SOME IRISH NATURALISTS: A BIOGRAPHICAL NOTE-BOOKR. Lloyd Praeger, Sc.D., D.Sc., M.R.I.A.
W.Tempest, Dundalgan Press, Dundalk, 1949
THE following pages deal especially with the history and progress of field work in Ireland within the domains of geology, zoology and botany, as exemplified in the life and work of its many devotees, whether working separately or in organized groups such as the scientific societies. Mr. Tempest’s original idea in suggesting to me the writing of this book was that it should be largely of a reminiscent character, since I have had, during a long life, personal contact, often intimate, with a considerable number of the naturalists whose names are enshrined below. It was suggested that personal recollection and anecdote might add interest to what otherwise might be in danger of becoming only an abridged form of biographical dictionary. A little thought showed that limitation to personal contacts would cause the omission of far too many of the more noteworthy of Irish naturalists – of all indeed whose work was done before say 1880: for which a fuller and more personal treatment of the remainder would provide but small compensation. No time limit of that kind seemed desirable or possible.
Similarly, a question arose as to the inclusion of persons who are still alive (as in Who’s Who) as against their exclusion (as in Webb’s Compendium of Irish Biography, the Dictionary of National Biography, and Who was Who). That would impose a boundary which would cut right across recent research, and which would begin to become obsolete as soon as it was imposed; for naturalists like other men come and go, although science advances. It seemed obvious that the only logical plan was to set down all who merited inclusion, whatever their date; so my pillory extends from the mysterious Augustin to the naturalist of to-day - from the seventh century to the mid-twentieth. There perforce it stops. The study of nature will go on, but who its Irish apostles will be we cannot know. Morituri vos salutamus .
A word must be said as to the use of the term Irish naturalist. To admit only those of Irish birth would give a restricted and quite erroneous impression of the labourers whose work has resulted in our present knowledge of Irish natural science. It is true that it would include many notable names - John Templeton, William Thompson, A. H. Haliday, G. E. H. Barrett-Hamilton and R. M. Barrington, E. Hull and G. H. Kinahan, C. B. Moffat and R. J. Ussher, W. Archer, N. Colgan, R. W. Scully, A. W. Stelfox - to mention a few; but it would exclude G. A. J. Cole, G. V. Du Noyer, Sir R. Griffith, J. B. Jukes, J. E. Portlock and W. J. Sollas among geologists, G. H. Carpenter, A. C. Haddon, E. W. L. Holt, R. F. Scharff, R. Southern among zoologists, and G. Dickie, J. T. Mackay, D. Moore, A. G. More, S. A. Stewart and R. Tate among botanists. Irish birth is naturally important in a book bearing the present title,whether a man’s work was done in Ireland or mostly elsewhere, and in the latter category there are many distinguished names, such as John Ball, Sir H. Hayden, Sir F. M’Coy, H. N. Martin, Thomas Oldham, Sir E. Sabine, Sir Hans Sloane, John Tyndall; these also need mention.
Apart from the qualification of Irish birth, the obvious course was to include all who have made a serious contribution to the sum of Irish natural science, mostly in the course of a long sojourn in that country, omitting usually the many others who were at no time resident here, and whose contributions, though often of high value, were the result of brief visits. Among those whose names are thus necessarily withheld may be mentioned L. E. Adams, Alfred Bell, H. and S. Brade-Birks, M. Foslie, Hilderic Friend, F. W. Gamble, H. and J. Groves, R. Gurney, Wheelton Hinde, O. E. Janson, A. S. Kennard, H. Wallis Kew, W. A. Lee, E. F. Linton, E. S. Marshall, H. W. Pugsley, T. Mellard Reade, T. Kenneth Rees, W. Moyle Rogers, W. E. Sharp, W. A. Shoolbred, A. Somerville, R. Standen, B. Tomlin, William West, A. J. Wilmott, Herbert Womersley, Col. Yerbury.
As regards resident naturalists, it was difficult to decide where to draw the line as their contributions to our knowledge become fewer or shorter, ending at last in possibly a single note published in some journal, or similar trivial indication of an interest in natural science. Considerations of space forbade following (for instance) Britten and Boulger’s Biographical Index of British and Irish Botanists, in which even the sending of a few plants to Petiver or the making of a small herbarium is deemed cause for admission. I have endeavoured to include all whose contributions have been of definite service in advancing our knowledge of Irish zoology, botany or geology - but how far my judgment and choice may be acceptable to others, I cannot know. No two editors would have made precisely the same selection.
The boundary between pure and applied science is not always well marked, and so it has not been easy to separate economic zoology or botany from the systematic and geographical aspects of these subjects. But it is not intended to include here workers at plant and animal pests, diseases, or other pathological or agricultural aspects of natural science, nor at pure horticulture. This accounts for the absence from the list of such names as J. W. Besant, T. Carroll, T. Crook, T. Dillon, P. H. Gallagher, Paul Murphy, J. Reilly and others who have done yeoman service in the economic sphere.
