Sclater, William Lutley


His father, Philip Lutley Sclater FRS (Com.1842), was a distinguished zoologist, who was Secretary of the Zoological Society, 1859-1902, and editor of The Ibis. The family home was Odiham Priory, Hampshire. His mother was Jane Anne Eliza Sclater, younger daughter of Sir David Hunter-Blair, 3rd Baronet. He was the eldest of four brothers, the youngest of whom was Arthur Lutley Sclater (G1888-1890).

He entered the Reverend E.W. Sergeant’s House in Short Half 1877. In 1881 he won the Natural Science Prize and went up to Keble College, Oxford, where he took his degree (First Class Honours, Natural Science) in 1885 and his MA in 1890. He inherited his father’s scientific tastes, and spent two years after graduation at University College, London, before moving on to Cambridge for two years to work as a Demonstrator at Cambridge under Professor Adam Sedgwick.

On a visit to British Guiana in 1886 he collected specimens, including  examples of Peripatus or “living fossils”.    He then spent four years (1887-1891) in the Indian Museum at Calcutta as its Deputy Superintendent. In 1891 he returned to England and was for four years a Science master at Eton. This post he left in 1896, the year in which he married Charlotte Seymour Mellen, daughter of William Procter Mellen of Colorado Springs.

His departure from Eton was to take up a position as the first Director of the South African Museum at Capetown, which was his home until 1906. Sclater’s first tasks were to fill the new Museum building with fresh displays, to put the library into good order, to set up a proper registration system, to set up a framework for collecting and research and above all, to make the Museum known throughout the scientific world through the periodical publication, the Annals of the South African Museum.  In 1897 the new Museum was opened to the public and attracted a great deal of attention, with 56,723 visitors in the first nine months. Since many visitors had been taught in Dutch, Sclater started a system of bilingual labelling.    Another innovation was Sunday afternoon opening which proved very successful. From 1903, school parties were given conducted tours.

In 1906 he went on to the USA to be Director of Colorado Springs College Museum, having been invited to carry out this task by his brother-in-law, General William J. Palmer. His return journey from South Africa took him from Mombasa to England, by way of Victoria Falls, the White Nile, Khartoum and Cairo.

On his return to England in 1909, he became a supernumerary member of staff at the National History Museum.

Like his father, he was also editor of The Ibis, a post which he held from 1913 to 1930. From 1928 to 1933 he was President of the British Ornithological Union, and in 1930 he was awarded the Godman Salvin Gold Medal. He was also Honorary Secretary of the Royal Geographical Society (1931-1944).   In 1938 he edited and partly wrote “The Birds of Kenya Colony and the Uganda Protectorate”, based on the manuscript of Sir Frederick Jackson, and compiled “the Systema Avium Aethiopicarum” (1930), upon which all future works on African birds were based.

As a writer on ornithology, his best known works were “The Birds of South Africa” and “The Birds of Colorado” (1912). Other publications included (as editor) the first two volumes of the “Fauna of South Africa”, and the last two (as author): he also wrote the two volumes on mammals.

He was killed at the age of eighty-one by a V1 flying bomb in July 1944 whilst living at 10 Sloane Court, Chelsea, London SW3; he died in St. George’s Hospital, Chelsea.

His funeral was held at St. Saviour’s church, Walton Street, London on Monday July 10th 1944, and was followed by a private cremation at Golders Green.

War: World War 2

  • Surname: Sclater
  • Forenames or initials: William Lutley
  • House: G
  • Years in School: 1877-1881
  • Rank: Civilian
  • Regiment: NA
  • Date of Birth: 23rd September 1863
  • Date of Death: 4th July 1944
  • How Died: Killed by enemy action
  • Location in War Cloister: Not commemorated
  • Decoration: NA
  • Burial Site: Cremation at Golders Green