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Life of a Scotch Naturalist, Thomas Edward
Chapter XIV. By the Sea-Shore


Edward had for some time been extending his investigations to the tenants of the deep. His wanderings had for the most part been along-shore in search of sea-birds. But as early as 1856 we find him corresponding with Mr. Macdonald, of Elgin, as to zoophytes ; with Mr. Blackwood, of Aberdeen, as to algae; and with Mr. C. Spence Bate, of Plymouth, as to Crustacea. Now that he had to abandon his night wanderings, and to give up his gun, he resolved to devote himself more particularly to the natural history of the sea-shore.

Here was a great field open for him. The Moray Firth had never been properly searched for marine productions. It was full of fish, and also of the various marine objects that fish feed upon.

When Professor Macgillivray called upon Edward, at Banff, he expressed his surprise at the meagreness of the list of crustacea and testacea found along the Moray coast. In fact, the catalogue of fishes (excepting herring, cod, haddock, and the other edible fishes) was almost barren. There was no want of marine objects; the principal want was in careful observers. To this extensive field of observation Edward now proposed to devote his special attention.

He had considerable difficulty to encounter in proceeding with this branch of scientific work. He had no dredge of any sort. He had no boat, nor could he obtain the loan of one. How, then, did he proceed? He gathered together all the old pots, pans, pails, and kettles which he could procure in his neighborhood. He filled these with straw, grass, bits of old clothes, or bits of blankets. A coat and trousers cut down were found very useful. These were Edward’s sea-traps. Having put a heavyisli stone at the bottom of the trap to weigh it down, and attached a rope to the upper part, he lowered his traps into the deeper rock-pools along the coast. Some of them he threw into the sea from the point of a rock, attaching the rope to a stone, or to some strong algae.

When the traps were drawn up, Edward obtained from them small fishes, crustaceans, mollusks (with or without shells), star-fish, worms, and the smaller kinds of sea-mice. He took them to a shallow pool and shook out the contents ; and when he had picked out what he thought might be useful, he packed the traps again and set them in their old places. He usually visited his sea-traps once a month; but in winter he visited them less frequently, as he rarely took any thing at that time of the year.

Edward visited the rocky shore for many miles east and west of Banff. He turned over the loose stones, turned up the algoe, peeped in beneath the corners and shelves of the projecting rocks. lie went to the pools, and often had the pleasure of seeing the inhabitants working in their native element. If he observed something that he wanted, he would make a dive at it, though the water might get up to his head and shoulders. Sometimes he fell in bodily ; but that did not matter much if he secured his object.

Here is the manner in which he once caught Bloch’s gurnard (Trigla Blochii). Edward observed one of them swimming in a rock pool. It had, by some means .or other, come pretty close inshore during high water, and had got entangled among the rocks, so that it had been unable to make its way out again with the receding tide. The pool, though not deep, was pretty large, so that it gave Edward a great deal of trouble and occupied a considerable time to capture the fish. “If it bad not,” says be, “been a rarity, I should most certainly have given in and acknowledged myself beaten long before my object was accomplished; for, between water and perspiration, I was in a pitiable plight before I gained tbe victory. As it was, however, I was well repaid in the end, besides the fun; that is, if there is any other person than myself so foolish as to call splashing up to the shoulders and eyes among brine, sea-weed, and slippery rocks, ‘fun.’ Although the fish is not large, mine is a splendidly marked specimen. In the water, and while shooting across and athwart the pool, its bright colors had a most beautiful appearance. The spot on the first dorsal is rather of a dark-purplish color than black, and very conspicuous when the animal is swimming. I am not aware of this species ever before having been detected on this part of the coast.”

Knowing from observation that many marine objects are cast on shore at the rising of each tide, especially when the weather is stormy, Edward walked along the margin of the incoming wave, ready to pick up any thing that might be driven ashore. Sometimes he would observe some object in the water—a fish or a shrimp of some unusual kind— which he desired to capture. He followed it into the sea with a piece of gauze tied on a small hoop; and fished for it until he had caught it. He discovered many new objects in this way.

