1894 “The Birds of Pembrokeshire and its islands”

This book by the Rev Murray Mathew was the first comprehensive review of birds in Pembrokeshire.  It relies heavily on the Reverend’s own observations and interpretations, those of a few acquaintances of his, and those from some local taxidermists.

The whole text is available to read online or download as a PDF

Only the species accounts are reproduced in this avifauna. There is more information in the book itself, particularly about places in the county.

Note that species names are given as Mathew used them, and therefore are not always the same as in current use. However, all the species accounts here are categorised by the current species name.

The grammar and other idiosyncrasies of the text are as they were in the original book. The term mallard is used to mean male – mallard smew, for example. St Davids has an apostrophe in Mathew’s book, while Caldey is spelt Caldy. The Cleddy is the Western Cleddau River which passed within 500m of Stone Hall.

While the text has been kept as far as possible the same as the book, the passages have been divided into paragraphs to make reading easier on-line.

The preface, reproduced below, explains why he was in Pembrokeshire and indicates his general attitude (probably quite normal for the time) to natural history.

Section 1 of the introduction is also reproduced below, as it explains where he gathered his information from and who the key contributors were.


HAVING been compelled to resign the living of Bishop’s Lydeard, in West Somerset, in consequence of long continued ill health, we were induced to settle in North Pembrokeshire on account of the healthiness of the climate; and were further led to select this remote part of the kingdom through anticipations of the sport to be enjoyed by its trout streams and on its moors. A time entirely given over to open-air pursuits was recommended as the best course to be adopted for the recovery of health, and we are thankful to state that this pleasant prescription met with entire success. Much of our eight years’ residence in the county, which was not without its clerical duties, as we became curate of our small parish, was devoted to a study of its birds. All the noted bird resorts were visited, as well as the various collections of stuffed birds we could hear of within the county; while from numerous sporting friends, and from others with a taste for natural history, whatever information they were able to impart was sought after and noted down. We now present the result; although meagre, it may serve as the foundation upon which an ampler account of the birds of the county may some day be based. Buckland Dinham, 1894.

I. — Materials.

Materials for compiling a book on the “Birds of Pembrokeshire” are scanty. The inhabitants of the county, and of the Principality in general, are open to the charge, at least in bye-gone years, that they were incuriosi suorum, indifferent to the Fauna by which they were surrounded.

There are no Welsh ornithologists, so far as we are aware, who lived earlier than the present century. It remained for a stranger like Drayton, in his “Polyolbion,” to describe the noble race of Falcons that were to be found upon the rocky Pembrokeshire coasts. In an old map of the last century hanging up in one of the rooms of the county club in Haverfordwest there are some quaint marginal notes descriptive of the local curiosities, and among these the salmon leap below Kilgerran Castle, and the Falcons to be found on St. David’s Head are specified.

In his gossiping history of the county, Fenton does not wander into the fields of Natural History beyond expressing his wonder at the vast multitudes of ” Eligoogs ” (common Guillemots) and other sea-fowl to be met with in the St. David’s district.

Coming to later years, we have in the Zoologist for 1850 and 1851, “A Catalogue of Birds taken in Pembrokeshire; with Observations on their Habits, Manners, &c” by Mr. James Tracy. These consist of notes, some of them excellent, that were supplied to Lord Emlyn, and by him communicated to the Zoologist for 1850 and 1851. Mr. Tracy was for many years (c. 1840 — 1860) a bird-stuffer at Pembroke, whose father was one of Lord Cawdor’s keepers at Stackpole. He was able to record one or two birds that may be considered classical, as they afforded subjects for the beautiful illustrations in Mr. Yarrell’s “British Birds.” Such are the young Greenland Falcon, shot on a warren of Lord Cawdor’s at Stackpole; the Yellow-billed American Cuckoo, also from Stackpole, both illustrated in Mr. Yarrell’s well- known work; and the Red-Crested Pochard; all three were presented by Lord Cawdor to the Zoological Society of London, and may still be seen in the Gallery of British Birds, at the Natural History Museum at South Kensington. Unfortunately, Mr. Tracy’s notes are incomplete, and do not extend beyond the Sandpipers and Plovers.  (But he supplied much information subsequently to Mr. Dix, respecting the omitted Gulls and Divers).

In the Zoologist for 1866 and 1869 are contained the valuable notes on the birds observed by Mr. Thomas Dix in the north-eastern corner of the county, on the Cardiganshire borders, which serve to illustrate the influence exercised by the Precelly Mountains on the distribution of birds in Pembrokeshire. Mr. Thomas Dix was born in 1830, at Dicklebury, near Harleston, in Norfolk, and was a friend of such well-known naturalists as Mr. Henry Doubleday, of Epping, of Mr. Edward Newman, the founder and editor for many years until his death, of the Zoologist, and was also a friend and correspondent of Mr. H. Stevenson, of Norwich, the author of the “Birds of Norfolk.” He was himself an accomplished and observant naturalist, and an excellent taxidermist. He was appointed agent to the Kilwendeage estate, in North Pembrokeshire, and this brought him into the county, and enabled him to interest himself in its natural history. His notes are full of value, and evince close and accurate observation. His death, at the early age of 42, can only be considered as a serious loss to the naturalists of the county. There is a memoir of him in the Zoologist for 1873, from the pen of his friend, Mr. H. Stevenson, of Norwich.

We know of only one other published account of Pembrokeshire birds, and this is a most able paper on the rarer birds of the county, from the pen of our friend, the Rev. C. M. Phelps, Vicar of St. Martin’s, Haverfordwest. Mr. Phelps was, for many years, Curate of Tenby, and while he was residing at that beautiful watering-place, wrote a paper for one of the meetings of the Pembrokeshire Field Naturalists’ Club, which he subsequently allowed to be printed in the seventh edition of Mason’s “Guide to Tenby,” an excellent and most useful volume, full of information. Mr. Phelps is an enthusiastic oologist; and his experiences are chiefly connected with the various nests he had himself detected. We have made free use of his valuable paper in our work.

