Henry Baker Tristram

Birth: 1822


Henry Baker Tristram (1822-1906), divine and naturalist, born at Eglingham, Northumberland, on 11 May 1822, was eldest son of Henry Baker Tristram, vicar of Eglingham, by Charlotte, daughter of Thomas Smith. A younger brother, Thomas Hutchinson (b. 25 Sept. 1825), an ecclesiastical lawyer, became chancellor of London and many other dioceses, and died on 8 March 1912. Educated first at Durham school, Henry matriculated on 9 Nov. 1839 as a scholar of Lincoln College, Oxford, and graduated B.A. with a second class in classics in 1844, proceeding M.A. in 1846. He was ordained deacon in 1845 and priest in 1846, and was curate of Morchard Bishop (1845-6).

Threatened with lung trouble, he went to Bermuda, where he was secretary to Sir William Henry Elliott, the governor, acting also as naval and military chaplain, 1847-9. There he took up the study of birds and shells. In 1849 he became rector of Castle Eden, co. Durham, and held the living till 1860; but ill-health drove him to Algeria for the winters of 1855-6, 1856-7. He penetrated far into the desert, made an ornithological collection, and gathered material for his first book, 'The Great Sahara' (1860). The following winter he visited Palestine and Egypt, and, on returning, became master of Greatham Hospital and vicar of Greatham, co, Durham. Revisiting Palestine in 1863-4, he produced on his return the first of his books on the Holy Land. In 1868 he received from Edinburgh University the hon. degree of LL.D., and was elected F.R.S. In 1870 Tristram was made hon. canon of Durham and canon residentiary in 1874, when he left Greatham.

In 1879 Tristram declined Lord Beaconsfield's offer of the Anglican bishopric in Jerusalem, although he visited Palestine again in 1880-1, in 1894, and in 1897. During 1891 he travelled in Japan, China, and North- West America. In ritual controversy at home, while his convictions were strongly protestant, he associated himself with the moderate evangelicals. But his chief interest lay in the work for the Church Missionary Society, and he acted for forty years as its representative in the county of Durham. An enthusiastic freemason, Tristram was in 1884 appointed grand chaplain of England, and in 1885 deputy provincial grand master for Durham. In 1891 he visited Japan, where a daughter was a missionary. In 1893 he presided over the biological section of the British Association at Nottingham. He retained his vigour of mind and body till his death at Durham on 8 March 1906. Tristram married in 1850 Eleanor Mary, daughter of Captain P. Bowlby, 4th King's Own (d. 1903), by whom he had one son and seven daughters.

As a traveller and a naturalist, Tristram was a close observer and diligent collector. His knowledge of the geology, topography, and natural history of Palestine was unrivalled. His study of the larks and chats of North Africa led him, before the issue of the 'Origin of Species' in Nov. 1859, to support (The Ibis, 1859, p. 429) 'the views set forth by Messrs. Darwin and Wallace in their communication to the Linnsean Society' (1 July 1858), though he afterwards modified his language. His collection of 20,000 birds, of which he published a catalogue (Durham, 1889), he sold to the public museum of Liverpool; his collection of birds' eggs ultimately passed to the Natural History Museum.

Tristram's scientific accuracy and picturesque style rendered his writings at once valuable and popular. In addition to contributions to periodical literature and much work in Smith's 'Dictionary of the Bible,' he published: 1. 'The Land of Israel: a Journal of Travel with Eeference to its Physical History,' 1865; 3rd ed. 1876. 2. 'The Natural History of the Bible,' 1867. 3. 'The Topography of the Holy Land,' 1872—later entitled 'Bible Places, or the Topography of the Holy Land,' 5th ed. 1897. 4. 'The Land of Moab: Travels and Discoveries on the East Side of the Dead Sea and the Jordan,' 1873. 5. 'Pathways of Palestine: a Descriptive Tour through the Holy Land,' 1881-2. 6. 'The Fauna and Flora of Palestine,' 1884. 7. 'Eastern Customs in Bible Lands,' 1894. 8. 'Rambles in Japan,' 1895.

[Proc. Roy. Soc, B. vol. lxxx.; Field, 17 March 1906; Record, 16 March 1906; Church Missionary Intelligencer, April 1906; private information.]


Augustus Robert Buckland, Dictionary of National Biography, 1912 supplement. pgs. 535-536.

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