Saturday 26 August 2023

Red-tailed Amazon Parrot: a colour plate from 1960 and article by ‘Pat’ Maxwell

In the days when colour printing was extremely expensive, the Avicultural Society had special appeals for funds to support the appearance in Avicultural Magazine of the occasional colour plate. A well-known bird artist was then commissioned. Although the whole run of the Society’s magazines can be found online, the plates rarely see the light of day. Therefore I decided to show one, now and again, on this site. This is the 11th in the series.

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The artist is not mentioned in the text of the accompanying article and I cannot make out the signature in the corner. The picture has been seen by some as a photograph rather than as a painting but the signature and composition, even allowing for the reproduction, seem to point to it being on canvas. As pointed out by Mike Curzon when he reported breeding this species at a now-closed bird garden in Rode, Somerset, it was a poor representation of the coloration. There are modern photographs of this species here.

The bird was unusual in captivity at the time because it is found in the Atlantic forest of Brazil which was not then the site of major collecting for the live parrot trade. Having later been subjected to the usual problems and habitat loss and over-collection, the population of the Red-tailed Amazon (Amazona brasiliensis) is now said to be increasing again. It is classified in the IUCN Red List as ‘Near Threatened’. 

The article was written by Patrick ‘Pat’ Hall Maxwell who was well known in avicultural circles of the the 20th century.

A very short account of Maxwell’s life is given in The Eponym Dictionary of Birds (EDB). The reason his name appears there will become apparent below.

Patrick Hall Maxwell was born on 31 May 1912 in London. He was a son of the Raj. In 1912 his father, Percy Alexander Maxwell (1883-1951), who was born in Darjeeling, was a Captain in the Indian Army. Before transferring to the Indian Army’s 3rd Brahmans in 1903, after passing out of Sandhurst in 1902 Percy Maxwell served in the South Lancashire Regiment. During the First World War he served in the 3rd Brahmans and in 94th Russell's Infantry in the Mesopotamia Campaign, being promoted to Major in 1917. In 1919 he was appointed OBE (military) for services in Mesopotamia; he was then with the 1st Brahmans.. He retired as a Lieutenant-Colonel but I have been unable to fund the date when he finally returned to UK. The London Gazette though shows that he finally retired, from the Indian Army Reserve, on reaching the statuary age in 1938, i.e. at 55.

Patrick Maxwell’s mother was Mary Beatrice Game, the daughter of a farmer. She married Percy in Evesham, Worcestershire in 1909. In 1921 Major and Mrs Maxwell, presumably on leave from India, were staying with her parents in Evesham. Patrick was boarding at Eastacre, a preparatory school in Winchester.

Patrick Maxwell  joined the Avicultural Society in 1929. His address is shown in membership lists as that of his parents: Ebberley Hill, St. Giles, near Torrington, Devon, until the 1944-45 volume of Avicultural Magazine.

It is clear that during the 1930s Maxwell kept birds in Devon, presumably at Ebberley Hill. Given his job as an assistant librarian in 1939 and his enormous support for the Royal Albert Museum in Exeter (see below) I do wonder if he was employed at the Central Library in Exeter after leaving school (which would have been around 1928). The library and museum were essentially the same institution and were located one opposite the other on the same street. Where else but a museum would a bird-mad young man spend his spare time during the working week?

In the 1939 Register, the emergency census, he was living in London, at 2 Queensway Place, Kensington; his occupation was ‘assistant librarian’. Notes in Avicultural Magazine over the wartime period show a variety of addresses in addition to the parental home. In 1941 came Palmer’s Dairy, Queen Street, Lynton, Devon—was he staying there on holiday? In 1942 the address was the  National Central Library in London (later incorporated into the British Library). I think it is safe to conclude that in the war years up to 1944, Maxwell was employed as an assistant librarian in London. His notes indicate that his birds were ‘on deposit’ at Paignton Zoo and at London Zoo by 1940, suggesting his collection had been broken up by his move to London.