It is almost incredible what may be got along the sea-margin by carefully searching the incoming wave. This, however, required unwearied assiduity. Edward discovered many of his rarest insects among those driven ashore by the wind. It was thus that he obtained most of his rare crustaceans. He himself had no doubt that, had his health been prolonged, he would have discovered many more.

Besides these methods for collecting marine objects, he found that tangle roots were a special hiding-place for many species that were beyond the power of the dredge, and that never entered the traps set by him along shore. They were not, however, beyond the power of the elements. But for the tempest, that tears them from the rocks and dashes them on shore, such objects would never have been found. "Whenever a storm occurred in the Moray Firth, Edward immediately went out, collected the tangle which had been driven in, cut off as many roots as he could carry with him, and carefully examined them at home.

He was also greatly helped by the fishes themselves, as well as by the fishermen. It is true that he had no dredge and no boat. But big fish were themselves the best of all dredgers. They fed far out at sea, at a depth where the dredge could scarcely reach. The fishermen caught them, and brought them into port, full of what they had swallowed. Edward therefore endeavored to obtain the contents of their stomachs. For this purpose he sent some of his daughters to the neighboring fishing villages. They went to Macduff and Whitehills twice a week, and to the Banff fishermen daily. The object of their visits was to search the fishermen’s lines, to bring away the sea-weed and all the stuff that was attached to them, and to secure as many of the fish stomachs as they could find. One of his daughters was sent to Gardenstown, where she lived with a friend. From thence she sent home her collection of fish stomachs twice a week by the carrier. All this rubbish (as most people called it) was carefully examined by Edward. From these searchings be obtained most of his rarest crustaceans. “It is quite wonderful,” he says, “what is to be got in this way. Indeed, no one would believe it who has not made the experiment.”

Take, for instance, the cod’s bill of fare. “It is to the stomach of this species,” says Edward, “that I am most indebted for many of the rarest of the testaceous and crusta-ceous specimens that I possess. I will only mention w hat 1 have myself seen: crabs and lobsters of almost every description (except Homarus vulgaris, which I have never yet found), from the prickly stone crab (Lithodes maid) up to the hard parten {Cancerpagurus), and the larger the better. Shells of every sort, particularly Fusus antiquus and Buccinium undulatum; no matter whether inhabited by their original possessor, or by a hermit in the form of a pagurus, it is no obstacle to the voracious cod. Shrimps, fish-lice, sea-mice {Aphrodita aculeata), sea-urchins, with now and then a star-fish; ‘dead men’s paps,’ as they are called here {Alcyo-nium), and actinias—no matter what they may he attached to, whether a shell or a stone, provided these are not themselves fixtures—all are gulped by this most unceremonious fish. The eggs, capsules, or purses of the dogfish {Scylli-um) and the skate, with the roe and the ova of other species, particularly when deposited on sea-weed; the algae and the zoophytes also walk down the cod’s gullet, so that nothing may be lost. As for the Holothuridce, or sea-cu-cumbers, few, if any, of them escape. Sow and then fragments of the medusae are swallowed; feathers, with the remains of sea-fowl; and, on one occasion, the skeleton of a partridge, with the wings, feet, legs, and head adhering. Pieces of pewter and of cloth occasionally; and once a cluster of beech-nuts, with part of a domestic fowl. As for fish!—why, the fish does not swim that the cod, when hungry, will not attack, and, if successful, swallow. In short, nothing seems to come amiss. But this outline of the cod’s hill of fare does not include all that the animal preys upon and devours. It is enough, however, to show its epicurean propensities. The cod is extensively fished for along this part of the coast, and may he termed the poor mads salmon. Great numbers are salted and dried, and in that state are sent to the Southern markets. The haddock, like the cod, is extensively taken, and largely cured and forwarded South. Like the cod, the stomach of this species is also a rich mine for the naturalist, as the reader may already have anticipated from the foregoing list.”