We must now mention those friends, sportsmen and naturalists within the county, from whom we have been privileged to receive assistance and information. First and foremost of these we rank the late Mr. William Fortune, of Leweston. To quote Mr. Phelp’s words: “At a period when natural history was all but unknown in this remote part of Wales, he worked away single-handed at ornithology, oology, entomology, our wild mammalia and reptiles, together with ferns and sea-weeds.” When we took up our abode at Stone Hall, which was within a walk of Leweston, we soon formed Mr. Fortune’s acquaintance. This was only two years before his lamented death, and he was then a very old man, very deaf, and rather infirm, but still a keen and successful salmon fisher. We paid him many visits, and had the pleasure of examining his beautiful collections, the birds all shot and mounted by himself in life-like attitudes. At his death the greater part of his birds was presented to the Literary Institute in Haverfordwest, and some of the rarities were purchased for the Tenby Museum. Among these was a beautiful group of a pair of Montagu’s Harriers with their young in down, that had been secured on Leweston Mountain.

The late Mr. John Stokes, of Cuffern, a near neighbour and great friend of Mr. Fortune’s, was another excellent sportsman and field naturalist, from whom we received much information respecting the rare birds that had been observed by him on his picturesque estate. From Sir Hugh Owen, Bt, we have received a list of all the rarer birds he has met with during his long career as a sportsman, most of them having fallen to his unerring gun, chiefly in the neighbourhood of Fishguard and Goodwick.

Mr. Henry Mathias, of Haverfordwest, also furnished us with a list of county birds, adding his experiences as a collector for many years. We are indebted to him for much information supplied both viva voce and in correspondence. His collection of birds was presented by him to the Museum at Tenby.

For the district around St. David’s we have to thank our friend and correspondent, Mr. Mortimer Propert, for supplying us with many valuable notes. Mr. Propert, together with his father, Dr. Propert, and his brother, the Rev. Sydney Propert, has formed a very beautiful collection of birds’ eggs, all obtained around St. David’s, and on the islands of Ramsey and Grasholm, the Bishop’s Rock, &c. These are chiefly sea-birds’ eggs. The series of Guillemots’ eggs is hardly to be surpassed in any private collection; and there are some very fine and handsome specimens of the eggs of the Chough, Raven, Common Buzzard, Peregrine, &c, &c.

There are no very important collections of birds in the county. We have already mentioned those of Mr. Fortune, and Mr. Mathias, and we have only one other to describe, and this, perhaps, the most interesting of the three, is that in the possession of Lord Cawdor, at Stackpole. Although several of the rarest of the birds were long ago presented, as we have already related, to the National Collection, yet there are many scarce and valuable birds still preserved in it. Most of the birds were shot on the Stackpole estate, and were set up by Mr. James Tracy, of Pembroke. We were allowed the privilege of inspecting this interesting collection, and were at the time furnished by Lord Cawdor with particulars respecting the capture of some of the rarest of the birds. We have been informed that there is also a collection of birds at Slebech, the seat of Baron de Rutzen, but we have not seen it, and consequently are unable to state what it contains.

The Rev. Clennell Wilkinson, Rector of Castle Martin, and for some time President of the Pembrokeshire Field Naturalists’ Club, gave us much information respecting the birds of the Castle Martin district, and we had the pleasure of visiting the celebrated Stack Rocks in his company.

We are indebted to many friends, too numerous to mention, for delightful days of sport over the romantic covers of North Pembrokeshire; thus giving us the opportunity of rambling, gun in hand, over some of the wildest portions of the county, and of observing the birds that frequented them, and we must, while thus recording our thanks, pay a tribute of gratitude to our old friend, the late Colonel John Owen, of Rosebush, through whose kindness we participated in many a good Woodcock shoot at beautiful Trecwn, and in the wild covers adjoining the Tufton Arms.

We must not forget to record our indebtedness to Mr. Frederick Jeffreys, the bird-stuffer in Bridge Street, Haverfordwest, who has now for several years sent us information of every rare bird that has come into his hands.

Mr. Charles Jefferys, naturalist, of Tenby, has supplied us with many valuable and interesting notes respecting the birds to be found in his neighbourhood, and also on Caldy Island, almost the only one of the beautiful Pembrokeshire islands we have not ourselves visited.

In the National Collection of British Birds at South Kensington there are many labelled as having been the gift of the Rev. A. Morgan. This was the late Chancellor Morgan, of Machen, Monmouthshire, uncle to Sir Hugh Owen, to whose gun most, if not all, of these specimens were due.

Our thanks must be given also to Dr. Propert, of St. Davids, who has kindly assisted us in compiling our account of the various Pembrokeshire islands, correcting what we had written, and adding some interesting matter from his own extended experience.

The rest of the introduction

The rest of the introduction includes a description of Pembrokeshire – or at least, the places the Mathew thought relevant. And then an explanation for the inclusion and categorisation of various species. This can all be read on-line. It does include more information about some species, as is inevitable in his rather chatty, personal style.

More about the people mentioned in the book:

Rev C M Phelps, an oologist who wrote a paper for the Pembrokeshire Field Naturalists’ Club (an organisation which flourished for a short time during Mathew’s sojourn in the county)

William Fortune of Leweston, an amateur naturalist and taxidermist

Sir Hugh Owen of Goodwick

 J Worthington occupied the Glyn-y-mel estate at Fishguard from 1866 to 1906 and attempted to introduce red-legged partridge to the county.