Friday 12 August 2022

Archaeology and herpetology: two species of terrapin at Butrint, Albania

We have been to the archaeological site of Butrint—a UNESCO World Heritage Centre at the southern tip of Albania—twice, in 2010 and 2017. Fascinating as this ancient Greek, Roman, Byzantine and then Venetian city is, there are other delights. The flooded basements of the ruined buildings that were abandoned in the late Middle Ages are home to two of the three species of terrapin in Europe, the European Pond Terrapin (Emys orbicularis) and the Balkan Terrapin (Mauremys rivulata). Judging from the numbers of animals present they seem to be thriving. In 2010 most were in the water but in April 2017 when it was pleasantly sunny in the morning, virtually all were basking.

This is the video of the terrapins I made in 2017:

I have followed the nomenclature in the field guide* on the Balkan Terrapin (or turtle to those readers in North America) both in the common name, Balkan, and scientific name, Mauremys rivulata. Those familiar with the reptiles of Europe will realise that it was known more widely as a subspecies the Caspian Terrapin, Mauremys caspica rivulata but about twenty years ago that species was split. Indeed, the IUCN Red List still has its common name as Western Caspian Turtle.

*Speybroek J, Beukema W, Bok B, Van Der Voort J.2016. Field Guide to the Amphibians and Reptiles of Britain and Europe. London: Bloomsbury.

Monday 8 August 2022

Wildebeest in the Masai Mara

White-bearded Wildebeest (Connochaetes taurinus) moving across the Masai Mara of Kenya in September 1991.

Friday 5 August 2022

The early demise of the great physiologist, Ernest Starling: More light on the circumstances of his death on board ship off Jamaica in 1927?

I have been doing some catching up reading. This time it was a book from 2005 on the embodiment of physiological discoveries in the early decades of the 20th century: A Life of Ernest Starling by John Henderson. Starling’s major discoveries are very well explained by Henderson and put into the context of knowledge at the time and of how important they have continued to be. Starling’s made three major advances—the discovery with Bayliss of secretin, the first hormone; his eponymous ‘Law of the Heart’; how blood capillaries work; sorting out the importance of filtration and secretion in the kidney.

A great deal has been written about Starling. But, as pointed out by Henderson, information on the cause and manner of his death at the age of 61 is scant. In brief, The Times of Wednesday 4 May 1927 carried the news:

Our Kingston, Jamaica, Correspondent telegraphs that Professor Ernest Starling, the eminent physiologist, died on board a steamer as it was entering Kingston Harbour on Monday. He was travelling for the benefit of his health. He was buried at Kingston yesterday.

That paragraph was a shortened version of the article published in Jamaica’a Daily Gleaner also on 4 May. Given that in summer time, Jamaica is 6 hours behind London time, the article in The Times may have been printed first. The Daily Gleaner reported that Starling had died ‘on board the Elders and Fyffe’s steamer Ariguani on Monday morning [2 May] shortly before the vessel reached Port Royal’. Starling’s body was taken to the mortuary at St Joseph’s Sanatorium while the United Fruit Company (agents for and owners of Elders and Fyffes and after whom the term ‘banana republic’ was coined) cabled the Starling family for instructions. Things moved at speed. The burial was on 3 May at St Andrew’s Parish Church at Half Way Tree, Kingston, in a torrential downpour. The governor’s ADC and a dozen doctors attended.

One of the mourners was Dr I.W. McLean. He was the ‘informant’ of death to the registrar in Kingston. He actually signed the death certificate two days after the burial. He was a medical officer for the United Fruit Company, giving the address of the company in Kingston. His qualifications were given as ‘MD, Maryland, USA’.

Isaac William McLean's passport photograph 1917

I have now found that the doctor was Isaac William McLean PharmD, MD. He was born in Charlotte, North Carolina, on 18 November 1880. He died there on 19 September 1953. He graduated, as shown on the death certificate, from the University of Maryland. Records show McLean worked for the US government as a physician in the Panama Canal Zone in 1908-1912. In an undated company magazine he is then found at the United Fruit Company’s hospital and health centre in Bocas del Toro, Panama, where he was described as universally popular. By the 1920s (by which time disease had devastated the banana plants in Bocas del Toro) he can be traced to ships leaving Jamaica, for leave in the USA.

