French Avicultural Journal: Pieces of History from eBay

I am moving a few posts from an old blog site. Here is one of them.

Amongst some old publications I bought on eBay last year were two issues from the 1920s of a French avicultural journal. The edges and covers are blackened by soot and dust but to my great surprise, they both contained colour plates. The short title of the journal seems to be L’Oiseau. However, the full title, and French journal titles never seem to be short, is: Revue d’Histoire naturelle appliquée, Publiée par la Société Nationale d’Acclimatation de France. Deuxième Partie. Ornithologie-Aviculture. L’Oiseau. The leading light was, not surprisingly, Jean Delacour.

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Colour plates from the January 1925 issue:

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Amongst the articles in Volume 6, Number 9, from September 1925 is one on the Reverend Hubert Delaval Astley’s enormous collection at Brinsop Court in Herefordshire. Astley had died on 26 May 1925 (born 14 July 1860). From the accounts available, it is clear that he had married into a hugely wealthy family, as well as being independently very  wealthy indeed.  He was a descendent of the Plantagenet kings of England. The collection Delacour described was enormous with housing equal to that of a major zoo.

Astley was the author of a truly sickly (but sometimes fascinating) example of Victorian literature, My Birds in Freedom & Captivity (Dent, London, 1900).

Here is an interesting account of what happened to his Sarus Cranes:

Will people wonder that I sometimes entertain bitter feelings towards those who shoot rare aves, amounting in one instance to anger, hatred, and malice, when I record the following story about my Sarus cranes. 

They were a magnificent pair of birds, which used to walk with stately gait about the park; and, having only the primaries of one wing clipped, when they moulted and grew new feathers, soon managed to fly. I tried to catch them, but I was placed on the horns of a dilemma. Either catch them, in which case the new feathers would not be sufficiently grown to cut with any due effect, or leave the feathers to grow long enough, in which case one wouldn’t catch them. And the latter came to pass. 

So these great birds used to take flights round the park, their enormous pinions flapping along. As the feathers grew, their flights became longer, and they went farther afield. 

But they always returned home; at least they did so until they didn’t; which seems to happen with a good many things in this life! 

When at last it came about that the cranes were absent a whole twenty-four hours, search and inquiry was made for them in the immediate neighbourhood. It was reported that at a farm about three miles off they had been shot. What epithets are strong enough for that farmer who did the deed? 

The report was only too true. The cranes had settled, and were feeding with the poultry in a field close to the farmhouse. The dunder-headed farmer, who merely remarked that he thought they were “Molly Ur-rn” by which he meant herons went indoors, seized his gun, and murdered both my poor cranes then and there. Being absent at the time, I wrote to remonstrate with him, but never even received an answer to my letter, much less an apology. 

He lived near Princes Risborough, in Buckinghamshire. If any man deserved to be peppered through his gaiters, he did; and I honestly confess it would have given me the keenest satisfaction to have done it ! Exactly the same thing happened with a pair of my white storks. 

These are photographs of Astley and of Brinsop Court from that issue. Incidentally, Brinsop Court is now holiday accommodation:

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The history of aviculture, from its growth, to its heyday as a pursuit of the super rich, the aristocracy and the middle classes, and an aspirational activity of the working man, would be well worth researching properly, as would its gradual and now more rapid decline. There is at least one book’s worth out there.


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