The EDB states that he worked as a keeper at Paignton Zoo. When this was and how it fitted into the rest of his life I do not know and have been unable to find out.

In 1944-45 he worked at London Zoo and provided notes on new arrivals to Avicultural Magazine. He then moved his postal address from that of his parents to The Salvation Army Red Shield Club, 28 Euston Square. He also donated birds and kept some of his own birds at the Zoo.

How he came to get the job at the Zoo is an interesting question. He was already well connected with the inner circle of the Avicultural Society. He was proposed for membership in 1929 by a fellow parrot fanatic Miss Emily Maud Knobel, of whom I have written previously and who, along with other members, were either employed by or had deep connections with London Zoo. Maxwell was sufficiently well known to be a founder member of the inner circle, the British Aviculturists’ Club, which met for the first time on 10 April 1946 at the Rembrandt Hotel in London.

In 1946 he moved to Whipsnade where he ran and probably set up the Parrot House (until its removal in 1958) which housed the zoo’s own birds, birds he had donated and others of his own. The Parrot House was a new addition to Whipsnade. The wooden building had been the Fellows' Tea Pavilion before the Second World War and then an Air Raid Wardens’ lookout post over the surrounding countryside. Maxwell’s parrots were a far cry from the building’s role in entertaining King George V, Queen Mary, the Duke of York (the future George VI) and Princess Elizabeth (QE II) on 23 April 1934, on the first royal visit to the zoo.

It is on Maxwell’s period at Whipsnade that there is more information recalled in 2021 by Bernard Sayers, another noted aviculturist, in a series of articles in Keeper Contact, the excellent and informative newsletter published by Paul Irven. Bernard Sayers wrote:

Patrick (Pat) Hall Maxwell (1912-1991) used to regularly attend meetings of the Avicultural Society and it was there that I met him. He was a small, intensely shy gentleman who was invariably sitting alone in a corner. I felt rather sorry for this seemingly lonely man and made a point of sitting alongside of him and engaging him in conversation, and I am very pleased I did because not only was he a lovely person, but he had enjoyed a very interesting life. 

Pat came from a very wealthy family who owned extensive properties in London. Judging by his cultured accent and impeccable manners I deduced that he went to a public school. He always insisted on calling me Mr Sayers although I repeatedly urged him to call me Bernard. Being of independent means he spent his life working as a zoo keeper at Paignton, London (1944) and at Whipsnade (1946-1966) [Information from EDB]

Pat had a particular interest in the parrot family and with his considerable wealth, he would buy many of the rare species which came onto market. Yet, since he had no settled home or garden of his own, he could not keep them himself. Instead he loaned his birds to zoos and several went to Len Hill`s Birdland at Bourton-on-the-Water. These included the two female Lear`s macaws which, for many years, were the only examples of this species in this country. The only exception was a red-tailed Amazon parrot (Amazona brasiliensis) which he kept as a pet. At that time the National Exhibition of Cage Birds was held at Olympia around Christmas of each year. The exotic birds were exhibited on the balcony and for several years Pat showed his red-tailed Amazon parrot there. It created considerable interest because it was thought to be the only example of this species outside its native Brazil. Pat acquired this bird in the 1950s and it died in 1968.  [It is his Red-tailed Amazon that was the subject of the article and plate in Avicultural Magazine.]

When I used to meet Pat Maxwell he was retired and living in a London hotel. I often regret that I did not get to know him better so I could have learnt more details of his remarkable life. 

Half the parrots in the parrot house belonged to London Zoo (having been brought over from Regent`s Park) and the remainder were the property of Pat Maxwell. Pat was the keeper in charge of the parrot house and when it closed he wanted to continue on the bird section. Unfortunately, for some reason, Pat had an uneasy relationship with Harold Tong, Whipsnade`s Director, who instead transferred him to the camel section which did not please him.

