University of Oxford

The Field Naturalist (1833-34)

Published on by Sally Shuttleworth

The Field Naturalist: a review of animals, plants, minerals, the structure of the earth, and appearances of the sky (1833-34)

The Science Gossip project was led by Dr Geoffrey Belknap, and the articles on the periodicals were written by Dr Matthew Wale.

The Field Naturalist was established and edited by James  Rennie, a Scottish naturalist who was Professor of Natural History at  King's College, London, from 1830-34. He was therefore unusual in this  period for earning a salary through his scientific work.

The periodical combines a mix of observations made by British  naturalists and translated pieces from works in other languages. An  early issue included an extract from the ancient Greek philosopher  Aristotle, whose studies of animals were considered pioneering works of  zoology and part of a tradition which Rennie and his peers wished to  follow. Most of the more contemporary articles were accounts of field  excursions made by the authors in pursuit of specimens. The first  article, written by Rennie, describes his experiences of shooting eagles  in the Alps. Killing birds in this way was a widely accepted practice  in ornithology, as close inspection of the dead animal was considered to  be the most reliable way of identifying the species and studying its  anatomy. An article in the same issue includes an illustration  reproduced from a drawing of a cuckoo, shot in County Cork, Ireland,  sent to Rennie by the naturalist Robert Ball (1802-1857). From this  image, the zoologist Edward Blyth (1810-73) wrote a scientific  description that was published alongside. Blyth was a frequent  contributor to the Field Naturalist, usually on the subject of birds.  Both he and Ball were young men at the time, but would later go on to  carve out scientific careers. Blythe became curator of the Royal Asiatic  Society's museum in Calcutta, and several species of bird still carry  his name. Ball served as Director of the Dublin University Museum and  designed a new kind of dredge net for collecting marine specimens.

In addition to numerous black and white illustrations, the Field Naturalist also contained a small number of coloured plates, such as the vivid Green  Tody, a tiny bird native to Cuba, and the Zebra spider, a jumping  arachnid found throughout Europe and North America. It is not clear why  the periodical ceased publication, but it is probably more than  coincidental that the Field Naturalist ended in the same year Rennie left his position as Professor of Natural History.

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