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Grey heron eggs collected by Solomon Malan

Grey heron eggs collected by Solomon Caesar Malan

Solomon Caesar Malan (1812-1894)

On 16 July, 1878 Solomon Caesar Malan donated several of his collections to RAMM. The most important was a collection of 1117 birds’ eggs (283 different species) that he collected himself.

A description of the young Solomon Caesar Malan in a biography written by his son mentioned his ‘clear blue eyes, sparkling with the light of genius’.

A talented man

Born in Geneva in 1812, Malan was the eldest of 12 children and was christened Cesar Jean Salmon. he was described as having an ‘over mastering thirst for intellectual knowledge’. All the children were taught by their father and Malan learnt the skills of carpentry (probably cabinet making), bookbinding, printing, drawing, botany and how to use a telescope and microscope. Malan also composed music and played the flute.

Whilst at Oxford University he studied so hard that he became ill and lost the sight in one eye. He was warned that unless he stopped reading he would lose the sight in the other. Even though this warning only increased the number of volumes he read, he did not lose his ability to see.

When talking of his childhood Malan said ‘I set myself the task of determining to know everything there was to be known’.

Malan the linguist

By the age of 18 Malan was fluent in French, German, Spanish and Italian. He communicated with his father in Latin and was advanced in Hebrew, Sanskrit and Arabic. He also spoke a little English.

In later life he specialised in ancient and eastern languages including Arabic, Aramaic, Syriac, Persian, Hindustani and Mandarin Chinese.

Family and travels

Malan was married twice and had six sons and one daughter (his first wife bore him three children but died of consumption). He travelled extensively and even took a position as Classical Professor at Bishop’s College in Calcutta where he took Anglican deacon’s orders.

In 1845 he became the Vicar at Broadwindsor in Dorset. He was very conscientious in his work and even devoted Christmas day to serving his parish by hosting a dinner for all the elderly residents. During this time he did not neglect his studies. He would travel during August and September and continued to practise his love of watercolour painting. He later retired to Dorset where he died from cancer in 1894.

An inscription at Broadwindsor Church reads: ‘[He was] The most accomplished Oriental linuguist in England’.

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