Charles Waterton

Charles Waterton (3 June 1782 – 27 May 1865) was an English naturalist and explorer. He is best known as a pioneering conservationist.

Charles Waterton by Charles Wilson Peale, 1824, National Gallery, London
Charles Waterton by Charles Willson Peale, 1824, National Portrait Gallery, London

Family and religion

Waterton was of a Roman Catholic landed gentry family descended from Reiner de Waterton. His ancestry[1] is alleged to include eight saints: Vladimir the Great, Saint Anna of Russia, the Holy Martyrs Boris and Gleb, Saint Stephen of Hungary, Saint Margaret of Scotland and Saint Mathilde together with Saint Thomas More, Humbert III of Savoy and several European royal families.

He was a descendant of Ailric, King's Thane to Edward the Confessor, who held Cawthorne and much of South Yorkshire before the Norman Conquest. The heiress Sara le Neville inherited a vast estate from her grandfather Adam FitzSwain (the grandson of Ailric) and it passed to the De Burghes, then to the Watertons in 1435.

The Watertons remained Catholic after the English Reformation and consequently the vast majority of their estates were confiscated.[1] Charles Waterton himself was a devout and ascetic Catholic, and maintained strong links with the Vatican.

Early life

"Squire" Waterton was born at Walton Hall, Wakefield, Yorkshire to Thomas Waterton and Anne Bedingfield.

He was educated at Stonyhurst College in Lancashire where his interest in exploration and wildlife were already evident. On one occasion Waterton was caught by the school's Jesuit Superior scaling the towers at the front of the building; almost at the top, the Superior ordered him to come down the way he had gone up.[2] Waterton records in his autobiography that while he was at the school, "by a mutual understanding, I was considered rat-catcher to the establishment, and also fox-taker, foumart-killer, and cross-bow charger at the time when the young rooks were fledged. ... I followed up my calling with great success. The vermin disappeared by the dozen; the books were moderately well-thumbed; and according to my notion of things, all went on perfectly right."[3]

South America

In 1804 he travelled to British Guiana to take charge of his uncle's estates near Georgetown. In 1812 he started to explore the hinterland of the colony, making four journeys between then and 1824, and reaching Brazil walking barefoot in the rainy season. He described his discoveries in his book Waterton's Wanderings in South America,[4] which inspired British schoolboys such as Charles Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace. His explorations laid to rest the persistent myth of Raleigh's Lake Parime by suggesting that the seasonal flooding of the Rupununi savannah had been misidentified as a lake.

Waterton was a skilled taxidermist and preserved many of the animals he encountered on his expeditions. He employed a unique method of taxidermy, soaking the specimens in what he called "sublimate of mercury". Unlike many preserved ("stuffed") animals, his specimens are hollow and lifelike. He also displayed his anarchic sense of humour in some of his taxidermy: one tableau he created (now lost) consisted of reptiles dressed as famous English Protestants and entitled "The English Reformation Zoologically Demonstrated". Another specimen was the bottom of a howler monkey which he turned into an almost human face and simply labelled "The Nondescript". This specimen is still on display at the Wakefield Museum, along with other items from Waterton's collection.[5]

While he was in British Guiana Waterton taught his skills to one of his uncle's slaves, John Edmonstone. Edmonstone, by then freed and practising taxidermy in Edinburgh, in turn taught the teenage Darwin.

Waterton is credited with bringing the anaesthetic agent curare wourali to Europe. In London, with Fellows of the Royal Society, he immobilised several animals, including a cat and a she-ass, with his wourali [curare], and then revived the she-ass with a bellows. (Hence) the ass was named Wouralia and lived for years at Walton Hall.