Historically, one commences with that remarkable monk Augustin (not of Hippo), with his seventh-century environment and his twentieth century outlook, and we may bless the error by which his book was preserved among the writings of his great namesake. Then five hundred years pass before we come on the next landmark - the important treatise Topographia Hibernica that was written by Gerald de Barri, otherwise Giraldus Cambrensis, after he had visited Ireland as Prince John’s secretary in 1185. His book, a surprising medley of fact and fable, tells much concerning Irish animals and other things. Another gap ensues, and indeed continues till the herbalists became vocal - or at least scriptural - and Caleb Threlkeld issues his Synopsis Stirpium Hibernicarum in 1726. But it was not till the early nineteenth century that the natural sciences began to form definite subjects of enquiry in Ireland. Botany came first, by evolution from pharmacy, aided perhaps by the fact that plants were everywhere at hand, for admiration and study. J. T. Mackay, in his Flora Hibernica (1836), led the way to the systematic catalogue-book which is now the basis of field-work both in botany and zoology, and is known as a “Flora” or “Fauna.” William Thompson’s Natural History of Ireland was a great step forward, even though the author lived only to complete the three volumes devoted to the birds. Zoology indeed came close behind botany, so far at least as the animals of the land and of the shallower waters were concerned; but it was not until the nineteenth century that the exploration of the deep sea revealed fully the extent and variety of the animal kingdom. Geological study came last, since the rocks are mostly hidden from view, and their interpretation is often difficult. Geology does not lend itself to popular exploitation, like flower-collecting or butterfly-hunting; and lack of knowledge of its elements is still shown by the prevalence, even among intelligent persons, of the belief that Ireland is a land teeming with mineral wealth; to the geologist this is as vain a dream as a belief in the presence of cocoanut-palms or kangaroos in Connemara would be to the botanist or zoologist.
An obvious characteristic of this book is its incompleteness: not so much as to the list of names included - for it is hoped that almost all of those who have contributed in any material degree to our knowledge of the geology, zoology or botany of Ireland are mentioned - as in the inadequate notices that are given even of those who have done most for Irish natural science. This curtailment is necessitated by considerations of space and of expense. The book is intended merely as a “first aid” to the subject with which it deals. A very few leading points in the life and work of Irish naturalists alone find admission. In the references given at the end of each entry in the list much further information may frequently be obtained.
Space has not permitted of the addition to the brief biographical notices of any bibliographical material. For the published work of the persons included the obvious bibliographical sources should be consulted, such as the Royal Society Catalogue of Scientific Papers, the International Catalogue of Scientific Literature, Webb’s Compendium of Irish Biography, the bibliography in Irish Topographical Botany and in Cybele Hibernica , the indexes to vol. 1-18 and 19-33 of the Irish Naturalist, the indexes to the Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy and other Irish scientific societies and the lists of references appended to many of the papers therein, my own Bibliography of Irish Glacial and Post-glacial Geology (Proc. B.N.F.C.) and forthcoming Natural History of Ireland, and the lists and references included in books and papers on Irish geology, zoology, or botany.
SOME PERSONAL CONTACTS
I THINK my earliest contact with a man of science was when my grandfather, Robert Patterson, took me to Cultra on the shores of Belfast Lough to show me the Adder’s-tongue. By inclination he was a zoologist, but in those days naturalists were not specialists, and with a wide knowledge of the animal kingdom he was also well acquainted with local plants. My grandfather was a Belfast mill-furnisher, absorbed in business, but not so much absorbed as to prevent his writing books which brought him an unsought Fellowship of the Royal Society. After seventy-five years I can still see him - a man of middle height, and rather formal manner, pursuing his country rambles on Saturday afternoons in black frock-coat and top hat, and pointing out to us delighted children lady-birds and tree-creepers and “devil’s coach-horses” and strange chrysalises. He died in 1872, and I had been born in 1865, so that would fix my first introduction to Ophioglossum at about my sixth year. I can still remember my surprise that that little plant should be regarded as a fern at all; but from that day until the present the ferns have always been a familiar and much-loved group. This interest was strengthened by early contact with W. H. Phillips, of Holywood in Co. Down, with whom the “varieties” of British ferns had been a life-long study. In 1879 our family had spent the month of August at Ambleside. Most of the friends that we made there collected - or tried to collect - either fish (trout) or ferns. I sampled both pursuits, and after a week I plumped for the ferns, and hunted them vigorously. Next year we spent August at Castlerock in Derry, where I was excited to discover the curious aberration of Lady Fern known as cruciatae-pinnulae, and another that E. J. Lowe called cruciato-multifidum, which combined in one plant two different types of aberration - truncate pinnae and a much-branched tip. With these plants as peace-offerings I ventured to approach the elderly W. B. Phillips. My father had made me a member of the Belfast Naturalists’ Field Club four years before, when I was aged eleven, and I had gone on a few of the Club’s excursions; but I was terrified of the big-wigs (most modest and friendly amateurs). My two Lady Ferns proved an open sesame, and Mr. Phillips and I became fast friends. I owe a great deal to his teaching; he had a marvellous eye for anything abnormal among the Filices, and E. J. Lowe’s British Ferns and where found (1908) shows how much pteridology owes to his industry and power of close observation; in the same book are enshrined my own modest findings. The Irish ferns did more for me than this, for they brought me into contact with the best of the English fern men; I explored Devonshire with Col. A. M. Jones of Bristol and E. J. Lowe of Chepstow, and owing to their mistaken belief in my ability I judged British ferns at the Temple Show when I was seventeen, making useful contacts with some of the great horticulturists of the ‘eighties.
