The name of Nelson Annandale appeared on the list of those recommended by the Council for election to the Fellowship of the Society in the present year, but, before the formal election could, take place, his sudden and unexpected death, on 10th April, closed a career that had seemed to be in the full tide of achievement.
Thomas Nelson Annandale was born on the 15th of June, 1876, and was the eldest son of Thomas Annandale, the distinguished Professor of Clinical Surgery in the University of Edinburgh. His mother was a daughter of William Nelson, the publisher. He was educated at Rugby, where his only recorded success appears to have been the winning of a prize for an essay on a natural history subject. The examiner on this occasion was surprised by the school boy’s acquaintance with anatomical terminology, which, however, was explained when he learned of the candidate’s parentage. From Rugby, Annandale went to Balliol College. He studied Zoology under Ray Lankester, and obtained second-class honours in that subject in 1898. His attention seems to have been directed also to anthropology under the guidance of E. B. Tylor. One of his Oxford teachers writes : “I found him an interesting, if rather strange, man, very keen in his way, and independent in developing his own particular tastes.”
While an undergraduate, he spent several vacations in Iceland and the Faeroe Islands collecting the materials which, after some preliminary reports, in ‘Man,’ ‘Proceedings of the Royal Society of Edinburgh,’ and elsewhere, were dealt with in his book ‘The Faeroes and Iceland: a study in Island Life ’ (Clarendon Press, 1905). In 1899 he was a member of the Skeat expedition to the Malay Peninsula, and he repeatedly travelled in that country in the years 1901 to 1903 in company with Mr. H. C. Robinson, with whom he published in 1903-1907 ‘Fasciculi Malayenses,’ a series of reports on the anthropological and zoological results of the expeditions. Annandale’s contributions to the ‘Fasciculi ’ were chiefly concerned with anthropology, and were worked out during his tenure of a research fellowship in anthropology in the University of Edinburgh (1902-1904), where he was awarded the degree of D.Sc, (1905).
In 1904 Annandale went to India as Deputy-Superintendent of the Natural History Section of the Indian Museum, under Lt.-Col. Alcock, and, on Alcock s retirement in 1907, he succeeded him as Superintendent. Annandale threw himself with characteristic energy into the administration of the Museum, obtained considerable increases of staff and founded two series of publications, the ‘Records’ and ‘Memoirs’ of the Indian Museum. Of the former some 25 volumes, and of the latter 6 volumes, have now been published, containing very numerous contributions of the first importance in systematic and faunistic zoology and forming a worthy continuation of the series of catalogues begun by Alcock. From the first Annandale took up the position that the main object of the institution over which he presided should be research. He arranged that every member of the scientific staff should spend several months of each year in the field, and he obtained the help of practically every zoologist in India, as well as of many of the foremost systematists in other countries, in working out the rich collections so obtained.
In 1916, after years of struggle with official apathy, Annandale achieved one of his principal aims in the establishment of the Zoological Survey of India, of which he became the first Director. By this measure, Zoology was for the first time placed on a footing of equality with Geology and Botany, and what had been merely the zoological section of the Indian Museum became recognized as one of the great scientific research departments of the Imperial Government.
Annandale would have been the first to acknowledge that the way for these reforms had been paved by the labours of his predecessors. Alcock, in particular, had for years endeavoured to impress upon the Government of India the importance of zoological research and the need for its adequate support, and his premature resignation was a final protest against the discouraging conditions under which he had to work. There is reason to believe that the protest was not without effect, but with a less determined and enlightened successor the effect would have been only transient.
Annandale was first and foremost a “field naturalist,” or, more precisely, a student of animal ecology. As the head of a great museum, he was perforce a taxonomist, but he was by no means of the type that deserves the contempt sometimes expressed for the “mere systematist” He constantly insisted that, even from a systematic point of view, the animal could not be understood apart from its environment and that museum study should be supplemented by field observations. His own systematic work ranged over an unusually wide field. Freshwater Sponges, Coelenterates, Polyzoa, Mollusca and Batracliia and the marine Cirripedia were the subjects of some of his most important work, but the long list of his published papers shows that very few of the larger groups of the animal kingdom had not, at one time or another, engaged his attention.
