The Natural History and Antiquities of Selborne - 'Here Nature hands her slopy woods to sight Rills purl between and dart a quivering light''
Gilbert White FRS was born at his grandfather's vicarage at Selborne in Hampshire on 18th July 1720.
He was educated at the Holy Ghost School and then by private tutor before being accepted at Oriel College, Oxford.
White obtained his deacon's orders in 1746 and was fully ordained in 1749. He went on to hold several curacies in Hampshire and Wiltshire, as well as Selborne itself on four separate occasions.
During 1752/53 White held the office of Junior Proctor at Oxford and was Dean of Oriel. In 1757 he became the non-resident perpetual curate of Moreton Pinkney in Northamptonshire.
After the death of his father in 1758, White moved to the family home at The Wakes in Selborne, which he eventually inherited in 1763. In 1784 he became, for the fourth time, curate of Selborne, and held it till his death.
White is regarded the nation’s first ecologist, and credited with helping to shape our modern interest in nature.
White and William Markwick collected records on more than 400 plant and animal species; White recorded in Hampshire and Markwick in Sussex between 1768 and 1793. These records were used in ‘The Natural History and Antiquities of Selborne’ as the earliest and latest dates for each event, and are among the earliest examples of modern phenology.
Additionally, his diary for the years 1783–84 diary confirms the dramatic climatic impacts of the volcanic 'Laki haze' that spread from Iceland with dire consequences across Europe.
His best-known work, ‘The Natural History and Antiquities of Selborne’, was published in 1789. The format is a compilation of letters to Thomas Pennant, the leading British zoologist of the day, and the Hon. Daines Barrington, an English barrister and another Fellow of the Royal Society. The first nine ‘letters’ were never posted but written especially for the book.
The Selborne Society was founded in 1895 to perpetuate his memory and purchased land by the Grand Union Canal at Perivale in West London to create the first Bird Sanctuary in Britain, known as Perivale Wood. In the 1970s, Perivale Wood became a Local Nature Reserve.
Gilbert White died on 26th June 1793 at the age of 72 in Selborne, Hampshire.