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BOARDMAN, GEORGE AUGUSTUS, lumber merchant and ornithologist; b. 5 Feb. 1818 in Newburyport, Mass., third child of William Boardman, a merchant, and Esther W. Toppan; m. 19 Dec. 1843 Mary J. Hill in Milltown (St Stephen-Milltown), N.B., and they had ten sons and one daughter; d. 11 Jan. 1901 in Calais, Maine, and was buried in St Stephen (St Stephen-Milltown).
Of the many 19th-century ornithologists who studied the bird life of southwestern New Brunswick and the lower Bay of Fundy, George A. Boardman undoubtedly contributed more than anyone else. William Austin Squires, himself a noted New Brunswick ornithologist, identified Boardman in 1937 as “the most outstanding naturalist, bird student and collector ever produced by northeastern Maine or the Maritime Provinces of Canada.”
Boardman moved to Calais from Newburyport in 1828 with his parents. His formal education consisted of attendance at local schools in both places. In 1843 he married Mary J. Hill and the couple promptly took up residence in Milltown, across the St Croix River from Calais. By this union and the marriages of his sisters Boardman became linked to most of the wealthy and prominent families of the St Croix valley.
In 1838 Boardman had joined the business of William Todd*, a successful local merchant engaged principally in the production and export of lumber. He apparently showed considerable promise, for two years later he was offered and accepted a partnership in the firm. It was during the course of a business trip to the Caribbean region in 1840–41 that he developed a serious interest in natural history. Nevertheless, the demands of his business meant that it was some time before he could indulge this interest to the full. In 1855 the firm of William Todd Jr and Company became known as George Boardman and Company, Todd having withdrawn in favour of his son Charles Frederick. Although Boardman gradually turned over the management of the enterprise to his new partner, he maintained his involvement for a number of years. By 1869, however, he had passed on his own interest to his two eldest sons.
About 1857 Boardman began to practise taxidermy. His collection of scientific study skins, mounted birds, eggs, and nests, eventually numbering several thousand specimens, was apparently started during this period. In 1858 he was in Philadelphia on business and made his first visit to its Academy of Natural Sciences. A similar trip to Boston in 1859 provided the opportunity to purchase a copy of Alexander Wilson’s American ornithology, from which he undoubtedly began the systematic study of birds. In 1861 Boardman attended a gathering of naturalists in Cambridge, Mass., where he met Addison Emery Verrill, Daniel Giraud Elliot, and other zoologists. The following year he began corresponding with a number of eminent ornithologists, among them Elliot, Verrill, Thomas Mayo Brewer, Elliott Cones, Spencer Fullerton Baird, Henry Eeles Dresser of England, and John Krider of Philadelphia, a commercial birdman with whom he exchanged birds and eggs for many years. It was as a result of Boardman’s influence that from 1862 to the turn of the century many of these and other ornithologists visited New Brunswick to study its bird life.
In 1862, with the encouragement and assistance of Verrill, Boardman began to publish the results of his observations of the ornithology of the St Croix valley. A “Catalogue of the birds found in the vicinity of Calais, Maine, and about the islands at the mouth of the Bay of Fundy” appeared in the proceedings of the Boston Society of Natural History that year. Between 1862 and 1900 Boardman regularly reported his findings concerning the birds of southwestern New Brunswick and northeastern Maine in scientific journals and local newspapers, becoming the acknowledged authority on the natural history of the region. In 1864 he contributed a list of the birds and animals in southern New Brunswick to Alexander Monro*’s compendium of information on the province. Equally important, through his extensive correspondence with other ornithologists, he provided information that was incorporated into numerous papers and monographs on North American avifauna. Boardman developed a particularly close relationship with Spencer F. Baird of the Smithsonian Institution – so much so that his ornithological activities largely ceased following Baird’s death in 1887.
George Augustus Boardman’s catalogue of birds appears in vol.9 (1862–63) of the Boston Soc. of Natural Hist., Proc., on pp.122–32. Many of his observations are cited in S. F. Baird et al., The water birds of North America (2v., Boston, 1884) and A history of North American birds: land birds (3v., Boston, 1905). Boardman’s ornithological collection was purchased by the province of New Brunswick in 1900 and is now housed in the N.B. Museum.
PANB, MC 300, MS2/118 (W. A. Squires, “George A. Boardman, naturalist,” paper read before the York–Sunbury Hist. Soc., 1937). S. L. Boardman, The naturalist of the Saint Croix: memoir of George A. Boardman; a selection from his correspondence and published writings, notices of friends and contemporaries with his list of the birds of Maine and New Brunswick (Bangor, Maine, 1903).