My school-boy membership with the Belfast Field Club did not last, but I rejoined a few years later, and during College days, which were otherwise unproductive of fresh contacts with biologically-minded people, the Field Club was to me a second university, in which I formed friendships which, despite disparity of age, remained warm and intimate until my mentors “one by one crept silently to rest”; and through which I acquired a knowledge of field-lore, botanical, zoological and geological, which stood to me throughout life. Of these Belfast self-taught naturalist enthusiasts I have made brief mention elsewhere (The Way that I Went). Some of them ventured into print, and published papers on various aspects of local biology; others were content with what was almost equally important and productive the instilling into the minds of the young of an interest in natural history, and never-failing assistance and advice to those whose knowledge was less than their own. In the book referred to above I have paid tribute to the most remarkable of this group - Samuel Alexander Stewart, a true naturalist whose only fault was his overweening modesty; and I wrote also of that genial Cork quaker, Joseph Wright, whose enthusiasm for those wonderful organisms the Foraminifera proved so difficult to combine with that strict attention to business which alone gave him hope of material success. These and others whom I there mentioned - Wm. Swanston, linen manufacturer and geologist; F. J. Bigger, solicitor and archaeologist; Wm. Gray, Inspector under the Office of Works and in science jack-of-all-trades; Charles Bulla, commercial traveller and palaeontologist; S. M. Malcomson, physician and microscopist; Robert Bell, shipyard worker and geologist; R. J. Welch, photographer and fanatical crusader in the interests of Irish natural history; Canon Lett, botanist; W. J. Knowles, insurance agent and prehistorian - these and others, before whom I laid my ignorance and my hobble-de-hoy problems sixty or seventy years ago, stand wonderfully vivid in my mind to-day; I can still recall their figures and faces, and even their voices, as I can seldom do with most of the long procession of naturalists, in all ranks of life, whom it has been my privilege in later years to know. And what am I to say of that remarkable man, my old friend Robert Welch? I feel that the best I can do is to repeat the first paragraph of a notice of him that I wrote for the Irish Naturalists’ Journal at the time of his death; it epitomizes the man and his work better than anything I could write now:
“It is difficult to pen an appropriate appreciation or memorial of Robert Welch. Throughout his long life he was endowed with such an amazing fund of energy, pursued simultaneously and enthusiastically such a variety of interests, that it is not easy to fix his portrait within any frame. Ethnography, archaeology, geology, zoology, botany, heraldry, book-plates, all engaged his attention, and he was, as his profession required, a past master in the art of photography and all that appertained to it. But he will be remembered most not by solid contributions of new facts on any of these subjects - for his mercurial temperament seldom permitted him to delve deeply - but by the personal contribution of warm interest and helpfulness with which he infused everything that he did. He was generous to a fault; he sacrificed his time and energy to a quite unwarranted extent in helping others to discover and appreciate Ireland and all the natural wonders that it contains, be they large or small. Of his beautiful photographs, I am inclined to think that he gave away more than he sold. To assist the young naturalist or archaeologist was his special delight, and many of the present generation owe their first introduction to science to his contagious enthusiasm and painstaking help. His interests were as wide as the world itself, and they sustained him through a life which brought him a full share of earthly troubles. There was never a man who lived more fully, or appreciated life more; and now he is dead.”
My close association with the Belfast group was broken in 1893, when I resigned the secretaryship of the Belfast Field Club to take up residence in Dublin, a much greater centre of scientific activity than the northern city, but on a much more professional foundation, as was to be expected in the metropolis of a still undivided country. The difference in the scientific atmosphere of the two places was very marked. In Belfast the Field Club was an important local organization, a centre of scientific life. It had no sister-society except the already long-established Natural History and Philosophical Society, with its more formal and indoor functions; for natural science in the Queen’s College (the future Queen’s University) was concentrated in a single professorship, with practical work and field work quite undeveloped. In Dublin on the other hand the Field Club movement had begun only in 1886 and the Club was still in its boyhood, overshadowed as it was by the activities of the Royal Irish Academy, Royal Dublin Society, Royal Society of Antiquaries, and Dublin Microscopical Club, and practical biological teaching available in Trinity College and the Royal College of Science. Pushed into the secretaryship of the Dublin Field Club almost simultaneously with my arrival, the difference in outlook and atmosphere was striking; but the objects of the two Clubs as regards biology were identical, and one soon began to reap the benefits of contact with trained scientific minds, which replaced the sturdy amateurism of Belfast. The Royal College of Science especially was always a mainstay of the Dublin Field Club, and much of the biological work accomplished by its members was due to the precept and example of the three professors in the Faculty of Natural Science - Cole (geology), Haddon (zoology), and Johnson (botany). In Trinity College I soon discovered a kindred spirit in Sollas, who held the Chair of Geology, and we worked together at local glacial fauna and glacial deposits (then but little understood) till other work took him first to the Pacific to bore a coral atoll and then to the Professorship of Geology at Oxford. I have written elsewhere (A Populous Solitude, chap. viii) of a certain luncheon-table at which a dozen of us devotees of science congregated daily and discussed the affairs of the universe; to me, I think the youngest of the party, those meetings were a liberal education, from which I benefited greatly.
I find indeed that I have already, in the book mentioned and in The Way that I Went, written at least a little concerning many of the interesting naturalists whom I have met and worked with during the half-century and more of residence in the friendly city of Dublin - William Archer, R. M. Barrington, Maxwell Close, Grenville Cole, Nathaniel Colgan, W. S. Green, A. C. Haddon, W. J. Sollas, R. J. Ussher; but a little additional reminiscence is permissible, especially where a lighter vein can be invoked to compensate for the many serious pages which follow. Their scientific work has received due recognition in various quarters. I shall take advantage of a friendly intimacy to sketch a few episodes, grave or gay, which are not touched on in the scientific reports of their activities.
