World Library  
Flag as Inappropriate
Email this Article

Charles Waterton

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

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


  • Family and religion 1
  • Early Life 2
  • South America 3
  • Walton Hall 4
  • Alleged eccentricities 5
  • Legacy 6
  • Footnotes 7
  • References 8
  • Further reading 9
  • External links 10

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

  • Works by Charles Waterton at Project Gutenberg
  • Works by or about Charles Waterton at Internet Archive
  • Waterton and Wouralia
  • Waterton in Wakefield
  • Waterton's Creations
  • The Nondescript

External links

  • Edginton, Brian W. (1996). Charles Waterton: A Biography. James Clarke. 
  • Waterton, Charles (1825). Wanderings in South America, the North-West of the United States, and the Antilles, in the years 1812, 1816, 1820 and 1824: with original instructions for the perfect preservation of birds, &c. for Cabinets of Natural History. London: J. Mawman. 
  • Waterton, Charles (1838). Essays on natural history, chiefly ornithology: With an autobiography of the author, and a view of Walton Hall. London: Longman, Orme, Brown, Green, & Longmans. 

Further reading

  • Charles Waterton at Our Heritage Accessed 24 November 2008.


  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".  
  6. ^ Biography of Explorer Charles Waterton.
  7. ^ a b c Edginton, 1996. p.2
  8. ^ 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.
  9. ^ Sir David Attenborough will open city centre’s new museum. Wakefield Express. 23 February 2013


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.

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 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”.[9]


  • He pretended to be his own butler and then tickled his guests with a coal brush.[7]
  • He climbed tall trees to replace nestling heron chicks which had fallen from their nests in a storm.[7]
  • He pretended to be a dog and would then bite the legs of his guests as they came into his house.[7]
  • Whenever he was ill he cupped himself heavily "to cure anything and everything, from backache to malaria".[8]

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

Alleged eccentricities

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 have since disappeared.

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.

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.[6]

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.

Walton Hall

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

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 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]

had been misidentified as a lake. Rupununi savannah by suggesting that the seasonal flooding of the Lake Parime. His explorations laid to rest the persistent myth of Raleigh's Alfred Russel Wallace and Charles Darwin which inspired British schoolboys such as [4]

This article was sourced from Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License; additional terms may apply. World Heritage Encyclopedia content is assembled from numerous content providers, Open Access Publishing, and in compliance with The Fair Access to Science and Technology Research Act (FASTR), Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., Public Library of Science, The Encyclopedia of Life, Open Book Publishers (OBP), PubMed, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health (NIH), U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, and, which sources content from all federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial government publication portals (.gov, .mil, .edu). Funding for and content contributors is made possible from the U.S. Congress, E-Government Act of 2002.
Crowd sourced content that is contributed to World Heritage Encyclopedia is peer reviewed and edited by our editorial staff to ensure quality scholarly research articles.
By using this site, you agree to the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. World Heritage Encyclopedia™ is a registered trademark of the World Public Library Association, a non-profit organization.

Copyright © World Library Foundation. All rights reserved. eBooks from World eBook Library are sponsored by the World Library Foundation,
a 501c(4) Member's Support Non-Profit Organization, and is NOT affiliated with any governmental agency or department.