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The life and work of Brian Houghton Hodgson (1801-1894) by David Lowther

Friday 13th March, 7-8pm

Great North Museum: Hancock, Newcastle

Although widely acknowledged during his own time Brian Houghton Hodgson has largely slipped into obscurity. A diplomat and officer of the English East India Company, he was posted to Nepal at a time when the fauna of the Himalaya was almost wholly unknown to European science. Between 1820 and 1844, he amassed a collection of over 10,000 zoological specimens and published 140 scientific papers, many of which described species for the first time. However, it is the thousands of watercolour illustrations of birds and mammals which represent Hodgson’s greatest legacy. Originally collected with the intention of publishing a work on Nepalese zoology, every image includes extraordinarily thorough notes about the species’ behaviour, ecology, and habitat, as well as painstaking measurements and anatomical sketches. Now stored in the archives of the Zoological Society of London (ZSL), this set of stunning images remains one of the most important sources of knowledge about the indigenous wildlife of Nepal and Tibet available to modern ecologists and conservationists.

Owing to the number of globally threatened species in Nepal Hodgson’s work is of increasing significance. This talk assesses Hodgson’s work as a pioneering zoologist and his place in 19th century British, ‘imperial’ science, before turning to the collections and their status as a picture of a threatened ecosystem. 2015 marks the bicentenary of the establishment of Anglo-Nepalese diplomatic relations, and this talk is part of a wider program of events organised by Britain-Nepal 200 to celebrate the close links between the two countries and highlight current collaborative efforts to conserve its spectacular wildlife. David Lowther is a local artist, researcher and Visiting Scholar at the ZSL.