The Zoologist/4th series, vol 2 (1898)/Issue 685/Obituary: Osbert Salvin

Obituary: Osbert Salvin  (1898) 
W.L. Distant (ed.)

Published in: The Zoologist, 4th series, vol 2, issue 685 (July, 1898), p. 315–316


Osbert Salvin.

The death of this well-known and highly-respected ornithologist and entomologist took place suddenly, though not altogether unexpectedly, at Hawksfold, near Haslemere, on June 1st, from an old-established heart disease, which had been borne stoically and contemplated cheerfully. He was born at Finchley in 1835, and was the only surviving son of Mr. Anthony Salvin, a well-known architect. Shortly after graduating at Cambridge as Senior Optime in the Mathematical Tripos of 1857, he made a Natural History Expedition to Tunis and Algeria, in the company of Mr. W. H. Hudleston and Mr. (now Canon) Tristram, both of whom survive. In the autumn of the same year he made the first expedition to a country with which his life's work was to be largely associated; this was his visit to Guatemala, where he stayed chiefly in company with the late Mr. G.U. Skinner, the well-known collector of orchids, till the middle of 1858, revisiting the same region in about a year, and for a third time in 1861, in company with his friend and future coadjutor, Mr. F.D. Godman. After his marriage, in 1865, he with his wife made a fourth journey to Central America. There can be no doubt that these expeditions incited the project and prepared the way for the publication of 'Biologia Centrali-Americana,' of which 142 parts have already appeared, and which is still unfinished.

From the foundation of the Strickland Curatorship in the University of Cambridge, in 1874, Mr. Salvin accepted and held that office until 1883, when he succeeded to the family estate. As an ornithologist, he edited the third series of the 'Ibis,' of which he was one of the founders; was author of a 'Catalogue of the Strickland Collection' in the Cambridge Museum; to the British Museum Catalogue of Birds he contributed the enumeration of the Trochilidæ and Procellaridæ; completed and arranged the late Lord Lilford's 'Coloured Figures of British Birds,' and was the author of many ornithological papers, some published by himself alone, and others conjointly with Dr. Sclater and Mr. Godman. With the last named he contributed the ornithology to the 'Biologia Centrali-Americana,' still uncompleted. As an entomologist he was a lepidopterist, and confined himself to the Rhopalocera. His great work is of course in the 'Biologia,' written in conjunction with Mr. Godman, and nearing completion with the Hesperiidæ. In this last family we see a matured view of treatment, where the structural characters of anal appendages are largely used in specific differentiation, a principle not insisted on in the earlier parts of the work.

But a bare recital of published work scarcely fulfils the compass of this obituary notice. In association with his life-long friend Mr. Godman we see a capacity and love for scientific zoology combined with the accident of wealth which are phenomenal. The publication of the 'Biologia Centrali-Americana' is an unique event both in project and realization. Its conception not only proclaimed a devotion to zoological labour on the part of its editors, but declared an optimism in the expected assistance of other workers, which was generally seen to be amply justified. The expense of production would have strained the available finances of a small state, and would have required a financial vote—not likely to have been granted—of an enlightened empire. Such amounts are privately wasted every year, but seldom contributed to science, especially to such a sober and non-advertising science as zoology.

Nor must we overlook the fact that, though of a modest and retiring nature, Mr. Salvin still exercised a great personal influence in official biology. He not only was a member of, but also a frequent office-holder in, our Natural History Societies, to which he was a regular visitor and active councilor, while his friend and coadjutor is a Trustee of the British Museum. It is probable that it will be long before such an union occurs again as produced the 'Biologia,' and made the rooms in Chandos Street such a zoological rendezvous.

This work was published before January 1, 1928, and is in the public domain worldwide because the author died at least 100 years ago.

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