History Of Rowland Ward
Ward has a long and prestigious history and tradition in the hunting world. It
is now well over a century since the first book containing horn measurements was
published. Rowland Ward’s objective was to start a record of trophies which led
him to publish Horn Measurements and Weights of the Great Game of the World in
1892. It is this objective that has sustained this book over the years. This was
the first work of its kind and remained the only one for many years. It was not
designed to be a scientific work but was compiled for sportsmen as well as
scientists who were interested in seeing comparable measurements at a glance.
The measurements were naturally listed in order of size; this however was not
intended to have any competitive connotation.
James Rowland Ward was born in London in 1847. Although details of his early
years are sketchy, it is clear that from a tender age he was extraordinarily
interested in all aspects of natural history.
His father, Henry Ward, was a noted taxidermist and student of nature who had
gained considerable renown as an intimate friend of John James Audubon. He
accompanied the famed artist on some of his travels in search of new species,
and many years later Rowland Ward took particular delight in tracing some of his
father’s footsteps in America. Rowland Ward left school at the age of 14 to
begin his apprenticeship at his father’s taxidermy studio. He enjoyed his work
immensely and it was clear that he was gifted as a sculptor as well as an
illustrator. After ten years apprenticeship he was commissioned by a wealthy
businessman to produce a number of life-size heads of animals to be cast and
treated as sculptor’s work. These were to be used in the decoration of a big
house in the country. With the resulting fee he earned, he started his own
business. With sheer hard work and determination this innovative, highly
artistic taxidermist soon turned the business into a profitable concern.
Jungle, as his final premises became known, was situated in London’s fashionable
Piccadilly district, and became an essential calling place for all sportsmen.
Huge success, awards and commissions followed culminating in a vast tableau
called “Jungle Life” built for the Colonial and Indian Exhibition of 1886. Over
one hundred specimens were used ranging from a full mount of an elephant to
stuffed snakes hanging from artificial foliage. Such was its success that this
theme was repeated in 1895 and 1896. Rowland Ward’s exhibits were mounted with
great ingenuity and endless attention to detail. They were the forerunners of
museum dioramas showing animals in their natural habitat. He was so skilled and
creative that he influenced fashion trends of the day and developed products
known as Wardian furniture for decorative use. Rowland Ward’s creativity was not
limited to the production and marketing of animal novelties. He was responsible
for the development of a number of techniques which revolutionized taxidermy,
and his innovations are still widely used today. He knew many of the famous
naturalists and all the great sportsmen of his time and considered hunters such
as Fred Selous, Sir Samuel Baker and Arthur Neumann as his friends. Intelligent
though he was, he regularly asked knowledgeable people for their suggestions on
how to improve his craft. Their input combined with his abilities permitted him
to raise taxidermy to a new level. Although his talent as an artist and sculptor
helped him immensely in his work, he also had a distinctly scientific bent and
many new species of birds and animals were named after him such as a subspecies
of the Asiatic ibex Capra sibirica wardi, a subspecies of reedbuck Redunca
redunca wardi and a subspecies of the Malayan bear Ursus malayanus wardi.
Ward also published sporting books and these titles are now treasured
collectors’ items. He published his autobiography A Naturalist’s Life Study in
the Art of Taxidermy in 1913 (reprinted in 2002). Examples of other books on
big-game hunting published by him are Fred Selous’s Travel and Adventure and
Sunshine and Storm in Rhodesia; R. Lydekkers’s Game Animals of Africa; and H.A.
Bryden’s Great and Small Game of Africa to name a few. In fact, his first
written work was the Sportsman’s Handbook to Practical Collecting, Preserving,
and Artistic Setting-up of Trophies and Specimens which was published in 1880.
This book contained valuable information required to skin and preserve trophies.
It has been updated through the years and the 15th edition, published in 2004,
included lists of the two largest trophies of all species in the world. The
second edition of horn measurements was published in 1896 under the name Records
of Big Game and it has been known by this name ever since. The first edition
contained measurements taken by Rowland Ward himself and from this edition
measurements were supplied by many people around the world and this is still the
case today. All subsequent editions up to and including the 9 th edition (1928)
contained records of trophies from all continents of the world. However, the
10th edition, often considered to be the most important one, covered Africa and
Asia only. The 11 th to the 19 th editions were restricted to Africa. The 20 th
edition again included Africa and Asia, and the 21st covered European trophies
only. The 22 nd to the current publication, the 26th edition, are World editions
covering all the continents.
Rowland Ward’s death in 1912, the taxidermy and publishing businesses continued.
During the inter-war years the business flourished under the management of J.B.
Burlace. In 1946, an Old Etonian named Gerald Best assumed a controlling
interest in the company. He re-built the business following the Second World War
and ran it successfully for over twenty years. During this time he developed an
extensive foreign clientele particularly in America. This lucrative market was
eventually taken over by the steadily improving American taxidermists, such as
The Jonas Brothers of Denver, who began to exceed Rowland Ward’s in the quality
of their work. When Gerald Best died in 1969 the business was divided into its
different trading sections and left to his sons, Anthony and Tim. During the
heyday of big game hunting, shoots organised by the Maharajah of Cooch Behar,
for example, accounted for at least 365 tigers and he was only one of Rowland
Ward’s customers. A post war resurgence in African big game hunting led to
Rowland Ward opening a shop in Nairobi in 1950 where it received on average
three lions per week for mounting. But, by the time of Gerald Best’s death, the
good times were over and large mounts were becoming increasingly scarce. The
taxidermy workshops closed in the mid 1970s and the company was formally wound
up in 1983 on the petition of a French creditor, Jacques Vettier of Paris. The
rights to the Rowland Ward publications, which includes the Records of Big Game,
was sold to Game Conservation International of San Antonio, Texas in 1982. This
is a conservation foundation formed by a group of prominent American sportsmen,
including Harry Tennison, Todd Hunt Sr. and Phil Williamson. Harry Tennison
mentioned recently that his interest in maintaining the authenticity of the
Record Book was the main reason for his involvement. After one edition, the
19th, the editing and publishing was done by Stephen Smith in Johannesburg,
South Africa until his untimely death in 1993. The rights to the publications
have now been bought by the Halse family and the Record Book continues to be
edited and published in South Africa.
Records of Big Game has been and will continue to be about the animals. This is
an historical record containing a vast amount of valuable information including
the name of each species, the size of the specimen and the extent of its
geographical range. It is the opinion of many hunters that Rowland Ward is the
acceptable standard of trophies, particularly for African species. The minimum
measurements required to qualify for entry into the Record Book are high in
order that only the finest specimens are recorded. These standards encourage the
hunter to select as his trophy mature males who have already left their
contribution to the gene pool and this protects the genetic future of the
species. The evidence of this can be found in the large number of new trophies
qualifying for inclusion in the Book each year.
Text and pictures: Rowland Ward Publications
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