The Zoologist/4th series, vol 6 (1902)/Issue 727/Obituary for Hugh Alexander Macpherson

Obituary for Hugh Alexander Macpherson  (1902) 
by Robert Service

Published in The Zoologist, 4th series, vol 6, issue 727, January 1902, p. 18–20


Hugh Alexander Macpherson, M.A.

Rarely, indeed, have the interests served by this Journal sustained a greater loss than in the premature removal from our midst of the Rev. Hugh Alexander Macpherson. A sudden attack of inflammation, resulting from exposure to inclement weather, on a constitution never quite robust, came on the 23rd, and on the 26th November a bright existence passed away.

A member of an ancient branch of the Clan, that has given many members to high public service, he first saw the light in Calcutta, forty-three years ago, the eldest son of Mr. William Macpherson, of Trinity College, Cambridge, editor of the 'Quarterly Review.' His grandfather was Dr. Macpherson, Professor of Greek in King's College, Aberdeen. Educated at Haileybury and Oriel College, Oxford, he received the degree of B.A. in 1881, and M.A. (with honours) in 1884. He was ordained to the ministry in 1882, and served as curate of St. James's, Carlisle, till 1885, when he went to London, and held curacies in Upper Holloway and Paddington. He came back to Carlisle three years later, and remained there in various ecclesiastical offices till 1897, when he accepted the incumbency of Allonby, close by the ever-troubled waters of the Solway Firth. About a couple of years ago he removed to another charge at Pitlochry, in the Central Highlands, where a busy life has closed all too soon. Although a Highlandman, his heart was where his life's work had been done, and by his own wishes his body was laid to rest in the cemetery of the old Border City he loved so well by a great company of mourners, and amidst numerous manifestations of public grief.

As a naturalist, Macpherson possessed a rare—almost a unique—combination of qualifications; he was equally eminent in both field and cabinet work, while as a scholar he wielded a pen of high literary excellence. Indefatigable in his outdoor observations, one day he would be found wandering amidst the splendid scenery of Lakeland, interrogating the dalesmen on points in the history and traditions of the wild things around; the next lying hidden along shore, glasses and book and pencil before him, watching and noting the actions of the waders and wildfowl as they were moved along the great sand-banks by the swift flowing tide of Solway; or, maybe, on one of the native whammle boats going down the firth on the ebb, ever amassing the knowledge which, in many hundreds of articles and paragraphs, he contributed so profusely to these and other pages.

The same industry with which he carried on his general work characterized his correspondence. Letters of three or four sheets and post-cards followed each other in such rapid succession, that any conscientious correspondent not gifted with the like enthusiasm had difficulty in making due acknowledgment. Telegrams, too, came at times when anything he thought important cropped up. We remember with pleasure how, seated at breakfast one May morning in 1888, a "wire" was laid before us, which read as follows:—"Pallas's Sand Grouse have arrived in numbers. Look out for them. Tell everybody. Macpherson." The state of suppressed excitement under which our friend laboured in making such an announcement can well be imagined by those who knew him.

His keenness of disposition and Celtic fervour of temperament occasionally led him into impatience with fellow-workers, and it has to be said that, now and again, some little disagreements resulted where more phlegmatic individuals would never have noticed any incompatibility. But no permanent estrangements ever resulted. Macpherson was always first to heal any breaches thus made.

His first work of importance was the volume on the 'Birds of Cumberland' (1886), prepared in collaboration with Mr. Wm. Duckworth. Next followed the 'Visitation of Pallas's Sand Grouse to Scotland in 1888' (1889). Three volumes of the 'Young Collector Series'—"Fishes," "Mammals," and a "Handbook of British Birds"—were undertaken and issued in 1891. The last named, although certainly of rather limited dimensions, is really a capital little manual, and ought to be more widely known than it is. In 1892 came his magnum opus, 'The Vertebrate Fauna of Lakeland.' Suggested by, and following the main lines of, Harvie-Brown and Buckley's series of faunas of the Scottish areas, yet in manner of treatment, and in other features, with a character of thorough originality, it forms perhaps the finest faunal history that has ever been written on any district within the British Islands. The natural history portions of the two volumes of the 'Fur and Feather Series,' devoted respectively to the Partridge and the Grouse, were penned by our departed friend in 1893, and that on the Red Deer in 1896. The 'History of Fowling' (1897) was his latest and most voluminous book. In addition to these, Macpherson was responsible for a portion of the letterpress in the 'Royal Natural History,' he having supplied the account of the birds "from Corvidæ to Cærebidæ." And similarly, in that fine work, 'British Birds, their Nests and Eggs, by various well-known Authors,' he was responsible for the Tubinares, which he described in his usual luminous style. He wrote the chapter on Ornithology for the Cumberland volume of the Victorian County Histories, but, alas! it will appear as posthumous work. It is understood that an account of the avifauna of Skye, in which picturesque Hebridean island his ancestral estate of Glendale is situated, was nearly ready for the printer.

Such solid literary labours did not by any means exhaust his activity, for he contributed an immense amount of thoroughly good matter to magazines and newspapers. Since he has resided at Pitlochry he often furnished one of the excellent natural history articles that appear each Tuesday in the 'Scotsman.'

The Carlisle Museum in Tullie House has been more indebted to Macpherson than anyone else. The collection of birds was his especial care, and most admirably it has been completed, mostly with his own specimens, or those procured from friends.

In concluding this brief and inadequate memoir of one who stood far forward amongst British ornithologists, we may express the confident hope that a memorial volume, for which ample materials exist, may be forthcoming ere long.

This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published before January 1, 1928.

The longest-living author of this work died in 1925, so this work is in the public domain in countries and areas where the copyright term is the author's life plus 97 years or less. This work may be in the public domain in countries and areas with longer native copyright terms that apply the rule of the shorter term to foreign works.