James Edward, Second Earl of Malmesbury was a keen sportsman, who lived at Heron (Hurn) Court, a large estate, near Christchurch. He was born on 19th August, 1778. His father had been made the First Earl of Malmesbury in 1800 following a career as 'one of the most illustrious diplomatists of the eighteenth century'. Until his father gained his earldom, James Edward was known as the Honourable James Edward Harris, the family name being Harris. Afterwards he became Lord Fitzharris, until he inherited his father's title in 1820. Although he pursued a political career for a number of years, he eventually devoted his time to sport, literature and managing his father's estates.
Unlike many sportsmen of the time Lord Malmesbury kept shooting journals, which detailed what he had shot and where, along with the date. The journals record the shooting activities, anecdotal references to weather, unusual sightings and the day to day activities of the Malmesbury household from 1798-1841.
27 October 1821: 'Saw a nearly white hare in Heronfields'. (Part of the Heron Court Estate).
16 December 1821: 'Beautifully warm and fine. Unseasonably so. Polyanthus, primroses and strawberries in flower, and the thrush in full song'.
23 January 1823: '….Nearly the severest day I ever was out in. The bird that fell in the river, the dog that fetched it out, the boatpole were instantly frozen over on quitting the water. My handkerchief froze hard in my pocket!'
February 1837: 'A very severe depression of influenza began to prevail very generally over England…….Some servants ill at Heron Court, but none of us in the drawing-room'.
At the end of each season a tally of game that was shot at, killed and missed was recorded. As there were great numbers of wildlife, it seemed inconceivable to Victorian naturalists that they could have any damaging effects on the populations of birds and animals. The final entry in the shooting journals was made by his son, the third earl, who wrote: 'James Edward, second Earl of Malmesbury, the author of this curious Journal, continued his favourite sport until the end of January 1841, when a severe cold brought on a sudden break up of his constitution. He had long believed his Heart to be organically affected (probably by too violent exercise), and this proved true. After lingering for eight months under tic douloureux and dropsy of the chest, he died on the 10th of September 1841, in the 64th year of his age. MALMESBURY'
In addition to the shooting journals, Lord Malmesbury kept notes and records of the Hampshire climate for over 30 years.
1833: 'No thunder-storms the whole of this summer at Heron Court. Horses fed with hay in the paddock. In the N and N.W parts of England there had been much wet and stormy weather. But 4 inches of rain fell at Heron Court from 1st May to the 30th August.'
In common with other large country houses, there was a room devoted to the display of birds shot locally. The Bird Room, as it was called, was gradually added to over three or four generations as specimens became available. It is known that one of the early taxidermists used was T Barrow who was based in the High Street, Christchurch, from c1810-1820's.
After the death of the 5th Earl of Malmesbury in 1950, the family moved and the collection of birds was dispersed. A number of the cases were eventually donated to the Red House Museum in the late 1940's/early 1950's.
Great Northern Diver Gavia immer
This specimen, in winter plumage was one of two specimens that were originally on display in the Bird Room at Heron Court.
Starling Sturnus vulgaris and Fieldfare Turdus pilaris
The label on the back of the case states: 'Starling Sturnus Vulgaris and Fieldfare Turdus Pilaris - shot near Heron Court in Nov : 1928'
Eider Somateria mollissima
This specimen was shot at Mudeford, near Christchurch in 1867. Although these birds are quite often seen during the winter months, when this specimen was taken they were considered a rarity.
Golden Oriole Oriolus oriolus
The data for these two specimens was not recorded, however they are listed in 'The Birds of Hampshire and the Isle of Wight' which was published in 1905. HMCMS:Bi1977.581
Wheatear Oenanthe oenanthe
Until the 1930's these birds were found in large numbers in Hampshire. In the years before and after the Second World War changes in farming practises and the use of myxomatosis led to a decline in wheatears who preferred grazed land and rabbit burrows for nesting.
Pintail Anas acuta and Teal Anas crecca
The pintail was shot by Lord Wimborne at Withy Bed, Pussex, near Heron Court on 16 January, 1891. The term 'Withy Bed' is recorded with capital letters, and it is possibly the name given to a specific site on the estate. A 'withy' is an old term used for any member of the willow family.
Goldeneye Bucephala clangula
A male and female. Malmesbury noted that 'The Golden-eye is one of the earliest migratory birds to reach these islands. Sportsmen in Shetland know that when the Golden-eye are in they may look for the main army of winter arrivals.'
Whooper Swan Cygnus cygnus
This male specimen was killed with 29 others on the Avon by Lord James Howard Fitzharris (afterwards 3rd earl) in February, 1838. It weighed 22lbs. Yarrell (1856, History of British Birds) recorded a list sent to him by the second Earl of Malmesbury of 416 wildfowl killed during the frost of January and February 1837 at Heron Court. The list included 33 whooper swans.
