The Natural Sciences department houses more than 2,000 shells, insects, bird skins and bats from the collections of the legendary naturalist John George Williams (1913-1997).
Williams is best known for his contributions to the ornithological world. But while birds were his main field, he had interests in many other animals and plants, and this is reflected in the breadth of specimens that were gifted by him to the museum on his death in 1997.
Williams was no stranger to museums, have previously worked at the National Museum of Wales as an ornithologist and taxidermist, and the Coryndon Museum in Nairobi, Kenya, as Curator of Birds. During his time in Kenya a species of bird was named for him, Williams’s Lark, Mirafra williamsi, and also two subspecies, Calandrella cinerea williamsi (a subspecies of the Red-capped Lark) and Seicercus umbrovirens williamsi (a subspecies of the Brown Woodland Warbler).
In the 1970s he returned to Britain with his wife. In his retirement he continued to practise taxidermy, and prepared some skins for National Museums Scotland at a price that merely covered his costs, presumably because he loved doing it so much! He continued this into the last few months of his life, and the quality of these skins was noted in his obituary notice in IBIS, an ornithological magazine. (Williams, A. (1999). Obituary: John G Williams (1913-1997) IBIS 141 pp 349.)
Williams’ shell collection consists of particular families (cowries, volutes, cones, marinellas and murex), which he collected or bought, and are worldwide in origin, as are the butterflies, moths and beetles also housed in our collections centre. You can see cowrie shells from his collection in the slideshow below and in our database.
The bird skins in our collection are largely those collected in Britain or Spain after he retired, but also include a specimen of a tundra falcon which he bought from someone else, and which was the first record of that species from Norway.
The Birds of East and Central Africa (1963)
A Field Guide to the National Parks of East Africa (1968)
A Field Guide to the Butterflies of Africa (1972)
A Field Guide to Orchids in North America (1983), with his son, Andrew AE Williams,
A Field Guide to the Orchids of Britain and Europe (1978) JG & Andrew Williams
Header image: Ornithoptera goliath, Goliath birdwing butterfly, bred in the Mansuela Range, Irian Jaya, Indonesia and donated by JG Williams.