Ernest Harold Tong (1908-1992), Superintendent of Whipsnade from 1947 was a land agent. The derision in which managers of zoos with little experience with, or a deep, even obsessive, interest in animals, are held by keepers continues to the present day. Maxwell was also a fish out of water. In the Zoological Society of London’s zoos, there was a strict hierarchy just like that in the armed services: Keepers were the private soldiers, Head Keepers the NCOs, Overseers the Sergeant Majors, Curators and Superintendents the Officers. Maxwell, of the officer class, was working as a keeper.

I was told by Clin Keeling (and may even have read somewhere) that Pat Maxwell was well connected with senior figures in ZSL in the 1940s and was part of the communist or extreme left-leaning and pro-Soviet cabal that existed at Whipsnade.

Between 1939 and 1951 he presented specimens—the EDB states over 300—to the Royal Albert Museum in Exeter, about 35 miles from his parents’ house in north Devon.  The present catalogue of the museum shows that they now have 15: 12 birds and 3 mammals (see here). The birds range from a Rhea, Cassowary and Andean Corner to a Gouldian Finch and a Hummingbird.; the mammals are a Maned Wolf, a Saki and a Springhaas. Many are on public display. Some were professionally mounted by taxidermists; others were skins. 

What I cannot determine is whether he actually collected any of the specimens from the wild. Although the catalogue has a few in which he is shown as the collector, I suspect there has been confusion as to whether he was donating birds of his or of others that had died in captivity. The Kea he presented falls into that category. Similarly, Maxwell recorded that he bought live birds brought to this country by the collector/dealer Wilfred Frost. Dead ones from the Frost and other collectors may have been bought by Maxwell and handed on to the museum. He certainly bought birds from other collections, possibly from salerooms or dealers; the original labels are still attached.

The EDB states that he travelled from the 1940s to 1970s to ‘Africa, Samoa and the Solomon Islands’. I do not know where this information came from but if inferred from the Exeter museum catalogue then that information could be wrong. I have failed to find any shipping records to indicate the dates of Maxwell’s travels or any record of their existence. The only mention he gave to travel was a note in Avicultural Magazine in 1967 about a trip to Jamaica, shortly after he retired from Whipsnade at the age of 54. He may, of course, have travelled more extensively by air after that. The only clue I have of his other travels is that in the letter to Avicultural Magazine reporting the death of the parrot in 1968 he ended with ‘I have travelled over a great part of the world’.

Maxwell as a member of the British Ornithologists’ Union and although there is no mention of his death in Avicultural Magazine there may be in its journal. Since there is no proper index to the minor items published in The Ibis and the relevant back issues are behind an expensive paywall it would cost a fortune to check in there online. A visit to a library with a full run on the shelves is needed.

Before moving on to his entry in the EDB it is interesting to note that his donations to the Exeter museum ceased in 1951. He had sent specimens, including his eponymous one, from London Zoo. It was around this time there was a great hoo-ha about the distribution of dead material from ZSL and of who had priority in getting their hands on it. In the ZSL there is an exchange of letters in 1949 between Maxwell and George Cansdale, then Superintendent at London Zoo, about sending dead snakes to Exeter.

I suspect Maxwell spent many hours as a young man in the Exeter Museum. Willoughby Prescott Lowe (1872-1949) was from the 1930s the honorary curator. In the 1939 Register, Lowe, living in Exmouth, described himself as ‘naturalist, working free for Exeter Museum). He was a famous collector for the Natural History Museum in London who in ‘retirement’ set out to improve the Exeter collection. That is where Maxwell played his part in donating specimens. It was Lowe who named a specimen provided by Maxwell after Maxwell. Under the title, A New Banded Rail from the Philippines, Lowe ended his note to the British Ornithologists’ Club with:

The Exeter Museum has recently received from P. H. Maxwell, Esq., this new Rail, which died in the London Zoo on February 29, 1944. It was obtained in Manila by the Hon. Anthony Chaplin, on the way back from Lord Moyne's expedition to New Guinea. It gives me pleasure to name this bird after Mr. Maxwell, who has generously presented to the Exeter Museum so many rare and valuable specimens.

The rail was named as a new subspecies Hypotaenidia torquata maxwelli.

