Thursday, 30 May 2013

Donors of Reptiles to London Zoo 1914/15: 6. Charles Edward Colston Frost

Again, in this series of posts, this is what Clin Keeling wrote in A Short History of British Reptile Keeping:

...while C. Frost, who lived at 213 Bexley Road, Northumberland Heath, Bexley, Kent, made a handsome gift of no less than eight long-nosed Crocodiles which, it was recorded, had come from the Great Kwa River in Nigeria.

I searched the 1911 Census and found that the occupier of 213 Bexley Road was Charles E.C. Frost, aged 37, a gun fitter working for a gun manufacturer. Could be him but how did he come to have eight crocodiles from Nigeria? Or was it another Frost, a father or brother perhaps? Only very recently have I found the answer. On the offchance a Google search might show up something, I typed in Charles E C Frost. On the first page of results I found the solution. A family history website showed that Charles Edward Colston Frost of the above address had ‘worked in Africa for Crown Agents’. So that’s how he got the crocodiles. He was born in Bristol in 1873 and died in 1942 in Bexley, aged 69.

Unfortunately, the e-mail link to the compiler of the family history is dead so I do not know if the family has any more information on when he worked in Africa and why, or of his job with the Crown Agents. A search of the Zoo’s records would also show if he was a regular donor of Nigerian animals.
NOTE ADDED 23 January 2016
I was contacted by a friend of his daughter, Betty, who was able to provide further information. Charles Edward Colston Frost was an engineer who worked for Vickers in Erith (now part of London); Vickers sent him to Africa. He later became a Crown Agent. When World War I started, he joined the army in Africa and was eventually invalided home with malaria. Betty, who was born years after the war ended, says that her father loved Africa and lived there for seven years.

I have been able to find something about his goings to Nigeria. Shipping records show his departure from Liverpool to Lagos on 17 May 1911 on the SS Mendi; he is shown as a Government Servant (i.e. he worked for Crown Agents). He is to be found leaving Liverpool for Lagos again on 20 September 1916 on board the SS Elmina; he is shown as an Armourer Sergeant. Army medal record show that he was an Acting Sergeant in the 3rd Nigeria Regiment. I presume he fought with the 3rd Nigerians in the East Africa Campaign to which they were transported by sea. I wonder if he was the 'armourer-sergeant' referred to in With the Nigerians in German East Africa by W.C. Downes (London: Methuen, 1919):

     Sleep in the afternoon was often a little difficult at the after end of the good ship "Berwick Castle", owing to rifle fire being carried out on one side, machine-gun fire on the other, and bugle practice by all the buglers of both battalions in the centre. These were the main disturbing elements, but there were lesser troubles to compete with, such as the armourer-sergeant hammering on what sounded like a tin tray...

Tigers in Hong Kong: More Information

In a brilliant book, Southern District Officer Reports. Islands and Villages in Rural Hong Kong, 1910-1960 (edited by John Strickland, Hong Kong University Press, 2010), I came across this extract (pages 13-14) from Hong Kong: Around and About written by S.H. Peplow and M .Barker published, it appears, in 1931. Peplow was land bailiff in 1927 and district officer in 1930 for the Southern District of the New Territories:

Tigers. There are well authenticated cases in which tigers have visited portions of the New Territory and even the Island of Hong Kong. Two tigers were knifed by Chinese in a cave in the hills near Sham Shui Po. Cattle have been killed in large numbers, especially on Lantao Island, where some 60 or 70 were killed during 1911, apparently by some beast with claws and tracks similar to a tiger or panther. It was reported by one native living in a hut on Lantao that a tiger was seen by him dragging a chain, and it is not impossible that the beast in question might be a tiger escaped from a local menagerie. It would live mostly on deer, but occasionally pounce on isolated herds of cattle; nor is there any reason to doubt that it could swim over from one island to another. In one case in May 1931, a number of cattle had been killed in the south of Lantao, and the remainder of the herd, thirty in number, were sent over for safety to a small island half a mile away; but within two days 16 of them had been killed or badly wounded. An expedition went out there three days later, but by that time the beast had probably returned to the thick cover afforded by the Lantao hills. It was said to have been seen again early in 1912, both on Hong Kong Island and Lantao.