In order to obtain all these products of the sea, Edward went round among the fishermen from Crovie to Portsoy, and pressed them to help him in his researches. lie told them that many an object of great interest to naturalists was daily thrown away. Though it might be of no use to them, it might prove of great use to science. “Oh!” said the fishermen, “we canna tell what the fellow wants: we get so muckle trash upon our lines. Are we to keep it all?”

“Yes,” replied Edward, “keep it all. Lay it carefully aside, and I or my daughters will call for it.'’ A few of the fishermen did what Edward told them to do; but the others “couldna be fashed.”

Edward published his advice to the fishermen in the Banffshire Journal. “How little trouble,” he said, “would it be for any fisherman who might find a rare fish, crab, shell, or zoophyte, or such-like object attached to his lines, to get it examined and named, so that its occurrence might be recorded! This could be done, and then he could, if so minded, dispose of it to the best advantage. Or what great ‘fash’ could it be for them to keep the cleanings of their lines for a like scientific purpose?

“It is quite astonishing what amazing numbers of minute creatures are at times to be found among the refuse of only one boat’s lines. No one would believe it, except those who are in the habit of carefully examining such things. The ocean is, as it were, one vast and boundless expanse of life, and the inhabitants thereof about as numberless as the sands by the sea-shore. I have myself, and that, too, under the most disadvantageous circumstances, picked off from a dead valve of Cyprina Islctndica nine distinct species of shells, three different kinds of star-fish, and five separate sorts of zoophytes, besides worms and a number of other parasitical animals. Yet this is nothing to what is at times to be met with; and yet such things are, I may say, all but universally thrown away for no other or better purpose than that of being trod upon and destroyed. I will now, in order to show the truthfulness of my statement, enumerate a few of the objects which have thus been cast aside by those who had brought them on shore, but which were again picked up by my gleaners, and thereby redeemed, as it were, for a time from destruction, by being deposited in my collection—Anomia patelliformis, Circe minuta, Venus casina, Venus fasciata, Tellina proxima, Tellina crassa, Mangelia linearis, Pentunculus glycimeris, Psammobia tellinella, As-tarte compressa, Corbula nucleus, Emarginula reticulata, Thracia villosinsinla, Chiton lovis, etc., etc.

“Now, I don’t say that these are all new species, but I say that they are among the rarest of our shells. The two first named are, if I mistake not, new, not only to us, but new to this northern part of the island. In works on conchology, no mention is made of either having been previously found on the shores of the Moray Firth, although they are not unfrequent on other parts of the British coast.”

The fishermen of Macduff helped him greatly. Among the rare fishes caught by them were the sandsucker (.Plates-sa limandaides); the small spotted dogfish (ScyIlium canicula); the blue-striped wrasse {Labrus variegatus), a very rare fish; a specimen of the cuttle-fish (Loligo vulgaris), the length of which was four feet, with a splendid gladius of above fifteen inches long. In enumerating these fishes brought to him by the fishermen of Macduff, Edward asked, “What are our own Banff fishermen and those of Whitehills about, that they never bring in any rare objects of this sort? Do they never get any thing attached to their lines worthy of notice—worthy of a place in a naturalist’s cabinet, or in a corner of the Museum? Why won’t they help us? Just because of their want of will. They, like many more, go about in what might be termed a state of daylight somnambulism—that is, with eyes and ears both open, and yet they neither see nor hear of any of these things.

Edward’s appeal was at length responded to. The fishermen began to collect things for him, and they allowed his girls to strip their nets of the “rubbish” they contained. One evening some unknown fishermen sent him a present of a saury pike (Scomberesox saurius). Edward’s family were surprised at hearing some person, very heavily shod, ascending the stairs. One said it was a horse and cart; another said it was the Rooshians. The door was suddenly opened and flung bang against the wall, when in rushed —neither the horse and cart nor the Rooshians—but a little urchin, out of breath, with his mouth wide open. There he stood, staring bewildered round the room, but with a fish of a silvery hue dangling from his hand. After he had regained his breath, he roared out, “ Is Tam in ?” “No.” “’Cause I hae a beast till him.” “Fa gi’ed ye’t?” “A. man.” “Fatna man?” “Dinna ken!” “Fat like was he?” “Canna tell.” “Fat had he on?” “Dinna mind; only that he had a coat ower his airm.” “Fat said he t’ye when he gi’ed ye the beast?” “Oh, he bade me take it till Tam Edward, and get a penny for’t till mysel.”

