Brian Houghton Hodgson manuscripts

by asylph on

Brian Houghton Hodgson (1800-1894) is widely recognised for the great progress he made in describing the birds and mammals of Nepal, and in recognition of this his name is linked to the names of several mammals and birds. Realising that Nepal was virtually unknown to Europeans, Hodgson devoted the 23 years (1820-1843) he was posted there to study its peoples, customs, architecture, languages, religion and natural history. In natural history, Hodgson concentrated on the birds and mammals of Nepal, the Himalayas in general and Northern India. He wrote more than 140 zoological papers, ranging from descriptions of single species to checklists of the fauna, and presented ZSL with his manuscript notes and drawings.

Hodgson was successively between 1820 and 1843 Assistant British Resident, then Acting Resident and then from 1833 he was Resident.

ZSL is fortunate in having six manuscript volumes of his bird drawings and notes and two further volumes concerning mammals: circa 1078 pages on birds and 456 on mammals.

Hodgson trained Nepalese artists to paint watercolours of the animals in the style of zoological illustrations and built up an enormous visual reference of pictures.Rajman Singh illustrated many of the drawings in the mammal volumes.

While some paintings are finished, the manuscripts also contain sketches, notes and measurements like a field sketch book; yet almost always these talented artists have succeeded in producing superb images, which were then annotated by Hodgson with scientific and common names, an indication of the locality and reference number.

Typically each drawing has a caption giving Hodgson's unique species number, a scientific name, common local names, and locality. Additionally, there may be many separate figures on anatomy, and copious notes on both sides of the sheet, including tables showing the animal’s measurements and weight. Hodgson recorded the day and month but seldom the year, so that accurate dating of the drawings is often difficult.

Hodgson described many animals for the first time; he discovered many others but their valid scientific names and descriptions are attributed to other zoologists owing to the difficulty in communications 170 years ago.

The Brian Houghton Hodgson manuscripts contain unique,useful, first-hand and important information for bird and mammal biology and conservation. ZSL has taken a number of steps to increase awareness of the manuscripts and their use:


Can you help?

ZSL supports Nepal in the wake of earthquake tragedy Funds raised will go towards meeting immediate needs for food, fuel, clean water and shelter for park staff particularly at high altitude and at key sites in the lowland as well as safeguarding Nepal's national parks to curb poaching in the wake of this tragic natural disaster.


Transcribing the manuscripts?

Checking transciptions?
Translating the Devengari text?
Contributing to conservation and digitisation costs?
Using the manuscripts in your studies of Nepal’s fauna?
Sharing any other ideas to raise awareness and use for these manuscripts?
Please email Ann Sylph at or telephone 020 7449 6293.
Please also use these contact details if you would like to examine these manuscripts in more detail.

Do check this page again for further updates.
A classification of the original watercolour paintings of birds of India by B.H. Hodgson, S.R. Tickell, and C.F. Sharpe in the Library of the Zoological Society of London by G. Carmichael Low et al, Proceedings of the Zoological Society, 1930,100: 549–626. doi: 10.1111/j.1096-3642.1930.tb00991.x Publication History Article first published online: 21 AUG 2009 Received April 16; 1930: Read June 3, 1930. Link to PDF of this document for Journal of Zoology subscribers

Catalogue of the Specimens and Drawings of Mammals, Birds, Reptiles and Fishes of Nepal and Tibet, presented by B.H. Hodgson, Esq. to the British Museum. Second Edition 1863. (ZSL Library has a copy annotated by Hodgson).

A Himalayan ornithologist: the life and works of Brian Houghton Hodgson by Mark Cocker and Carol Inskipp, Oxford : Oxford University Press, 1988

Hodgson : a pioneer of Himalayan natural history by Carol Inskipp. Journal. British-Nepal Society, 2010, No. 24, pp. 29-33

Life of Brian Houghton Hodgson : British Resident at the court of Nepal by Sir William Wilson Hunter, London J. Murray, 1896

The origins of Himalayan studies : Brian Houghton Hodgson in Nepal and Darjeeling 1820-1858, edited by David M. Waterhouse, London : Routledge Curzon, 2004.

In 2011 the British Library have produced A Descriptive catalogue of the Hodgson collection in the British Library, London.


Find out more about ZSL's work in Nepal 


Page updated May 2015

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