In recent years he had given much time and had travelled far and wide collecting material for a comparative faunistic study of the lakes of Asia. He himself visited the Sea of Galilee, the Hamun-i-Helmand in Seistan, Lake Chilka in Orissa, the Loktak in Manipur, the Inlé Lake in Burma, the Talé Sap in Siam, the Tai Hu in China, and Lake Biwa in Japan. Numerous systematic papers on these collections, many of them written by himself, have appeared in the publications of the Indian Museum and of the Asiatic Society of Bengal, but the final summary, in which the results of all these investigations were to have been brought together and compared, was still unwritten at the time of his death. An indication of what this summary might have given us is furnished by his paper on “The Evolution of the Shell-Sculpture in Fresh-Water Snails of the Family Viviparidse,” published in the ‘ Proceedings ’ of this Society last year (B, vol. 96, pp. 60-76). In this paper he compares the highly sculptured pond Snails occurring in the lakes of Yunnan and of the Shan States in Burma with those found fossil in the Pliocene lake-deposits of Slavonia, Dalmatia and the Levant. At first sight all these shells are very similar, but Annandale was able to trace each of the three series (Chinese, Burmese and European) back to a different smooth-shelled ancestral form, and to show that the similarity in the sculpture of the more specialized types was due to parallel or convergent evolution. “There is, or has been, some influence at work which has produced a similar collective peculiarity in the shells of the Viviparidae on diverse occasions and in different parts of the world.” Another instance of convergent evolution which he specially studied was that of the fish and the Batrachian tadpoles inhabiting mountain torrents. In this case the convergence relates to an adaptive character, an adhesive apparatus or sucker which enables the animals to cling to rocks and stones in a strong current. The details of this apparatus were shown to be remarkably similar in the two groups, and the degree of its elaboration in different species to be “ in direct correlation with the rapidity of the current in which the species habitually lives.”
Annandale was of slight physique, with a highly-strung temperament and restless energy that must have made great demands on his strength. He travelled widely and his vacations were devoted to collecting expeditions. His impetuous methods and a caustic wit that seasoned his official correspondence did not contribute to popularity in the Government departments with which he had to deal. He was an outspoken critic of the administration of the Natural History departments of the British Museum, but this did not prevent him from maintaining up to the very end of his life, as the present writer can testify, the most friendly and helpful relations with many of the officials of that institution. To the junior members of his own staff he was unsparing of assistance and encouragement. He was always careful to give them full credit for their work and always ready to take up arms when he thought that others had not done so. He seemed to have few active interests outside his own work and that of his department, though his unusually wide reading was reflected in his literary style and in the unexpected turns of his conversation. He was an active member of the Indian Science Congress and of the Asiatic Society of Bengal, and he had been president of both bodies in recent years. For some years his health had been unsatisfactory, but it was only within the last few weeks of his life that duodenal ulceration was diagnosed, and within the last day or two that an unsuspected malarial infection, probably of old standing, revealed itself. Only nine days before his death he attended a garden party in the Museum grounds given by the three Indian members of the scientific staff to celebrate his selection for the Royal Society.
The Indian Museum has been, for more than three-quarters of a century, an active centre of zoological research, and Annandale has enriched a tradition handed down from illustrious predecessors. Circumstances have combined to make the moment of his death particularly ominous for the institution thus suddenly deprived of its head; in the interests of Indian science it is to be hoped that the tradition will be maintained at the level at which he left it.
W. T. C
Annnandale had several species named after him. I had read about Annandale’s turtle or terrapin in the 1960s. It is now known as Heosemys annandalii (previously Hieremys annandalii). It was described and named by Boulenger in 1903. Like so many chelonians in south-east Asia it is endangered because of trade for human consumption. It is large, herbivorous and occurs in slow-moving rivers right down to the coast, as well as in swamps and bodies of freshwater. The common name it now goes under, Yellow-headed Temple Turtle, reflects its capture and then release for ‘merit’ in the grounds of Buddhist temples. It is said to be common in the waterways and parks of Bangkok, more so than in the wilder parts of its range. It is found in Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, Thailand, Malaysia and possibly Burma.
|Heosemys annandalii. Bangkok Zoo, May 1968