Birds of Wigtownshire- published at last!

22 November 2016

Jack Gordon’s Birds of Wigtownshire (1890 – 1935) published at last!

A book about the birds of Wigtownshire that was begun by Jack Gordon more than 120 years ago has now been published. John Gordon McHaffie Gordon (1876 – 1938), known as Jack, of Corsemalzie House, in the Machars, was a prominent and well connected ornithologist, entomologist, field sportsman and world renowned egg-collector. His grandfather, George McHaffie, was provost of Wigtown and the family’s town house was in Main Street (now The Bookshop). Jack was a friend of Sir Herbert Maxwell and mentor to his famous grandson, Gavin Maxwell, who grew up nearby and wrote about Gordon’s influence in his book House of Elrig.

In his early years Jack was Captain of Wigtown Burgh Golf Club at Glenluce and for many years he and his brother Roger held the men’s doubles trophy in the Galloway Tennis Championship.

His wartime service in the army was cut short for medical reasons in March 1918 and he returned to Corsemalzie to resume his passion for country pursuits, especially those involving birds, butterflies and moths, and he spent countless hours around his home and throughout Wigtownshire recording an astonishing amount of information for his book.

He also corresponded widely with the local aristocracy, landowners, gamekeepers, shooters, farmers, fishermen, lighthouse keepers and in this way amassed information that provides a fascinating insight into country life, landscape and land management in Wigtownshire between the wars, as well as the status and behaviour of birds in the county.

He traded in birds’ eggs around the world and the bulk of what remains of his collection is now in Delaware Museum of Natural History (USA), while his butterfly and moth collection was in Newton Stewart High School for many years. Whilst he published various articles and short notes throughout his life, his greatest project, The Birds of Wigtownshire, remained unfinished and unpublished in the form of incomplete typescript, manuscript notes, cuttings and data cards. After his death in 1938 these came into the hands of his friend Arthur Duncan, one time head of the Nature Conservancy, and then to artist/author Donald Watson, and finally to Chris Rollie of RSPB when Watson died in 2005.

Gordon’s important material has now been collated and edited by Richard Mearns and Chris Rollie and has been published as a 200 page A4 book, fully indexed, with biographical details of his contacts and illustrated with contemporary images from John Adair’s extensive collection of old Wigtownshire postcards. Publication is limited to 300 copies, each numbered and signed by the editors, and has been made possible by the generous support of the Galloway Association of Glasgow, SOC, Stranraer and District Local History Trust and Dumfriesshire & Galloway Natural History and Antiquarian Society. The book costs £15 (plus p&p) and is available from The Bookshop, Wigtown mail@the-bookshop.com or from Waterston House, SOC HQ (*over the counter sales only, please direct postal orders to The Bookshop, Wigtown*).  All profits over costs of production are to be distributed proportionately back to the funding organisations.

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