Walton Hall

In the 1820s Waterton returned to Walton Hall and built a nine-foot-high wall around three miles (5 km) of the estate, turning it into the world's first wildfowl and nature reserve, making him one of the world's first environmentalists. He also invented the bird nesting box. The Waterton Collection, on display at Stonyhurst College until 1966, is now in the Wakefield Museum. Waterton owned a dog who was prominent in the foundation of the modern English Mastiff and may be traced back to in the pedigrees of all living dogs of this breed.[6]

On 11 May 1829, at the age of 47, Waterton married 17-year-old Anne Edmonstone, the granddaughter of an Arawak Indian. His wife died shortly after giving birth to their son, Edmund, when she was only 18. After her death he slept on the floor with a block of wood for a pillow, "as self-inflicted penance for her soul!" [7] [8]

Waterton was an early opponent of pollution. He fought a long-running court case against the owners of a soap works that had been set up near his estate in 1839, and sent out poisonous chemicals that severely damaged the trees in the park and polluted the lake. He was eventually successful in having the soap works moved.

Waterton died after fracturing his ribs and injuring his liver in a fall on his estate. His coffin was taken from the hall by barge to his chosen resting place, near the spot where the accident happened, in a funeral cortege led by the Bishop of Beverley, and followed at the lakeside by many local people. The grave was between two oak trees, which are no longer there.

Alleged eccentricities

A range of stories have been handed down about Charles Waterton, few of which are verifiable. The following are at least documented:

  • He "liked to dress as a scarecrow and sit in trees." [9]
  • He pretended to be his own butler and then tickled his guests with a coal brush.[10]
  • He climbed tall trees to replace nestling heron chicks which had fallen from their nests in a storm.[10]
  • He pretended to be a dog and would then bite the legs of his guests as they came into his house.[10]
  • Whenever he was ill he cupped himself heavily "to cure anything and everything, from backache to malaria".[11] In the chapter titled, "Squire Waterton," Harley relates his conversation with Waterton that describes Waterton's philosophy and practice of bleeding himself. [12]


Waterton is chiefly remembered for his association with curare, and for his writings on natural history and conservation. David Attenborough has described him as “one of the first people anywhere to recognise, not only that the natural world was of great importance, but that it needed protection as humanity made more and more demands on it”.[13]

Waterton's house, Walton Hall, which may be approached only by a pedestrian bridge to its own island, is now the main building of a hotel. There is a golf course in the vicinity and various public footpaths, some leading to a nature reserve.

Waterton Lakes in Alberta, Canada, now a national park, was named after him by Thomas Blakiston in 1858. A Wakefield road and school in Wakefield, Yorkshire, are also named after him.


  1. ^ a b J W Walker OBE FSA. The Burghs of Cambridgeshire and Yorkshire and the Watertons of Lincolnshire and Yorkshire. (1931) The Yorkshire Archæological Journal XXX 314–419.
  2. ^ Hewitson, Stonyhurst College, Present and Past
  3. ^ CATHOLIC ENCYCLOPEDIA: Charles Waterton
  4. ^ Bullen, A. H. (ed.). Waterton's Wanderings in South America. Project Gutenberg.
  5. ^ "Wakefield Museum". Culture 24, UK. Retrieved 24 March 2011.
  6. ^ The History of the Mastiff, M.B. Wynn, 1885. William Loxley.
  7. ^ Biography of Explorer Charles Waterton.
  8. ^ Tweedie, Mrs. Alec (1899). George Harley, F.R.S. The Life of a London Physician. The Scientific Press, Limited. p. 273.
  9. ^ Hemming, John (2008). Tree of Rivers. Thames & Hudson. p. 135.
  10. ^ a b c Edginton, 1996. p.2
  11. ^ Edginton, 1996. p.2. Although Edginton calls this "cupping his own blood", cupping did not break the skin, while blood-letting did, so it is unclear which is intended.
  12. ^ Tweedie, Mrs. Alec (1899). George Harley, F.R.S. The Life of a London Physician. The Scientific Press, Limited. p. 276.
  13. ^ Sir David Attenborough will open city centre’s new museum. Wakefield Express. 23 February 2013


Further reading

External links

  1. ^ Tweedie, Mrs. Alec (1899). George Harley, F.R.S. The Life of a London Physician. The Scientific Press, Limited. pp. 260–281.
1782 in Great Britain

Events from the year 1782 in Great Britain. The American Revolutionary War draws to a close.

