H.G. Barnacle (1849-1938) and G.A.S. Barnacle (1885-1980): father and son conchologists

Peter Topley
When I was a junior member of the Conchological Society, back in the early to mid 1970’s, I attended a meeting in the long-gone wood-lined “Conversazione Room” next to the former Insect Gallery in London’s Natural History Museum. A notice was read out at the meeting that a Mr Barnacle of Worthing was disposing of two shell cabinets and they would be free to the first person interested. The following day my father and I headed off to the south coast. G.A.S. Barnacle and his wife lived in retirement in a small upstairs flat in Boundary Road, Worthing. My memories of the meeting are necessarily somewhat faded since I was a shy teenager of fourteen or fifteen at the time, but I remember him telling us about his time as a tea and rubber planter in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) and his more recent work as a volunteer at the Natural history Museum in London. He explained that the cabinets he wanted to dispose of, since much of his collection had gone to the museum, were both made in Sri Lanka by the plantation carpenter. One was small, painted black and made of some type of softwood whilst the second was an eight drawer cabinet of Ceylon teak with “colonial” style handles and a locking flap. Between us we managed to carry the cabinets down the stairs and although Mr Barnacle was quite frail, he offered to help. I still have both the cabinets (Figure 1) and although the small one now has its black paint removed and the teak one has unfortunately developed a split due to the ravages of central heating, they are a reminder to me of that time; but now, many years later, I wanted to discover a little more about the man who once owned them.
Glanville Alban Stepney Barnacle (he signs himself Stepney in a letter to Peter Dance from 1967 –Figure 2), was born, the eldest of at least eight children of the Rev. Henry Glanville Barnacle and Sophia Lucy Yorke, in the town of Holmes Chapel, Cheshire on 24th May 1885. Both father and son had a connection with conchology, so it is worthwhile giving some biographical detail here. As far as I can discover, the family originated in Leicester. William Barnacle, Stepney’s great grandfather, was born there in 1796 and his occupation is stated in the 1841 census as “shoemaker”. His son Henry was christened at St Margaret’s church Leicester on 3rd December 1819. Henry gained an M.A., was ordained and took up his first appointment at Trinity Church, Stepney, in London. It was here that Stepney’s father Henry Glanville, was baptised on May 13th 1849 and it was the source of his son’s favoured Christian name. Later Henry senior became vicar of Knutsford, Cheshire and held the living there for many years.
Henry Glanville studied at Cambridge, gaining a B.A. there in 1873. He then joined the staff of the Royal Observatory. In Astronomer Royal Sir George Airy’s Report to the Board of Visitors for 1874 Henry is mentioned as a member of one of the expeditions sent to the Pacific to observe the transit of Venus of that year. He is also recorded as donating a telescope for that expedition. This journey to the Pacific was possibly the origin of the first mollusc that became associated with the Barnacle family name, indicating that Henry Glanville had an interest in conchology as well as astronomy. It was also the source of a Conchological mystery. In 1874 Henry collected a snail shell from “Hawaii, 8 miles away from Kailua [Kona]”. This shell was described by E.A. Smith in 1877 as Helix barnaclei in the genus Papuina. No similar or related species has ever been recorded from the Hawaiian Islands but Smith was convinced at the time, following correspondence with Henry, that the locality was correct. Nevertheless Smith knew that the new species was almost identical to a snail from the Admiralty Islands, but he recognised it as different due to the distance between the two localities. Subsequent surveys of the area did not result in the discovery of any further specimens and its presence in Hawaii may have been a temporary introduction or, perhaps more likely, Henry had just muddled up his labelling! But there is no doubt that Henry was there in 1874. In 1875 he wrote a contribution to the then fledgling Journal of Conchology on the “Singing snails of Hawaii”, the Achatinellidae. The old Hawaiian songs (such as Kahuli Aku “Turn little shell”) say that there were so many of these snails (now sadly desimated due to the introduction of alien predators and plants, together with habitat destruction) that they could be heard “chirping” in the evening to ask the birds to bring them a drink of water! In reality the chirping came from small crickets in the nearby tree bark.
