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Additional papers of Wilfred Backhouse Alexander and Horace Gundry Alexander


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Comprises: notebooks, sketches, photographs, correspondence, index cards and gramophone records


  • Creation: Creation: Majority of material found within Bulk, 1852-1984
  • Creation: Creation: 1852-1984, [c. 2006]


1.13 Linear metres (9 physical shelfmarks)

Language of Materials

  • English

Preferred Citation

Oxford, Bodleian Libraries [followed by shelfmark and folio or page reference, e.g. MS. 15599/1].

Please see our help page for further guidance on citing archives and manuscripts.

Full range of shelfmarks:

MSS. 15599/1-8, MS. 15599 Photogr. 1

Collection ID (for staff)

CMD ID 15599, 15672


Additional papers of Wilfred Backhouse Alexander (1885-1965), ornithologist and Horace Gundry Alexander (1889-1989), ornithologist

Biographical / Historical

Wilfred Backhouse Alexander, after whom the Alexander Library of Ornithology was named, was born in Croydon, Surrey on 4 Feb 1885. He and his brothers, Christopher James and Horace Gundry Alexander, were introduced to natural history by their two uncles, James and Albert Crosfield. He was educated at Bootham School in York, 1898-1901, and Tonbridge School in Kent, 1901-1903. After an interval of a few years, due to ill health, he went up to King's College, Cambridge, to study Natural Sciences, 1906, and he graduated in 1909 with first class honours. During this time his main interest was in botany.

After graduation he stayed in Cambridge for a short time working as an assistant superintendent of the Cambridge Museum of Zoology and assistant demonstrator in Zoology and Comparative Anatomy for Cambridge University, 1910-1911. In 1911 he took a job with the Board of Agriculture and Fisheries as an assistant naturalist on an international exploration of the North Sea, but in August that year obtained the appointment of Assistant at the Western Australian Museum. He moved to Australia in early 1912 to take up the position which he held for three years before being made Keeper of Biology at the museum. He made a number of expeditions to collect material for the museum, including the Percy Sladen Trust Expedition to the Abrolhos Islands in 1913. He became Honorary Secretary of and co-editor of the journal of the Royal Society of Western Australia in 1914. In 1916 the museum was under severe financial pressure and Alexander was granted leave without pay to take up a position as science abstractor to the Advisory Council of Science and Industry in Melbourne, which he held until 1919 when he returned to the Western Australian Museum for a short time, until 1920. During this period he also acted as librarian to the Royal Australian Ornithologists’ Union, which he became vice-president of from 1923-1925. He was also editor of the union’s journal, Emu, from 1924-1925.

In 1920 the Commonwealth Prickly Pear Board, based in Queensland, was formed with the purpose of finding a way to control several species of Opuntia which were taking over vast areas of subtropical eastern Australia and W.B. Alexander was appointed biologist to the board. The project took him on visits to North and South America in search of a suitable insect agent and in 1924 he was promoted to Officer-in-charge. The result of these overseas investigations was the highly successful use of the insect Cactoblastis in controlling the Opuntia species in Australia and also arousing his interest in oceanic birds. So when he left Australia in 1926 he spent most of the year at the American Museum of Natural History preparing the book Birds of the Ocean (1928) before returning to England.

He had no regular employment from 1926 until he was appointed Superintendent of the Marine Biological Association’s Tees Estuary survey in 1929. Then in 1930 he was appointed Director of the Oxford Bird Census which developed into the Oxford University Research in Economic Ornithology in 1931, then the Edward Grey Institute of Field Ornithology in 1938, funded by the newly formed British Trust for Ornithology. W.B. Alexander remained as Director of these successive organizations until he retired in 1945, but stayed on as librarian until 1955. He was awarded the Tucker medal of the British Trust for Ornithology in 1955 and the Union Medal of the British Ornithologists’ Union in 1959. From 1956, he spent his retirement in Dorset where he died on 18 Dec 1965.

Horace Gundry Alexander was born on 18th April 1889 in Croydon, the youngest of Joseph Gundry Alexander and Josephine Crosfield Alexander's four sons and brother of Wilfred Backhouse Alexander. He was educated at The Downs School, Bootham, York and King's College, Cambridge, where he obtained first class honours in history in 1912, followed by postgraduate study. When war broke out in 1914 he served as secretary to a number of anti-war committees and in 1916 when conscription was introduced he registered as a conscientious objector. As such he was required to work as a school teacher, first in Warwick and then in Cranbrook in Kent, teaching international relations. In 1919 Horace moved to Birmingham to take up the new post of schoolmaster of international relations at Woodbrooke, a Quaker study centre. He was a founder member of the Birmingham Bird Club in 1929, renamed the Birmingham and District Bird Club in 1945 and then The Birmingham and West Midlands Bird Club in 1947, early in its history, editing the club's first annual report in 1934 and becoming the club's first elected president in 1945. He later became Vice President of the British Ornithologists' Union (1956-1959). He first visited India in 1927 and returned frequently throughout his life. He formed friendships with a number of public figures in India, including a close friendship with Mahatma Ghandi. During his visits to India he conducted ornithological field work and was a founder member of the Delhi Bird-watching Society. In 1943 he visited China to help in discussions of the future of the Friends Ambulance Unit's China Convoy. From 1951 he was based mostly in the UK and he moved to Swanage in 1959, then to Pennsylvania, USA, in 1969 where he died in 1989 aged 100.


Arranged by type of material, then by date

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Transferred from the Alexander Library of Ornithology, 2018. Donated to the Alexander Library by Cecilia [Alexander] in 2006.

Related Materials

See also papers of Wilfred Backhouse Alexander (MSS. 14895/1-20) and papers of Horace Gundry Alexander (MSS. 14891/1-21)

Catalogue of Additional Papers of Wilfred Backhouse Alexander and Horace Gundry Alexander
Finding aid prepared by Francesca Alves
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the Bodleian Libraries Repository

Weston Library
Broad Street
Oxford OX1 3BG United Kingdom