Horace Gundry Alexander
Alexander (left), c. 1970
Alexander (left), c. 1970
Born(1889-04-18)18 April 1889
Croydon, England
Died30 September 1989(1989-09-30) (aged 100)
Pennsylvania, United States
  • Pacifist
  • ornithologist

Horace Gundry Alexander (18 April 1889 – 30 September 1989) was an English Quaker teacher, writer, pacifist and ornithologist. He was the youngest of four sons of Joseph Gundry Alexander (1848–1918),[1] two other sons being the ornithologists Wilfred Backhouse Alexander and Christopher James Alexander (1887–1917).[2] He was a friend of Mahatma Gandhi.

Life and work

Horace was born on 18 April 1889 in Croydon, Surrey. His father, Joseph Gundry Alexander (1848–1918), was an eminent lawyer, who had worked to suppress the opium trade between India and China. His mother was Josephine Crosfield Alexander. His early schooling was at Bootham School[3] in York, after which he studied history at King's College, Cambridge and graduated in 1912. When the First World War broke out in 1914, he served as secretary on various anti-war committees. In 1916, as a conscientious objector, he was initially exempted only from combatant military service, but after two levels of appeal he was exempted on condition of teaching, which he took up via General Service with the Friends' Ambulance Unit, holding posts at Sibford School, Warwick School and Cranbrook School, Kent.

Alexander married Olive Graham (1892–1942) on 20 July 1918 and joined the staff of Woodbrooke, a Quaker college in Birmingham, teaching international relations, especially in relation to the League of Nations, from 1919 to 1944. His wife died in 1942, having used a wheelchair for several years. That year Alexander joined a section of the World War II Friends Ambulance Unit and went to parts of India that were threatened by Japan. In 1958, he married Rebecca Bradbeer (née Biddle, 1901–1991), an American Quaker. After ten years they moved to Pennsylvania, United States, where he spent the remaining twenty years of his life.[2] He was also, for its first ten years, a governor of Leighton Park School, a leading Quaker school in England. He died of a gastrointestinal illness at Crosslands, a Quaker retirement community in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania.[4]


Alexander was a lifelong, dedicated and gifted birdwatcher, keenly involved in the 20th-century movements for the protection and observation of birds. He and two of his older brothers, Wilfred and Christopher, he took a keen interest in nature. Growing up in a Quaker home devoid of any other forms of entertainment, his interest in birds began at the age of eight, when his older brother Gilbert gave him a book on natural history.[5] In his autobiography he traced the beginnings of this interest in birds to 8.45 am on 25 March 1897, when an uncle pointed out a singing chiffchaff in their garden.[6] It was not until he was 20 that he obtained his first pair of binoculars.[7] He was one of a small group of amateur birdwatchers who developed skills and set new standards for combining the pleasures of birdwatching with the satisfaction of contributing to ornithological science. He made many significant observations, mainly in Britain, but also in India and the United States.

Alexander spent most of his time in India and became interested in its birds in 1927. Ornithology at that time was not popular among Indians in India, and when Horace informed Gandhi of an expedition, Gandhi commented, "That is a good hobby, provided you don't shoot them." Horace demonstrated the use of binoculars as an acceptable alternative to the gun and carried them at most times. Horace Alexander joined Sidney Dillon Ripley on an expedition to the Naga Hills in 1950. Ripley named a subspecies of the aberrant bush warbler after Alexander, although this is no longer recognised.[8] In the same year he founded the Delhi Birdwatching Society, along with Lt. Gen. Harold Williams. One early member of the organisation was the young Indira Gandhi, and the group encouraged Indian ornithologists such as Usha Ganguli.[9] Many of his notes were mislaid when one of his suitcases was lost in India in 1946.[10][11] Through his influence on Jawaharlal Nehru, he was instrumental in the designation of the Sultanpur Bird Sanctuary near Delhi.[6]

Alexander was also a founder member, in 1929, of the West Midland Bird Club (then the Birmingham Bird Club),[12] and its president,[12] during his long residence in Birmingham, England.


Alexander's father-in-law, John William Graham, believed that Gandhi was a subversive and that the Indians were unprepared for self-government. At the Quaker yearly meeting in 1930 the Nobel prize-winning poet Rabindranath Tagore attacked colonial rule in India. The Quakers were disturbed by the address and John Graham was particularly outraged. Afterwards it was agreed that a representative would be sent to India to attempt a reconciliation between the Viceroy, Lord Irwin, and Gandhi. This task was assigned to Horace Alexander, who first met Gandhi in March 1928. He made it possible for Gandhi to attend the 1931 round-table conference in London. After the conference he founded the India Conciliation Group along with Agatha Harrison and Carl Heath.[2] Becoming a close friend of Gandhi (who, in 1942, described Alexander as "one of the best English friends India has"), he wrote extensively about Gandhi's philosophy.[13] In 1947 he attempted to intervene to control the violence between Muslims and Hindus and was beside Gandhi in Calcutta on 15 August 1947.[2]

He was consulted by Richard Attenborough in the making of the film Gandhi. However, he felt that the scripts did not do justice to the people around Gandhi.[14]

In 1984 he was awarded the Padma Bhushan medal, the highest honour given to a non-Indian civilian.[2]

Radio appearances

Alexander made several appearances as a presenter on BBC Radio:


The books and articles written by Horace Alexander include:

Ornithological papers


  1. ^ Chmielewski.
  2. ^ a b c d e Carnall & Wood 2004.
  3. ^ Woodland, Jenny (2011). Bootham School Register. York, England: BOSA.
  4. ^ Obituary. New York Times 5 October 1989
  5. ^ Moss 2004, p. 87.
  6. ^ a b Fitter 1990.
  7. ^ Moss 2004, p. 88.
  8. ^ Ripley, S. Dillon (1951). "Notes on Indian Birds. IV. Some recently collected birds from Assam". Postilla. 6: 1–7.
  9. ^ Wood 2003.
  10. ^ Moss 2004, p. 102.
  11. ^ Bhutani 1984.
  12. ^ a b "Chronology". West Midland Bird Club. Archived from the original on 21 September 2011. Retrieved 7 September 2011.((cite web)): CS1 maint: unfit URL (link)
  13. ^ Carnall 2010.
  14. ^ Carnall, Geoffrey (2006). "Gandhi's Interpreter: a life of Horace Alexander".
  15. ^ "Regional Programme Midland, 27 April 1933 22.00". Radio Times. BBC. 39 (499). 21 April 1933.
  16. ^ "Third Programme, 14 June 1948 18.00". Radio Times. BBC. 98 (1287): 11. 11 June 1948.
  17. ^ "Search Results — BBC Genome". BBC Online. Retrieved 18 October 2014.