Brian Houghton Hodgson (1800-1894) is widely recognised for the great progress he made in describing Nepal’s birds and mammals; in recognition of this, his name is linked to the names of several species. Realising that Nepal was virtually unknown to Europeans, Hodgson devoted 23 years (1820-1843) to studying its peoples, customs, architecture, languages, religion and natural history. The latter concerned primarily with the birds and mammals of Nepal and the Himalayas.
Hodgson wrote more than 140 zoological papers, ranging from descriptions of single species to checklists of fauna. He also trained Nepalese artists to paint watercolours of the animals in the style of zoological illustrations, at a time when it was unusual for colonials to use and publish works by native artists, and built up an enormous visual reference of pictures. While some paintings are finished, others contain sketches, notes and measurements like a field sketch book; almost always, these talented artists have succeeded in producing superb images, which were annotated by Hodgson with a unique species number, scientific and common names and locality.
ZSL is fortunate in having six manuscript volumes of Hodgson’s bird drawings and notes and two further volumes concerning mammals. The latter are in particularly high demand, and as a result, have become increasingly fragile. With the approaching bicentenary of the treaty between the UK and Nepal we are anticipating increasing interest in the manuscripts.
Funding from the National Manuscripts Conservation Trust is helping to preserve these important manuscripts and make them more widely available for others to study and enjoy. In addition, thanks to the NMCT, ZSL was able to benefit from a visit by The National Archives, who provided advice on strategy and storage.
The images to the right show the volumes before and during conservation; images courtesy of ZSL.