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Life of a Scotch Naturalist, Thomas Edward
By Samuel Smiles (1877)


The history of the humblest human life is a tale of marvels. Dr. Johnson said that there was not a man in the street whose biography might not be made interesting, provided he could narrate something of his experiences of life, his trials, his difficulties, his successes, and his failures.

I use these words as an introduction to the following biography of my “man,in the street." Yet Thomas Edward is not an ordinary man. Eighteen years since, I mentioned him, in “Self-Help," as one of the most extraordinary instances of perseverance in the cause of science that had ever come under my notice. .

Nor was he a man of any exalted position in society. He was a shoe-maker then; he is a shoe-maker still. For nearly thirty years he has fought the battle of scientific poverty. He is one of those men who live for science, not by science. His shyness prevented him pushing himself forward; and when he had done his work, he was almost forgotten.

How he pursued his love of nature; how he satisfied his thirst for knowledge, in the midst of trials, difficulties, and troubles, not the least of which was that of domestic poverty, will be found related in the following book. Indeed, it may he said of him that he has endured as much hardship for the cause of science as soldiers do in a prolonged campaign. He spent most of his nights out-of-doors, amidst damp, and wet, and cold. Men thought him mad for enduring such risks. He himself says, “I have been a fool to nature all my life.”

He always lamented his want of books. He had to send his “findings” to other naturalists to be named, and he often lost them. But books could not be had without money; and money was as scarce with him as books. He was thus prevented from taking rank among higher-class naturalists. He could only work in detail; he could not generalize. He had to be satisfied with the consolation that Mr. J. Gwyn Jeffreys once gave him. “Working naturalists like yourself,” said he, “do quite as much good service in the cause of science as those who study books.” Edward, however, doubted this; for he considered works on natural science to be a great help to the working naturalist. They informed him of what others had done, and also of what remained to be done.

Those who would know something of what Edward has accomplished in only one department of his favorite subject should consult Messrs. Bate and Westwood’s “History of the British Sessile-eyed Crustacea,” where his services to the cause of science are fully and generously acknowledged. Of the numerous Crustacea mentioned in that work, Edward collected a hundred and seventy-seven in the Moray Firth, of which twenty were New Species.

In 1866, Edward was elected an Associate of the Linnsean Society, one of the highest honors that science could confer upon him. Since then, however, he has been able to do comparatively little for the advancement of his favorite study. He had been so battered about by falling from rocks in search of birds, and so rheumatized by the damp, wet, and cold to which he was exposed at night, for he was obliged to carry on his investigations after his day’s work was over, that he was unable to continue his investigations in natural history.

In the Appendix will be found a Selection of the Fauna of Banffshire, prepared by Edward. I have been able to find room for only the Mammals, Birds, Fishes, and Crustacea. I wish it had been possible to give the Star-fishes (Payed Echinodermata), Mollusks, Zoophytes, and other objects; but this would have filled up the book, and left no room for the Biography.

It was not my intention to have published the book in the ornate form in which it now appears. But my friend Mr. Beid, being greatly interested in the man and his story, and having volunteered to illustrate the work “for love,” I could not withstand his generous offer. Hence the very fine portrait of Edward, so exquisitely etched by Bajon; and the excellent wood-engravings of Whymper and Cooper, which illustrate the volume.

It is scarcely necessary to say that the materials of the book have been obtained from Edward himself, either by written communication or by “word of mouth.” Much of it is autobiography. Edward was alarmed at the idea of what he had communicated being “put into a book.” He thought it might do me an injury. “Not a copy,” he said, “would be bought in Banff.”

However this may be, the writing of the Biography has given me much pleasure. It has led me to seek health amidst the invigorating breezes of the North; and to travel round the rugged shores of Aberdeen and Banff, in search of the views of bays and headlands with which Mr. Beid has so beautifully embellished the book.

It may be objected—“Why write the life of a man who is still living?” To this it may be answered, that Edward has lived his life and done his work. With most of us, “Hic jacet” is all that remains to be added. If the book had not been written now, it is probable that it never would have been written. But it may be asked, “Is the life really worth writing?” To this question the public alone can give the answer.

