Richard Bowdler Sharpe

LLD (Honoris causa, Aberdeen), FLS, FZS, MBOU. An Ornithologist , Sharpe was Assistant Keeper, Vertebrate Section of the British Museum’s Zoology Department from 1895-1909. He had a particular interest in classification and phylogeny and its relation to evolution.

A distinguished international founding member of the Australian Ornithologists’ Union.

Born 22 November 1847, London, the eldest son of Thomas Bowdler Sharpe publisher, Grandson of Rev. Lancelot Sharpe, rector of All Hallows Staining, London.

Co-author of series Birds of Europe, and when he joined the British Museum in 1872 as Senior Assistant in the Department of Zoology, he commenced his massive Catalogue of the Birds in the British Museum – a landmark in the history of ornithology – was produced under the editorship of Richard Bowdler Sharpe and published in 27 volumes between 1874 and 1898 by order of the Trustees. Although the original plan was that Bowdler Sharpe should produce the entire work, this proved impossible and he was therefore assisted by ten well-known ornitholgists – Gadow, Hargitt, Hartert, Oglivie-Grant, Salvadori, Salvin, Saunders, Sclater, Seebohm and Shelley. The entire work when completed described 11,617 species distributed over 2,255 genera.

He founded the British Ornithologists’ Club in 1892, (to allow for more informal discussion and regular meetings than the BOU offered) and edited its Bulletin for many years. From 1895-1909, he was Assistant Keeper, Vertebrate Section of the Zoology Department.

Sharpes father was Thomas Bowdler Sharpe and I have traced his family to locate a Bowdler connection but have found none.

I think it is likely that Thomas got the ‘Bowdler’ forename from a religious connection – he was born in 1818, the same year that the ‘Bowdler Family Shakespeare’ was published. Richard is the only one of Thomas’ children with the ‘Bowdler’ forename so it was probably passed on as he was the eldest.