Friday, 24 May 2013

Donors of Reptiles to London Zoo 1914/15: 5. M.C. Myres

Following up this series of posts, this is what Clin Keeling wrote in A Short History of British Reptile Keeping:

For instance, there was one M.C. Myres of The School House, Sherborne, Dorset, who presented two Horned Toads (as ninety-nine out of a hundred readers will know, these are Lizards actually) and an Undulated Lizard on 27th October 1914 — I imagine before going into the Army…

I am pretty sure M.C. Myres was Miles Claude Myres, the son of Professor Sir John Linton Myres, the archaeologist and Wykeham Professor of Ancient History at Oxford. Earlier in 1914 we find him, aged 14, accompanying his father plus a large portion of the British scientific establishment, on the Orient Line’s Orvieto en route to Australia for the meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science held throughout August. The ship left England on 3 July. Also on board were the incoming president, Sir Oliver Lodge FRS, the physicist and spiritualist (well, he was a physicist) who, at the time, was the first principal of the University of Birmingham. There was also the former president, Sir Edward Schafer (later Sharpey-Schafer) FRS (1850-1935), physiologist and author of Essentials of Histology which was used as a textbook into the 1960s [first year physiology students at Sheffield in 1962 were recommended to buy Hewer’s histology textbook instead, although a number of us had used Sharpey-Schafer at school].

Myres must have donated the lizards to London Zoo soon after his return from Australia. From the address given, it would appear that he had them at school. Horned ‘toads’ (Phyrnosoma) were not known for their longevity in captivity. Was he given them on his return from Australia but then decided not to keep them? Since these lizards are from North and Central America, it is likely that the ‘Undulated Lizard’ was Sceloporus undulatus.

Shipping records show that Miles C. Myres became a farmer in Southern Rhodesia, paralleling the life of John C Dendy, who featured in this series (see my post of 27 October 2012). Both Myres and Dendy were sons of professors; both kept reptiles; both gave the reptiles to London Zoo; both became farmers in Southern Africa. 

Miles Claude Myres, according to a family history website, died in 1931. He was married with children. Shipping records show his widow and children travelling from Liverpool to Montreal in 1940. It appears that some of his descendants are in Australia.

Thursday, 9 May 2013

More on Hong Kong Rats

In the previous posts, I referred to the two hillside rats of Hong Kong, Niviventer fulvescens (Chestnut Spiny Rat) and Rattus andamanensis (Indochinese Forest Rat), to use their current nomenclature.

I also made reference to the Roof or Black Rat, Rattus rattus flavipectus, known as the Buff-breasted Rat. Well, things are not that simple with that rat now. The native house rat R.r.flavipectus is now considered to be included in Rattus tanezumi, the wide-ranging Oriental or Asiatic House Rat. The Black or Roof Rat proper, Rattus rattus, also seems to be present, introduced, like the Brown or Norway Rat (Rattus norvegicus) by ship.

Now, in a delicious twist, not only has R.r. flavipectus been included in R. tanezumi but so has Sladen’s rat — the true Sladen’s rat (R.r. sladeni) — not, please note, the form to which the name was misapplied in Hong Kong. So, in Hong Kong, the misnaming of what is now Rattus andamanensis was doubly wrong; Sladen’s rat could, more correctly, been assigned to R.r.flavipectus.

I now wonder whether somebody in Hong Kong realised the affinity between Sladen’s rat, R.r.sladeni) and R.r.flavipectus (all the Rattus rattus subspecies in fact) and lumped them as Sladen’s rat as a common name. Then, when it was realised that there were two forms of what was then Rattus rattus, was the Sladen’s name applied to the wrong one? In this respect, it is interesting that there is no mention of Sladen's Rat in Herklots’s book, The Hong Kong Countryside published in 1951. He thanks John Romer (who I think arrived as Pest Control Officer in 1946) for information on the rats. Ignoring the bandicoot rat, he provides notes only on Rattus norvegicus and Rattus rattus. However, he draws a distinction between Rattus rattus and R.r.flavipectus and goes on to note:

It (R.r.flavipectus) is a house-rat and is a serious pest but it is also abundant as a free-living species on the hillsides and in the fields [my italics] for it is native to South China.

My interpretation of that is what are now Rattus tanezumi and Rattus andamanensis (the free-living species on the hillsides) were not recognised as separate species. It is therefore possible that when they were, the wrong name was applied to our old friend in the lab roof.

