The Geographical Journal/Obituary: Canon H. B. Tristram

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Obituary: Canon H. B. Tristram  (1906) 

The Geographical Journal, Vol. 27, No. 5, May, 1906, pp. 511-512


Canon H. B. Tristram, F.R.S.

This well-known traveller, whose writings have done much to popularize a knowledge of Palestine and other countries of the Nearer East, died at Durham on March 8 1906, at the ripe age of eighty-three years. Canon Tristram had held a residentiary stall at Durham cathedral since 1873, and for many years no figure had been better known and more thoroughly identified than his with the city and its neighbourhood, where his genial and striking personality will be seriously missed. His scientific pursuits were undertaken rather as recreations than as the serious business of life but none the less they gained for him wide celebrity, and as a practical field naturalist and ornithologist still more than as a contributor to geographical knowledge, his name had long been known far beyond the circle in which he commonly moved. It is with his travels that we are here, of course principally concerned, but any notice of his life would be incomplete without a reference to the sturdy independence of thought and unflinching adherence to principle which characterized him throughout his public career.

Canon Tristram came of a vigorous Northumbrian stock, being son of the Rev. H. B. Tristram, Vicar of Eglingham near Alnwick. He was educated at Durham Grammar School and at Lincoln College, Oxford, where he graduated in 1844 with classical honours. In the following year he took holy orders, and, after holding the curacy of Morchard Bishop for a short time, became acting naval and military chaplain in Bermuda in 1847, and rector of Castle Eden, co. Durham, in 1849. In 1856, being compelled by ill health to winter in a more southern climate, he went to Algeria, and there undertook the first of the many journeys which made him known to the public as a traveller. Quickly benefiting by the change of climate, he made many excursions into the interior, where full scope was given to his fondness for natural history and love of adventure, his wanderings leading him beyond the mountains to the northern borders of the Sahara. To this region, where French influence was then only beginning its forward advance, he devoted the whole of a second winter in the south, traversing districts hardly known to Europeans, and never before visited by an Englishman. In particular, he made the acquaintance of that interesting people the Beni Mzab, of whom he gave a striking account in the narrative of his journeys published in 1860. In this year he became Master of Greatham Hospital and Vicar of Greatham, which he continued to be until he removed to Durham in 1873. It was during this interval that he carried out his most extended journeys in Palestine and neighbouring countries, their outcome being his well-known works entitled 'The Land of Israel,' in which he gave an interesting account of the physical aspects of the Bible lauds, and 'The Land of Moab,' which described the discovery and identification of several important historical sites in the lands east of the Jordan. Besides several times revisiting the Turkish dominions in Asia, he in later years made acquaintance with the Canary Islands and Japan, in which last a daughter has for some years been working under the Church Missionary Society, of which body he was always a zealous supporter.

Canon Tristram was a regular attendant at the meetings of the British Association, over the biological section of which he presided in 1893, whilst he likewise took a warm interest in the proceedings of the geographical section. He was present at the Cambridge meeting less than two years ago, and astonished his many friends by the keenness with which he still threw himself into its varied functions, scientific and social. Since his death it has been pointed out, as evidence of his quick grasp of scientific principles, that he was one of the first to recognize the force of Darwin's views on the origin of species, his study of the birds of North Africa having shown him the capability of the theory to explain existing relationships, even before its detailed presentation to the world. His collection of birds, a considerable portion of which was a few years ago acquired by the Liverpool Museum was one of the most complete ever brought together by a private collector.

Canon Tristram married Eleanor Bowlby (daughter of an officer who served in the Peninsula and at Waterloo), on the third anniversary of whose death his own took place. He leaves behind a son (head master of Loretto School)and seven daughters, and had lived to see his descendants of the fourth generation.

This work was published in 1906 and is anonymous or pseudonymous due to unknown authorship. It is in the public domain in the United States as well as countries and areas where the copyright terms of anonymous or pseudonymous works are 116 years or less since publication.

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