A reassessment of issues surrounding the
Hastings Rarities, with particular reference to
supposed fraud by George Bristow

by Pat Morris MBE

Received 15 April 2020; revised 19 August 2020; published 9 March 2021

Summary.—In 1962, a special issue of British Birds alleged that the number and
pattern of records of rare birds from around Hastings, in southern England,
between 1892 and 1930 were so improbable that fraud was the only reasonable
explanation. A press conference resulted in absurdly exaggerated reports that
encouraged general acceptance of the alleged fraud and in particular that George
Bristow, a local taxidermist, was responsible. There are potential weaknesses in
the statistical analysis of the purported fraud, and the case against Bristow was
based on probability and innuendo, not solid evidence. Plausible information from
Bristow and the respected ornithologist Norman Ticehurst was largely ignored, as
were the practicalities of fraud, especially during wartime and in the absence of
modern deep-freeze facilities. The lead author was apparently prejudiced against
taxidermists. The allegations unfairly tainted Bristow and his profession, and have
encouraged some distrust of historical datasets.

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