Sclater, Philip Lutley

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(b. Tangier Park, Hampshire, England, 4 November 1829; d. Odiham, Hampshire, England, 27 June 1913) ornithology.

Sclater was the second son of William Lutley Sclater and Anne Maria Bowyer. His family were landed gentry, and his elder brother became a member of Parliament and later the first Lord Basing. Educated at Oxford, Sclater took the B.A. degree in 1849 and remained at Corpus Christi College for another two years, studying natural history. In 1851 he entered Lincoln’s Inn and was later admitted to the bar. He practiced law for a number of years, but he constantly maintained his interest in natural history. Sclater often traveled abroad during this decade, both on the Continent, where he was a frequent visitor to the home of Charles Lucien Bonaparte, and to America, where he met Cassin, Leidy, and John LeConte.

Elected a fellow of the Zoological Society of London in 1850, Sclater became a member of its Council in 1857 and its secretary in 1860, a post he held for forty-three years. In 1858 he took a prominent part in founding Ibis, the journal of the British Ornithologists’ Union. He became the first editor and continued to be for fifty-four years, except during the period 1865 – 1877.

This was the great age of zoological travel and exploration, of classification and anatomy. Among Sclater’s first major contributions to zoology, and perhaps one of his greatest, was the 1858 paper “On the General Geographic Distribution of the Members of the Class Aves” (Journal of the Linnean Society, Zoology, 2 130–145), in which he classified the zoogeographical regions of the world on the basis of their bird life. The division into six distinct regions that he proposed was later adopted for all other animals, and is still used by students of zoogeography.

In 1862 Sclater married Jane Anne Eliza Hunter Blair, daughter of a baronet, by whom he had six children. His eldest son, William Lutley, also became an outstanding ornithologist and succeeded his father as editor of Ibis just before the latter’s death in 1913; he continued as editor until 1930.

In 1861 Sclater was elected a fellow of the Royal Society and served two terms on its Council. He was a member of the British Association for the Advancement of Science (1847) and served as one of its two general secretaries for five years. He was also a life fellow of the Linnaean and the Royal Geographical societies and the Geological Society of London, and a corresponding or honorary member of more than forty other scientific societies in Great Britain and abroad.

Sclater’s most engrossing duties were with the Zoological Society of London. He spent a number of years reorganizing its affairs, increasing its membership and income, rebuilding the main buildings in the Zoological Gardens, repaying its debts, and keeping the society solvent. He also saw to it that the various publications of the society-the Proceedings (now titled Journal of Zoology), Transactions, Zoological Record, and sundry lists of animals and garden guides-were issued regularly and on schedule.

When his elder brother accepted (1874) a position as president of the Local Government Board in Disraeli’s second administration, Sclater acted as his private secretary for two years and subsequently was offered a permanent position in the civil service. He declined this offer because it would take him from his work in natural history.

In connection with his work on zoogeography, Sclater wrote monographs on the tanager genus Calliste (1857) and on the jacanas and published Exotic Ornithology (1869), which described many new and rare Central and South American birds, and Nomenclator avium neotropicalum (1873). A series of papers in the Proceedings of the Zoological Society of London in 1877 and 1878 reported on the birds collected by the Challenger expedition. In 1888 and 1889 Sclater issued his Argentine Ornithology, with notes by W. H. Hudson on the habits of the birds. He also wrote four volumes of the monumental Catalogue of the Birds in the British Museum-he prepared volume XI in 1886, XIV in 1888, XV in 1890, and half of XIX in 1891.

Sclater’s close friends were the great zoologists of the time-Alfred Newton, who succeeded him as editor of Ibis (1865–1871): Salvin, who succeeded Newton until 1877; Canon, Tristram; and Alfred Henry Garrod, the anatomist. One of his closest friends was T. H. Huxley, who was also one of his staunchest supporters on the Council of the Zoological Society. Charles Darwin often visited him in his office, bringing long lists of memoranda to discuss.

Sclater was a man of strong personality. Probably this quality is reflected best in his association with the British Ornithologists’ Club, which he helped R. Bowdler Sharpe establish in 1892, and of which he was elected chairman. He chaired the monthly meetings and delivered an inaugural address at the beginning of each session.

After resigning as secretary of the Zoological Society in 1903, Sclater retired to his home in Odiham, where he was widely known as an active justice of the peace and a frequent rider with the Hampshire Hunt, of which he was by far the oldest member. He continued to visit the library of the Zoological Society and the collection of his birds at the British Museum (Natural History) until his death, at the age of eighty-three, following a carriage accident.


I. Original Works. Sclater was one of the most prolific writers of scientific papers, books, articles, and notes of his time. His publications, listed in the several bibliographies below, total almost 1,400 titles. Many of these were short notes of a few page or less in periodical literature,some only a few lines announcing new acquisitions by the Zoological Society or exhibits at the British Ornithologists’ Club, describing new taxa, or making corrections in the systematic literature. On the other hand, the several volumes he contributed to the Catalogue of the Birds in the British Museum are weighty tomes of substance and importance.

II. Secondary Literature. A detailed biography is included in G. Brown Goods, “Bibliogrpahy of the Published Writings of Philip Lutley Sclater, F. R. S., Secretary of the Zoological Society of London,” Bulletin, United States National Museum, no. 49 (1896). This lists 1,289 titles to that year, contains a portrait, and names the new families, genera, and species he described. This biography was abridged (with slight corrections) for Ibis, 9th ser., 11 , jubilee supp. (1908) 129–137, commemorating the “original members” of the British Ornithologists’ Union. His longest obituary, by A. H. Evans, in Ibis, 10th ser., 1 (1913), 672–686, lists 582 titles on birds alone.

Oliver L. Austin, Jr.