London, November, 1876.


Chapter I. Early Years
Edward born at Gosport, Portsmouth.—The Fifeshire Militia.—Return to Cupar.—Residence at Kettle.—Settles at Aberdeen.—The Green. —How Edward became a Naturalist. — The Sow Bet.—Stolen by Gypsies.—The Inches, Aberdeen.—Fondness for “Beasts.”—An Incorrigible Boy.—Imprisoned at Home.—Sets the House on Fire.— Is laid up by Fever.—His Recovery.—Birds’ nests.—Rubislaw Quarries.—The Wasp’s Nest.

Chapter II. Schools and School Masters
Edward goes to School.—Plays the Truant.—The Fish-wives.—Bell Hill.—Grannie’s Plunge.—A Kae taken to School.—Edward’s Expulsion.—Sent to his Second School.—The Horse-leeches.—Edward expelled.—The Third School.—The Sparrow’s Nest harried.—Takes the Nest to School.—The Birds “chirrup.”—The Master bitten by a Centipede.—Edward thrashed terribly.—Expelled from his Third School.—A Night under the Logs.—Results of his Punishment.— Hunt after an Adder.—The Adder sold.

Chapter III. Apprenticeship
Goes to Work.—A Tobacco-spinner.—Factory at Grandholm.—The Banks and Braes of the Don.—The Brig o’ Balgownie.—Spires of St. Machar.—Working at the Factory.—The Sedge-warbler.—The Kingfisher.—Country Rambles.—Apprenticed to a Shoe-maker.— Charles Begg.—Shoe-makers’ Pets.—Begg’s Brutality.—Edward’s Pets killed.—Wishes to be a Sailor.—Tries in Vain.

Chapter IV. Runs away from Home
Sets out for the Kettle.—His Provisions.—His Money.—Tries to sell his Knife.—Ruins of Dunnottar Castle.—Bervie.—Encounter with Tramps.—Montrose.—Sells his Knife.—Sleeps in a Hay-cock.—Arbroath.—Sailors’ Wives.—Dundee.—Long-tailed Titmouse.—Cupar. —Reaches the Kettle.—His Reception.—Sets out for Home.—Uncivility of a Gamekeeper. — Adventure with a Bull.—Rests near Stonehaven.—Reaches Aberdeen.—Reception at Home.

Chapter V. Resumes Work
Offers himself as a Sailor.—Resumes Shoe-making.—Wild Botanical Garden.—Tanners’ Pits for Puddocks.—The Picture - shops.—The Penny Magazine.—Castlegate on Fridays.—Gun-makers’ Windows. —Tries to emigrate to America as a Stowaway.—He fails.—Joins the Aberdeenshire Militia.—Chase of a Butterfly.—Is apprehended. —Is reprimanded and liberated.—Enlists in the 60th Rifles.—Assists as a Pew-opener.—Leaves Aberdeen for Banff.

Chapter VI. Settles at Banff
His Employment.—Finds Time to follow his Bent.—His Caterpillars among the Workmen.—His Landlady.—Marries a Huntly Lass.— Settled for Life.—Self-education in Natural History.—Stuffs Birds. —His Want of Education.—Want of Books.—Shy and Friendless. —Avoids the Public-house.—His Love of Nature.—The Ocean.— The Heavens.—Makes a Collection.—His Gun and Paraphernalia. —His Equipment.—Sleeps Out-of-doors at Night.—Exaggerated Rumors about him. — Frequents Boyndie Church-yard.—Lies in Holes during Rain.—Disagreeable Visitors.—Awful Night in Boyndie Church-yard.—Moth-hunting at Night.—Terrible Encounter with Badgers.

Chapter VII. Night Wanderers
Animals wandering at Night. — Their Noises and Cries. — The Roedeer and Hare.—The Rabbit.—A Rabbit Fight.—The Fox.—The Badger.—The Field-mice.—The Weasel.—Attack by a Weasel.— Pertinaeious Rats. — The Otter. — The Poleeat. — Boyne Castle.— Fight with a Polecat.—The Long-eared Owl.—A Chorus of Frogs. — Birds of Prey. — Landrail, Sedge - warbler, Rook. — Songsters at Night.