The type specimen was given to the Natural History Museum in London in 1952. That catalogue has a different date for the bird’s death (31 March 1944) and Anthony Chaplin was then the 3rd Viscount Chaplin (1906-1981) who was Secretary of ZSL from 1952 until 1955. The fact that the Exeter Museum was giving specimens he had presented away (Lowe had died in 1949) may also have soured the atmosphere for future donations from Maxwell.

Sadly, but having read Lowe’s description, not surprisingly, Maxwell’s subspecies is no longer recognised as valid. It has been lumped into what is now Gallirallus torquatus torquatus.

After Maxwell left Whipsnade he is shown as living as a flat in London where he kept the parrot shown in the plate. After 1970 he lived in a variety of hotels, guest houses and care homes.

Patrick Hall Maxwell died on 17 October 1991 in a care home in Tunbridge Wells.

Beolens B, Watkins M, Grayson M. 2014. The Eponym Dictionary of Birds. London: Bloomsbury.

Curzon M. 1995. Breeding the Red-tailed Amazon at the Tropical Bird Gardens. Avicultural Magazine 101, 49-51.

Lowe WP. 1944. A new Banded Rail from the Philippines. Bulletin of the British Ornithologists’ Club 65, 5.

Maxwell PH. 1960. The Blue-faced or Red-tailed Amazon Parrot (Amazona brasiliensis (Linn.)) Avicultural Magazine 66, 1-2.

Sayers B. 2021. Whipsnade`s Parrot House, Pat Maxwell and the Blue Macaws (Part one). Keeper Contact  Number 177 (November 2021), 13-16.


Sunday 13 August 2023

Spotted Sandpiper: a colour plate from 1968

In the days when colour printing was extremely expensive, the Avicultural Society had special appeals for funds to support the appearance in Avicultural Magazine of the occasional colour plate. A well-known bird artist was then commissioned. Although the whole run of the Society’s magazines can be found online, the plates rarely see the light of day. Therefore I decided to show one, now and again, on this site. This is the 10th in the series.

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The article accompanying this plate was written by Ryan Bruce Walden (1937-2020). He was supervisor of the live animal exhibits at the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia. The plate was the work of John Raymond Quinn (1938-2012). He was staff artist at the same institution.

Avicultural Magazine 74, 1968

The spotted sandpiper (Actitis macularius) is common bird in North America where it breeds generally close to freshwater. In the winter, it migrates south to the southern USA, Central and South America. We have seen it in Florida, Guyana and Peru—but also on a local beach two years ago in deepest Ayrshire where it attracted the attention of birders and photographers for weeks. As it ran along the shoreline searching between the rocks and clumps of seaweed for food it came very close to those watching it, too close in fact, for the long lenses of the cameras.

Where do these vagrants go when they disappear suddenly? Do they ever manage to get back across the Atlantic?

The Ayrshire Coast in Scotland was where this vagrant from North America
was photographed in 2021

Tuesday 8 August 2023

Another Model of the Fang-erecting mechanism of a Viper. E.T.B. Francis’s model in the Cole Museum at Reading was not the only one

When I saw the photograph of the model of the snake’s jaw made by Eric Thomas Brazil Francis (1900-1993) for the Cole Museum of Zoology at the University of Reading (see previous article here), I was immediately struck by the fact that I had seen something very similar but made of plywood mounted on board but without the spring mechanism. It was in the biology library at school. Nobody knew anything about its origin other than it predated the arrival of James John Key (1917-1876) as senior biology master at the Henry Mellish Grammar School in 1950.

I am now pretty certain that it must have been the work of John Robert Upton who taught both biology and handicrafts—the ideal combination to come up with a fret-sawed model in wood. Born on 18 April 1910 in West Ham, at that time in Essex, Upton was a pupil at Sir George Monoux's Grammar School in Walthamstow in 1926-1929; he was awarded a county scholarship to King’s College, London, to study science. He joined the Mellish staff in 1933. While there he wrote a book The Microscope: Its Construction and Its Use in Biology (John Murray 1937). The only copy I have been able to track down is for sale in Australia with a very high postage cost so apart from the contents page I know nothing of its coverage. However the blurb reads:

The book was designed to provide the reader with the information necessary to use a microscope in a biological laboratory or classroom. It was intended for teachers with no academic training in biology who found themselves required to teach the subject in their schools.