The misnaming of species as well as changes in taxonomy has other consequences. It would appear that papers that reported research on Rattus sladeni or Rattus rattus sladeni could be interpreted as work on either Rattus tanezumi or Rattus andamanensis. If the animals were from Yunnan or surrounding areas, it would be the former; if Hong Kong, the latter.

I found an example of trying to update old information on Sladen’s Rat. My acquaintance with this species, like Huang’s Rat in an earlier post, began when I was given the offspring of some that had bred at London Zoo, in about 1963. Then in the website of the Bartlett Society (concerned with the history of zoos), I found a list, First and early breeding records for mammals in the UK and Eire. In the list is Sladen's Rat, Rattus tanezumi Temminck, 1844, bred, London Zoo 1967 (they bred there earlier as I noted). A note for the entry reads:

Zoological Society of London Annual Report 1967, p39 as R. rattus sladeni. The subspecies sladeni is no longer considered valid.

However, these rats, like (from the same source): 

Yellow-breasted Rat Rattus tanezumi Temminck, 1844 (bred London 1962) International Zoo Yearbook, Vol. 4 (1963) p227, as Rattus rattus flavipectus


Chestnut Spiny Rat Niviventer fulvescens (Gray, 1847) (bred London 1964) International Zoo Yearbook, Vol. 6 (1966) p392, as Rattus huang. This species is also known as Huang's Rat.

were all sent from Hong Kong. Therefore, the record for Sladen’s Rat, has been incorrectly updated in this instance to Rattus tanezumi

Incidentally, I do not know who sent the three rats to London. It could have been PM Marshall, or John Romer or Ken Searle or one of the first two via the last. I, or somebody, needs to look that up because it might provide a clue to what names were in use in Hong Kong then compared with what they were called in London.

The List of Mammals of Hong Kong on Wikipedia has the list of ‘ratty’ rats as I have described their current status in the last three posts. But taxonomy changes, and changes again with new evidence, new interpretations and with new fashions. So watch out to see what happens next.


Bartlett Society link to breeding records:

Rattus tanezumi:

List of Hong Kong mammals:

What Happened to Hong Kong’s Sladen’s Rat

The second non-urban or hillside rat in Hong Kong was called Sladen’s Rat in the 1960s with the scientific name of Rattus rattus sladeni. However, it was evident even then that there was something very wrong with the taxonomy and/or identity of the rats in Hong Kong. One of the urban rats is the Black or Roof Rat (Rattus rattus), then assigned to the subspecies flavipectus. This form was thought to be native to southern China but it could, of course, have been a population derived from the native form and others brought in by ship as Hong Kong developed into a massive port from the 1840s.

The presence of two sympatric sub-species occurring as two distinct populations was clearly nonsensical. They did not appear to interbreed and sometimes their habitats overlapped. Chung Ka Bun, in his work on the two hillside rats, noted that the Buff-breasted (Rattus rattus flavipectus) occasionally strayed into the main study area, i.e. the one occupied by the so-called Sladen’s.

I have not been able to find who identified the form that occurs in Kong Kong as Sladen’s Rat. The authority usually referred to were Allen (1938) and Ellerman (1941) but they do not refer to Hong Kong or that region of China.

More recently, for reasons that will become apparent below, I found Richard Corlett’s 2001 article in Porcupine entitled, The Naming of Rats. He began his article by writing:

Whoever said "Fools rush in where angels fear to tread" was surely thinking of rat taxonomy. I am therefore approaching this topic with some trepidation, but also, I hope, more as an unusually brave angel than a complete fool.

It seems that the Hong Kong rat we knew as Sladen’s Rat never was Sladen’s Rat or what became of it in the taxonomic reshuffles. From the British Museum, Corbet & Hill (1992) said it was Rattus remotus while Musser at the American Museum of Natural History called it Rattus sikkimensis. Corlett wrote that these names seemed to be complete synonyms, referring to the same species that occurs from Nepal to South China, and south to Thailand. Sikkim Rat was used as the common name on the Smithsonian Institution website but in Hong Kong there was no common name.