McLean stated that the causes of death were ‘Asthenia’ (i.e. tiredness) ‘1 year’ and ‘Heart Failure (15 minutes)’. Starling had complained of tiredness for some time and, as Henderson suggests, McLean may have gleaned that information from those on board the ship. Henderson is fairly scathing about ‘heart failure’ it merely indicating that the heart stopped. But since there was no autopsy there was just a lack of evidence. There has been speculation that he died as a result of secondary tumours from a mass removed along with a longitudinal part of the colon seven years earlier but there is no evidence that his death was related. His friends and colleagues had noted that he easily became fatigued after long experiments. The photographs of him in the 1926 show a figure who looks much older than 60.

The ’15 minutes’ of heart failure suggests that Starling was not simply found dead in his cabin (as has sometimes been supposed) and that passengers as well as crew may have been aware as to what happened, a point I will return to.

The recorded date of Starling’s death is a catalogue of errors and misunderstandings. His gravestone in Kingston has 30 April while the website ‘Find a Grave’ has a short biography and a date of 22 May.

Henderson noted that it was curious no passengers from the ship went to the funeral. However, newspaper reports show the ship had already sailed; having loaded its cargo the Ariguani left Kingston the day it arrived, 2 May. Also, as I note below, only four passengers who had travelled with Starling across the Atlantic left the ship at Kingston, and they may have done so without knowing of the death or the arrangements for the funeral.

The Ariguani, which entered service in 1926, was one of the famous ‘banana boats’ that carried passengers (1st class only) and cargo to and from ports in the Caribbean. Starling decided that a voyage in the warmth would restore him. He booked a 34-day round-trip from Avonmouth docks near Bristol; on 11 April he was seen off by his son. Henderson also thought it odd that the available evidence suggested he was travelling alone since throughout his life he was ‘extraordinarily fond of human company’ and continued: ‘Unfortunately no passenger list has survived for the Elders and Fyffes records in London were destroyed by bombs in the 1939-45 war’. However, the passenger lists prepared for port authorities in Avonmouth of those outbound on 11 April and those inbound on 15 May have survived and are available on the usual genealogical research websites. We can therefore address Henderson’s question as well as to partially answer another: Was medical assistance available on the morning of 2 May when the Ariguani was entering Kingston harbour?

I am showing the names of passengers in the hope that the some of them knew the circumstances of Starling’s death and either wrote of it or told relations the story. For those who think it unlikely that fresh information may be gathered by this means, I have been pleasantly surprised by the number of people who have contacted me as a result of a long gone relation being mentioned in my articles.

The Ariguani’s ports of call were: Bridgetown, Barbados; Port of Spain, Trinidad; Puerto Limon, Costa Rica; Cristobal, Panama Canal Zone; Kingston, Jamaica—and then back to Avonmouth.

Only 20 passengers embarked at Avonmouth on 11 April 1927 and only 5 of those would have been on board when Starling died. Only one of those five was booked, like Starling, to return on the Ariguani to Avonmouth. She was Violet Maud Abbott (aka Maud Vilet Abbott), aged 37, of Beacon Hill, London. There is no indication she knew Starling and is to be found on ships’ passenger lists travelling the world until her death in 1973. In later life she is described as ‘musical director’.

In order of the ports reached before the ship reached Jamaica, this is the passenger list for the Atlantic crossing and Starling’s companions for breakfast, lunch and dinner. For each port are listed those joining the ship who would have been on board when Starling died (all the latter are marked *). Possibly absent are any passengers who travelled only between the ports of call before and including Kingston, Jamaica:

Disembarking at Bridgetown, Barbados:

Harder, Albert Reginald. 46. Birmingham. Traveller

Disembarking at Port of Spain, Trinidad:

Ronniti, Cesare. 36. Italian. Surgeon. Resident of British Guiana

Bennett, Henry Arthur. 23. Monmouthshire. Accountant

Hay, Cecilia Elizabeth Campbell. 27. London. Occupation: none

Macdonell, Sir Phillip James. 54. London. Chief Justice of Trinidad

Macdonell, Lady Alexandrina Sutherland Campbell. 54. wife of above

Stewart, Robert Strother. 48. London. Barrister

Storey, Alan. 30. London. Merchant

Tocker, George. 27. Aberdeen. Engineer

Disembarking at Puerto Limon, Costa Rica:

Pyrenes, Jorge. 21. Costa Rican. Student.

de Padilla, Darine, 23. Costa Rican. Painter.

Disembarking at Cristobal, Panama Canal Zone:

Levy, Edmund Lewis. 56. Merchant. Resident of Salvador

Levy, Sara Lopez Loncel. 45. Wife of above

Collins, Charles George. Penzance. 35. Cable Operator

Travelling to Kingston, Jamaica:

*Abbott, Violet Maud, 37. London. Occupation: none (see above)

*Pontefiore, Harry John. 58. London. Stockbroker

*Pontefiore, Harriet, 47. Wife of above

*Orme, Christopher Guy. 68. Hampshire. Occupation: none

*Orme, Robert William Martin. 18. Hampshire. Occupation: none

Starling, Ernest Henry. 61. London. Professor M.D.

