Tuesday 25 August 2020

Rovinj: The Sheffield Zoology Field Trip in 1964. Part Four. A non-zoological family photographic coincidence

Having shown the photographs of the film set for ‘The Long Ships” in a previous post I wondered what had happened to the specially-constructed ‘viking’ buildings. I found a note online to the effect that they had fallen down. But where were they? I realised from looking on Google Earth that they could only have been at one site along the north bank of the Limski ‘fjord’ or channel and that was near its distal end and now the site of several modern restaurants. One, ‘The Viking’ gives a clue as to previous use of the land and was apparently started up by the caterer to the film crew.

My photograph from one of the buildings on the film set taken in March 1964
Current buildings on the site of the film set
From Funtuna website


That puzzle solved I then remembered that on returning in 1964 my father said he had seen the Limski ‘fjord’ while he was in the army and that he had taken a photograph which was in one of his albums. In Italy he bought a second-hand Welta Weltini 35 mm camera to replace his father-in-law’s Kodak Autographic he had asked to be sent out to him in North Africa. By looking at the other photographs printed in the same size and style, I found that he must have photographed Limski in summer 1945, after the German surrender but before returning for leave by rail to U.K. on 21 September. At that time he was stationed in Monfalcone near Trieste; Battery HQ was in the Solvay Factory.

My father's view of the Limski 'fiord' taken in 1945


After his death I scanned all his photographs and the postcards he had collected and labelled in a set of albums. As background I should say that my father saw a great deal of Italy. Particularly in the months after the war ended whenever a lorry was going anywhere, he was, as he put it, ‘on it’, since he was able to do the work he had to do in the evenings and very early mornings.

Last week I realised that he must have photographed Limski from a place not far away from my view from the film set and when I enlarged both photographs on screen I could see that the trees on a distance hillside had remained unchanged in 19 years. By drawing lines on Google Earth between the headlands shown in his photograph I realised he could have been on the road high above and to the north of the film set. I then looked at his next photograph which I hadn’t noticed before. It slowly dawned on me that the badly battered old buildings and quay in the second photograph, which must have been taken at the same time as the first during a lorry stop, were on the site of ‘The Long Ships’ film set from which I had taken my photograph down the Limski Channel nearly 19 years later.

My father's photograph looking down into what must have bseen the site of the film set


I confirmed this interpretation in a modern Google Earth view. The angle shape of the quay is identical, the site coincides with a bulge in the opposite bank and the layout of the roads that can be seen is the same. One other possible location a short distance westward, which can be seen with a protruding jetty in the 1964 photograph, I could discount. The coastline is not the same shape.

Location of the film set from where I took my photograph in 1964 and my calculation of where my father (RSP) was standing for his photographs in 1945

As above but enlarged and from the north


In my 1964 photograph from the top of a building in the ‘viking village’ the quay is obscured by the other buildings but you can see others in the party walking back through the ‘village street’ to the boat hidden on the left. On my father’s picture a stone wall can be made out on the left. I suspect that is the old wall that can be seen in my second photograph, of a ‘viking’ building tucked into the surrounding hillside.

It would seem that the old buildings seen by my father were either demolished before or in order for the film set to be constructed (filming was in 1963) and that the site, housing several restaurants, is now a major stopping place for tourist traffic passing down the Istrian Peninsula from the Italian border or on boat trips up the channel from Rovinj.

My father’s photographs were obviously taken in the late afternoon. The shot is to the west and has the obvious internal reflection of the the eight-bladed iris of the lens characteristic of a photograph taken into the sun. The lorry was 73 miles from Monfalcone at that point. Were they going to Pula (which he did visit) on this trip? Were they on the outward or homeward yourney? How long would a World War II army lorry take to do 73 miles?

Finally, this shot* of Trieste harbour with its scuttled ships taken from a moving vehicle on the way from or back to Monfalcone. There had, after all, been a war on.

*There is a similar but aerial shot shown on Getty Images (LIFE Picture Collection) taken in May 1946. The same or replacement fuel tanks and jetty can still be seen on Google Earth.

