Victorian Taxidermy

Victorian Taxidermy by George bristow of St Leonards, Sussex.

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George Bristow of St Leonards

1863- April 14th 1947

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George Bristow outside his shop in St Leonards, clutching what appears to be a Shelduck.

George Bristow served an apprenticeship in taxidermy before working in the family business, established in 1845, at an unpretentious shop at 15 Silchester Road, St Leonards-on-Sea. From the 1890s until the 1930s much of his business involved the procurement of wild birds by himself and others to be made into display specimens or study skins for sale to ornithologists and collectors. George Bristow of St Leonards. This man it is understood taught ET Booth the art of taxidermy and it is further understood stuffed some of the birds and also supplied some of the carcasses that now form part of the Booth Collection in Brighton. Among such specimens were surprising numbers of birds which, though purported to have been shot locally, were considered either rare vagrants to the area or were new to the British List. It is understood that Mr Bristow may have purchased carcasses from foreign sources and then claimed to have been shot locally. bristow, upon his death caused a stir when it was suggested that his claims for "first" sightings in the world of Ornithology were in fact frudulent. That said efforts were made by a few to better clarify the situation.
In August 1962, the ornithological journal ‘British Birds’ published two articles devoted to the examination of one topic. The authors, Max Nicholson and James Ferguson-Lees, made clear their intention in the accompanying editorial. This was to prove, by statistical analysis and comparison of records, that many, if not all, of the rare birds recorded from the Hastings area, in the period 1890 – 1930, were the result of a deliberate deception. Within a short time of the publication of the articles, dramatic newspaper headlines were speaking of the ‘Hastings Rarities Fraud’, and, for some time afterwards, the issue assumed almost national importance.
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George Bristow in later life, dated 1930

As a result of this letter, Mr George Bristow, the taxidermist who prepared and mounted almost all of the specimens taken locally, wrote to Witherby offering to have the specimens examined in the flesh, by experts, before skinning them. A panel of experts, consisting of some of the most notable ornithologists of the day was duly appointed. The number of rarities declined after this, but it should be borne in mind that in 1916 the First World War was at its height, and everyone involved had other concerns.
The Hastings Rarities undoubtedly contained a number of perfectly good records. It is now almost impossible to disentangle fact from fiction, which means the only way forward is to remove all the material from the record

Book on the statistical analysis of the Hasting Rarities, by J.A. Nelder dated 1962


Slender Billed Curlew, suggested as one of Bristow's "firsts" to the British list.


Slender Billed Nutcracker, suggested as one of Bristow's "firsts" to the British list.

Upon Bristow's death his own private collection of some 300 cases (data written on the reverse), was given to Bristow's family doctor. These cases then were passed down that family line until recently. The collection included birds of prey, Bitterns and rare species that were reported to have been shot on Romney Marsh. We now know where these cases are located. According to the son of the Doctor,who treated bristow until his death, the family maintained that his claims were true regarding "firsts". It is further understood that the son of the doctor in question, not knowing what to do with this collection donated it to the RSPB. It is unclear as to the fate of this collection, it may have been destroyed or split up for "educational" purposes. This record of specimens may now be consigned to history.

Book on the Hasting Rarities

Victorian Taxidermy Whimbrel in " TE Gunn" style case. This bird was one of a pair and has now been re-cased. The original case had an oil painting of St Leonard's on Sea, coastline in East Sussex, but was beyond practical repair. The date on the painting was 1890. Given that there was only one taxidermist operating in this area at the time, this bird could be the work of George Bristow.

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