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Friday, August 18, 2023

The Hon. F. J. Shore

Frederick John Shore is not a name familiar to those interested in Indian birds. A pioneer bird observer and artist, his omission is rather unfortunate. He is apparently still remembered in Dehra Dun by the well that he had constructed there and for being among the "Three Fredericks" associated with Mussoorie (the other two being Frederick Wilson and Frederick Young). The Himalayan flameback (Dinopium shorii) is named after him, his type specimen was exhibited at a Zoological Society of London meeting by his brother. John Gould commented on him in the Birds of Asia:

F. J. Shore was the son of a governor-general of Bengal, John Shore, who took some interest in natural history, particularly botany. He supported the botanist William Roxburgh enough to earn himself a honorific genus Shorea. Frederick also joined the East India Company's Bengal civil service and began to work in India. He seems to have had very independent and outspoken opinions during his work. He was very critical of Company policies and of British attitudes towards Indians. He once adopted local dress while attending the court and received a government order against it. A later commentator, Douglas Dewar, declared that Shore's comments needed to be taken with a pinch of salt.

An 1820 portrait of F.J. Shore

Shore was involved in suppressing a revolt by gurjars in Saharanpur. According to the magistrate of Saharanpur, Rivers Grindall (who would later become the father in law of A.O. Hume!), the gurjars, nearly 800 of whom had assembled,  had sworn by goddess Kali that they would get rid of the rule by foreigners. Grindall wrote urgently seeking military support. It would appear that every white man in the region with a pistol was invited to join - including the naturalist J. F. Royle and an army engineer named Henry De Bude. The main force however consisted of gurkhas under the command of Frederick Young. In the ensuing bloodbath, 200 people were killed, Shore received two deep cuts on his torso. Young's biography written from oral records by his daughter claims that there was an arrow in Shore's neck that had just missed his jugular. Shore apparently recovered from the wounds but his health remained bad and he died at the age of 37 in Calcutta. A British history has a sketch of Shore fighting with a gurjar and Young saving him by shooting the assailant.

Now for what Gould wrote, about Shore's notes and illustrations. It appears that Casey Wood got hold of a bunch of the paintings and notes that Shore made in 1928. They are quite spectacular in that they capture the pose in nature very accurately in many cases. But evidently the set that has been so kindly shared by the McGill University library lacks the illustrations of the male and female painted spurfowl mentioned by Gould. In one plate Shore refers to "Volume 4", so clearly there are other books with illustrations that are unknown at least to online researchers. Shore clearly was a very careful observer, noting the colour of the mouth, anatomical features like the structure of the tongue and native names. He notes the calls of birds and in some cases documents them with musical notation - a first in India surely. He also tries to follow the color standards defined the watercolor company Ackermann that he presumably used. In transcribing native place and bird names he uses the scheme of John Gilchrist.

Notes on a little brown dove with call notation

Casey Wood noted: One of the most valuable manuscripts in the Blacker Library is an unpublished Appendix (in three volumes) to Latham’s Birds, 1821-8, with 195 original water-colors of Indian avifauna by F. J. Shore. Most of these are not to be found in the 1821-8 edition, or if they do appear, the coloring is probably incorrect. This fact is pointed out by the artist-editor who states that almost every picture in his collection is painted ad naturam so that unaltered plumage is depicted. Copious notes accompany each drawing. A more complete review of this historical series of drawings will be found in the appended Catalogue.

Here is a sampling of Shore's works (a few are added here).

Refers to volume 4

So where is Volume 4 of his book which presumably contains the illustrations that Gould refers to? ZSL? NHM? (Have checked the online catalogues and found nothing)

Wednesday, August 2, 2023

Outdoor learning - forests as educational infrastructure

I recently wondered about the use of forests as educational spaces. When I was in school, the WWF with its attractive panda logo was quite popular. One of their innovations at that time had been a project called the Nature Clubs of India which used a federated model of clubs in schools and zonal centers branches. The branch in Bangalore was run by just a few persons. It included M. K. Srinath who made visits to schools with a few bags of snakes and gave talks on them to school-children. Another person was K. A. Bhojashetty, a remarkable gentleman who had recently retired after having served in the first batch of Indian Forest Service from Independent India. A friend and colleague of his, S. Subbarayalu, who also passed away recently mentioned how he was noted for his regal manners and nicknamed as "Bhojaraja". Bhojashetty passed away recently at the age of 99 (and S. Subbarayalu in June 2023). One of the WWF education officers was my friend S. Karthikeyan who continues to be a involved in outdoors education to this day. I was introduced as early teen into this very intense and lasting experience of what then appeared like "true wilderness" in the wilds of Bandipur. The Bandipur reserve had two dormitories set up for batches of students to stay and our four-day experience was guided by several volunteers. That model of education, with infrastructure support from the forest department, probably went extinct shortly after and it seems like a terrible pity that it did. The Nature Clubs of India experiment was perhaps, in hindsight, an exceptionally successful exercise which produced a number of outdoor educators who are still active. It probably deserves a detailed study if ever someone is interested in the history of outdoor education in India.
K.A. Bhojashetty and others, 2014