Friday 21 August 2020

Rovinj: The Sheffield Zoology Field Trip in 1964. Part Three. Reptiles and Amphibians

Algyroides nigropunctatus
from Hellmich
In writing about Sheffield Zoology’s first field course in Rovinj now in Croatia and then part of Yugoslavia at Easter 1964, my mind wandered into the difficulties we encountered in identifying the reptiles and amphibians from the surrounding countryside and town. With the wealth of information now available both in print and online it must be difficult to appreciate that nearly 60 years ago the only source on European species in English was a book by Walter Hellmich1 published in 1962. I took that with me.

Some specimens were easy to identify from the limited number of illustrations and descriptions. But a juvenile snake (later identified as the Balkan Whip Snake) and what seemed to be one, but possibly two, species of lizard was more problematical. They ended up, and I cannot remember how, with a GP in Wolverhampton, Dr John V. Tranter2 who was very active in amateur herpetological circles in the West Midlands. He got hold of a copy of the standard German checklist3 of the time by Robert Mertens and Heinz Wermuth as well as consulting Boulenger’s catalogues of specimens in the British Museum. He found all the unknowns, including those I suspected from the descriptions in Hellmich were the Dalmatian Wall Lizard. That species, originally Lacerta melissellensis4 but now Podarcis melissellensis, is now well-known to be polymorphic. In short there were two forms of this species around Rovinj, with one more common than the other. The least common bore a striking resemblance in terms of coloration to the Italian Wall Lizards seen and collected in the area but of lighter build and with smaller, less-pointed jaws.

We finally identified all the species (with current scientific names shown):

Bufo bufo. Common Toad
Bufotes viridis. Green Toad
Hyla arborea. Common Tree Frog
Lissotriton vulgaris. Smooth or Common Newt
Algyroides nigropunctatus. Dalmatian Algyroides, Keeled Lizard
Podarcis muralis. Common Wall Lizard
Podarcis siculus. Italian Wall Lizard
Podarcis melissellensis. Dalmatian Wall Lizard
Pseudopus apodus. Glass Lizard. Glass ‘Snake’, Scheltopusik
Hierophis gemonensis. Balkan Whip Snake

Podarcis sicula campestris
from Hellmich
In our meanderings through the countryside during the late afternoons until, on some days, dusk, we encountered almost nobody. On the edges of the town, the local human inhabitants were at first wary but after establishing that we were not Germans were friendly and helpful. Sons and daughters learning english at school were summoned to translate as best they could and their fathers and grandfathers became even friendlier when I told them that my father had not only been stationed on the island of Vis and had met Tito and his partisans but that he had been through Croatia in the back of an army lorry as far south as Pula in 1945. Eventually the conversation turned to reptiles and they explained to me that in late March only the small lizards and snakes appear from hibernation. In April-May, they said, we could have expected to see larger lizards and snakes as well.

As a matter of interest, I wondered recently what other reptiles are known to occur in the area around Rovinj. I looked at the distribution maps in the 2016 Field Guide5 and came up with the following list in addition to those shown above:

Salamandra salamandra. Fire Salamander
Triturus carnifex. Italian Crested Newt
Bombina variegata. Yellow-bellied Toad
Rana dalmatina. Agile Frog
Pelophylax kl. esculenta. Edible Frog
Pelophylax ribibundus. Marsh Frog
Testudo hermanni. Hermann’s Tortoise
Emys orbicularis. European Pond Terrapin
Tarentola mauritanica. Moorish Gecko
Hemidactylus turcicus. Turkish Gecko
Lacerta viridis, Eastern Green Lizard
Zootoca vivipara. Viviparous Lizard
Slow Worm. Anguis fragilis
Hierophis viridiflavus. Western Whip Snake
Elaphe quatuorlineata. Four-lined Snake
Zamensis longissimus. Aesculapian Snake
Coronella austriaca. Smooth Snake
Telescopus fallax. Cat Snake
Natrix natrix. Grass Snake
Natrix tessellata. Dice Snake
Malpolon insignitus. Eastern Montpelier Snake
Vipera ammodytes. Nose-horned Viper

There are a number of reports, mainly from amateur German and Austrian herpetologists, on field trips made to the same area. The nomenclature varies a little because there has been argument over whether, for example, it is the Eastern or Western Green Lizard (L.bilineata) that occurs there while the status of pool frogs, Pelophylax, remains problematical.