I am also pretty certain that it was Upton who had the job of introducing biology proper to the curriculum. Boys’ schools often or usually did not offer biological subjects until well into the 20th century and it was not until 1953 that dedicated laboratories were built at the Mellish. I now realise that it must have been Upton who acquired a number of bits of equipment that languished in the biology store in the early 1960s, for example, a Flatters & Garnett vasculum for botanical trips and a very simple brass microtome (one chapter of Upton’s book I see is devoted to its use). Museum specimens, bottled dissections of frog and dogfish by Gerrard, for example, were also from the 1930s.

Upton married Ivy Ann Hutchins (also known as Wall) in 1939 in Worthing, Sussex. They are shown (she as ‘Ann’) in the 1939 Register as living at 39 Glendon Drive, Nottingham

Upton left the Henry Mellish in 1942 as described in the school magazine, The Centaur:

Mr. J. R. Upton, who joined the school staff in 1933, has left us, to join the staff of the County School, Tottenham. Our school has lost a good friend. Besides being the Senior Biology Master, Mr. Upton was largely responsible for the successful establishment and development of the school gardens. His all-round ability enabled him to take charge of the Handicraft Department for some time. Mr. Upton will, however, probably be best remembered as “School and Camp Doctor”, binding wounds, putting limbs into slings or administering various medicines. He was at all times kindly and sympathetic in or out of the classroom. We thank him for all he did for the School, and we wish him and Mrs. Upton all happiness in the future.

In 1955, The Centaur noted that Upton was then Head at Farnham County Secondary School.

John Robert Upton then of The Badgings, Cherry Lane, Higher Odcombe, Somerset. died on 28 February 1980. His wife died in 1988 in Hampshire.

There is a photograph of Upton on

Back to the models of the fang-erecting mechanism we thus have (or had) two made around the same time. Could there have been an article published somewhere, which inspired both Francis and Upton to build their models? Or did Francis publish the making of this model and Upton then follow? Does anybody have any information at all on other models or articles from that time?

Monday 7 August 2023

E.T.B. Francis and the Cole Museum in the University of Reading: Salamanders and a Working Model of a Snake’s Venom Fang

Professor Amanda Callaghan of the University of Reading contacted me recently. She is Curator of the Cole Museum of Zoology which moved into new premises in 2020. The museum is unusual for a university departmental museum in that the collection has survived intact since its heyday in the 1906-1939 tenure of Francis Joseph Cole FRS (1872-1959) as professor of zoology. During the move Amanda had come across specimens and exhibits prepared or donated by Eric Thomas Brazil Francis (1900-1993). In wanting to know more about him she came across the  articles I had written on this website (here, here and here). Francis was an undergraduate and postgraduate student in Reading who worked closely with Coles and Nellie Barbara Eales (1889-1989).

A search of the catalogue shows 59 specimens in the collection attributed to Eric Francis. Some relate directly to his doctoral work and book, The Anatomy of the Salamander, published in 1933 (reprinted by the Society for the Study of Amphibians and Reptiles in the USA in 2002), for example the hyoid of Salamandra salamandra (often known in the early decades of the 20th century by Schreiber’s name for the species, S. maculata). There are anatomical specimens from a number of birds and mammals and even a few invertebrates. A more unusual exhibit is shown in the photograph. It is a brass model of the fang-erecting mechanism of vipers, ‘made and presented by Mr Eric Thomas Brazil Francis’. The catalogue entry is shown in a footnote below.