My old friend and teacher S. A. Stewart - errandboy, trunkmaker, museum curator, botanist, zoologist, geologist - was a man of Thomas Edwards’ type; when I was in my teens he was already an old man, gentle-spoken and modest and rather frail, but with a strain of toughness in his outlook where scientific field-work was concerned. While he and I were making a survey of the flora of the Mourne Mountains he deplored the necessity of returning to Newcastle or Hilltown each night for food and sleep; and when a promising piece of ground was discovered on a June evening he decided to take advantage of the shallow cave on Cove Mountain to spend the night there in order to get back to work at sunrise. But he had no more than prepared a bed of bracken when an old ram appeared and claimed it. The ram simply butted the intruder out, and Stewart spent the night in the heather: following on which he carried on all day, breakfastless and lunchless, only returning to Newcastle when the day’s work was over. And when exploring the lonely Sperrin Mountains in Tyrone he was benighted owing to too long lingering, and rain came on; he chose a grassy track among the stones where the ground was smooth, and spent the night walking up and down, soaked through; he reached Plumb Bridge, again dry but very ready for breakfast, some time after the sun had risen. Stewart seldom carried a rain-coat and though town-bred he dressed like a countryman, with black wide-awake hat, ancient tweeds, and often a boot-lace by way of tie; his little house in the Belfast Museum Yard was a refuge for all the stray cats of the neighbourhood, for he loved animals. He was a fine and critical naturalist, well versed in local geology, zoology and botany, and author of many papers on these subjects; and he was a court of appeal when any doubtful specimen was discovered, and even when a question arose as to English phraseology or spelling. He had pungent humour too, as exemplified in a letter written to Wm. Swanston when he was examining Rathlin Island, and visited “Bruce’s Castle” there: “Poor Bruce, he was no use, he couldn’t keep his crown in the family, but had to let the noble Stewarts succeed to him. His spider is played out. The Stewart has got it also. All bosh about its perseverance. Let it try its thirteen times now to get out of my bottle. It won’t do.” He well deserved his A.L.S., and the Civil List pension that eventually came to him. Appreciative notices of him and his work are referred to elsewhere.
Belfast can boast a second noteworthy “workingman naturalist” in Robert Bell, rivetter in Harland and Wolff’s ship-building yard. A quiet and retiring man, he usually carried out his excellent mineralogical and palaeontological work alone, and few realized the surprising knowledge that he possessed of Antrim rocks. Bell was another of the men who owed their honourable position in the ranks of science to the stimulus of the democratic Field Club of Belfast. His talents were inherited by his son, whose untimely death removed one of the most brilliant young scientists of Trinity College, Dublin.
Canon Lett, William Gray, Canon Grainger and John Vinycomb were among other senior members of the Belfast Field Club when I was a boy among them. Lett was both botanist and archaeologist, and in botany nothing came amiss to him, from the highest to the lowest plants; but he spread his net rather too widely, and sometimes failed to master thoroughly the intricacies of some of the more difficult groups which he loved to collect; nor did he at all appreciate any hint to this effect. He and I had several passages-at-arms over flowering plants, but always remained the best of friends. His industry and helpfulness were beyond praise.
Not quite satisfactory for the tyro was William Gray, who was jealous of his reputation as an all-round specialist in the geology, zoology and archaeology of Ulster. His boasted knowledge was really only skin-deep, but he made a grand guide for the Belfast region, knowing at least the outside of all that was worth seeing. Canon Grainger was a different type - a collector of everything, so that his roomy vicarage near Ballymena was a crowded museum. Acquisition with him was a virtue, and any object was welcome. But being of an uncritical and credulous type of mind, he was often imposed on, and his large collection of local stone implements, for instance, was especially valuable as a study in the gentle art of forgery.
In the foregoing paragraphs I feel that I may have emphasized the less admirable qualities of these old friends of my youth; but their industry and. enthusiasm and helpfulness needed no praise, and their wide local knowledge in things relating to natural science was such as is found but rarely in the workers of to-day. The increase of specialization often limits the field of view, and we tend more and more to get shut up in separate watertight compartments; which is a pity - but unavoidable.
When I came from Belfast to Dublin in 1893 I at once became aware of the difference in this respect - a more advanced standard of knowledge, but coupled often with a less intimate acquaintance with the animals and plants in relation to their surroundings, and of topographical detail as applied to the fauna and flora. For Belfast naturalists the laboratory did not exist; in Dublin it counted for a great deal. In both, the microscope was in demand; but in Belfast it was mostly a toy with which to view all sorts of beautiful objects, while in Dublin it was a tool.
Some of my most valued Dublin friendships were already made before I left Belfast, due mainly to the advent of men like A. C. Haddon and Grenville Cole to give courses of University Extension lectures. Of these two excellent companions, and also of W. J. Sollas, I have already attempted a brief sketch’(A Populous Solitude, chap. VIII. 1941.) in connection with a certain lunch-table where a number of us used to foregather during the last decade of last century. And since the present book is a compilation rather than an original work, I repeat here what I wrote then (l.c.) even though it infringes slightly on the notices of these which appear in the later part of the present book.