We have never been back to Rovinj. Looking at the area on Google Earth there seems to have been considerable expansion of the town. The countryside looks to have been tidied up and I wonder how many areas of scrub with large boulders inhabited by Algyroides have survived. I shall never forget walking along a country lane and hearing a noise which sounded like a huge flock of geese. Only as we got nearer and found no geese did we realise the sound was coming from the bushes and small trees surrounding a pond. The noise was being emitted by male tree frogs, gathered in the early spring waiting for females (a few were around the edges of the pond) to arrive.

European Tree Frog
Green Toad
Common Toad

The above photographs were taken with my Rolleiflex 4 x 4 on Agfacolor CT18 reversal film. Lighting was from a flashbulb. A more unsuitable camera for close-ups would be hard to imagine because of the nature of a twin-lens reflex. The camera was focused through the viewing lens and then raised by the distance between the viewing and taking lens to remove the effect of parallax. Animals could and did absent themselves from the scene while that shift was being made, resulting in a wasted frame.

1 Walter Hellmich (1906-1974) was Chief Keeper of the Zoological Collection of the State Museum in Munich. His book was originally published in German in 1956 (Die Lurche Und Kriechtiere Europas. Heidelberg: Carl Winter). The English version is: Hellmich W. 1962. Reptiles and Amphibians of Europe. (English Editor Alfred Leutscher). London: Blandford.

2 Died 2 November 2014, aged 79

3 Mertens R, Wermuth H. 1960. Die Amphibien und Reptilien Europas. Frankfurt: Kramer. Robert Mertens (1894-1975) and Heinz Wermuth (1918-2002) had revised an earlier checklist by Mertens and Lorenz Müller (1868-1953) (the latter was Hellmich’s mentor in Munich). There was at the time an inordinate fondness for describing subspecies, an enthusiasm I do not share.

4 Named for Melisello, now called Brusnik, an islet near Vis.

5 Speybroeck J, Beukema W, Bok B, Voort J van der, Velikov I. 2016. Field Guide to the Amphibians and Reptiles of Britain and Europe. London: Bloomsbury.

Peaker M, Peaker SJ. 1968. Spring herpetofauna of the Rovinj area (Istria, Yugoslavia). British Journal of Herpetology 4, 36‑37.

Lilge D, Wicker R. 1972. Bemerkungen zu den Eidechsen der Umgebung von Rovinj (lstrien). Salamandra 8, 128-136.

Tuesday 11 August 2020

Rovinj Marine Biological Laboratory. The Sheffield Zoology Field Trip in 1964. Part Two. The official history 56 years later

When I wrote Part One (30 May 2015) I was aware that E.T.B. Francis had written an account for the University of the first field trip to Rovinj, then in Yugoslavia, from Sheffield’s zoology department. I had written up a report on the reptiles and amphibians we found during the afternoons we were not in the lab, out and about doing the marine biology or visiting places of wider interest. He caught me in the corridor to say that he had sent the report in to the university’s Gazette. However, until a couple of months ago I had not seen what he had written. Then I found on eBay a copy of the Gazette published in October 1964. When it arrived I was pleased to see that it contained the article. With it in hand I have been able to put names to places we had visited and to draw a map and after further Google searches, to caption more accurately the photographs I had taken. At the end of this article I have also added a series of explanatory notes.

First though, I should remark that the trip to Rovinj was revolutionary for the early 1960s. Language students had to spend time abroad but for undergraduate science students a field course in continental Europe was something very special.