1782 in science

The year 1782 in science and technology included many events, some of which are listed here.



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1813 in science

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Events from the year 1813 in the United Kingdom.

1825 in science

The year 1825 in science and technology involved some significant events, listed below.

1865 in science

The year 1865 in science and technology involved some significant events, listed below.

1865 in the United Kingdom

Events from the year 1865 in the United Kingdom.

Edmund Waterton

Edmund Waterton, (1830–1887), Knight of the Supreme Order of Christ; Knight of Malta; Papal Privy Chamberlain; Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries was a British antiquary. Born at Walton Hall, West Yorkshire, the only child of Charles Waterton, he was a lifelong Catholic and was educated at Stonyhurst College.

In 1862 he married Josephine Ennis, daughter of an Irish MP. He was declared bankrupt in 1876 and was obliged to sell Walton Hall. After being widowed he remarried, in 1881, with Ellen Mercer.Waterton's collection of rings is now partly in the Victoria and Albert Museum; his collection of editions of The Imitation of Christ is now the core of the Edmund Waterton Collection in the British Library.


Guyana ( or ), officially the Co-operative Republic of Guyana, is a country on the northern mainland of South America. It is often considered part of the Caribbean region because of its strong cultural, historical, and political ties with other Anglo-Caribbean countries and the Caribbean Community (CARICOM). Guyana is bordered by the Atlantic Ocean to the north, Brazil to the south and southwest, Venezuela to the west, and Suriname to the east. With an area of 215,000 square kilometres (83,000 sq mi), Guyana is the third-smallest sovereign state on mainland South America after Uruguay and Suriname.

The region known as "the Guianas" consists of the large shield landmass north of the Amazon River and east of the Orinoco River known as the "land of many waters". Major rivers in Guyana include the Essequibo, the Berbice, and the Demerara. Originally inhabited by many indigenous groups, Guyana was settled by the Dutch before coming under British control in the late 18th century. It was governed as British Guiana, with a mostly plantation-style economy until the 1950s. It gained independence in 1966, and officially became a republic within the Commonwealth of Nations in 1970. The legacy of British rule is reflected in the country's political administration and diverse population, which includes Indian, African, Amerindian, and multiracial groups.

Guyana is the only South American nation in which English is the official language. The majority of the population, however, speak Guyanese Creole, an English-based creole language, as a first language. Guyana is part of the Anglophone Caribbean. CARICOM, of which Guyana is a member, is headquartered in Guyana's capital and largest city, Georgetown. In 2008, the country joined the Union of South American Nations as a founding member.

John Edmonstone

John Edmonstone was a black enslaved man probably born in Demerara, British Guiana (present day Guyana, South America), who later gained his freedom. He learned taxidermy from Charles Waterton, whose father-in-law Charles Edmonstone (b. 1793, Cardross Park, Dumbarton, Scotland - 1822, Demerara, Br. Guiana) had a plantation in Demerara.

After he was freed, Edmonstone came to Glasgow with his former master, Charles Edmonstone. From there he moved to Edinburgh (37 Lothian Street), where he taught taxidermy to students at the University of Edinburgh, including Charles Darwin.Edmonstone gave Charles Darwin inspiring accounts of tropical rain forests in South America and may have encouraged Darwin to explore there. The taxidermy Darwin learnt from Edmonstone helped him greatly during the voyage of the Beagle.Edmonstone is regarded as one of the "100 Great Black Britons".

