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Papers of Edmund Selous (1857-1934)


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Papers of Edmund Selous, consisting of notebooks and loose notes relating to ornithology, 1898-1927; indexes 1888-1910; published and unpublished manuscripts by E. Selous and others, including bibliographies of Selous's work by K. E. L. Simmons, 1986, and miscellaneous correspondence.


  • Creation: 1888-1930, 1986


5.61 Linear metres (29 physical shelfmarks)

Language of Materials

  • English

Preferred Citation

Oxford, Bodleian Libraries [followed by shelfmark, e.g. MS. 15477/1].

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Full range of shelfmarks:

MSS. 15477/1-29

Collection ID (for staff)

CMD ID 15477


The papers of Edmund Selous, 1888-1930, 1986

Biographical / Historical

Edmund Selous was a pioneer of modern bird studies. He promoted the study of birds by observation (a word he disliked) as opposed to what were – in the first decade of the twentieth century - the traditional, invasive methods favoured by contemporary ornithologists: the shooting and collection of specimens for description and classification. He lived in Cheltenham, at No 19 Clarence Square, formerly the home of explorer Charles Sturt. Several of Edmund Selous's early, most influential books were published while he lived in the house.

Edmund Selous’s original interest in ornithology was unexceptional and in keeping with the fashions of the times. But in his book (1901) he explains his ornithological conversion:

For myself, I must confess that I once belonged to this great, poor army of killers, though happily, a bad shot, a most fatigable collector, and a poor half-hearted bungler, generally. But now that I have watched birds closely, the killing of them seems to me as something monstrous and horrible; and, for every one that I have shot, or even only shot at and missed, I hate myself with an increasing hatred. I am convinced that this most excellent result might be arrived at by numbers and numbers of others, if they would only begin to do the same; for the pleasure that belongs to observation and inference is, really, far greater than that which attends any kind of skill or dexterity, even when death and pain add their zest to the latter. Let anyone who has an eye and a brain (but especially the latter), lay down the gun and take up the glasses for a week, a day, even for an hour, if he is lucky, and he will never wish to change back again. He will soon come to regard the killing of birds as not only brutal, but dreadfully silly, and his gun and cartridges, once so dear, will be to him, hereafter, as the toys of childhood are to the grown man.

He dates his conversion to studying bird behaviour to 1898, when he watched the antics of two nightjars, which he soon wrote up and published.5 His first book was actually for children: , published by Methuen in 1899. He used to tell animal stories to his children, and "Tommy Smith" was his story-telling persona.


Material arranged as received from the Alexander Library of Ornithology.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Transferred from the Alexander Library of Ornithology, 2018.

Catalogue of the papers of Edmund Selous
EAD version 2019 by Jen Patterson
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the Bodleian Libraries Repository

Weston Library
Broad Street
Oxford OX1 3BG United Kingdom