Haliday, Alexander Henry (1806–70), naturalist, was born 21 November 1806 at Holywood, Co. Down, the eldest child of William Haliday (1763–1838), a well-known Belfast physician and a founding subscriber of the Belfast Academical Institute, and his wife Marian (née Webster). Alexander attended the Belfast Academical Institute and in 1822, at the age of fifteen, entered TCD, to study classics, obtaining a gold medal in his BA examinations (1828) and later taking the MA degree (1832). His interest in insects was already well developed and, before he left college, he had published a scientific paper, ‘Notices of insects taken in the north of Ireland’, in the newly founded Zoological Journal (vol. iii, 1827–8). He was a boyhood friend of the eminent naturalist Robert Templeton (qv). Observant and meticulous, Haliday rapidly established a reputation as an entomologist of note in Europe. He returned north to run the family estates and was called to the bar in 1830, joining the north-eastern circuit, but did not practise for long. As was the case with many of his friends and contemporaries, his interest in zoology, and especially insects, possessed him and he soon retired from practice. He settled for a time in Carnmoney, Co. Antrim, where he served as sheriff of Antrim (1841–3).
It is apparent that Haliday spent much of the 1830s and 1840s travelling and collecting specimens in Ireland, Britain, and continental Europe. Though he was based mainly in Dublin (at 3 North Cumberland Street and later at 8 Harcourt Street), he spent time in Connemara, London, and Italy. His reputation as a serious entomologist continued to grow and he published several catalogues of Irish Diptera (fly) species. Working on the lesser studied groups of insects, the Diptera, the parasitic Hymenoptera (sawflies, bees, wasps, and ants), Thysanoptera (thrips), and Homoptera (aphids), he wrote several major works, some in Latin, including Hymenoptera Britannica oxyura (1839), and later Reports on zoology (with G. Busk, 1847). He was elected MRIA (1848), and upon his death his personal library was donated to the RIA. A taxonomist and systematist rather than just a collector, Haliday corresponded with many notable scientists of the day, including John Obadiah Westwood (1816–90), the first professor of zoology at Oxford University, and Charles Darwin (1809–82). This correspondence is preserved in several collections. Baron Karl Robert Osten-Sacken (1828–1906), a German diplomat and expert on the Diptera, wrote of Haliday: ‘He had an intense desire for completeness and perfection, which was quite disinterested, because shy of publicity; he had an intense desire of being useful, by imparting useful knowledge to others, unmindful of the amount of work it involved’ (Osten-Sacken, 56–7).
After returning to Dublin in the early 1850s, Haliday became actively involved in the Dublin University Zoological and Botanical Association founded by Robert Ball (qv), William Harvey (qv), and George J. Allman (qv). The interest in natural history that marked the mid-Victorian period was in full swing, and he was a major influence in the publication of the Proceedings of the Dublin University Zoological and Botanical Association. He was also a major force in another of the popular natural history publications of the time, the widely read Natural History Review (1854–60), which, until production of the journal was transferred to London, he edited together with Edward Perceval Wright (qv), Samuel Haughton (qv), and Arthur Hogan.
Although Haliday was one of the ablest of all entomologists, details of his life are scant, owing in all likelihood to his retiring disposition. What is known of him is that he was a cultured man, quiet mannered and endowed with a good mind and an excellent memory. Added to this he was an accomplished linguist, giving him wide access to European literature. Many of his contemporaries, such as Hermann Loew, Francis Walker, and John Curtis, were deeply influenced by him. His meticulous nature meant he was ideally suited for research on his tiny subjects. In the preparation of delicate and often minute insect specimens, he had an innate gift, with the result that many were of a high quality. He was the first to suggest that the specimens on which the description of a new species is based, the type specimens, should be deposited in museums, an important advance in taxonomic studies and latterly standard scientific practice. After his death, his main insect collection and manuscripts were donated first to TCD and then, in 1882, to the Irish Museum of Natural History, where they are a continuing source of information for researchers, despite the paucity of information on the location of capture for many specimens.
O'Connor (1997) lists the number of papers by Haliday as seventy-five, importantly including many descriptions of species new to science. About fifty of these papers, published between 1826 and 1836 and in the late 1850s, relate to Irish insects. Haliday also contributed substantial amounts of information to Curtis's British Entomology (published in sections between 1827 and 1840) and Guide to an arrangement of British insects (1837), and Walker's Insecta Britannica Diptera (1851–6). John Westwood, who considered his work on the Thripsidae (Homoptera) and the relationships of the Aphaniptera as highly significant, wrote of him after his death: ‘Nothing has ever exceeded the clearness and precision of his general views, as well as his minute and elaborate details. He was our foremost entomologist’ (Westwood. 113).
It appears that Haliday suffered from repeated bouts of apathy and melancholia associated with severe dyspeptic attacks. Towards the end of 1861 his continued bad health led him to move to Italy, where he took up residence near Lucca with his cousin, who was married to an Italian. He immediately set about recording insects in the vicinity of the villa and in the regions of Carrara and the Appenines, Viareggio, and Spezia, making collections for identification and exchange. Together with Professors Adolpho Targioni-Tozetti (1823–1902) and Pietro Stephanelli (1834–1919) he founded the Italian Entomological Society (1867). Having returned from an exhausting field trip to Sicily, he died at Villa Pisani, after a short illness, on 12 July 1870. His lifelong friend Edward Perceval Wright (qv), professor of botany at TCD, was with him at the time. He was unmarried. Eleven insects have been named after Haliday. Most of his collection is housed in the NMI's Museum of Natural History, but other parts are held in museums in the UK, Italy, and Germany.