Rook Corvus frugilegus
A pied rook. The label on the back of the case states: 'Crowcombe Court, Somerset. shot 23 May 1918. Also another specimen not so well pied.'
Goosander Mergus merganser
These are rarely seen in the county, although they can be found during cold winters. This specimen was shot by Edward Harris (afterwards Admiral Sir EAJ Harris) on the River Stour at Iford, near Christchurch, in February 1827. The label on the back of the case notes that this was the second specimen shot here. The label also identifies the bird as a 'dundiver' which is an old name given to the immature goosander.
Goosander Mergus merganser
The records for this specimen have been lost. Goosanders were not a regular visitor to Heron Court, although they were recorded on several occasions: 'Jan. 14th 1823. A beautiful specimen of the goosander was shot on the Stour and brought to Heron Court' 'Jan. 1836. Young male and old female killed at a shot by the second earl on the Stour.' 'Jan. 1891. Female killed by the fourth earl above the islands'.
Wryneck Jynx torquilla
This specimen was shot at Heron Court, any other data has not been recorded. Malmesbury's records also show that "A pair built in 1819 in the garden of the keeper and reared their young. There were nine and one addled egg, which was white"
Arctic Skua Stercorarius parasiticus
Unfortunately the data for this specimen was never recorded. This bird, which used to be known as Buffon's Skua, is a scarce passage migrant to the county.
Bean Goose Anser fabilis
This specimen was shot by the third earl of Malmesbury together with another out of a flight on Avon Common near Fillybrook. The bird weighed 8 ½lbs. An entry in Lord Malmesbury's shooting journal for February 1820 reads 'I killed on the same spot on the 13th two remarkably fine grey or lag geese (*They proved to be bean geese). They had just pitched as I was riding to Avon Cottage. Concealing myself under a barrow, the flight of 20 to 30 were driven within shot of me. They weighed 8lbs ½ and 8lbs each.'
Bean Goose Anser fabilis
This specimen was shot on the Moors River in 1827. An extract from the journal reads: 'Very rare….shot by the second earl on the Moors River, Feb. 1927. It was by itself'.
Turnstone Arenaria interpres
This specimen (right) was originally identified as a Ringed Plover. Unfortunately any data that originally accompanied this bird has since been lost.
Guillemot Uria aalge
This specimen (right) was shot by James Edward, second Earl of Malmesbury, under the Needles Cliffs, Totland, Isle of Wight in the summer of 1810.
Guillemot Uria aalge
The data label on the back of the case notes that this specimen was 'knocked down by the Hon Charles Harris (afterwards Bishop of Gilbralter) with a riding whip near Boscombe (Dorset) in November 1827'. Charles Harris was James Edward's brother.
Slavonian Grebe Podiceps auritus
Although the data has been lost for this specimen, it is possible that it is the one recorded by Lord Malmesbury in his journal ' Dec 28th, 1827. Killed a beautiful specimen of the Dusky Grebe on the Moor's River'.
White's Thrush Zoothera dauma
This specimen is thought to have been in the Malmesbury Collection. Unfortunately the data has been lost. If it is the bird described by Lord Malmesbury, it is the first recorded British specimen and was shot near Heron Court on 24th January, 1828.
Razorbill Alca torda
Today Razorbills are noted as being 'a scarce passage migrant and winter visitor' to the area. They were a common resident on the coast and used to breed on the Isle of Wight. An reference (Warner) dated 1795 records that: 'It is customary with many of the islanders to descend the tremendous precipices where they [eggs] are found… When the eggs are gotten, they may be purchased at about nine pence the dozen; and being boiled hard, are by many people much esteemed'.
Black Grouse Tetrao tetrix
This is one of two Black Grouse that were in the Bird Room. One of the specimens was recorded as being 'Killed at Heron Court (Pussex Copse) by Mr Herbert Gilbert', whilst the other had no data attached. This specimen is probably the latter. Lord Malmesbury's journal records 'On 20th August 1823 we saw six black-cocks in Cranbourne Common. One lay so close that the pointer caught him……An old grey hen came once and pitched on a tree by Heron Mill, close to the road'.
Bewick's Swan Cygnus columbianus
The data for this specimen (right) was not recorded, however it is listed in 'The Birds of Hampshire and the Isle of Wight' which was published in 1905.
References: Aflalo, F G (editor): Half a Century of Sport in Hampshire. Ballantyne, Hanson and Co.
Osprey Pandion haliaetus
A male and a female which were shot at Dudmoor, near Christchurch on 29.9.1875 and 7.10.1875 by Keepers