Henry Eeles Dresser

Henry Eeles Dresser

Henry Eeles Dresser (May 9, 1838 - November 28, 1915) was an English businessman and ornithologist.

Henry Dresser was born in Thirsk where his father was the manager of the bank which had been set up by his grandfather. Dresser's father left Thirsk in 1840-41 to become a bank manager in Leeds before moving south to set up business in London in 1846 as a commission merchant in the Baltic timber business. Henry Dresser senior was in business with his father-in-law, Robert Garbutt of Hull, who traded with the firm of Hackman and Co. of Vyborg (Viipuri) which was in southern Finland at the time. Henry Dresser senior also purchased a large timber sawmill business in New Brunswick, the Lancaster Mills, near Musquash in 1848.

Henry Eeles Dresser was the eldest son of Henry Dresser and Eliza Ann Garbutt; he had five sisters and three brothers. His father intended for him to take over the family business in the Baltic timber trade so took him out of school in Bromley and sent him firstly to Ahrensburg in 1852, to learn German and then, in 1854, to Gefle and Uppsala to study Swedish. Henry Dresser then spent a time in Hackman's offices in Vyborg in order to learn Finnish during 1856-58, during which time he travelled round the Baltic coast several times. Dresser had a lifelong interest in birds and collected bird skins and eggs from his early teenage years. Whilst he was in Finland in 1858 he discovered breeding Waxwings and was the first English person to collect their eggs. This brought him fame among English ornithologists.

Through the 1860s, Dresser travelled widely through Europe and was twice in New Brunswick at his father's sawmill. He always sought out ornithologists with whom he could exchange birds and eggs. In 1863, during the American Civil War, he travelled to Texas via the Rio Grande on behalf of Liverpool and Manchester based businessmen, taking a cargo of blankets, quinine and other goods which were in short supply which were to be sold and raw cotton to be purchased with the proceeds. During his time in Texas, which was from June 1863- July 1864, he had many adventures, avoiding yellow fever, bandits and thieves. In spite of his difficult circumstances, Dresser made a large collection of around 400 bird skins in southern Texas. His notes on his time in Texas, published in "The Ibis" (1865-66) are a leading source of information for the period and include mention of several interesting birds including the extinct (or almost extinct) Ivory-billed Woodpecker, the almost extinct Eskimo Curlew and the endangered Whooping Crane.

Dresser was a leading figure in ornithological circles: he was elected as a Member of the British Ornithologists' Union in 1865 and served as its secretary from 1882 to 1888. He was also a member and fellow of the Linnean and Zoological societies of London and an honorary fellow of the American Ornithologists' Union. He was a close friend of Professor Alfred Newton, Thomas Littleton Powys, 4th Baron Lilford and of Sir Alfred Russel Wallace and he knew all of the leading ornithologists of the day. He was particularly well-known to European, American and Russian ornithologists. He worked with Alfred Newton on the development of a close time for British birds when they could not be hunted during the 1860s, an early part of the development of the bird conservation movement. In spite of his prominence as an ornithologist, this activity had to come second to his business which, from 1870 until 1910, was in the iron business, with premises at 110 Cannon Street in The City.

Dresser was the author of over 100 scientific papers on birds, mostly concerned with geographical distribution and new species. His "Manual of Palaearctic Birds" (1902) was an important contribution to the delimitation of the ranges of Palaearctic birds. Dresser also produced some of the last of the great folio works on birds, notably "A History of the Birds of Europe" (1871-1881, supplement issued in 1895-96), begun with Richard Bowdler Sharpe. This was complemented by "The Eggs of the Birds of Europe" (issued 1905-1910) and monographs on bee-eaters (1884-86) and rollers (1893). These were based upon examination of the leading collections of the day, most notably his own. During the production of the 'History', Dresser and some other leading ornithologists, including Lord Lilford, rented rooms together at Tenterden Street in London, so as to be close to the library of the Zoological Society of London in Hanover Square. Dresser also had privileged access to the notes of many of the most prominent ornithologists, such as Russian ornithologist Sergei Buturlin, who discovered the main breeding grounds of Ross's Gull in 1905 in the Kolyma delta in remote north-east Siberia.

Dresser left England in 1912 in order to live in Cannes for the benefit of his health; he died in Monte Carlo. His collection of birds had been in the Manchester Museum, part of The University of Manchester, since 1899 and was purchased for the museum by JP Thomasson (a Bolton businessman). Dresser's egg collection was acquired by the museum in 1912. The museum also contains some of Dresser's correspondence and diaries.


* Henry McGhie (in prep.)
* Barbara and Richard Mearns - "Biographies for Birdwatchers"

External links

* [http://www.archive.org/details/manualofpalarc01dresrich Manual of Palearctic Birds Volume 1]
* [http://www.archive.org/details/manualofpalarc02dresrich Manual of Palearctic Birds Volume 2]

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