Rattus sikkimensis seems to have been adopted as the scientific name by those working in the University of Hong Kong. However, there is a further twist in the story. While remotus  (named by Robinson & Kloss in 1914) has priority over sikkimensis (Hinton, 1919), both names fall since they are both now included in Rattus andamanensis (Blyth, 1860) which has priority. Full details of the current nomenclature together with a bibliography (including Hong Kong) are given in the IUCN website. There, the common name is shown as Indochinese Forest Rat or Sikkim Rat. The former seems appropriate for Hong Kong usage.

The reason I looked up ‘Sladen’s Rat’ was because I was telling somebody about a very bright individual of this species and wondered if anything had been done to sort out the anomalous taxonomy. The University of Hong Kong in the 1960s would not pay for air conditioning for people but it would pay for air conditioning for equipment or animals. Therefore, if one could contrive laboratory/office space in an equipment or animal room, it was actually possible to get some work done during summer afternoons when the outdoor temperature would be in excess of 90°F (36°C) and the relative humidity higher than 90%.

We set up shop in an old animal room vacated by the medical school and taken over by Zoology. We knew a few Sladen’s rats had escaped from one of the rooms while being moved. I had my desk (a grotty old table covered in brown paper) under a window; my wife had her desk under another. Having worked all morning on salt glands, we had our lunch at our desks in the same room. I leant back to stretch and noticed a small hole in the corner of the ceiling above me. The next day the whole was a little larger; the next day larger still. Then, one day, a rat’s nose appeared in the hole. After a week or so the hole was about 40 cm in diameter and by this time the rat could put its head through the hole. Each morning our friend appeared and there it slept during the day, inhaling cool air from the room while ignoring all the activity below. One cool rat.

Further Reading and Links

Marshall, P 1967 Wild Mammals of Hong Hong. Hong Kong: Oxford University Press.
Chung, Ka-bun 1971 An ecological study of two species of hillside rats in Hong Kong.
PhD Thesis, University of Hong Kong
Allen, GM 1938 The Mammals of China and Mongolia. Natural History of Central Asia Series, Vol. XI, American Museum of Natural History, New York
Ellerman, JR 1941 The Families and Genera of Living Rodents. Vol. II. British Museum (Natural History), London
Corlett, R 2001 The naming of rats. Porcupine No 23, July 2001
Corbet, GB & Hill, JE 1992 The Mammals of the Indomalayan Region: a Systematic Review. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Chung, K 2003 Hong Kong’s common rat species. Porcupine No 29, August 2003
IUCN - Rattus andamanensis (with bibliography of taxonomy)

Thursday, 2 May 2013

What Happened to Hong Kong’s Huang’s Rat

In Hong Kong in the 1960s there were two types of rat on the hillsides. In 2013 they are still there but their names have changed completely. One of these was called Huang’s Rat (Rattus huang).

I had been introduced to Huang's Rat even before going to Hong Kong. In the early 1960s some had been sent to London Zoo and had bred in the old Rodent House. I was given some of the offspring — they were beautiful animals which I reluctantly had to pass on to another rodent enthusiast. While looking at recent publications on Hong Kong mammals I realised that Huang’s Rat had disappeared from the lists.

To cut a long story short, Huang’s Rat, which had a number of common names (Eastern Spiny-haired Rat, Chinese Spiny-backed Rat) and has acquired even more (Chestnut Spiny Rat, Chestnut Rat, Chestnut White-bellied Rat), is now Niviventer fulvescens.

Huang’s Rat was originally described by John Lewis James Bonhote (1875-1922) as Mus huang in 1905. By the 1930s it had already been included within Rattus fulvescens and is shown as Rattus fulvescens huang in Allen’s (1938) The Mammals of China and Mongolia

Whatever the name, Niviventer fulvescens is an extremely attractive animal. PM Marshall summed up the appearance in her Wild Mammals of Hong Kong (1967):

Colour: rich orange with pure white belly.Distinctive features: rich orange coloured fur with small pale spines (thick stiff hairs) interspersed with the hairs on the back. Undersides of body and tail white.

In that excellent but now sadly discontinued publication, Porcupine, the newsletter of the then Department of Ecology and Biodiversity, University of Hong Hong, Richard Corlett described this species as cute and lovable (Number 23, July 2001), a designation with which I can only agree.

That was the easy one. Wait for the next species of rat in Hong Kong to see how complicated things can get and have got.