S2A3 Biographical Database of Southern African Science

Seebohm, Mr Henry (ornithology)

Born: 12 July 1832, England.
Died: 26 November 1895, London, England.

Henry Seebohm, British ornithologist, went into business despite an early interest in natural history and finally settled in Sheffield as a manufacturer of steel. On 19 January 1859 he married Maria Healey. He devoted his spare time to ornithology, visiting the Netherlands, Greece, Asia Minor, Scandinavia and Germany to study and collect birds.Later he also visited southern Europe. One of his most successful expeditions was to the lower Pechora River in Siberia during 1875, with the zoologist J.A. Harvey-Brown. In 1877, with J. Wiggins, he visited the valley of the Enisej River in Siberia and subsequently published books entitled Siberia in Europe (1880) and Siberia in Asia (1882). These two books were later combined in The birds of Siberia; a record of a naturalist's visits to the valleys of the Petchora and Yenesei (London, 1901, 512p). Other books by him were A history of British birds and their eggs (4 vols, 1883-1885) and The birds of the Japanese empire (1890). In addition he published more than a hundred papers on ornithological subjects between 1877 and his death in 1895.

In 1886 Seebohm came to Durban to study and collect palaearctic migrant birds, especially waders, in their winter quarters. He appears to have been the first eminent European ornithologist to work in the Natal Colony. The next year he published "Notes on the birds of Natal and adjoining parts of South Africa" in The Ibis, and a monumental book on the wading birds of the world, Geographical distribution of the family Charadriidae, or the plovers, sandpipers, snipes, and their allies (London, 1887, 524p), which was widely used for decades. It includes descriptions of South African birds.

Seebohm has been described as a giant of Victorian ornithology (Clancey, 1975). He was a member of the British Ornothologists' Union and of the Zoological Society of London from 1873. In 1878 he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society, serving as its secretary from 1890 to his death, and in 1879 a Fellow of the Linnean Society. He presented his egg collection to the British Museum (Natural History), followed at the time of his death by his collection of over 16 000 bird skins and over 200 bird skeletons. He was then working on A monograph of the Turdidae, or family of thrushes, which was edited and completed by R.B. Sharpe and publihsed in two volumes (London, 1898-1902).

List of sources:
Clancey, P.A. A one-time Mecca for ornithologists. Natalia, 1975, Vol. 5, pp. 29-35.

National Union Catalogue, pre-1956 imprints. London: Mansell, 1968-1980.

Oxford dictionary of national biography. Oxford University Press, 2004.

Royal Society of London. Catalogue of scientific papers [1800-1900]. London: Royal Society, 1867-1925.

South African bibliography to the year 1925 (Vol. 5). Cape Town: South African Library, 1991.

Compiled by: C. Plug