Chapter VIII. Forms a Natural History Collection
Situation of Banff.—Maeduff.—Cliffs of Banffshire.—Gamrie.—The Fishing - boats. — Gardenstown. — The Fishermen.—Crovie.—Hell’s Lum.—Troup Head.—Pennan.—The Dens of North Aberdeenshire. —Aberdour. — Church of Aberdour.—Inland County of Banff.— Ben Macdhui.—Edward’s Rounds.—Pursuit of two Geese.—Pursuit of a Little Stint.—Shoe-making.—Edward’s Traps.—His Collection of Insects.—Collection Destroyed.—Loss of Dried Plants.—Exhibits his Collection at Banff.

Chapter IX. Exhibits his Collection at Aberdeen
Aberdeen his City of Expectations.—Dramatic Bird-stuffing.—Collection taken to Aberdeen in six Carriers’ Carts.—Exhibited in Union Street.—The Handbills.—Appeal to the People. — The Expected Rush.—General Visitors.—Professional Visitors.—An Interrogator. —Edward disbelieved.—“The Thing Impossible.”—Edward’s Vindication.—Invites his Mill Mates.—Temperance and Drunkenness. —Edward a Mystery.—A Lady Visitor.—Appeals to “ The Millions.”—The Exhibition a Failure.—Edward in Despair.—The Beach. —The Floek of Sanderlings.—The Providential Bird.—The Collection sold.—Departure from Aberdeen.

Chapter X. Resumes his Former Life and Habits
Re-enters his Desolate Dwelling.—Return of his Family.—Begins again.—Redoubles his Zeal.—His Paraphernalia.—Ramble in the Balloch Hills.—A Successful Search.—A Furious Storm comes on. —Crossing the Moor.—A Haven.—The Chip-boxes destroyed.—A Terrible Woman.—His Hat and Insect-boxes.—How to Preserve.— A Referee.—Edward’s Certificate from the Justices.—Love of Bird-nesting.—Accident at Tarlair.—Falls from a Cliff, and is rescued. —Draws on his Savings-bank.

Chapter XI. Begins to Publish his Observations
The Rev. Mr. Smith. — The Bridled Guillemot. — Grammar. — Scraps from the Newspapers.—The Death’s-head Moth.—Butterflies and Locusts.—Locmtra migratoria.—Saw-flies.—The Spider.—Notes in Natural History.—Rare Birds.—The Bee-eater.—The Bohemian Wax-wing.—The Brown Snipe.—Edward’s Pursuit.—The Snipe escapes.—Adventure on Gamrie Head.—The Fox’s Lair.—The Precipice.—The Peregrine Falcon.—Feeds upon its Prey.—Flight of the Falcon.—Slides down the Rocks.—Discovers a Spinous Shark.— Returns Home.

Chapter XII. Rambles among Birds
Mr. Smith’s Articles published in the Zoologist.—Edward’s Power of Observation described.—The Beautiful Heron.—Cries of the Birds at Ness Bogie.—The Motherly Wild Duck.—Burial of the Wild Duck.—The Pickietars. — The Pickietar Fishing.—The Pickietar shot.—Rescued by his Friends.—Edward’s Closeness of Observation.—The Turnstone.—Its Description.—Its Labors.—The Turnstones turn over a Cod.—The Little Auk.—Sea-fowl Nurseries.— Pennan.—Sleeps in Hell’s Lum.—The Sea-birds at Night.

Chapter XIII. Literature and Correspondence
Death of the Rev. Mr. Smith.—Mr. Smith’s Helpfulness.—Observation of the Partridge.—The Rev. Alexander Boyd.—Loch of Strathbeg. —The Yfater-fowl at Strathbeg.—Swans.—Geese.—Ducks.—Winter and Summer Birds.—The Ring Dotterel.—A Pursuit.—Mr. Boyd’s Article.—Encouragement of Native Talent and Genius.—Death of Mr. Boyd.—Publication of “Birds of Strathbeg” in Naturalist.— Mr. C. W. Peach.—Writes Articles for the Zoologist.—The Goldfinch and Bullfinch.—Crows and Crab-shells.—The Heron and the Crows.—A Fight in the Air.—Crows, Hares, and Rabbits.—Cold and Whisky.—Edward’s Health fails. — Again draws on his Savings-bank.