The fish was accepted, the penny was given, and the boy tramped down-stairs again. On returning home, Edward found a splendid specimen of the above rare fish. The next number of the Journal acknowledged the receipt of the fish. In the article describing it, Edward said: “By whom the fish was sent, or where it was found (though doubtless in the neighborhood, from its freshness), remains as yet a mystery. However, thanks to ‘ the man with the coat ower his airm ’ in the mean time, and to many others whose kindness and attention, though their gifts are not particularized here, are nevertheless duly appreciated. Likewise, and in an especial manner, thanks to the fishermen generally of the district, particularly to our own and those of Whitehills, not only for their now unremitting attention in securing whatever they deem worthy of notice themselves ; but also, and above all, for their very valuable assistance given, and their warm-hearted kindness shown to my young folks when they go a-gleaning among them.”

Indeed, Edward’s young folks were of great help to him at this time. Several of his eldest girls went about from place to place in search of rare fish, and they were sometimes very successful. For instance, one of them, while living with Mr. Gordon, at Gardenstown, went on a zoologizing excursion toward the village of Crovie. As the two were rounding the Snook, they observed a small fish being-washed ashore. Mr. Gordon kicked it with his foot, thinking it was of no use, and remarking that it was a young sea-cat. “ Na,” said Maggie, “it’s nae sea-cat; it’s ower thin for that. I dinna ken fat it is; but I’ll take it, and send it hame to my father, for he bade me never to miss naething o’ this kine.” So the fish was sent home, and it proved to be a very fine specimen of Yarrell’s blenny.

On another occasion she sent home a specimen of the black goby, or rock-fish (Gobius niger), which had been taken from the stomach of a friendly cod. This was the first fish of the kind found in the Moray Firth; and of the six species of gobies found along the coasts of Great Britain, it is the one most seldom met with. Maggie also made a good “find” at Fraserburgh, while on a zoological tour with her father. She was rummaging about among the sands, near Broadsea, accompanied by some of her acquaintances, when she observed something sticking up out of the sand. At first she thought it was a piece of tangle. She was about to leave it, when, prompted by curiosity, she gave it a pull, and, lo and behold! instead of a sea-weed, she brought out a long spindle-like fish. She at once took it to her father, who found it to be a splendid specimen of the equoreal needle-fish (Syngnathus cequoreus), a fish that had never before been found in the Moray Firth.

A thought may here strike the reader. How was it that Edward knew that there were six gobies found along the coasts of Great Britain? How did he know that the equoreal needle-fish had never been found in the Moray Firth before? And, last of all, how was it that he knew the scientific names of the fishes, the zoophytes, and the crustacca, which he collected ? The names were, for the most part, Latin. Yet he had never learned Latin. lie must, then, have learned them from books. No: lie had no books. lie often ardently desired books, but he was too poor to buy them. His earning’s were scarcely sulli-cient to enable him to feed and clothe his children. Under such circumstances, a man can not buy books. Sometimes his children fared very badly, especially when lie was laid up by illness. At such times they had almost to starve.

How was it, then, that under these difficult circumstances, and amidst his almost constant poverty, Edward was enabled to carry on the study of science without the aid of books? He did so b) the help of correspondents at a distance. When he had collected a batch of objects, he sent them off by post to naturalists in different parts of the country, for the purpose of obtaining from them the proper names. They referred to their scientific works, and furnished him with the necessary information.

Edward sent his specimens of Crustacea to Mr. Spence Bate, of Plymouth, Devonshire; his fishes to Mr. Couch, of Polperro, Cornwall; and many other objects to correspondents in Norwich, York, Newcastle, Birmingham, and London. The Rev. George Gordon, of the manse of Birnie, Elginshire, was one of his first correspondents respecting the crustacea. Mr. Spence Bate was then engaged (in conjunction with Professor Westwood) in writing the “History of the British Sessile-eyed Crustacea.” Mr. Gordon first forwarded to him some of Edward’s specimens, and Edward afterward corresponded directly with Mr. Bate. Thus he obtained his scientific knowledge, not from the books in his own neighborhood, but from the books of gentlemen sometimes living at the opposite ends of the island.

