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Charles Dixon around 1899
Mr Charles Edward Dixon
Dates: 1858 - 1926
Biographical Account:

Charles Dixon was a world famous naturalist, particularly well known for his work in ornithology.  He was born in Camden Town, London in 1858, the son of landscape artist Charles Thomas Dixon and Louisa (nee Edwards) Dixon, but moved to Heeley in Sheffield at a young age.  By 1871, Dixon had become a pupil teacher (at age 12) at Heeley School, but according to Harold Armitage, the author of Chantrey Land, the young Dixon was not interested in teaching and studying the required curriculum, but preferred to focus on natural history - particularly ornithology.  At the time, biology was considered to be a distraction rather than a serious subject to study.  In Chantrey Land, Armitage recalls finding Dixon perched on the branches of trees or entangled in bushes, with his nose in a book.  This propensity for studying in precarious positions continued throughout his life, as attested by the prefix of one of his books, 'Our Rarer Birds' which states that it was written from the nest of an eagle on the Isle of Skye.  Dixon's love affair with ornithology led him to work with another celebrated local ornithologist, Henry Seebohm.  Dixon travelled the country with the older Seebohm, helping to discover the St Kilda Wren in 1884.  The relationship eventually led to the pair writing 'A History of British Birds' together in 1883.  Dixon also worked with Alfred Russell Wallace, who in turn had previously co-authored of theory of evolution by natural selection with Charles Darwin.  Wallace and Dixon were both interested in the migration patterns of birds and co-authored several papers on the subject.

Dixon donated over 100 skins of birds to Sheffield Museums during the latter part of the 19th century.  Unlike some Victorian naturalists, Dixon realised the importance of making notes of where and when the birds he collected were found.  Many of the specimens he donated were 'swapsies' with naturalists who were collecting from all over the world.  As a result, many of the specimens are not local.  However, unusually for Victorian ornithologists, who prized the rare and exotic birds over the common and local, many of the specimens that Dixon collected himself are from around Sheffield - particularly around Heeley, Meersbrook and Norton Lees.  As a result, Dixon's collection provides a snapshot of the genetic and morphological diversity of bird life around Sheffield that cannot be found anywhere else.  However, it is perhaps the skins in the Dixon collection that were collected by Alfred Russell Wallace himself that are considered the true jewel of the collection and one of the jewels of the museum as a whole.  It is unusual for a regional museum to hold material collected by such a well known figure as Wallace, and the collection is all the sweeter because much of the material Wallace collected throughout his studies were lost at sea in 1852.

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