" W. J. Sollas, then Professor of Geology at Trinity, was a contrast to his colleague Fitzgerald in many ways - a Birmingham man, small and dapper, with an ardent disposition and a brilliant intellect. He loved debate and disputation over vexed questions in all regions of science, for he was versatile to a degree. . . . He enlivened us here for fourteen years. . . . I was with him on his last Irish field-work (eskers and bog-slides, and also in studies of the glacial beds around Dublin, and in the Central Plain). Sollas was rapid, both intellectually and physically, and I often had my work cut out for me to keep pace with him in either sphere when we were together. He was impatient too. I remember a meeting of the Geological Society at Burlington House, when Sir Henry Howarth, author of The Glacial Nightmare and the Flood, was ‘blethering’ (to use Sollas’s term) about the Ice Age. Sollas twice interrupted him, in spite of a friendly warning from the Chair, following on which I had to grab him by the coat-tails and hold him in his seat to prevent a more emphatic protest on his part and consequent reprimand. A more lively occasion was when he and I were going to Leix to examine eskers for remains of sea-shells - for the theory of the marine origin of these puzzling ridges was still well to the fore - and we returned to our compartment to find a large forbidding person, who looked like a bruiser, occupying Sollas’s seat, and the hat which he had left as a sign of ownership lying on the floor. Sollas protested; the man surlily refused to budge. ‘No gentleman would behave like that,’ snapped Sollas. ‘I don’t see any gentleman here,’ was the retort. Whereupon Sollas flew at him, and I had to drag him off by main force. Another passenger offered him a seat, and as the train pulled out of Kingsbridge the two sat in opposite corners, like boxers in the ring during their brief intervals of inactivity, glowering at one another. But as the big man left the train at Kildare he deliberately trod on Sollas’s toes. Sollas bounced up like a Jack-in-the-box, but the big man quietly pushed him back into his seat mil beamed at him: ‘Good-bye now,’ he said, ‘you’re a grand little game-cock.’
W. W. Watts summed up Sollas’s character excellently in an obituary notice in Nature: ‘A lovable and constant friend, a gallant and doughty foe, a sprightly debater and formidable controversialist, a daring climber and diver, an omnivorous reader, an investigator of untiring energy and unimpeachable accuracy, and, whether as host or guest, a genial and most courteous gentleman.’
There was Haddon too, then a zoologist - he occupied the Chair of Zoology in the Royal College of Science for Ireland for twenty-one years from 1880 - afterwards a distinguished ethnographer, and lecturer in that subject at Cambridge and later at University College, London; a man of tremendous vitality and energy and good humour. In Ireland, inspired by the results of the “Challenger” voyage, he originated the several dredging expeditions to the deep waters off Kerry that were carried out under the leadership of W. S. Green, as well as work in Dublin Bay; he undertook craniological studies in western Ireland; and expended his superabundant zeal in ethnographical expeditions to New Guinea and Torres Straits. He found in ethnography many problems more pressing than any in zoology, on account of rapidly changing conditions among savage tribes, and in his later years threw his whole energy into the study of human races. At our luncheon-table he was a boisterous talker and a humorous debater, and his departure for his native England in 1901 left a conspicuous gap in the scientific circle in Dublin.
Of Haddon I quote from a short sketch based on his Dublin days which I contributed to Mrs. Quiggin’s Haddon the Head-hunter (Cambridge, 1942):
“He was a vigorous, restless, boisterous person, impatient, full of laughter, with a rapid, rather stuttering speech, the result of his impatience. His hair was jet black, worn long, with a large lock dangling over his sallow face, and he walked rapidly with an untidy gait and a slight stoop. If you met him in the street he would probably be dressed in an old velveteen jacket, trousers baggy at the knees and fringed at the bottom, and an old hat stuck on anyhow, and he would be posting along at about four and a half miles an hour. He rather liked shocking prudish people - who according to modern standards, abounded in those days - and those whom he thought insincere or silly often thought him rude. People who knew him slightly found him an uncomfortable person, but all who knew him well loved him, he was so loyal and sincere. There were a good many people he just couldn’t be bothered with, and I fancy he let them know it pretty plainly, but I don’t think he had any enemies”.
Grenville Cole was a colleague of Haddon’s at the Dublin College of Science, and held the Chair of Geology there from 1890 till his death in 1924. To that post, in 1905, there was added the Directorship of the Geological Survey of Ireland. He also came to us from England - a Londoner who obtained his scientific education at the Royal School of Mines. He was possessed of a fluent and vivid pen, and did much to advance the knowledge of Irish geology, as well as to popularize a rather difficult subject by many lectures and a good deal of writing suitable for beginners. Small and fair, with manners of singular charm, he made himself known and loved throughout the land of his adoption. Of the importance of two aspects of his work he was especially conscious: first, the large contribution that knowledge of other countries could make towards the elucidation of Irish problems; hence he travelled extensively, and had always interesting parallels and contrasts ready at hand, drawn from many lands, for the illustration of this point or that; and secondly, the full recognition of the labours of his predecessors in the geological field, and a meticulous care in acknowledging amply their work.
At our luncheon-table his was a welcome and gracious presence, and the quaint quips and cranks with which he varied his contributions to serious discussion added much hilarity to our daily parliament. He was courageous too, for in later life he was cruelly crippled with rheumatism, yet his cheerfulness and humour and wide interest in events lasted till the end, which came when he was sixty-five years of age. For over thirty years I was in close touch with him, and my indebtedness to him for instruction and assistance and helpful companionship grew with each succeeding season.
Early in my acquaintance with Cole, he married Blanche Vernon of Clontarf Castle. I was his best man, the only person present except the clergyman and the bride’s mother. This was in the days of the cycling boom which followed the introduction of the “safety bicycle,” and both bride and groom were earnest addicts of the wheel. A lady interested in the affairs of others asked me if it was a fact that the couple had ridden together to church, and away again as man and wife. I said it was the truth, but not the whole truth. They had cycled together to the church, and as there were no steps at the door had ridden on up the aisle, deposited a bicycle against the altar-rails on either hand, been duly married, and mounting their machines again had departed for Connemara and connubial bliss and felicity. The good lady accepted the story in its entirety.
