Why did Malvern attract a Dodo expert?
There were many very famous natural history scientists in Victorian England.
Charles Darwin is the best known and he too was drawn to Malvern to try the Water Cure. Other scientists also paid regular visits to the town, but more because of the rocks and fossils that told the history of the earth below the Hills.
Hugh Strickland (1811 – 1853) was a renowned expert on geology, natural history and birds. His family lived in Deerhurst near Tewkesbury and he carried out several geological studies of the surrounding area.
He studied birds across a number of continents and had a particular interest in the Dodo. He gave lectures on this bird that was by then extinct, and supported these talks with the few remains of a dodo that are still in the Oxford Museum.
He had many friends in the Malvern area; his wife’s father had married the daughter of the President of the Malvern Natural Field Club. It was not a surprise that Hugh Strickland was invited to be an honorary member of the Malvern Field Club when it was founded in 1853. On the 7th June 1853 the Malvern Field Club met the Woolhope and Cotteswold Clubs at White-leaved Oak on the Malvern Hills. Members climbed up one of the Malvern hills from where Hugh Strickland gave a “brief but comprehensive lecture, as few save Strickland could give, on the vast and extra-ordinary disruption which, as far as human proof could show, had caused the features of the excellent landscape now spread at our feet”.
Just three months later Hugh Strickland was dead. He had been recording the different geological formations exposed by a newly cut railway tunnel in Lincolnshire. Hearing a coal train coming towards him, Strickland stepped back onto another line, not realising that the Great Northern passenger train was roaring out of the tunnel in front of him. He was killed instantly. His notebook was retrieved, along with his broken gold watch. The hands had stopped at 29 minutes past 4, the exact time when the accident took place.
Hugh Strickland was only 42. His body was buried in the grounds of The Priory Church in the village of Deerhurst. Members of the three local field Clubs that he had supported, raised money to pay for a stained glass window in his memory at the Deerhurst church.