Boyd Robert Horsbrugh (1871-1916)

Boyd Robert Horsbrugh (1871-1916) Boyd Robert Horsbrugh (1871-1916) ‘… was an English ornithologist and military man…’

Boyd Horsbrugh was a friend of James John Garth Wilkinson and his name is in both of James John Garth Wilkinson‘s address books at the East India Service Club, and at 16 St. James’s Square, and he is also listed as Major Horsbrugh at the Army and Navy Club in Pall Mall. (Swedenborg Archive Address Book of James John Garth Wilkinson dated 1895. See also Swedenborg Archive Address Book of James John Garth Wilkinson ‘Where is it’ dated 1.10.1892). NB: ?(could the spelling be Horsburgh?) (Is this the right man?) listed in both of Garth Wilkinson‘s address books at the East India Service Club, and at 16 St. James’s Square, and there is also a Major Horsbrugh listed at the Army and Navy Club in Pall Mall. (There are two other entries in the ‘Where is it?’ address book for Horsbrugh; another entry for Boyd Horsbrugh though The East India United Service Club, 16 St. James’s Square, SW is crossed out and ‘deceased’ is written next to his name, which makes me doubt this is indeed Boyd Robert Horsbrugh (1871-1916)? Three names below is another entry for Major Horsbrugh at The Citadel, Cairo, Egypt (crossed out) as if these are two separate people? Why did Garth Wilkinson think Boyd Horsbrugh was ‘deceased’, and who is Major Horsbrugh? I would not put any weight on this identification at this time!

From ‘… best known for his 1912 book The Gamebirds and Waterfowl of South Africa, a collaborative work with Claude Gibney Finch-Davies. He was born the elder son of Charles Bell Horsbrugh, a Captain and Adjutant of the 2nd Central India Horse, later the Central India Horse. At an early age he was sent to England, attending Wellington College and the Royal Military College at Sandhurst. On 25 February 1893 he joined the Royal Warwickshire Regiment, serving in Ceylon with them for two years. He was transferred to the Army Service Corps in 1895 and was posted to Ireland where he was promoted to Lieutenant in 1896. 

Horsbrugh was stationed in Sierra Leone from 1898–99 and saw service during the Bai Bureh rebellion. For his services during this operation, he was awarded the Protectorate Expedition Medal with clasp. While stationed in Sierra Leone he became a lifelong member of the Avicultural Society of Great Britain, occasionally contributing articles to their journal. A local chief brought him birds to study, one of which was a hornbill that became a valued pet until killed by another pet – a Large-spotted Genet (Genetta tigrina). He also raised two African Grey parrots that became his constant companions and learnt to talk, as well as a turaco that regularly shared an early morning bath with him. Horsbrugh had an undoubted skill with and an understanding of wild birds. 

1899 saw him back in England for only a short while before being drafted to South Africa to take part in the Boer War. He served mainly with Lord Methuen and was promoted to Captain early in 1900. In May of that same year he came under fire from the Boer forces while fording the Rhenoster River. He was among the troops that relieved the town of Lindley and the 13th Yeomanry Battalion on 27 June 1900. For the next two years he was moved all over the country in a seemingly endless war. His duties took up much of his time and energy, so that he published no bird articles during this period.

Just before the end of the war in 1902, he was invalided back to England. For his services he received the Queen’s Medal with three clasps and the King’s Medal with two clasps. As part of his convalescence in 1902, Horsbrugh embarked on an extensive tour of the United States. He devoted a large amount of time to studying particularly game birds and waterfowl in their natural habitat. During his tour he met, courted and married Elizabeth Mitchell of Philadelphia. She was to prove a steadfast partner who shared a lasting interest in birds. 

After a stay of two years in Kent, Horsbrugh was again sent to South Africa in 1905 to enforce the imperial peace. He was posted to Bloemfontein, where he and his wife were allocated an officer’s house on top of Naval Hill. It was an idyllic location, teeming with birds. Horsbrugh built some large aviaries in the garden so as to acquire first-hand knowledge of their breeding and habits. In June 1905 his younger brother, Charles Bell Horsbrugh (1874–1952), joined them on Naval Hill, but soon took up employment with the Transvaal Museum in Pretoria under Jan Willem Boudewijn Gunning. Besides hunting together, the two brothers often made trips into the veld to study birds in their natural habitat. 

The Horsbrughs left for England in July 1906 on four months’ leave, and took along a large number of live birds. On the train trip from Bloemfontein to Cape Town, Boyd Horsbrugh travelled in the guard’s van to ensure the proper feeding and care of his charges. When Charles Bell Horsbrugh returned to England in 1907, he also took along a considerable collection of live South African birds, causing great excitement in the avicultural world…’

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