Catalogue description THE FISHER COLLECTION (1913-1993)

This record is held by Natural History Museum Library and Archives

Title: THE FISHER COLLECTION (1913-1993)

A Correspondence and personal papers


B Diaries and notebooks


C Research files


D Indexes and bibliographies


E Publications and broadcasts


F Publications artwork


G Organisations, associations and expeditions


H Newspaper cuttings


I Photographs

Date: 1868 - 1993

The nine collection divisions emerged quite naturally from a study of the collection. The research files (C), housed in green box files and mostly bearing Fisher's own reference codes were separated first. The indexes and bibliographies (D) were physically distinct and occupied their own run of boxes. Newscuttings (H) and photographs (I) were housed, in some disorder, in nine large cardboard boxes, and clearly deserved their own divisions. Material relating to books and broadcasts (E) was also held in apparent disorder in a six large cardboard boxes and a plastic carrier bag. The files relating to organisations (G) could have been included among the research files, but were put into a separate division as their subject matter seemed distinct and they did not carry reference codes. Diaries and notebooks (B) occupied two boxes, and others were found in with other material. Publications artwork was separated from other book-related material because of its size, and a few files of more or less miscellaneous correspondence (A) was virtually all that remained.

Held by: Natural History Museum Library and Archives, not available at The National Archives
Language: English

Fisher, James Maxwell McConnell, 1912-1970, scientist and ornithologist

Physical description: 9 series
Custodial history:

The bulk of James Fisher's papers remained in the upstairs study in his house in Ashton, Northamptonshire, for many years after his death. Some small collections were distributed in 1971, when material concerning the rook was sent to the British Trust for Ornithology, and that concerning seabirds, including the fulmar, went to the Seabird Group of the Trust. Papers relating to his work as Deputy Chairman of the Countryside Commission was passed to the commission, and all the bird diaries and records of Fisher's uncle, A W Boyd, were given to Liverpool City Museum. A collection of bibliographical and other records relating to avian palaeontology were sent on long loan to the British Museum (Natural History) and have been incorporated into the present collection (D157-D207).


Margery Fisher's death in December 1992 led to the clearing and eventual sale of Ashton Manor. James Fisher's books were sold at auction by Bloomsbury Book Auctions on 16 September 1993, and the manuscripts were consigned to the same auction house early the following year. Messrs Bruce Coleman and John Burton, themselves naturalists and admirers of James Fisher, purchased the collection by private treaty and immediately presented it to the Library of The Natural History Museum, where it arrived in June 1994.


On arrival the Fisher Collection occupied 42 cardboard boxes and 97 box files.

Selection and destruction information:

With the agreement of the donors, the following disposals were made:


1. Certain purely personal papers and photographs were returned to the Fisher family.


2. Letters, notebooks and a scrapbook of A W Boyd were given to Liverpool Museum.


3. Sound recordings were transferred to the National Sound Archive and cine films to the British Film Institute.


4. Unannotated journal issues, offprints, maps and books were divided between the donors and the Museum libraries.


5. Unmarked printers proofs, duplicate typescripts and printed papers and some non-natural history material were destroyed.


These disposal reduced the bulk of the collection by about one third.

Publication note:



[1939] Birds as animals. pp. xviii, 281, 9 plates. William Heinemann: London and Toronto. New and rewritten edition 1954


1940 Watching birds. pp. 192. Allen Lane: Harmondsworth, New York. Later editions 1951, 1953, 1974


1942 The birds of Britain. pp. 48, 12 plates. William Collins: London. One of the 'Britain in Pictures' series


1947-1955 Bird recognition. Three volumes. Penguin books: Harmondsworth, New York. Volume 1 seabirds and waders


1952 The fulmar. pp.xv, 496, 52 plates. Collins: London. The New Naturalist Library, monograph no. 6.


1952 Birds of the field. pp.35, 32 plates. Collins: London. Country Naturalist no. 1


1952 (with L H Newman and P M Scott) Nature Parliament. A book of the broadcasts. pp.xvii, 138. J M Dent and Sons: London.


1953 (with P M Scott) A thousand geese. pp.240, 16 plates. Collins: London


1954 (with R M Lockley) Sea-birds. pp.xvi, 320, 48 plates. Collins: London. New Naturalist Library no. 28.


1954 Bird recognition, new and revised edition. Penguin books: London


1956 Rockall. pp.200. Geoffrey Bles: London


1956 (with R T Peterson) Wild America. pp.xii, 434. Houghton Mifflin: Boston.


[1957] (with M L E Fisher) Shackleton. pp.xvi, 559, plates. Barrie: London


1964 (with R T Peterson) The world of birds. pp.288. Macdonald & Co: London


1966 Shell nature lover's atlas of England, Wales and Scotland. pp.16, 32 plates. Ebury Press and Michael Joseph: [London]


1967 The Shell bird book. pp.344, 20 plates. Ebury Press and Michael Joseph: [London]


1967 Zoos of the world. pp.253. Aldus Books: London


1969 (With N Simon and J Vincent) The red book: wildlife in danger. pp.368, 32 plates. Collins: London


1970 (With H R H Prince Philip) Wild life crisis. pp.256. Hamilton: London

  • Ornythology
Administrative / biographical background:

James Maxwell McConnell Fisher was born on 3 September 1912. His father, Kenneth, was headmaster of Oundle School and a keen naturalist, while his mother was sister of the Cheshire naturalist A W Boyd. Fisher records that he 'started bird-watching on father's knee at age of two'. He was a King's Scholar at Eton from 1926, and went up to Magdalen College, Oxford, to read medicine in 1931. He joined a University expedition to Spitsbergen in 1933, and it was this that persuaded his father to allow him to change from medicine to zoology. He graduated with 2nd class honours in 1935. James Fisher married Margery Turner in 1936 and, after a period spent teaching in Bishops Stortford, worked with Julian Huxley as assistant curator at the London Zoo from 1936-1939. During the war Fisher worked at the Bureau of Animal Population and later at the Edward Grey Institute in Oxford. He was one of the instigators of Collins' New Naturalists Library, and served on the Editorial Board. His own first book was Birds as Animals (1939), but it was Watching Birds, published as a Penguin paperback in 1940, that first made his name. Fisher records that he wrote it all in a fortnight and 'I distinctly remember writing parts of it to my wife in an eight horse power car in Gloucestershire'.


Seabirds became Fisher's main preoccupation, and he undertook extensive researches into the breeding distribution, history and population of the fulmar, and published a New Naturalist monograph on the subject in 1952. He followed this up with an important volume entitled Seabirds (1954), written jointly with R M Lockley. His studies of Rockall, Iceland, Spitsbergen and in the Orkney islands all followed the seabird theme. It is fitting that his memorial should have been the purchase of the Island of Colinsay as a nature reserve.


Fisher was best known to the general public as a broadcaster, and Nature Parliament (1946-1964) and Birds in Britain (1951-1963) were enormously popular in their day. He was equally at home on television, and was to be seen on the small screen, both on location and in the studio, from 1948 until the end of his life. Fisher was described in an obituary as 'one of the greatest ornithological advocates of his generation.'


Another important aspect of Fisher's life was his unstinting service to a large number of voluntary bodies concerned with zoology, ornithology, natural history and nature conservation. These included the British Trust for Ornithology, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, the Northamptonshire Naturalists Trust, the National Parks Commission and many others. He was a tireless office holder, committee member and supporter.


James Fisher was killed in a car crash on 25 September 1970. He was 58.

Link to NRA Record:

Have you found an error with this catalogue description?

Help with your research