Two veterans whom I was privileged to meet and work with in my early Dublin days were Maxwell Close and William Archer. Close was Treasurer to the Royal Irish Academy when I became Librarian to the same body. He had long ceased his brilliant geological work, but loved to talk about it, and took an interest in the work that Sollas and I were doing at the Dublin drifts, and especially in our interpretation of the Killiney beds, now (like his own deep-submergence theory) no longer tenable. He was then over seventy, rather frail for his age, with a quaintly humorous expression on his kindly face, and a hesitating and singularly courteous and modest manner. During his long residence in Ireland Maxwell Close held no incumbency, but he rendered much service to the Church of Ireland. Possessed of means, he was one of the most generous of men, and many persons in need benefited by his private benefactions. I remember his telling me, with a mock-woebegone face, of two elderly sisters in very straitened circumstances and apparently moribund, on whom, expecting early demise, he had settled a handsome quarterly allowance. “That was fifteen years ago,” he exclaimed tragically, “and their health improves all the time!” Grenville Cole referred to him as “one of the most familiar figures, one of the keenest thinkers, and one of the gentlest and yet most stimulating personalities among the ranks of Irish men of science.”
Archer was my chief in the National Library of Ireland during my first three years of service there - a rather dreamy man, prematurely old (for he took no care of his health), living in a small house in Hatch-street with a scapegrace young nephew and a would-be housekeeper, and spending his off-time chiefly in the reading-room of the Royal Dublin Society next door to the National Library. He forgot even his meals sometimes. Once when he had gone on leave a marked odour began to pervade the Librarian’s office, which grew so insistent as the days went by that the Head Attendant and I were forced to investigate. We eventually found in his private drawer two herrings, very much the worse for wear!
Two other veterans whose work was done before my day, but who were still active members of the Dublin scientific coterie when I came there were Samuel Haughton and G. H. Kinahan. I learned a good deal from contact with them of the scientific life and work of the Dublin of the preceding half-century, and listened to reminiscences of Portlock and Griffith and Jukes and other giants of a hundred years ago.
Around the name of Samuel Haughton innumerable good stories used to cling - many of them now no doubt gone. One of them, as a supporter of the Dublin Zoo - in which Haughton was much interested - I venture to repeat. While visiting the collection of animals at Bronx Park, New York, he became a bit bored by the record of perfection which he received on all sides, so he enquired about the financial aspect of the institution: how did they pay for their obviously princely expenditure? So-and-so, he was told, but of course the main source of income was gate-money. “What ?” asked Haughton, “do you mean you charge people to get in?” “Of course; don’t you?” “Oh! no - we let them in free; then we enlarge one of our celebrated lions and charge them to get out! We do better that way.”
In contrast to Haughton’s sparkle, his fellow geologist Kinahan had a good deal of the bulldog in him. I remember a meeting of the Royal Irish Academy when, on some point of order, Kinahan became so persistent and truculent that the Secretary, J. H. Bernard (afterwards Archbishop and Provost of Trinity) moved “That Mr. Kinahan be not heard”: which was carried, and the combatant retired growling and defiant.
R. F. Scharff was an old and valued friend, and a useful adviser, for he always retained touch with continental affairs and had a wide acquaintance among European naturalists. I owed to his advice my desertion of Belfast and civil engineering for Dublin and a library career, and never had cause to regret it, for a post in a large library especially rich in scientific literature offered advantages to a biologist not to be obtained from assisting in the task of bringing Mourne Mountain water to Belfast - which was then the alternative prospect. In his long administration of the Zoological Section of the National Museum in Dublin he was a little rigid, and “verboten” came more easily to his lips than “do it if you like.” But in council, and in private dealings, his wide acquaintance with men and places made him a very informed adviser.
Of Nathaniel Colgan, a brilliant man who consistently throughout life kept his light under a bushel, I have written elsewhere (The Way that I Went). In my earliest Dublin years I proposed to the Field Club a botanical survey to collect material for the eventual production of a Flora of County Dublin, only to learn, what few local botanists had any inkling of, that Colgan had been hard at work on this plan for some years. He even allowed me to help him in the search for rare plants, and by degrees came out of the obscurity in which he had entrenched himself, and became known and loved by all of us. His reason for this secrecy as regards his Flora was a rather strange one - he feared that, if his intention were known, he would be supplied by well-meaning helpers with erroneous records which would give much trouble to correct and would be the cause of unpleasant wrangling. One of his best friends, Primate D’Arcy, wrote of him “His keen intellect, wonderfully wide reading, subtle irony, and felicity of expression threw light on everything, and made the commonest experiences enjoyable. He ought to have been a great man, famous in the world. It was only his strange self-suppression and too great modesty which prevented it. He was not easy to know, but the knowledge was well worth having.”
Another likeable man, difficult to know on account of his shyness, was A. H. Foord, the palaeontologist, and Librarian to the Royal Dublin Society. He really lived in terror of his friends, but although my exterior had little to recommend it, he took to me, and we became intimate. In the end, he had the wisdom to marry, and to marry suitably, and the world ceased to be so full of terrors as it was wont to be.
C. B. Moffat was another shy man, but bold as a lion where danger to his beloved birds was threatened by “sportsmen” or “Game Preservation” societies or the ignorance of gardeners or farmers or faddists. Suaviter in modo was always his method, but he was prompt to invoke the law when the law was contravened. As Secretary of the Irish Society for the Protection of Birds he performed invaluable service for many years, a custodianship which was terminated only by his death. He was the most brilliant naturalist - in the Gilbert White sense - that Ireland has produced. Within a most unimpressive head he carried a remarkable brain. His powers of observation and his patience when observing were equalled only by his reasoned and logical deductions from the facts observed. I knew him for half a century and found him ever the same - courteous, tolerant, humorous, and ever ready to help from the amazing store of natural history knowledge which he possessed.
