Artefact of the month November 2012 - Allan Octavian Hume Centenary 1829-1912
Described as the `Father or Pope of Indian ornithology’, Hume was a prolific bird collector and publisher describing many species for the first time, some of these descriptions were published in Proceedings of the Zoological Society of London.
Hume was a civil servant, political reformer and a founder of the Indian National Congress.
He sailed to India in 1849 and remained there, retiring from the Civil Service in 1882, eventually leaving India in 1894 and settling at Upper Norwood in South London.
Whilst in India he started a systematic survey of the birds of the Indian Subcontinent, accumulating the largest collection of Asiatic birds These were housed in his own museum and library at his home Rothney Castle in Shimla (Himachal Pradesh).
Hume used this vast collection to produce a publication on all the birds of India. This was lost in 1885 when all his manuscripts were sold by a servant as waste paper. Sadly a landslip caused by heavy rains damaged his personal museum and specimens. He wrote to the British Museum wishing to donate his collection on certain conditions, one of them being that the collection was to be examined by Dr. R. Bowdler Sharpe, formerly Librarian at the Zoological Society of London. The British Museum would not agree to his conditions. Only following the destruction of nearly 20000 specimens, did the Museum authorities let Dr Sharpe visit India to supervise the transfer of the specimens to the British Museum. The Hume collection as it went to the British museum in 1874 consisted of 82,000 specimens (258 types) of which 75,577 were placed in the Museum. The collection contained 400 mammal species including Hadromys humei a mouse named after Hume.
Hume was a prolific letter writer and corresponded with many noted contemporary ornithologists, zoologists and collectors including Brian Houghton Hodgson, Edward Blyth, Samuel Tickell and Richard Lydekker.
He published several works including the following, copies of these can all be consulted in ZSL Library:
My scap book : or rough notes on Indian oology and ornithology / edited by Allan Hume. Calcutta : Printed by C. B. Lewis, Baptist Mission Pr, 1869
Nests and eggs of Indian birds : Rough draft / by Allan Hume. Calcutta : Office of the Superintendant of Government Printing, 1873.
Lahore to Yarkand : incidents of the route and natural history of the countries traversed by the expedition of 1870, under T. D. Forsyth Esq,, C.B. / by George Henderson and Allan O. Hume. London : Reeve, 1873.
The Indian ornithological collector's vade mecum : containing practical instructions for collecting, preserving, packing and keeping specimens of birds, eggs, nests, feathers, and skeletons / by Allan Hume. Calcutta : Central Press, 1874
The game birds of India, Burmah, and Ceylon / Hume and Marshall. Calcutta : Hume & Marshall, 1879-81.
The nests and eggs of Indian birds / by Allan O. Hume; edited by Eugene William Oates, 2nd ed. London : Porter, 1889-90.
He edited a quarterly journal Stray Feathers : a journal of ornithology for Indian and its dependencies from Volume 1 in 1873 to Volume 12 in 1899. In this he published descriptions of his new discoveries such as Hume’s Owl.
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