Lake Parime

Lake Parime or Lake Parima is a legendary lake located in South America. It was reputedly the location of the fabled city of El Dorado, also known as Manoa, much sought-after by European explorers. Repeated attempts to find the lake failed to confirm its existence, and it was dismissed as a myth along with the city. The search for Lake Parime led explorers to map the rivers and other features of southern Venezuela, northern Brazil, and southwestern Guyana before the lake's existence was definitively disproved in the early 19th century. Some explorers proposed that the seasonal flooding of the Rupununi savannah may have been misidentified as a lake. Recent geological investigations suggest that a lake may have existed in northern Brazil, but that it dried up some time in the 18th century. Both "Manoa" (Arawak language) and "Parime" (Carib language) are believed to mean "big lake".Two other mythical lakes, Lake Xarayes or Xaraies (sometimes called Lake Eupana), and Lake Cassipa, are often depicted on early maps of South America.

Nature reserve

A nature reserve (also known as natural reserve, bioreserve, natural/nature preserve, or natural/nature conserve) is a protected area of importance for flora, fauna or features of geological or other special interest, which is reserved and managed for conservation and to provide special opportunities for study or research. Nature reserves may be designated by government institutions in some countries, or by private landowners, such as charities and research institutions, regardless of nationality. Nature reserves fall into different IUCN categories depending on the level of protection afforded by local laws. Normally it is more strictly protected than a nature park.

Nest box

A nest box, also spelled nestbox, is a man-made enclosure provided for animals to nest in. Nest boxes are most frequently utilized for birds, in which case they are also called birdhouses or a birdbox/bird box, but some mammalian species may also use them, like bats for example. Placing nestboxes or roosting boxes may also be used to help maintain populations of particular species in an area. The nest box was invented by the British conservationist Charles Waterton in the early 19th century to encourage more birdlife and wildfowl on the nature reserve he set up on his estate.Nest boxes are getting more attention because industrialization, deforestation and other human activities since the mid-20th century have caused severe declines in birds' natural habitats, introducing hurdles to breeding. A nest box can help prevent bird extinction.

Wakefield Museum

Wakefield Museum is a local museum in Wakefield, West Yorkshire, north England, covering the history of the city of Wakefield and the local area from prehistoric times onwards.

Walton, Wakefield

Walton is a village and civil parish in the county of West Yorkshire, England, 3.5 miles south-east of Wakefield. At the time of the 2011 Census, the parish had a population of 3,231. At the time of the 2011 Census the parish was part of the City of Wakefield's ward of Crofton, Ryhill and Walton. The population of this ward at the Census was 15,144.Historically part of the West Riding of Yorkshire, the village lies on the Barnsley Canal and is home to Walton Hall, once the residence of Charles Waterton, known as 'Squire' Waterton. He was a naturalist and explorer who, in 1820, transformed the grounds of the Walton Hall estate the world's first nature reserve. The estate is also often referred to on Ordnance Survey maps, etc., as Walton Park and, less frequently, as Walton Hall Park. More recently, it has become widely known as Waterton Park.

Walton Hall is now Waterton Park Hotel. The park is now largely given over to a golf course, also named Waterton Park. There are public rights of way crossing the park.

Nearby, the site of the now demolished Walton Colliery, formerly known as Sharlston West colliery, has been transformed into a nature park (Walton Colliery Nature Park). Large lakes were constructed when the reserve was landscaped in the mid-1990s and the excavated earth was then used to cover the colliery's vast spoil heaps. The village also contains a small park, a tennis club, football and rugby pitches, a newly renovated pub and a sports and social club.Walton Colliery was the site of an explosion on 22 April 1959 that killed five men. The pit closed in the early 1980s, having been saved from closure several times by industrial action. In 1977 it was reported to require investment of £5 million to open new faces, which was rejected by the Coal Board, but Arthur Scargill refused to accept the closure of a pit where the coal was not yet exhausted.

Walton Hall, West Yorkshire

Walton Hall is a stately home in the county of West Yorkshire, England, near Wakefield. It was built in the Palladian style in 1767 on an island within a 26-acre (11 ha) lake, on the site of a former moated medieval hall. It was the ancestral home of the naturalist and traveller Charles Waterton, who made Walton Hall into the world's first wildfowl and nature reserve. Waterton's son, Edmund, sold the estate.

