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An appreciation of the life of William French (1897-1960) soldier, naturalist and adventurer extraordinaire

Reference Code: GBR/0115/RCS/RCMS 381

Scope and Contents

The collection was compiled by Allan Allison, Carlisle City Museum Assistant (1956-66) and Senior Nature Reserve Warden with Nature Conservancy Scotland (1968-78), who became acquainted with French during the final years of his life. At its heart are ten original letters (approximately 60 pages with photocopied duplicates) written by French to his lifelong friend Ernest Blezard, Curator of Natural History, Carlisle City Museum (1926-1966):

1-2 Australia 1925
3 Solomon Islands 1929
4-5 England 1930
6-10 Solomon Islands 1931-38

The letters were given to Allison by his mentor Blezard, following the latter’s death in 1970. They are supplemented by a biographical memoir (20 pages) written by Allison, drawing upon his friendship with French, and the reminiscences of their mutual friend Blezard. The memoir includes notes on French’s ornithological collecting and his wife Patricia, an obituary from ‘The Cumberland News’ 30 Dec. 1960 written by Blezard, and nine photographs of French and the Three Sisters Plantation, British Solomon Islands.


  • Creation: 1925 - 2012

Conditions Governing Access

Unless restrictions apply, the collection is open for consultation by researchers using the Manuscripts Reading Room at Cambridge University Library. For further details on conditions governing access please contact Information about opening hours and obtaining a Cambridge University Library reader's ticket is available from the Library's website (

Biographical / Historical

William French was born into a farming community in Cumberland in 1897 and served in Europe and the Mediterranean during the First World War. His interests in ornithology and natural history developed following his return in 1918. About this time, he began to intensify his collecting activities, and joined the Carlisle Natural History Society. French travelled to Australia in 1924, where he found work wheat farming and grape picking in Victoria, and cutting timber in New South Wales. After visiting the East Indies and New Guinea, French began managing a coconut plantation in the Solomon Islands for Lever Brothers during the late 1920s. In 1942, with the outbreak of the Second World War in the Pacific and the advance of the Japanese, French abandoned the plantation. He was eventually relocated by Lever Brothers to West Africa, where he oversaw copra and palm oil plantations. In 1946, French was nearly killed in a lorry accident and was sent home to Britain for convalescence. He left Lever Brothers and spent several years working in London and Ireland, before returning to Cumberland about 1950, where he was employed by the Ministry of Defence as a clerical officer. He died of a heart attack in 1960.

French’s letters reveal his enduring interest in ornithology. While abroad he collected birds’ eggs when opportunity allowed and learned taxidermy. Specimens he sent home from the Solomon Islands during the 1930s were presented to the British Museum (Natural History), now the Natural History Museum. He continued collecting following his return to England, and during 1954-56 he visited Scandinavia several times to identify the breeding grounds of European wading birds.


1 folder(s) (1 folder) : paper/photograph

Language of Materials


Physical Characteristics and Technical Requirements

good condition

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Donated by Allan Allison in 2012.


This collection level description was created by MJC.


Allison, Allan, 1939-, naturalist

Includes index.
2015-08-24 14:08:11+00:00
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the Cambridge University Library Repository

Cambridge University Library
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Cambridge CB3 9DR United Kingdom