Chapter XIV. By the Sea-Shore
Marine Objects on the Shores of Banffshire.—Edward’s Sea-traps.— Captures a Rare Fish, Bloch’s Gurnard.—The Incoming Wave.— Big Fish the Best Dredgers.—Helped by the Fishermen.—Helped by his Daughters.—The Cod’s Bill of Fare.—Haddocks.—Advice to the Fishermen.—The Fishers of Macduff.—The Blue-striped Wrasse. — The Saury Pike.—Yarrell’s Blenny. — Black Goby.—Equoreal Needle-fish.—Edward’s Self-education.—His Lost Letters.—How he got his Fishes named.—“ Give him Books !”—Edward’s Enthusiasm.

Chapter XV. Discoveries among the Crustacea
Mr. Bate, of Plymouth.—His Work on Crustacea.—Pranka Edwardii. —The Anceus.—Edward’s Letter to Mr. Bate.—Entomostracea.— Parasites from Short Sun-fish.—Present of a Microscope.—A Possible Sub-curatorship.—Edward Disappointed.—Freemasonry among Naturalists.—Rev. A. M. Norman.—Fish Parasites.—Mysis spinifera.— New Species discovered. — Vibilia borealis.—Observation of Eurydice pulchra.—Edward’s Difficulties.—Nest-building Crustacea. —New Shrimps and Parasites.—The Zoologists in Ecstasies.—The “Sessile-eyed Crustacea” published.—Mr. Bate’s Eulogiums on Edward’s Discoveries.—New Crustacea found by Edward in the Moray Firth.

Chapter XVI. Discoveries among Zoophytes, Molluks, and Fishes
Edward brings Home Zoophytes to observe.—The Star-fish.—The Brittle Stars.—A Six-legged Star-fish. — Rosy-feather Star. — The Great Sea-cucumber.—Dead Man’s Paps.—The Ascidians.—Want of Observers.—New Ascidian sent to Mr. Alder.—Drummond’s Echiodon.'—Mr. Couch, of Polperro.—The Wrasses.—A Jumping Wrasse.—A New Midge.—Couchia Thompsonii.—Colonel Montague.— Montague’s Midge. — Midges in Moray Firth.—Edward’s Midge (Couchia Edwardii).—Other New Fishes.—Difficulties with the Museum.—Edward elected Associate of the Linnoean Society.— Other Societies elect him Member.—The “Prophet without Honor in his own Country”.

Chapter XVII. Antiquities Kitchen-Middens
Edward’s Illness.—Studies Galvanism.—Curator of Banff Museum.— Practices Photography. — Antiquities of Banff. — The Old Town Cross.—The Drinking-fountain.—The Kjokken-modding at Boyndie.—Early Population, Lapps or Fins. — Shelly-bush. — Investigates the Shell-mounds at Boyndie.—Loch of Spynie.—Contents of the Shell-mounds.—The Stone Period.—The Old Bone.—Conjectures about it.—The Old Bone condemned.—Sir Roderick Murchison.—The Bone, Part of the Plesiosaurus dolichodciras.—Banff Museum.

Chapter XVIII. Conclusion
Edward’s Labors drawing to a Close.—Still craves after Nature.—His Wife accompanies him to Huntly.—Traps at Tarlair.—Another Discovery to announce.—Nilsson’s Goby.—His Numerous Discoveries. —His Observations at last accredited.—His Self-reliance and Perseverance.—His Sobriety.—His Family.—His Power of Will.—Pride. —Never Despair.—Money Considerations.—Things he has not done. —Edward at Home.—His' Outside Helpers.—His Failures.—“ Here I am still”.



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