Embarking at Porto Limon, Costa Rica and travelling to Avonmouth:

*Aguilar, Enrique. 18. Student. Costa Rican

*Aurbein, Franz. 30. Merchant. German

*Bogaerts, Celina. 70. Belgian

*Calve Brenes, Virgilio. 37. Tailor. Costa Rican

*Cercelle, Marguerite. 51. Costa Rican. Hotel Business

*Crespe, Santiago. 37. Spanish. Draper

*Crespe, Epifanie. 24. Spanish. Draper

*Dubois, Georgette. 28. French. Occupation: none

*Pinto de Flores. Berta. 27. Costa Rican. Occupation: none

*Prege, Christian K. 33. German. Export Business

*Murtinhe, Adito. 38. Brazilian. Occupation: none

*Murtinhe, Zulay. 16. Brazilian. Occupation: none

*Pinto, Edgar. 18. Costa Rican. Student

*Tovar, Louisa. 45. Belgian. Milliner

*Vedeux, Kurt. 33. German. Purser

Embarking at Cristobal, Panama Canal Zone and travelling to Avonmouth:

*Astley, Betty, 22. Norfolk Occupation: none

*Carr, Stephen D. 21. Carlisle. Commercial Traveller

*Chandler, Irene E. 30 - See Below

*Dawson, Chas W. 25. Cork. Electrician

*Dawson, Frances B. 28. Cork. Housewife

*Garfinkel, Max. 27. [occupation illegible]

*Harris, Elizabeth. 28. Nurse - with the DeLeons of Hampstead

*DeLeon, Eda C. 23. Occupation: none

*DeLeon, May G. 2

*DeLeon, Michael C. 9 months

*Wilson, Nial. 20. Radio Operator

*Nagi, Max. Distressed British Seaman for Repatriation (3rd Class Travel)

*Craine, J. Distressed British Seaman for Repatriation (3rd Class Travel)

*Fitzgerald, E.T. Distressed British Seaman for Repatriation (3rd Class Travel)

Was there a doctor on board? S.S. Ariguani would have had a doctor on board as a member of the crew. Regulations then—and since—specified that a doctor should be carried for a ship carrying more than 100 passengers and crew. Did he attend Starling in that '15 minutes’ of heart failure, and why did he (in all likelihood a he) not sign the death certificate? Or was it more convenient to hand the job to the agents ashore in order not to delay the ship’s departure? Members of the crew are not identified in the statutory passenger lists and there appear to be no record of ships’ crews available (they may be in the National Archives), other than that the captain was John Harrie Howard Scudamore* DSC, RD, RNR. There was also a doctor amongst the passengers who joined the ship at Cristobal. She was Irene Elizabeth Chandler, aged 30 who qualified with the conjoint diploma in 1925. From her address (Frognal Dene, Hampstead. London) I identified her as the daughter of Pretor Whitty Chandler (1858-1941), a solicitor and Master of the Supreme Court. She married Nicholas Dunscombe Dunscombe (1898-1971) in 1937; he was a doctor and barrister working as a Medical Officer of Health in Gloucestershire in the 1940s. The Medical Register for 1940 shows that Irene was awarded the Diploma in Tropical Medicine in 1929 which could well explain her presence on board the Ariguani in 1927; she is shown as having worked later in eye hospitals in London. Irene Dunscombe (1806-1981) died in South Africa. Did she know anything of the circumstances of the death of Starling?

Finally, things not only moved quickly in Jamaica. The cable would have been received by Starling’s family in London late in the day of 2 May. On 5 May an announcement of a memorial service on Friday 6 May appeared in The Times. Members of the family, friends and colleagues, including the big names in British physiology were at St James’s Church, Piccadilly for what was, in effect, a funeral service. But the physiologists did not stop there. The 14 May edition of the British Medical Journal had an eight-page obituary section devoted entirely to Starling.

*John Harrie Howard Scudamore DSC, RD, RNR also died on the Ariguani, on 29 December 1935. He was buried at sea. He was born in Plymouth on 18 May 1977. He escorted convoys in converted merchant ships against U Boats in First World War. Shortly before his death he effected the rescue of 490 passengers and crew from the S.S. Rotterdam which ran aground off Jamaica in September 1935. All were taken on board the Ariguani and landed at Kingston the next morning.

Henderson J, 2005. A Life of Ernest Starling. New York: Oxford University Press.