Rovinj Marine Laboratory

This is Francis’s complete account from the Gazette:


For many years past it has been a tradition amongst zoological departments that honours students should spend some time during the Easter vacation at a marine station to study ecological and faunistic problems associated with animal life in the well defined habitats of the sea shore and shallow seas. Such students, at the same time, get the valuable experience of examining and identifying living animals collected personally from their natural habitat.
     Considerable emphasis has always been placed on the importance of such studies by the department of zoology at Sheffield, but this year a difficulty arose since the laboratory at Robin Hood’s Bay belonging to the University of Leeds—to which the second year honours students would normally have gone—is in the process of rebuilding and enlargement and was therefore unavailable. Accordingly Professor I. Chester Jones decided on a bold experiment and set arrangements in operation which resulted in a party of 31 students and 7 staff travelling to Rovinj where the Jugoslav government has a research station on the Istrian coast of the Adriatic.
     Two laboratories, one large and one small, were made available by the Director of the Station, Dr. D. Zavodnik, and the Station’s research vessel. Bios, was chartered on several occasions. Thus it was possible to study the faunas characteristic of several types of substratum—hard bottom, secondary hard bottom, sand, mud, shingle—found at moderate depths off shore, as well as the littoral fauna of the shore itself. The use of the Bios also enabled samples of plankton to be collected and studied, thus giving the opportunity to examine forms, both larval and adult, specially adapted to a floating life at the surface of the sea.
     The fauna as a whole proved exceptionally rich, both in quantity and quality, northern species such as are found round the coasts of Britain mingling with others characteristic of Mediterranean waters, the one sometimes supplanting the other in characteristic ecological associations.
     Morale and enthusiasm were high: staff shared with students the excitement of examining alive species which had hitherto been unknown, even to the most experienced members of the party, outside the pages of specialist textbooks. Over 180 species were individually identified and at least seven or eight new records were added to the fauna lists. It is very doubtful whether so rich a zoological experience could have been obtained in the same period of time around the shores of Britain—certainly not from one station alone.
     In addition to the faunistic work a serious and extensive study was made of the speciation of the limpets occurring locally, including a chromatographic analysis of their pigments, in order to compare the forms found at Rovinj with those previously studied in former years from British waters. The Jugoslav government has a station for the culture of oysters and mussels at Limski Fjord, some eight miles north of Rovinj, and the party was able to visit this and to see something of the techniques used.
     As a side-line two devoted herpetologists in the party spent every spare moment of their time in the study and collection of the local amphibia and reptiles. In all they captured some 103 individuals comprising four species of lizards, four species of amphibia and one species of snake.
     Outside the strictly zoological purposes of the excursion, occasions were made to take advantage of such cultural opportunities as the neighbourhood offered. Thus the party took a day off to visit Venice, travelling each way by a specially chartered bus and spending five hours in that unique city. On another occasion a half-day was spent visiting the ancient Roman city of Pula, where there is still a well preserved first century amphitheatre attributed to Augustus, and other relics of Roman times. Even the coach journeys to and from the railhead at Ljubljana on the outward and homeward journeys were utilized. The limestone caves at Postojna were visited on the outward journey. These are famous not only for exceptionally fine stalactite and stalagmite formations, but also as the home of the blind cave-salamander, Proteus anguinus, which the party was able to see alive. On the homeward journey a stop was made at the deserted medieval village of Dvigrad near Kanfanar to visit the church of St. Anthony and to see the very fine and vivid fifteenth century frescoes, and at Porec to visit the sixth century basilica of St. Euphrasia with its fine mosaics, comparable with those of Ravenna in brilliance.
     This remarkably successful expedition would have been impossible but for the enthusiasm, energy and organizing ability of Dr. F. J. Ebling, who not only planned the whole enterprise beforehand, but shouldered the day to day responsibility for its successful conclusion. He deserves great credit and the gratitude of all who benefited from his efforts.
     At the Rovinj end the way was prepared by Anton Perusko and his wife Gillian (nee Gillian Glen, B.Sc. Sheffield 1959). In spite of having to care for two young children, Gillian Perusko met the party at Ljubljana and escorted it to Rovinj and throughout the whole visit acted as general guide, interpreter and liaison officer. Anton Perusko made use of his official connexion with the “Auto-Kamp” Enterprise to smooth away many spiky corners connected with the accommodation, transport and such like matters. Without their invaluable help and full co-operation the venture could never have succeeded or even been contemplated.
     Much friendliness and co-operation was shown by Dr. Zavodnik and his staff at the laboratory as well as by the staff of the “Jadran” Enterprise at whose hotel the party stayed. At the Jadran Hotel it was introduced to many interesting national dishes; in fact, with the exception of milk-fed lamb, which is traditional for “Big Friday” and Easter Day, no major dish was repeated on the menu throughout the whole period. In the interest of international relations the Jadran Enterprise organized a dance on Easter Saturday to which many local people came to meet the English party of whom they had been told by the national radio and press.
     Valuable as the zoological assets of the excursion proved to be, it is clear that these are by no means the only entries on the credit side of what must remain for all who participated a most memorable experience.
E T B Francis 