I was wondering about the thought process behind construction of the dormitories in Bandipur, clearly someone was more enlightened in the immediate-post-independence period and had decided that education was a key activity for the forest department. Surprisingly there seems to have been little written or known about the people behind this now dead philosophy. The accommodation in most forests in Karnataka today would appear to be today used primarily by party-goers producing noise and garbage and having political connections.
As I looked at some other material, I was surprised by the how widely these concepts have been adopted  -  Naturbørnehavens in Denmark, I was recently pointed to similar outdoors natural history education exercises in the former Soviet Union led by a remarkable man named P. A. Manteuffel ("uncle petya" to the youth). And then I found that the Germans had ideas like Waldkindergartens. The US effort seems to have had people like Harold C. Bryant (check this book).
Today, forest departments in India are actively involved in keeping away most people out of their land holdings or provide stay options for an older and wealthier audience. In any case there is no official policy that declares forests as learning spaces or actively encourages its use. Perhaps only to be expected.

Some of the most successful and influential zoology, botany, and ecology teachers in Indian universities have made use of outdoor excursions as part of their teaching method.
See also this article on forest schools. I recently wrote also on a related theme in a teaching magazine - Teacher Plus.

Tuesday, August 1, 2023

"Big Bore"

Among the more elusive and little known correspondents of Allan Octavian Hume's network was "Big Bore" who served in the Madras and Mysore Forest Service. Albert George Raschke Theobald was his real name, born in Madras on 4 September 1845 to Charles George and Eliza. "Raschke" suggests German ancestry but he may also have had Indian ancestors considering that he married a Caroline Susan Rungan (daughter of a Manpally Rungan of Mysore or perhaps Kollegal) on 30 October 1886. Very little of him is known except through mentions of his records by Hume in his Game Birds. He seems to have spent at lot of time in the Tirunelveli (Palamcottah), Coimbatore, Kollegal and Mysore regions. He notes the tameness of teals in the Tirunelveli district, something that later observers were surprised about. When William T. Hornaday visited India in 1877, he went to the Anamalais where Theobald had a home. There is a sketch based on a photograph that Theobald seems to have provided Hornaday that may still exist in some US archive.


Hornaday write: "From the first moment we became fast friends, which feeling only deepened with time and further acquaintance. I found in him one of nature's noblemen, as frank, free-hearted, and steadfast as ever breathed. In the course of time I discovered that he was a real genius, of the type so generously credited to the "Yankee." Besides possessing a very considerable fund of medical information and surgical skill, he was a good gunsmith and watchmaker, a first-rate photographer and taxidermist, and a very keen sportsman and naturalist."

Theobald's sons Charles and William established themselves as Theobald Brothers, taxidermists in Mysore to compete with the Van Ingens. They seem to have provided services to the Prince of Wales on his hunting trip into India. "Messrs. Theobald claim to have been the first firm to chrome-cure skins with the hair on, and to set up heads on hollow papier mache casts, a process for which they hold patent rights in India. They employ a very large staff, and receive work not only from all parts of India, Burma and Ceylon, but from Africa and other parts of the world as well."

Theobald senior died on 28 May 1919 and is apparently buried in Kilpauk cemetery. According to Gouri Satya in Colonial Landmarks in Mysuru, Theobald road in Mysore is named after the family.

