S2A3 Biographical Database of Southern African Science

Gurney, Mr John Henry (ornithology)

Born: 4 July 1818, Norwich, Norfolk, United Kingdom.
Died: 20 April 1890, Norwich, Norfolk, United Kingdom.

John Henry Gurney, English banker, ornithologist and liberal party polititian, was the only son of Joseph John Gurney. He began his bird studies when still a young boy and wrote An account of the birds found in Norfolk... (London, 1846, 44p). Later he became a specialist on the birds of prey of the world and published A descriptive catalogue of the raptorial birds in the Norfolk and Norwich Museum... (London, 1864, 90p) and A list of diurnal birds of prey... (London, 1884, 187p). From 1853 to 1890, the year of his death, he furthermore published over 80 ornithological papers and notes, many of them in The Ibis.

Gurney visited Natal around 1857, where he met the ornithologist Thomas Ayres*. The two became lifelong friends. Upon his return to England Gurney wrote a "Note on a bird and on a quadruped, both found in Natal, and both said to prey upon serpents" (The Zoologists, 1858). He also compiled a "List of a collection of birds from the colony of Natal, in south-east Africa" (The Ibis, 1859). This was the first of ten articles on the birds of Natal in The Ibis, published by him during 1859-1873, based on specimens and field notes submitted to him by Ayres. After Ayres moved to the Transvaal in 1865 he continued to send his specimens and observations to Gurney, who communicated the notes to The Ibis. They were published under Ayres's name in a series of 15 papers entitled "Notes on the birds of the territory of the Transvaal Republic" during 1869-1886. Other papers by Gurney included "Remarks on the Lesser Buzzard of South Africa and its congeners" (The Ibis, 1862); "A list of British birds found in South Africa" (The Zoologist, 1863); "A list of birds collected in Damara Land by Mr C.J. Andersson" (Proceedings of the Zoological Society of London, 1864); and "On a raptorial bird from Damara Land: Macheirhamphus Andersoni" (Transactions of the Zoological Society of London, 1869). He subsequently arranged and edited C.J. Andersson's* Notes on the birds of Damaraland and the adjacent countries of South West Africa (London, 1872, 394p).

The species Zoothera gurneyi (Orange Ground-Thrush) and Promerops gurneyi (Gurney's Sugarbird) still commemorate him. His son, John Henry Gurney Jnr, also became an ornithologist and published papers from 1868 onwards.

List of sources:
Brain, C.K. Austin Roberts: A lifelong devotion to South African birds and beasts. Cape Town: John Voelcker Bird Book Fund, 1998.

Clancey, P.A. The founders of South West African ornithology. Bokmakierie, 1989, Vol. 41(2), pp. 41-45.

Hocky, P.A.R. et al. Roberts birds of southern Africa (7th ed.) Cape Town: John Voelcker Bird Book Fund, 2005.

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

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

Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. https://en.wikipedia.org as on 2017-4-27.

Compiled by: C. Plug