The Places


My Photographs

I took my ‘Baby’ Rolleiflex 4 x 4 camera. This took 12 exposures on 127 size film. I used Agfacolor CT18 reversal film which is now known to be prone to degradation with time and to be ‘grainy’. Differences in processing may be partly responsible for the poor long-term reputation of this film. Unfortunately, despite being stored in identical conditions, the Rovinj films have survived amongst the least well of the photographs I have stored. The film base has warped, false colours have crept in from the edges and some have faded.

The Journey from the Hook of Holland to Ljubljana via Munich

The Rhine from the train to Munich

Vineyards in Germany from the train

Vineyards from the train

Somewhere in Austria from the overnight train from Munich to Ljubljana

We had several hours in Munich on the way out. The two of us wandered out of the station and found a beer hall which Google Earth shows to be Augustiner Stammhaus. We had steak and chips with, of course, beer. I was in the same establishment seven years later for a dinner during the International Physiological Congress. More beer was consumed.

Postojna Cave 

(2 slides I bought)


M/V Bios - the research vessel

Rovinj: Hotel Jadran (Adriatic) centre
Rovinj from the Bios


Rovinj. The shop on the left sold filigree jewellery for which what is now
the Croatian coast is famous. My wife brought the bracelet (below)



The Sheffield party in St Mark's Square

We travelled to and from the bus by vaporetto

Limski 'fiord' north of Rovinj

Film Set for The Long Ships (filmed in 1963) near the end of Limski 'Fiord'


Church of St Mary of Lukać

Unwelcome Fauna

My wife’s (then girlfriend) abiding memory the Rovinj trip is arriving back with an unwelcome guest. She left the party at Harwich since her parents were living in Suffolk. Drying herself after a bath she though she had developed a new mole. Closer inspection revealed a large blood-swollen  tick. She blamed—and still does—the Munich-Hook of Holland sleeper.


  1. The 31 students were the 2nd years honours group plus a few from 3rd year.
  2. The staff were F.J.G. Ebling, E.T.B. Francis, O. Lusis, J. D. Jones, D. Bellamy, L. Hill plus Mr Hancock, the chief technician.
  3. D. Zavodnik was one of the authors of the history of the Rovinj laboratory.
  4. The hotel we knew in Rovinj as the Hotel Jadran was originally called the Adriatic. It has been refurbished and is again known as Hotel Adriatic.
  5. Not mentioned was the visit to the film set built for The Long Ships near the end of Limski ‘fiord’. I read that it is now fallen down. However, The Viking Restaurant was built on the site by the film’s caterer and can be found on Google Earth. It is accessible, as was the film set, by road.
  6. The deserted medieval village of Dvigrad is now a major tourist site. My photographs are not in the church Francis mentioned but in the Church of St Mary of Lakuć.
  7. Dates, as mentioned in part 1, the date of entry into Yugoslavia was 17 March with departure on 1 April. Remembering the journey, we must have left Sheffield on 15 March and returned, carrying the microscopes we had taken with us, on 3 April.
  8. After the appearance of Part 1, I was contacted by several ex-Sheffield students who had been to Rovinj in succeeding years. The Easter field course continued into at least the early 1970s. Len Hill told me in 2015 that they ended because in our time such courses were funded as part of the honours course by grants from local authorities to the individual student. Then funding was given direct to the universities to fund such activities. However, the funds disappeared into the maw of university administrations and funding for these field courses ceased.

Francis ETB. 1964. Rovinj, Easter 1964. 1964. University of Sheffield Gazette, Number 44, October 1944, 74-75.