The Waterton Collection is now in Wakefield Museum.

Walton Hall is now part of the Waterton Park Hotel. In the 1940s and again in the early 1950s and early 1960s the Hall was a maternity home.

Walton Hall with his residence at Cawthorne, was home to the Old English (Anglo-Saxon) Chieftain, Ailric, the ancestor of Charles Waterton, who is mentioned in the Domesday Book and was the Kings Thane for South Yorkshire. The day the Normans first came to Yorkshire, Ailric was at Walton Hall and was alerted by a man on horseback that they were coming in force. He hastily amassed his retainers and on horseback they ambushed the mounted Norman knights of Ilbert de Laci, who were moving on the road from Tanshelf to Wakefield. The better armoured and armed knights of Ilbert de Laci were able to drive off this attack. For 2–3 years Ailric was able to maintain a guerrilla war out of his estates in the west of South Yorkshire, until Ilbert was forced to come to an accommodation with him, whereby Ailric would communicate with the local people and Ilbert would grant him back, many of his former estates, including Walton Hall.

The descendant of this family, Sara le Neville, married Thomas De Burgh, the Steward of the Countess of Brittany, Duchess of Richmond. Walton Hall was one of six manors, including the manors at Silkstone and Cawthorne and the De Burgh manors in North Yorkshire, that she lived at through the year. In 1333, Sir Philip de Burgh was granted a licence to 'crenelate' his manor house at Walton.

The Waterton family acquired the Cawthorne estates and those at Walton in which was Walton Hall, with the marriage in 1435 of Constance Asshenhull, the heiress of the De Burgh family, to Richard Waterton.

In the time of Sir Robert Waterton who served King Henry VIII the hall came to the waters edge and was three storeys high. Sir Robert Waterton's father-in-law was Sir Richard Tempest, who was with King Henry VIII at the Field of the Cloth of Gold. His father in law was also Steward of the King's manor of Wakefield and involved in the Tempest - Saville feud. The only part of the old buildings that remain is the old watergate, which is said to be part of an earlier 14th century structure. At that time it was the only entrance to be made, across a lowered drawbridge. The old oak hall referred to by Charles Waterton was on the second storey and was in an L shape.

The entrance hall at Walton Hall still has armorial shields on the walls that represent the ancestors of the Waterton family at Walton Hall. The Waterton family intermarried with other prominent Yorkshire families of the medieval age, including the Percys, the Barnbys, the Wentworths, the Hildyards and others.Walton Hall is a proposed UNESCO World Heritage site. Sir David Attenborough has stated that “Walton Hall is an extremely important site in the history of nature conservation worldwide. It is, arguably, the first tract of land anywhere in modern times to be protected, guarded and maintained as a nature reserve.”

Waterton Lakes National Park

Waterton Lakes National Park is a national park located in the southwest corner of Alberta, Canada. It borders Glacier National Park in Montana, United States. Waterton was the fourth Canadian national park, formed in 1895 and named after Waterton Lake, in turn after the Victorian naturalist and conservationist Charles Waterton. Its range is between the Rocky Mountains and prairies. This park contains 505 km2 (195 sq mi) of rugged mountains and wilderness.

Operated by Parks Canada, Waterton is open all year, but the main tourist season is during July and August. The only commercial facilities available within the park are located at the Waterton Park townsite. This park ranges in elevation from 1,290 metres (4,232 ft) at the townsite to 2,910 m (9,547 ft) at Mount Blakiston. It offers many scenic trails, including Crypt Lake trail. In 2012/2013, Waterton Lakes National Park had 402,542 visitors.The park was the subject of a short film in 2011's National Parks Project, directed by Peter Lynch and scored by Cadence Weapon, Laura Barrett and Mark Hamilton.

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