Sunday, October 2, 2022

Natural history works by Indians

"As a matter of fact ornithology was Englishman's pastime, the British army persons and wine merchants introduced it to India" (sic) - K. N. Narayana Murthy, 1996

I came across this rather curious work with ink-blot based art work that was gifted to Zafar Futehally. What struck me was on one of the first few pages, not the ink-blot, but the commentary, short, simplistic, a mixture of truths and inaccuracies (almost Twitter-esque) which cried for a careful examination. Parts of it are true, indeed ornithology as defined and practiced in its dominant form is indeed not something that Indians have been used to doing. Certainly not the collection and preservation of specimens from across the world, their placement in museums with careful labels, the publication of books and journals, the description of species, their naming or the formation of ornithological societies. So, in a sense those practices of ornithology, where they may exist in India in tenuous avatars, have indeed been imported. Wine merchants being the primary agents is a bit of a stretch (the reference is of course to H.M. Phipson who was involved in establishing the BNHS and perhaps the author knew of W.S Millard who also happened to work with Phipson's wine company. There was also an S.L. Whymper in Nainital who was involved in the brewing industry.). But it is true that early Indian participants in ornithology were those who were close to the English circles, local princes, or nobles who were often educated abroad. This did of course help make ornithology in India into a subject associated with elitism. There is a recent book dealing with ornithology in Japan which also seems to have had a similar history.

The ornithological literature in English (like many other field-based sciences, but not as much as say geology) is littered with words imported from other languages. Surprisingly, two terms that are fairly well-known, and from the Indian region are in fact not introductions made by the ornithological elite. The dho gaza (दो गज़ = 2 square yards)  and the bal-chattri (बाल छत्री, which was incorrectly translated as a child's umbrella, but now known to refer to the horsehair noose used in it) are traps used in bird study. Both of these come from indigenous naturalists (in the broad sense). The earliest use and origins of these terms is unknown but should say something about the native knowledge in bird trapping and bird behaviour that existed (much has been lost, with those professions are now sadly officially criminalized). 

A comment and note by Lakshmishwar Sinha
in the Modern Review

Now many naturalists in pre-Independence India who sought to make the study of the natural world around them acceptable, and not be an imitation of the English sahibs around them, had a struggle. Surprisingly we (or at least I) know so little about these authors or their works. Some exceptions exist, for instance we know of M. Krishnan who wrote both in Tamil and English. There were others who wrote solely in the local language and nobody has really brought together a compilation of these works (since it needs information from far and wide). I recently heard about one Gujarati work and decided that I should try and compile over time a list of native natural history works (I am skipping works of poetry or prose that merely express beauty). I am most interested in hearing from any readers about books or authors in any Indian language (English included but I am skipping well-known field-guides - such as the works of Salim Ali) and extending up to the pre-internet era. The situation changed with the internet and the relative ease of producing content has led to many translated and derivative works which are best excluded for now. I will update the list below as and when I receive notes.

Friday, September 16, 2022

A forerunner to the Book of Indian Birds

Before the Book of Indian Birds (1941) was a series of bird charts published by the Bombay Natural History Society. More than a decade before the book, in 1928, a series of 5 wall charts were prepared to cover 200 species of birds for use in Indian schools. Salim Ali writes about them in the preface to the first edition of the Book of Indian Birds

"It was part of their plan that the plates prepared for these charts should be subsequently used to illustrate a book on the common birds of India containing simple descriptions and short life-histories of every species depicted, together with a few general chapters on bird-life calculated to interest the beginner and the layman, and stimulate a desire for deeper study. Unfortunately, the publication of the book has been delayed beyond expectation. The unforeseen economic depression that intervened obliged many institutions to cancel or greatly reduce their orders for the Bird Charts placed prior to publication. This retarded the liquidation of the very considerable expenditure the Society had incurred on the charts and held up the publication of the book, since it was beyond their means to undertake this additional liability simultaneously. The issue of this book with its large number of coloured plates at a price that should bring it within the means of the average purse, has now become possible entirely due to the recoupment by the Society of their initial outlay on the preparation of the colour-blocks for the charts, thus minimising the cost of the present illustrations."
Very few have seen these charts and the BNHS archives are largely opaque to researchers. Fortunately for us, there a review of these charts by David Seth-Smith was published in the Avicultural Magazine with black and white copy of one of the charts. And more importantly, copies of that magazine have been made available via the Biodiversity Heritage Library.

Perching Birds, Climbing Birds, Birds of Prey, Game Birds, Wading, and Swimming Birds. Each chart was 40 x 36 inches, printed in colour, mounted on canvas, and varnished. It was sold at 45 rupees for the whole set of 5 charts (being then 3 pounds 7 shillings and 6 dimes). A book version of the pictures measuring 12 x 9.5 inches was also sold at 5 pounds 7 shillings and 6 dimes. The distribution in the UK was by Vitty & Seaborne publishers.

Note: This was posted following interest shown to a picture of this chart on Instagram. It would be amazing if the BNHS could locate a set of these five charts and reproduce them in colour for historic documentation.