Samuel Tickell, Ornithologist

Colonel Samuel Richard Tickell was a British army officer in India and Burma, who was an artist, linguist and ornithologist.

He was born in Cuttack, India on 19 August 1811. His father was Lieutenant General Richard Tickell. As was common practice for British colonial families, Samuel was sent to school in England, probably from a young age. When he was 16 his father died of ‘a severe and lingering illness’. Samuel returned to India two years later, aged 19, and joined the Bengal Native Infantry. He served with the British army in India and Burma, rising to the rank of Colonel. He devoted his spare time to painting and describing the fauna of the places where he was stationed. He was also interested in linguistics and wrote a series of articles on the grammatical structure of the Ho language.

He married Maria Georgina Templar in Burdwan, Bengal, India on 11 July 1844. She was born in Calcutta and the couple had a son and two daughters.

Samuel Tickell made many important contributions to the knowledge of India’s birds and mammals. He carried out field studies and collected specimens. His first published paper `List of the birds of Borabhum and Dholbum’ was published in Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal in 1833. 

Birds of India

He described many new bird species and a number of birds were named after him. The image below is of Tickell’s Blue Flycatcher, Cyornis tickelliae., which it is thought he named after his wife.. This is a small bird, about 11–12 cm long. The male bird’s upper parts are bright blue, its throat and breast are orange and white. The extensive orange on the throat distinguishes Tickell’s from the Blue-throated Flycatcher.

Photograph by Deepak Sundar

Samuel Tickell retired in 1865 and went to live in France, then the Channel Islands. He was a regular contributor on Indian gamebirds and wildfowl to The Field magazine in which he wrote under the pseudonyms ‘Ornithognomon’ and when writing about sport and natural history he signed himself ‘Old Log’.

He suffered an eye inflammation while fishing on the coast of Brittany, which led to loss of sight, firstly in one eye in 1870, and then in the other one. He had been working on a seven-volume work entitled Illustrations of Indian Ornithology, but his deteriorating eyesight forced him to abandon it. Before his death he donated the unfinished work to the Zoological Society of London. The work showcased his excellent artistic abilities, including paintings of birds in natural habitats as well as ink vignettes showing scenes from Indian life.

Drawings of Animals of India

You can see some wonderful examples of his drawings of Indian animals here.

About His Ancestry

Samuel is descended from the Tickells of Carnolway, Ireland. They are the only line in my study, that I know of, that contains aristocracy and has a family crest. Many members of the family had military careers. You’ll find the family in the IRISH-CONNECTIONS tree on this website. This contains a number of Tickells who lived in Ireland. although they did not originate there. Some have ancestors from Cumberland but eventually their descendants, like Samuel, settled in the Cheltenham area. Samuel Tickell died in Cheltenham on 20 April 1875, aged 64.

Coincidentally my father, whose name was Richard Carton Tickell, also served as a British Army officer in India and Burma during World War II. I wonder if he knew of these earlier Tickells?

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