Tuesday, 16 October 2012

What's in a Name?...Edward Blyth (1810-1873)

Edward Blyth was one of the most highly regarded ornithologists of his generation and species named in his honour include Blyth’s Kingfisher, Blyth’s Hawk Eagle, and Blyth’s Tragopan as well as Blyth’s Reed Warbler and Blyth’s Pipit.
Blyth attended school in London and left at the age of fifteen having shown a disposition to explore the local wildlife during his school years.  It had been hoped that he would attend university and eventually move into the church.  His passion for natural history continued.

On coming of age and gaining an inheritance, Blyth bought a Druggists business, but continued his interests in natural history and supplemented his incoming by writing articles for publications and papers for scientific journals.  His subjects ranged from Habits of the Bearded Tit, The Predaceous Habits of the Shrike, to Observations on the Cuckoo and The Occurrence of the Carrion Crow in Ireland.  Another project of Blyth’s was to add notations to an 1836 edition of Gilbert White’s Selbourne.

Blyth’s druggist business inevitably failed and for a time he acted as Curator for the Ornithological Society of London.  Due to poor health he was advised to seek a warmer climate abroad and when he was offered the position of Curator of the Museum of the Asiatic Society of Bengal he accepted this and arrived in Calcutta in September 1841.  He devoted the next twenty years to the natural history of British India, improving the museum and updating the catalogues.  His poor health restricted his fieldwork although this did include one visit to Burma.  He received specimens from the likes of Allan Octavian Hume and Robert Swinhoe who sent skins from Formosa and China.

Blyth’s Reed Warbler was first described by Blyth as Acrocephalus dumetorum and Henry Dresser added the current vernacular name in 1876.  Blyth was also the first to describe Blyth’s Pipit, but the scientific name he gave it is no longer accepted.

When he returned to England papers by him continued to appear in the Annuls and Magazine of Natural History, The Zoologist and The Ibis and other works included the Natural History of Cranes.  In 1860 he became one of the original Honorary Members of the B.O.U.

During his time in India Blyth corresponded with Charles Darwin.  Although not well acknowledged, Blyth may have played at least some part in influencing many of Darwin’s ideas and it could well have been Blyth who warned Darwin of Wallace’s similar ideas on evolution.

The above information is taken from B and R Mearns Biographies for Birdwatchers (1988)


  1. Mr. Ash... sorry Mr.Blyth was quite an interesting person by the sounds of it, very underrated compared to some people who probably did less work but became more well known!

  2. It would be interesting to learn more about Edward Blyth's influence on Darwin, as his (Darwins) observation regarding the bills of Finches played a central part of his theory!

  3. Checked the book and there is no Mr Ashington.:-)
    It's interesting to read about many of these people who have birds named after them. There's many links between them and it takes you into areas of history that I know I would have missed otherwise. You'll have to have a loan of the book sometime Sam. It's a difficult book to get a hold of these days. Brian.

  4. Many people played a role in molding Darwin's ideas Mark and to some extent I suppose Darwin took most of the credit. Still, Darwin is one of the most interesting people I have ever read about. There's a two volume biography of Darwin by Janet Brown which is an excellent read.

  5. Cheers Brian. Yeah the Darwin biography sounds good. I may put it on the old Christmas box list, lol.

    But yes I certainly feel that Wallace himself didn't get the credit he deserved and I know Dawkins speaks highly of him.

    Perhaps it was the influence of Darwin's grandfather (Erasmus)- as in being a scientist runs in the family, that made people give him most of the credit?

  6. http://animalsbirds.com/blyths-tragopan-beautiful-bird-images-photos-wallpaper/