S2A3 Biographical Database of Southern African Science




Feilden, Colonel Henry Wemyss (archaeology, ornithology)

Born: 6 October 1838, Newbridge, Kildare, Ireland.
Died: 18 June 1921, Burwash, Sussex, England.

Henry W. Feilden (his name is often misspelled as Fielden in South African sources), son of Sir William Henry Feilden, was a British soldier, naturalist and arctic explorer. He was educated at Cheltenham College (near London) and commissioned into the Black Watch as an artillery officer in 1856. He served in the so-called Indian Mutiny (1857-1858) and in China (1860), returning to England as a lieutenant in the 44th Regiment. During 1862-1865 he served as a volunteer in the army of the Confederated States during the American Civil War. On the basis of his reputation as a naturalist he was selected by the Royal Society as one of the naturalists to the British Arctic Expedition from July 1875 to October 1876. An account of the expedition, Narative of a voyage to the Polar Sea during 1875-6... was published by Sir G.S. Nares. Feilden contributed notes on ethnology to the work, and edited the natural history notes. In 1878 he published his Geology of the coasts of the Arctic lands visited by the late British Expedition.

In 1879 Feilden served in the Anglo-Zulu War in Natal, and subsequently with the Natal Field Force in the first Anglo-Boer War (1880-1881). During these years he collected stone artefacts in Natal at Newcastle, along the Bushmans River at Estcourt, between Newcastle and Rorke's Drift, at Pietermaritzburg, in the Drakensberg, and along the Buffelsrivier; in the Transvaal at Rustenburg; and in Zululand. Most of his finds were presented to the British Museum and described by him in "Notes on stone implements from South Africa" in the Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute (1883, Vol. 13, pp. 162-174). This paper included the first description of stone artefacts from the Transvaal. It also included a brief description, provided by Col. James Henry Bowker*, of the manufacture of arrow heads from modern glass, by Bushmen in Lesotho.

During March to November 1881, while stationed at Newcastle (with the rank of major), he and two colleagues, Major E.A. Butler and Captain S.G. Reid, observed the birds around the town and on trips to other areas. They published their "Ornithological notes from Natal" in The Zoologist in 1882. The paper contained a considerable amount of information on the distribution of various species, thus expanding the earlier observations of Thomas Ayres* and others. Feilden also took an interest in the attempts by John C. Parker of Karkloof to introduce trout to Natal in 1885 and 1892, and described these efforts in a paper on "Salmon and trout culture in Natal" in The Zoologist of February 1893. He had attained the rank of colonel by this time.

During the 1890's he undertook further expeditions to the Arctic. An account of these, "Visits to Barents and Kara seas, with rambles in Novaya Zemlya, 1893- and 1897" appeared in the Geographical Journal in 1898. The next year three papers by him, "Contribution to the flora of Russian Lapland", "The flowering plants of Novaya Zemlya..." (including notes on its lichens and fungi), and "Notes on the glacial geology of Arctic Europe and its islands" were included in Pearson's book Beyond Pestora eastward. At some time Feilden also visited the Grinnell Peninsula and Ellesmere Island in the extreme north of Canada, as well as Greenland.

He was again posted to South Africa from 1900 to 1901 during the Anglo-Boer War (1899-1902), when he served as paymaster in the Imperial Yeomanry, operating in the Transvaal and Cape Colony. In 1900 he collected more than 150 stone artefacts from various sites on the Cape Flats. Most of these are now in the Cambridge Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, while there is also a small collection in the Liverpool Museum. He returned to southern Africa again in 1905, visiting the Khami Ruins in Zimbabwe with H. Balfour* and E.M. Andrews*. In September 1905 he was in the Kimberley area, collecting on the Modder River. In a letter to Nature (Vol. 73, p. 77-78) published in November 1905 under the title "The stone age in the Zambesi Valley and its relation in time", he was the first person to announce the presence of stone artefacts at the Victoria Falls, recognising their great age.

Feilden was a Fellow of the Geological Society of London and of the Royal Geographical Society, and a corresponding member of the Zoological Society of London. As a keen ornithologist he was a member of the Norfolk and Norwich Naturalists' Society from 1880 to his death, serving as president in 1885-1886. Many of his papers were published in the society's Transactions. He became a member of the British Association for the Advancement of Science in 1905.


List of sources:
British Association for the Advancement of Science. Report of the seventy-fifth meeting... South Africa, 1905, list of members.

Cohen, A.B. Notes on southern African stone tool collectors represented in the collections of the British Museum (Natural History), 2001, unpublished.

Goodwin, A.J.H. A commentary upon South African prehistory up to the introduction of the new terminology. Bantu Studies, 1935, Vol. 9, pp. 291-333; bibliography pp. 387-413.

Jones, N. The prehistory of Southern Rhodesia (p. 12). Cambridge University Press, 1949.

Mendelssohn, S. South African bibliography. London, 1910.

Mitchell, P. The South African stone age in the collections of the British Museum: Content, history and significance. South African Archaeological Bulletin, 1998, Vol. 53, pp. 26-36.

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

Obituary: The late Col. H.W. Feilden. Retrieved from https://britishbirds.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/article_files/V15/V15_N03/V15_N03_P071_071_OB016.pdf on 31 October 2016.

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

Who was who (Vol. 2, 4th ed.) London: Adam & Black, 1967.


Compiled by: C. Plug


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