residentiary Canon of Durham Cathedral – and the people that influenced him – from his dislike of Gladstone whom he met as a fresher in Oxford to the offer of the Bishopric of Jerusalem by Disraeli (which Tristram declined). In the book are over 80 colour plates and a reproduction of Darwin's first letter to Tristram.

"[...] This is a beautifully produced volume and one that will appeal to all who have an interest in ornithology and those who have contributed to its history."
– Philip Collins, British Birds Volume 110, January 2017

"[...] This book will appeal most to those studying Tristram, Newton, Darwin or their contemporaries, but will also be enjoyed by those interested in the exploits of pioneering naturalists. The extracts and plate reproductions may prompt you to discover Tristram’s own books and writings, for as Newton wrote to his friend on his deathbed, “It was your Palestine papers that to a very great extent caused the success of the second series of the Ibis; [others’] were of great scientific interest, but they failed in the qualities for reading, while your articles possessed both merits”."
– Teresa Frost, BTO book reviews


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Professor William G. Hale graduated with a degree in Zoology from the University of Durham in 1959, followed by a PhD in 1962 and a DSc in 1985. He is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Biology, a Chartered Biologist, and an Honorary Fellow of Grey College and the University of Durham. He has long experience of research having served on committees of the Natural Environment Research Council, the Council for National Academic Awards, and as a member of the Scientific Advisory Committee of the Wildfowl Trust. He has supervised and examined over fifty PhD candidates.

Hale has published widely in the fields of entomology and ornithology, and recently on antiquarian bird books. He is author of nine books, including the New Naturalist No. 65, Waders and the Collins/Smithsonian Dictionary of Biology. He is a Past President of Liverpool Ornithologists’ Club.

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