In a graveyard at St.Peters Church in Cheltenham, Gloucestershire, in sunny old England a tombstone reads the following “In loving memory of Colonel Samuel Richard Tickell, Bengal Army Born 1811 and died at Cheltenham 20th April 1875”.
A man who can well be considered as one of the founding fathers of the study of bird life (ornithology) in India. A contemporary of Brian Hodgson, Allan Octavian Hume and the famous Charles Darwin, his contribution to ornithology and mamma logy (study of mammals) was pioneering.
Colonel Samuel Tickell was born in Cuttack, Odisha on August 19th 1811 to Lieutenant General Richard Tickell of the Bengal Engineers who was posted here at Cuttack. He was later sent to England to receive his education as was the norm back then. He returned to India in 1830 and soon joined the East India Company. Over a span of 10 years he rose through the ranks and was soon made Lieutenant of a contingent posted at Calcutta and later spent a short stint at Kathmandu with Brian Hodgson.
A quintessential English gentleman of the Victorian era Samuel Tickell was enthralled by the flora and fauna of the orient. During his military career he travelled from the heights of the Himalayas to the Mountains of the Arakan region in Burma researching with the aid of field observations and collecting specimens of various birds that were native to this region including Odisha. His first major work penned at a very young age in 1833 was “A list of birds of Bhorabum and Dholbum” is still considered as a one the best examples of Ornithological studies in the Indian sub-continent. He was a member of the Asiatic Society and contributed immensely to its journals. Driven by a spirit of exploration found in his contemporaries Samuel Tickell spent 35 years in the jungles of Odisha, Bengal and Burma documenting the various birds inhabiting this region, noting down their migratory patterns and behaviour.
A number of birds were named after Tickell, including :
Tickell’s Flowerpecker (Dicaeum erythrorhynchos)
In 1865 he retired from military life and returned back to England with his wife Maria Georgina and settled in St John Road, Trafalfar Terrace, St. Helier and soon started work on his book called “Illustrations of Indian Ornithology”. Sometime in 1870 he suffered an inflammation in his eyes causing him to go blind and unable to complete his book, later he donated the manuscript to Zoological Society of London.
This Cuttack born pioneer died on 20th April 1875 and was buried at Cheltenham.
Samuel Tickell is undoubtedly one of the greatest names in the sub-continent when it comes to ornithology albeit history has forgotten this great man and so has his city of birth too. Abandoned by history this author tries to bring forth and resurrect the achievements of this son of Cuttack who even being a British “sahib” surely was Indian at heart.
PS : While collecting data for this article we sent a mail to St Peter’s Church,Cheltenham asking for details about the great man. We are grateful to Barbara Pettit(Parish Administrator) for replying to our mail and sending us a snap-shot of the inscription on the tombstone of Samuel Tickell.
Description of The Tombstone
White marble ornate pointed top headstone with side supports, on plinth with kerb surround with corner and middle stones on base stone, metal text.
In Loving Memory of COLONEL SAMUEL RICHARD TICKELL, BENGAL ARMY .BORN 1811, DIED AT CHELTENHAM 20 APRIL 1875.And of MARIA GEORGIANA HIS WIFE, BORN 1825, DIED AT EALING 23. JUNE 1918. Also to the Memory of THEIR GRANDSON CAPTAIN TEMPLER HENRY SCOTT, 87 PUNJABIS, WHO FELL IN ACTION ON 26 APRIL 1915 NEAR YPRES, AND WAS BURIED ON THE FIELD OF BATTLE AGED 31 YEARS. “IN SURE AND CERTAIN HOPE OF THE RESURRECTION TO ETERNAL LIFE.”
SNAPSHOT OF THE MAIL FROM ST PETERS CHURCH
Article Courtesy : Aditya Kiran Nag