Model of Fang-erecting Mechanism

Francis left Reading to become Assistant Lecturer in Sheffield in 1933. John Ebling in his obituary of Francis (included here) wrote that he graduated from Reading in 1929 and received his PhD in 1933. Since he was referred to as Mr and not Dr in the museum catalogue, I think we can be pretty sure that the model was made sometime between the late 1920s and 1933.

I had assumed that Francis had been an undergraduate in Reading from shortly after the First World War (when it was a university college and had to award external London degrees). However, the 1921 Census is now available and shows that ETBF was working as a ‘Fruit and Poultry Farmer’ in the employment of his father at Hill Crest, Rotherfield Peppard, Oxfordshire. 4½ miles north of Reading. He was then 21. Since he graduated in 1929 it would seem that he was a late starter as a university student and that he was registered as an external student of London before Reading achieved university status in 1926. It would seem that although his first degree was awarded in 1929 he had to remain on London’s books until graduation.

My guess is that the dissections of pheasants in the collection, prepared by ETBF, were from his father’s farm since in the 1911 and 1921 censuses Thomas Brazil Francis is shown as Game Farm Manager as well as, in 1921, owning his own fruit and poultry farm.

The catalogue of specimens in the Cole Museum can be found here. There is also information about public opening hours and access to the collection:

The Cole Museum of Zoology represents a snapshot of animal diversity in the early 20th century and has always been used to teach zoology and comparative anatomy. The Museum is home to thousands of specimens of great zoological significance, including taxidermy, skeletons, histological preparations, fluid-preserved dissections, fossil material, casts, and some superb models of developmental stages and extinct animals.

Cole Museum of Zoology - from the website

When I saw the photograph of the model of the snake’s jaw, I realised I had seen something very similar. More on this in the next article.


The catalogue entry for the model:

The bones of one side only are represented. No teeth other than the poison-fang are shewn. All parts that would unnecessarily complicate the model have been omitted. The condition represented is that found in Crotalus and Ancistrodon. which have but a single fang. The Viperinae have a number of reserve fangs in addition, but the mechanism is essentially the same. The morphological changes that have occurred to bring about the movement of the maxillary bone and its associated teeth are: the great shortening of the maxilla from front to rear with the consequent elongation of the os transversum (ectopterygoid) and the extremely free horizontal articulation between these two bones; the abbreviation of the palatine bone. and the freely mobile joint between it and the pterygoid (endopterygoid); and the articulation of the maxilla and the prefrontal being such as to allow the former to be rotated and erected easily, while the prefronto-frontal joint is a limited one. The os transversum is firmly united to the pterygoid. The erection of the fang is effected by the spheno-pterygoid muscle (represented by the sliding vertical rod in the model) which originates in the sphenoid crest at the base of the cranium and, running backwards and outwards, is inserted into the moveable pterygoid plate. The fang is retracted by the contraction of the ectopterygoid muscle (represented by a spring) which arises from the quadrato-mandibular joint and is inserted into the maxillary bone. The squamosal and its articulation with the quadrate and the sliding-surface articulation of the squamosal with the parietal have been omitted, also the ligamentous attachment of the pterygoid to the quadrato-mandibular joint. The advantage to the animal of this elaborate mechanism is that it is enabled to grow a longer fang and so to implant its venom more deeply in its victim. Note that the orifices of the fang are not terminal. thus revealing the way in which the duct has arisen by a flattening of the fang and the curling over of the edges to meet and fuse and form a closed tube. Those front-fanged snakes exhibiting this type of fang are termed Solenoglypha, while those whose fangs shew an open groove are termed Proteroglypha. The connection between the duct in the fang and that in the maxilla is effected by a membranous sheath surrounding the base of the fang. Cf. No.

1744. See Noguchi. Snake Venoms. p. 64. Plates 21 and 22. Carnegie Inst. Wash. 1909

The Noguchi book can be found online in the Biodiversity Heritage Library here.

The use of ‘shew’ instead of ‘show’ reminds me that ETBF always this form in his notes. Contrary to statements online that ‘shew’ had become obsolete earlier, it was still in common use well into the 20th century and many academics would never have used ‘show’ in its place.