R. M. Barrington and H. C. Hart I class together as the most able of the band of botanists whom A. G. More marshalled for the particular purpose of exploration in connection with the second edition of Cybele Hibernica, which appeared in 1898, three years after More’s death. Yet, except for their strong interest in natural history, their indomitable energy and zeal, and the advantages which accrued from belonging to old “landed gentry,” they had little in common. Barrington was an ideal companion, full of enterprise, originality, humour and a never-failing friendliness: Hart was somewhat dictatorial, impatient, difficult to handle. I have always rejoiced in the story Barrington tells (Irish Nat., 17, 249.) of a rainy day spent with Hart, when neither of them would give way. I venture to tell it again, in Barrington’s words: - “By appointment he (Hart) turned up at Fassaroe one dreadful day to botanize on the cliffs around Powerscourt Waterfall, and to hear, if possible, the Wood Wren. Well knowing that if the expedition failed, the incident would for years be a theme for ridicule, a few slices of bread were hastily wrapped up, and we started in torrents of rain, absolute silence being observed regarding the atmospheric conditions. Both wet to the skin “in no time,” Hart deliberately kept walking among the shrubs, briars, and long grass by the river’s edge, so as to discourage his companion. To prove utter indifference to moisture, the writer walked into the river and sat down on a submerged stone and began to eat lunch. Hart, with the utmost nonchalance, and without saying a word, did likewise. Saturation was soon complete. All rivalry ceased, and friendship prevailed during the remainder of the day.” Barrington was a “friend of all the world.” I knew him for twenty years, and rejoiced in the acquaintance. On the two trips to Rockall in 1896 the intimacy invoked by life on a small steamer added to the pleasure. With Hart the case was different, since correspondence mostly replaced conversation, he being in Donegal and I in Dublin; his letters were inclined to be peppery, for he looked on me as a young interloper, meddling in botanical affairs already settled. But he helped me freely with a lot of detail regarding his wide-flung botanical explorations in Ireland. In the issue, a rift arrived when, at the end of a long letter regarding some of his records, he squeezed in a small postscript inviting me to come and see his rhododendrons at their best. In replying in a similarly lengthy letter, by an unlucky chance I failed to answer the postscript, and promptly received a missive of such eloquence that our correspondence ceased abruptly and for ever.
To the memory of W. S. Green I have already paid a humble tribute (The Way that I Went). He was a man for whose energy, enterprise, courage and scientific imagination I had a sincere admiration; and I saw him at his best, at sea under difficult circumstances, during oceanic dredging and attempts to land on tempestuous Rockall. He was resourceful, and daring almost to rashness, as witness his adventures on Mount Cook in New Zealand; and his whimsical humour never forsook him. I recall him staggering down the companion ladder of the little “Flying Falcon” in a full gale, and surveying the dishevelled cabin and his deep-sea dredging colleagues in a state of collapse. A sudden storm had come up; Green had spent the night with the captain on the bridge, in great pain on account of a heavy fall; and now, surveying the scene in the grey dawn, his only comment was; “I have always thought that if the hippopotamus had been shown his photograph before he was created, he would have been able to suggest some important improvements.” That was Green all over. I have had no friend whose death I deplored more. Of R. J. Ussher, ornithologist and cave-digger, I have written in the same volume (The Way that I Went) - a timid man one would say on meeting him, yet without fear when dangling on the end of a rope on a tall cliff in his earlier egg-hunting days. His extraordinary pertinacity and devotion to scientific research were well displayed in later years, when he spent week after week in cave-digging, collecting fossil bones all day from wet clay and stalagmite by candle-light, and sleeping in a cramped and leaky hut. I lay out with him the whole of one night in the heather on the Great Saltee, when we tried to time the arrival and departure of the nocturnal Manx Shearwaters, and during the long sleepless hours I learned much of his philosophy of life. He was over seventy then, but thought nothing of a “night out.”
One of the few naturalists with whom I ever had a disagreement was F. W. Burbridge, Curator of the Botanic Garden of Trinity College. This arose from his continued attempts to enhance the native flora of Ireland by scattering in suitable places the seeds of plants not indigenous to the country. G. H. Carpenter joined with me in endeavouring to convince him of the high undesirability of this practice, as tending to make more difficult the by no means easy task of studying the natural migrations of our plants. “Forgers of nature’s signature” was the epithet Carpenter applied to the mostly well-meaning people who indulged in this practice, not realizing what difficulties they might be creating for the student of geographical botany - and equally of zoology. But the amiable Burbridge could not see that he was doing anything undesirable. It may be added that although Dublin possesses a larger number of alien plants in its flora than any other Irish county - due to its long and varied human history and great choice of habitat - no species now growing in the area can be definitely assigned to Burbridge’s well-meant activities.
With G. H. Carpenter himself I had the privilege of a long acquaintance. It began with the founding of the Irish Naturalist in 1892, of which he and I were the first editors, and close association ceased only on his appointment to the keepership of the Manchester Museum in 1923. He and I differed widely in temperament and in our outlook on many matters, but that merely gave a more balanced policy to our editorship, and never disturbed a cordial friendship.
These brief reminiscences of bygone fellow-workers in natural history refer only to some of those with whom I have worked in Ireland. Of the many others both at home and abroad from whose friendly intercourse I have benefited this is not the place to write.
BRIEF BIOGRAPHICAL NOTICES
A. LEITH ADAMS
Dict. Nat. Biogr., 1, 94. Quart. Journ. Geol. Soc., 49 (Proc.), 39.
“Migration of Birds” in Science for all ed. By Robert Brown FLS FRGS ca. late 1800s
Who’s Who. Personal knowledge.
