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Pilcher George Ralfe

Epithet: Ornithologist, naturalist and historian (1861-1936)

Record type: Biographies

Biography: From ‘New Manx Worthies’ (2006):

Pilcher Ralfe was born at Ellanbane, Lezayre, where his father farmed 900 acres. At the age of seventeen he began work at the Bank of Mona on Prospect Hill in Douglas, on the site of what is now Government Offices. When that failed in 1878 Ralfe soon found employment at the Isle of Man Bank, on 1st January 1879. He went first to Peel, then to Douglas and in 1895 to open a branch at Laxey. In 1897 he was appointed as agent in Castletown, an area in which he held a number of posts in the community and an area to which he gave great public service.

From an early age Ralfe took an interest in natural history and was a founder member of the Isle of Man Natural History and Antiquarian Society. He was interested in all aspects of the society's activities, but first and foremost he was interested in ornithology. He contributed a number of articles to British natural history journals such as The Zoologist and North Western Naturalist.

Ralfe's writing was characterised by a beautiful descriptive style and his greatest work Birds of the Isle of Man, published in 1905 by David Douglas of Edinburgh, must rank as one of the finest books ever written about the Isle of Man, with its mixture of ornithology, history and intimate knowledge of the Manx countryside.

Over the next 30 years he produced numerous articles on the Island's birdlife, history, coastal scenery and banking.

In addition he kept all his bird-watching notebooks which are preserved in the Manx National Heritage library. Using these he published an addition to his Birds of the Isle of Man in 1924.

His activities also inspired the interest of others, including the lighthouse keepers who kept a record of the birds passing their lights.

He was an enthusiastic traveller in countries such as Italy, Malta and Scandinavia where he walked and studied the birds. In addition he was a Norse and Latin scholar.

These sustained interests involved his giving lectures and writing articles for the Isle of Man Natural History and Antiquarian Society and its Proceedings right up to his death.

Ralfe, a bachelor, was a modest self-effacing man who was buried in Malew Churchyard after a funeral service held at St Mary's, Castletown, where he was a churchwarden.

Biography written by John Wright.

(With thanks to Culture Vannin as publishers of the book: Kelly, Dollin (general editor), ‘New Manx Worthies’, Manx Heritage Foundation/Culture Vannin, 2006, pp.408-09.)

Culture Vannin


Gender: Male

Date of birth: February 1861

Date of death: 9 May 1936

Name Variant: Ralfe, Pilcher G.


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