There was, indeed, some talk of supplying Edward with books, to enable him to pursue his scientific researches. At a public dinner in Banff, the principal speaker, after paying a high compliment to Edward for his wonderful perseverance, and his devotion to natural science, proceeded to describe the great influence which books exercised in developing the powers of the human mind. After informing his audience that they did not know the value of the man they had got among them, he said: “Assist and encourage him by all the means in your power, but ”—here he paused, and all eyes were turned upon him—“but,” he continued, “give him no money [loud cheers]. I know him, as you ‘all do, to be no drunkard, no idler, but a sober, hard-working man. But still, I again say, give him no money. Give him books ; provide him with the means of reading, and he is just the man to make money for himself.” The auditors thought that they had done sufficient justice to Edward by cheering the proposal of the orator; but it was words—mere words; for Edward got neither a book, nor even the leaf of a book, from any of his local admirers.

How different from this cold counsel was the enthusiasm of Edward when speaking of his favorite science ! In an article which appeared in the Naturalist on the rayed echin-odermata of Banffshire, after regretting the small amount of observation and research which had been made along the shores of the Moray Firth, he said : “ It is a great pity that the Moray Firth was never dredged by naturalists, as I am led to believe it never was, on a scale worthy of its waters. If such were done, and done as it should be, I am quite sure, from what I know, that many a valuable rarity, and, I have no doubt, many new species, would be procured, and better got than those already known. If I were but possessed of half the means that some are, it should not long be so. Wind and weather permitting, I should have it dredged from the one end to the other, over and over again. Alas that Nature, that fair and comely damsel, whom I supremely admire and love so well, should have called me into existence at the very moment when ivant and starvation stood hand-in-hand, ready to stamp the unconscious heir of immortality with their accursed brands! Money, it is said, is the root of all evil; but tell me, ye who know, what the want of it is!”

We have already said that Edward, because of his want of books on natural history, obtained the principal knowledge of the objects which lie discovered from gentlemen at a distance. But even this was not accomplished without difficulty. It was not always a pleasant task, and sometimes it was rather expensive—expensive at least for a poor man. He occasionally encountered disagreeable rebuffs. Some complained that they could not read his writing, and that what he said was unintelligible. Another hinderance was, that when he sent a number of new specimens to naturalists at a distance, they were often kept, and thanks only were returned. But lie was scarcely in a position to resent this conduct. At last he sent none but those of which he had duplicates, preferring to keep them without a name rather than run the risk of losing them altogether.

Mr. Edward Newman, of London, editor of the Zoologist, was one of those who helped Edward with books. He also named many of Edward’s beetles and other insects, which were sent to him for identification. The correspondence3 between them originated in Edwarcl’s articles on the birds of Banffshire, which began to appear in the Zoologist in August, 1856. Mr. Newman sent Edward several books on natural history, together with his own “List of British Birds.” In February, 1858, we find Mr. Newman sending Edward a copy of the “Insect Hunters,” his most successful book. Mr. Newman said to Edward, “I think it really wonderful that you should have acquired the great knowledge you have obtained under the circumstances in which you have been placed.” Mr. Newman asked for some information about fishes, which Edward promised to supply. The result was, that many new fishes were found in the Moray Firth, simply from Edward’s determination to search, collect, and preserve them.

Edward had also much correspondence with Mr. Alexander G. More, with respect to the distribution of birds in Great Britain during the nesting season. Edward was appointed the observer for Banffshire and the northern part of Aberdeen. He communicated a great deal of information about birds and birdnesting, which was afterward published in the periodical called The Ibis.

But his most important communications were with Mr. Couch as to fishes ; and with Mr. Spence Bate, and the Rev. A. Merle Norman, as to Crustacea; which will form the subjects of the following chapters.


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