NATHANIEL H. ALCOCK
Irish Nat., 22, 144. Who was Who, 1897-1916. Personal Knowledge.
WILLIAM THOMAS ALEXANDER
Britten and Boulger, ed. 2, 4.
Cybele Hibernica, ed. 2, xix. Britten & Boulger, ed. 2, 5.
GEORGE JAMES ALLMAN
Proc. Roy. Soc., 75 (obit.), 25-27. Dict. Nat. Biogr. Suppl. I, 40. Britten & Boulger, ed. 2, 5.
Dict. Nat. Biogr. 1, 335. Britten & Boulger, ed. 2, 5.
Dict. Nat. Biogr., 1, 409. Britten & Boulger, ed. 2, 9.
Irish Book-lover, 6, 102, 118. Britten and Boulger, ed. 2, 8.
Proc. Roy. Soc., 62, Dict. Nat: Biogr., Suppl. I, 57. Irish Nat., 6, 253, portrait. Britten & Boulger, ed. 2, 9. Personal knowledge.
Reeves in Proc. R.I. Acad., 7, 514. Scharff in Irish Nat., 30, 128 (1921). D'Arcy W. Thompson in Hermathena, no. 45. 1945.
C. C. BABINGTON
Dict. Nat. Biogr., Suppl. I, 90. Britten & Boulger, ed. 2, 12.
KATHERINE SOPHIA BAILY - see Lady Kane
WILLIAM HELLIER BAILY
Quart. Journ. Geol. Soc., 45 (Proc.), 39. Britten & Boulger, ed. 2, 14.
W. A. F. BALFOUR-BROWNE
Who's Who. Personal knowledge.
ANNE ELIZABETH BALL
Britten and Boulger, ed. 2, 17. Renouf in Irish Nat. Journ., 3, 238.
He was no relation of Robert Ball (q.v.) or of the Balls of Youghal.
Proc. Roy. Soc., 47, v-ix. Dict. Nat. Biogr., Suppl. I, 115. Britten & Boulger, ed. 2, 17. Rev. W. Ball-Wright in Ball Family Records. 1908.
J. Botany 27 (1889) 365-370.
Dict. Nat. Biogr. 3, 77. Webb: Compend. Irish Biogr., 7.
His writings were extensive and varied, extending into many branches of science. The bulk of his work naturally saw the light through the official publications of the Geological Survey of India.
Proc. Roy. Soc., 58, xlvii-xlix. E. P. Wright in Irish Nat., 4, 169, portrait. Britten & Boulger, ed. 2, 18. Personal knowledge.
G. E. H. BARRETT-HAMILTON
In his mammal work he was a thorough-going “splitter,” recognising minute differences which he considered important, and giving names to all; he did not care whether his splits were called subspecies, races, or phases, but insisted that they required recognition.
A list of his writings is appended to the notice of him in the Irish Naturalist, quoted below.
Irish Nat., 23, 81, portrait. Personal knowledge.
R. M. BARRINGTON
He was keenly interested also in the native mammals; in agriculture he farmed a large area at Fassaroe, and indeed worked in every subject relating to Irish science and economics. C. B. Moffat's notice of him quoted below (Irish Nationalist) gives a list of his writings. Of his alpine climbs and other feats of enterprise and endurance this is not the place to write.
Irish Nat., 24, 193. Journ. Bot., 1915, 364, portrait. Britten & Boulger, ed. 2, 22. Personal knowledge.
Brit. Mus. Cat. of Printed Books. Praeger: A Populous Solitude, chap. v, 1941.
BRYAN PATRICK BEIRNE
Quart. Journ. Geol. Soc., 82 (Proc.), lix.
J: A. S. Stendall: Robert Bell, geologist: a biographical sketch. Portrait. Belfast. 1938. Irish Nat. Journ. 5, 62, portrait. Personal knowledge.
Webb: Compend. of Irish Biography, 579. Roy. Soc. Cat. Sci. Papers,1, 264.
S. A. BENNETT
Irish Nat. Journ., 5, 37, portrait. Personal knowledge.
CHARLES WILLIAM BENSON
Irish Nat., 28, 73, portrait. Personal knowledge.
Entom. Monthly Mag., 21, 23. Roy. Soc. Cat. Sci. Papers, 1, 386, 7, 177.
Diet. Nat. Biogr., 5, 284. Praeger: A Populous Solitude, chap. V, 1941.
L. H. BONAPARTE-WYSE
Webb: Compend. Irish Biogr., 28. Renouf, Irish Nat. Journ., 3, 237.
D. B. BRADSHAW
Irish Nat. Joum., 8, 166, portrait. Personal knowledge.
SAMUEL ARTHUR BRENAN
Irish Nat., 17, 43; 22, 30. Britten & Boulger, ed. 2, 44. Personal knowledge.
Dia. Nat. Biogr., Suppl. I, 302. Britten & Boulger, ed. 2, 48.
Roy. Soc. Cat. Sci. Papers, 1, 662. Britten & Boulger, ed. 2, 49.
Diet. Nat. Biogr. 7, 53. Webb Compend. Irish Biography, 40. Britten & Boulger, ed. 2, 50.
J. P. BRUNKER
JAMES BRYCE (the younger)
Belfast Nat. Hist. and Phil. Society, Centenary Volume, 65-66. 1924. Dict. Nat. Biogr., 7, 159. Who was Who, 1916-1928. Quart. Journ. Geol. Soc. 34 (Proc.), 35.
CLAUDE W. BUCKLE
Irish Nat. 13, 156.
G. R. BULLOCK-WEBSTER
Who was Who. Groves and Bullock-Webster, op. cit. Praeger: Botanist in Ireland, 78.