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Papers of Harry Forbes Witherby

 Single Item
MS. 15503

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  1. typescript of 'Some Ornithological Excursions in Spain', 17 pages, describing six trips made since 1919, n.d. [c.1931], and maps relating to the typescript, c.1918-c.1928
  2. series of letters from Augusto Gil Lletget, of Museo Nacional de Ciencias Naturales, Madrid, to Witherby, 1929-1933
  3. miscellaneous correspondence regarding Spain and Gibraltar, 1929-1933. Also includes photographs of the Pyrenees and Heligoland, typescript of 'Birds seen in Gibraltar and in South Andalusia Apr 13-May 4 1931' by Miss M. Barclay, and Spanish press cutting titled 'Los vuelos de los aves anilladas'
  4. typescript of 'Some breeding birds of Spain and Portugal observed during two visits 1928 and 1930' by John Armitage, 24 pages, 1931
  5. manuscript notes on some species seen in Spain, n.d. [c.1931]


  • c.1918-1933


1 box

Language of Materials

English, German, Spanish

Preferred Citation

Oxford, Bodleian Libraries, MS. 15503.
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MS. 15503

Collection ID (for staff)

CMD ID 15503


Papers of Harry Forbes Witherby.

Biographical / Historical

Harry Forbes Witherby was born in Croydon, Surrey on 7 October 1873. After leaving school he joined the family publishing business, Witherby & Co., becoming a senior partner on his father's death. During the First World War he held a commission as Lieutenant, Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve, serving 1917-1918 as a naval intelligence officer at Dunkirk. From a young age he spent as much time as he could studying ornithology. Witherby & Co., as well as publishing books of a general nature, specialised in books on natural history, sport and travel, including ornithological periodicals and standard works edited by Witherby.

Witherby's main ornithological interests were in systematic morphology and plumage changes, geographical distribution and migration. He encouraged field work on British birds and in 1907 founded the periodical British Birds, of which he remained editor-in-chief until his death, for the bringing together of results of such field work. He was also an editor of A Handlist of British Birds (1912), The Practical Handbook of British Birds (1919-1924) and The Handbook of British Birds (1938-1941). In 1933 he played a leading role in the foundation of the British Trust for Ornithology.

He undertook a number of expeditions abroad in order to observe birds and collect specimens. He visited the Delta of Guadalquivir in southwestern Spain (1898), The Kola Peninsula in Russian Lapland with A.E. Hamerton (1899), the White Nile (1900) and southwestern Persia with C.F. Cranburne (1902). In 1904 he married Lillian Gillson who shared his interest in birds and accompanied him on many of his ornithological expeditions, including their honeymoon to Algeria. His later ornithological expeditions included Holland, Norway, Hungary, the Balearic Islands (1919), Portugal (1920) and various parts of Spain on seven occasions from 1921 to 1931.

He was a member of various societies including the British Ornithologists' Union, The British Ornithologists' Club and the Zoological Society of London. He was a Corresponding Fellow of the American Ornithologists' Union in 1916 and an Honorary Fellow in 1928. In 1938 he received the highest award of the British Ornithologists' Union, the Godman-Salvin medal in gold, as a "signal honour for distinguished ornithological work". His committee positions included:
  1. 1904-1914: British Ornithologists' Club - Hon. Secretary and Treasurer
  2. 1924-1927: British Ornithologists' Club - Chairman
  3. 1932-1933: British Ornithologists' Club - Vice Chairman
  4. British Ornithologists' Club - Migration Committee
  5. 1922-1943: British Ornithologists' Union - List Committee
  6. 1927-1930: British Ornithologists' Union - Committee
  7. 1931: British Ornithologists' Union - Vice President
  8. 1933-1938: British Ornithologists' Union - President
  9. British Trust for Ornithology - two periods as Vice Chairman
  10. 1928-1929: Norfolk and Norwich Naturalists' Society - President
Biographical history written with reference to Witherby's entry in Who Was Who and obituaries in Ibis (vol. 86, no. 2, pp. 208-222), British Birds (1 Jan 1944, p. 142), and The Times (13 Dec 1943, p. 6).


Material arranged as received from the Alexander Library of Ornithology.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Transferred from the Alexander Library of Ornithology, 2018.
Papers of Harry Forbes Witherby
EAD version 2019 by Sarah Thiel and Francesca Alves
Language of description

Repository Details

Part of the Bodleian Libraries Repository

Weston Library
Broad Street
Oxford OX1 3BG United Kingdom