Wednesday, 12 June 2013

Donors of Reptiles to London Zoo 1914/15: 7. Bernard Tucker and William Waldegrave

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

Mr. W.B. Tucker of Hillside, Harrow on the Hill, Middlesex, got rid of a Brazilian Tortoise, a Spanish Terrapin and a Scorpion Mud Turtle (this latter one of the Box Turtles), and I was intrigued to discover that a few months later he sent, from Chewton House, Chewton Mendip, near Bath, two Radiated Tortoises, a Rough Terrapin (!) and three more Scorpion Muds on behalf of Lord Chewton. Was the latter, I cannot help wondering, an earlybut self-effacing practical herpetologist who had persuaded Mr. Tucker, who he knew to be similarly-minded, to come westwards in order to look after his collection - some surplus of which he decided to donate to the Zoological Society of London?

A few searches soon showed that somewhere there has occurred a transposition in the initials. W.B. Tucker is, in fact, B.W. Tucker — Bernard Tucker (1901-1950), the renowned ornithologist and lecturer in Zoology at Oxford. All the facts fit: educated at Harrow (Hillside was, apparently, one of the smaller houses at Harrow); family connexion with Chewton Mendip; a keeper of reptiles and amphibians in his rooms at Oxford.

Bernard Tucker

An account of Bernard William Tucker’s life was written by David Lack. Originally published in Ibis in 1951 it was reproduced in his book, Enjoying Ornithology (Methuen, 1965). I can do no better than to quote from it:

With the death of Bernard William Tucker on 19th December 1950 after a long illness, British ornithology loses it central figure. This position Tucker had come to fill, in characteristically unobtrusive fashion, partly through the width of his interests, which ranged from the identification of rare waders to the physiology of feather-growth, and particularly through his varied services to ornithology. He was Reader in Ornithology at Oxford University, Editor of British Birds, a former Vice-President of the British Ornithologists’ Union, and Vice-Chairman of the British Trust for Ornithology. 
Born on 22nd January 1901, at Northaw in Hertfordshire, Tucker spent most of his boyhood at Chewton Mendip in Somerset; and his first publication was on the birds round Chewton Mendip in the report of the Wells Natural History and Archaeological Society in 1918. He was educated at Harrow School, where he won the Lord Claud Hamilton Biology Prize in 1918 and the William Roundell Leaving Scholarship in 1919. He went up to Oxford in 1919 with a demyship (senior scholarship) at Magdalen College, and obtained 1st class honours in Zoology in 1923. He then obtained the Oxford scholarship to the Stazione Zoologica at Naples, where he worked on parasitism in crustacea for a year, paying later brief visits to Naples in 1925, 1927 and 1928. At Naples, also, he met his future wife, Gladys Allen, whom he married in July 1925. In the same year he was appointed a Demonstrator in the Zoological Laboratory at Cambridge, Professor Stanley Gardiner’s intention being that he should fill Gadow’s place as lecturer in vertebrate anatomy. When Gadow unexpectedly postponed his retirement, Tucker in 1926 returned to Oxford under Professor Goodrich, and he became a University Demonstrator and Lecturer in Zoology and Comparative Anatomy in the following year. This post he held for the rest of his life, becoming Browne Research Fellow of the Queen’s College 1944-47 and Reader in Ornithology in 1946.
Tucker once told me that he differed from most ornithologists in that he did not develop an overriding interest in birds until unusually late, about his eighteenth year. At school, botany had been a major interest, and as an undergraduate he was noted for the variety of reptiles and amphibia which he kept in vivaria in his rooms…. 
In the zoology department at Oxford, Tucker lectured mainly on the vertebrates, including of course the birds, and he was one of the first in Britain to supplement the orthodox lectures on anatomy with others on habits, including migration. He was noted for his skill both in dissection and in anatomical diagrams, some of the latter being published in De Beer’s Vertebrate Zoology, which became a standard textbook for students… 
Tucker has had an extremely important influence on British ornithology in three different ways, through his work with local ornithological societies, through his work on field characters, particularly as published in the Handbook of British Birds, and through his work for the Edward Grey Institute at Oxford… 
In B.T.O. affairs, however, Tucker’s greatest service was at Oxford, for he, more than anyone else, was responsible for getting University support for the Institute…

In the obituary, Lack states that Tucker’s original publications on birds are few and unimportant. He does not mention that Tucker dissected the head of London Zoo’s last Thylacine after its death in 1931*. Typically, I suspect, he did not publish this study but his notes and the head are in the university’s museum at Oxford.

Tucker would have been 13 when his gave his chelonians to London Zoo. Were they too difficult to keep at school?

Viscount Chewton then was William Edward Seymour Waldegrave (1882-1933). He later succeeded to the title, 10th Earl Waldegrave. He was the son of the 9th Earl (William Frederick Waldegrave) and Mary Dorothea Palmer. The family seat is at Chewton Mendip, where Bernard Tucker spent his boyhood. Waldegrave died, unmarried, at the age of 50. He became a Fellow of the Zoological Society in 1913 (aged 31). One can only assume that Tucker and Waldegrave developed a common interest in reptiles, especially chelonians, at Chewton Mendip. Whether Waldegrave continued his interest beyond the 1st World War, I do not know.