William Henry Sykes

William Henry Sykes
William Henry Sykes.

Colonel William Henry Sykes, FRS (January 25, 1790 – June 16, 1872) was an Indian Army officer, politician and ornithologist.

Sykes was born near Bradford in Yorkshire, and joined the Bombay Army, a part of the armed forces of the Honourable East India Company, in 1804, returning to Britain in 1837. He became Member of Parliament for Aberdeen in 1857, and was elected President of the Royal Asiatic Society in 1858.

During his time at the Bombay Army, he was appointed a statistician's position ("Statistical Reporter", October 1824 to January 1831, although the office was abolished December 1829, but he continued to work gratuitously for a year or so to complete his census of Deccan) and later his statistical researches involved him in natural history.

During his time in India Sykes made collections of native animals. He published his catalogues of birds and mammals of the Deccan in the Proceedings of the Zoological Society in 1832. This included fifty-six birds new to science, including the Indian Pond Heron. Sykes also studied the fish of the area, and wrote papers on the quails and hemipodes of India. His list of birds of the Deccan included 236 species.[1]

He had considerable influence during his position at the East India Company and Charles Darwin wrote to him to influence decisions on including Edward Blyth on an expedition.[2]

The Sykes's Lark (Galerida deva) of peninsular India is named after him. In addition, one race of Blue-headed Wagtail (Motacilla flava beema) was given the common name Sykes's Wagtail in British Birds in 1907.

He left the Bombay Army with the rank of colonel on June 18, 1833 and later, in 1840 he became a director of the East India Company.

He also was made Rector of Marischal College, Aberdeen in 1824.

He was a founder member, in 1835, and President of the Royal Statistical Society, 1863–5; he was the eleventh holder of that post but the first not to be a peer or baronet. He also became an Honorary Metropolitan Commissioner in September 1835. He died in Kensington, London aged 82.


  1. ^ Kinnear, N.B., 1952. The history of Indian mammalogy and ornithology. Part II. Birds.— J. Bombay Nat. Hist. Soc., 51 (1):104-110.
  2. ^ Letter from Darwin to Sykes 20 Dec 1859 Darwin Correspondence project


Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
George Thompson
Member of Parliament for Aberdeen
Succeeded by
John Farley Leith
Academic offices
Preceded by
Rector of Marischal College, Aberdeen
Succeeded by
Preceded by
John Somerset Pakington, 1st Baron Hampton
President of the Royal Statistical Society
Succeeded by
Richard Monckton Milnes, 1st Baron Houghton

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