Oates, Francis (DNB00)

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OATES, FRANCIS (1840–1875), traveller and naturalist, second son of Edward Oates of Meanwoodside, Yorkshire, by Susan, daughter of Edward Grace of Burley, in the same county, was born at Meanwoodside on 6 April 1840. He matriculated from Christ Church, Oxford, on 9 Feb. 1861, but took no degree, owing to bad health. For some years from 1864 he was an invalid. In 1871 he travelled in Central America, where he made a collection of birds and insects. On his return in 1872 he was elected a fellow of the Royal Geographical Society. On 5 March 1873, accompanied by his brother, W. E. Oates, he sailed from Southampton for Natal with the intention of making a journey to the Zambesi, and, if possible, to some of the unexplored country to the northward, for the purpose of acquiring a knowledge of the natural features of the country and of studying its fauna. Leaving Maritzburg on 16 May 1873, he spent some time in the Matabele country north of the Limpopo river. Three attempts to proceed were frustrated by the weather and the opposition of the natives. Finally, starting on 3 Nov. 1874, he arrived on the banks of the Zambesi on 31 Dec., and succeeded in amassing large collections of objects of natural history. He was one of the first white men who had seen the Victoria Falls in full flood; but no entries are found in his journal after his arrival there. The unhealthy season came on, and Oates contracted a fever. After an illness of twelve days, he died when near the Makalaka kraal, about eighty miles north of the Tati river, on 5 Feb. 1875, and was buried on the following morning. Dr. Bradshaw, who happened to be in the neighbourhood, attended him, and saw to the safety of his collections. Oates's journals were edited and published by his brother, Charles George Oates, in 1881, under the title of ‘Matabele Land and the Victoria Falls: a Naturalist's Wandering in the Interior of South Africa.’ A second and enlarged edition appeared in 1889, with appendices by experts on the natural history collections.

[Journal of the Royal Geographical Society, 1875, vol. xlv. p. clii; Memoir (pp. xix–xlii) in Matabele Land, 1889, with portrait; Foster's Pedigrees of Families of Yorkshire, 1874; Times, 26 May 1875, p. 10.]

G. C. B.