Mumbai 9 – Bomvay Natural History Museum

Bombay Natural History Society

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Bombay Natural History Society
biodiversity research
Headquarters Hornbill HouseMumbai (Bombay),India
Region served

Hornbill House, the head office of the Bombay Natural History Society.

The Bombay Natural History Society, founded on 15 September 1883, is one of the largest non-governmental organizations in India engaged in conservation and biodiversityresearch.[1] It supports many research efforts through grants, and publishes the Journal of the Bombay Natural History Society. Many prominent naturalists, including the ornithologists Sálim Ali and S. Dillon Ripleyhave been associated with it.[2] The society is commonly known by its initials, BNHS.


Title page of volume 1, number 1, of the Journal of the Bombay Natural History Society, 1886.

On September 15, 1883 eight gentlemen interested in Natural history met at Bombay in the then Victoria and Albert Museum (nowBhau Daji Lad Museum) and

constituted themselves as the Bombay Natural History Society. They proposed to meet monthly and exchange notes, exhibit interesting specimens and otherwise encourage each other.[3]

According to E. H. Aitken (the first Honorary Secretary, September 1883-March 1886), Dr G. A. Maconochie was the fons et origo of the Society. The other founders were Dr D. MacDonald, Col. C. Swinhoe, Mr J. C. Anderson, Mr J. Johnston, Dr Atmaram Pandurang and Dr Sakharam Arjun.[4] Mr H. M. Phipson (second Honorary Secretary, 1886–1906) was also a part of the founding group and he lent a part of his wine shop at 18 Forbes Street to the BNHS as an office.

In 1911, R. C. Wroughton a BNHS member and forest officer organized a survey of mammals making use of the members spread through the Indian subcontinent to provide specimens. This was perhaps the first collaborative natural history study in the world and resulted in a collection of 50,000 specimens in 12 years. Several new species were discovered, 47 publications were published, and the understanding of biogeographic boundaries was improved.[5]

In the early years, the Journal of the BNHS reviewed contemporary literature from other parts of the world. The description of ant-bird interactions in German by Erwin Stresemannwas reviewed in a 1935 issue leading to the introduction of the term anting into English.

Today the BNHS is headquartered in the specially constructed Hornbill House is Southern Mumbai. It sponsors studies in Indian wildlife and conservation, and publishes a four-monthly journal, Journal of the Bombay Natural History Society (JBNHS), as well as a quarterly magazine, Hornbill.


The BNHS logo is the great hornbill, inspired by a great hornbill named William, who lived on the premises of the Society from 1894 until 1920, during the honorary secretaryships of H. M. Phipson until 1906 and W. S. Millard from 1906 to 1920.[6] The logo was created in 1933, the silver-jubilee year of the Society’s founding. According to H. M. Phipson, William was born in May 1894 and presented to the Society three months later by H. Ingle of Karwar. He reached his full length (4.25 feet (1.30 m) by the end of his third year. His diet consisted of fruit like plantains and wild figs, but also of live mice, scorpions, and plain raw meat, which he ate with relish.[6] He apparently did not drink water, nor use it for bathing.[6] William was also known for catching tennis balls thrown at him from a distance of some thirty feet with his beak.[6] In his obituary of W. S. Millard, Sir Norman Kinnear made the following remarks about William:[7]

Every visitor to the Society’s room in Appollo Street will remember the great Indian Hornbill, better known as the “office canary” which lived in a cage behind Millard’s chair in Phipson & Co.’s office for 26 years and died in 1920. It is said its death was caused by swallowing a piece of wire, but in the past “William” had swallowed a lighted cigar without ill effects and I for my part think that the loss of his old friend was the principal cause.

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