Possibly as a result of his contributions to the 1874 expedition, Henry was elected a Fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society on 8th May of that year. On his return he took the post of assistant master at Chigwell School, Essex for two years, after which he studied for an M.A. at Cambridge and took holy orders with appointments in Neston, Cheshire and Gleadless, Yorkshire. It was while he was curate of the latter village that he met and married, on 11th September 1850, Stepney’s mother Sophia who was the daughter of the Rev. James York, vicar of Marbury, Cheshire. In 1882 they moved to Holmes Chapel, Cheshire where Henry was vicar for the following 17 years and where Stepney and his brothers and sisters spent their childhood. In 1898 Henry became principal of St John’s College, Grimsargh near Preston, Lancashire (described as a “private adventure school for boys”) where he remained until 1907. Instead of then slipping into a quiet retirement in the north of England, in 1911 he took ship to Australia where he became rector of Rosalie, Perth: a position he held until the age of 83. He at last retired to Subiaco, W. Australia where he died at the age of 89 on 24th August 1938.
Also in about 1911, just as his father was beginning a new life in Australia, his son, G.A.S. Barnacle, was beginning his in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), working as a “planter”in the tea and rubber plantations. There is little doubt that it was his father who had introduced him to an interest in natural history and he pursued this during his years in Sri Lanka, taking a particularly keen interest in the land snails. He joined the Conchological Society in 1920 and was in England again in 1922, in the Preston area, where he married Lesley Hazelgrove. He returned to Sri Lanka, with his wife, as a Rubber Planter (my personal recollection, confirmed in Naggs, 1997) at the Ruanwella Estate, sixty miles up river from Colombo. Ruanwella was a tea estate but the demand for rubber at the time meant that tea was being supplemented in many areas by plantations of rubber. In 1900 the Ruanwella estate was described as follows: “That such a wonderful change from jungle to orderly cultivation has been made within a few years can scarcely be realised when walking along the excellently planned roads, and gazing upon the flourishing tea bushes, where a short time ago all was a mass of wild and almost impenetrable thicket. But not only is tea to be seen; we notice a profusion of delicious fruits, more especially pineapples... Most grateful it is to feast on [these], after the expenditure of energy demanded by the steep banks and rocky eminences over which we have climbed, and this, too, at a temperature of 90° in the shade.” (Cave, 1900).
Stepney began noting and forming a collection of the local land snails and took a particular interest in the large and attractive snails of the genus Acavus, owning a fine series of them. Many years later, in 1962, these were the subject of a contribution he made to the Journal of Conchology. Figure 3 shows a specimen of Acavus superbus forma roseolabiata G. Nevill, 1881 from my own collection that was collected by Barnacle at Sabaragamuna, Sri Lanka, in the 1920’s. This colour form was ranked by Barnacle as a full species due to the absence of malleation and the red coloured lip and parietal callus, however later authors have considered this just a colour variation of A. superbus (e.g. Poppe et.al. 2002). Also at this time he sent specimens to experts in England, including the well known collector J. R. Le. B. Tomlin. In 1929 Stepney joined the Malacological Society of London and it was in this year that Tomlin published in their Proceedings the description of a new species from Ceylon of the Prosobranch family Pupinidae, Tortulosa barnaclei , in his honour. The Melvill-Tomlin collection at the National Museum of Wales contains material sent by Barnacle to Tomlin (Trew, 1990).
Stepney and his wife remained in Ceylon until at least the late 1930’s after which time they returned to England. From 1941 to 1951 their address is recorded as a house at Sullington Warren near Storrington, Sussex. In his retirement, Barnacle carried out valuable voluntary work at the Natural History Museum in London, including work on the Sri Lankan shells in the collection of a 19th century visitor in that country: Edgar L. Layard (Naggs, 1997). In 1956 Stepney described a new species of Plectopylid snail, two shells of which were found by him back in those early days in Sri Lanka in 1911, but he had not the opportunity to do an adequate comparison with related species until this much later time of access to the Natural History museum’s collections. He describes the place where he found them: “The situation was towards the summit of a hill amongst the foothills of the north-western part of the central mountain range...a remote spot with no road nearer than three miles away, in the valley of the Kelani River nearly 2000ft below.” He named the species Corilla lesleyae “after my wife who has endured my Conchological activities for many years”(Figure 4). One of the references he cites is Hanley and Theobold’s Conchologica Indica (1876), indicating an interest in land shells encompassing the Indian sub-continent. He later exchanged his own copy of this very rare book (which today might be bought for £7000) for a collection of land shells. As they grew older, Stepney and Lesley moved to the more manageable apartment in Worthing. He continued to travel to London and attended Conchological Society meetings. In 1962 he was the author of the first description of the nonmarine molluscs of the Seychelles since that of Connolly in 1925 (Gerlach, 2006). A mollusc from these islands, the Streptaxid Imperturbatia levieuxi, was also the subject of his third contribution to the Journal of Conchology in 1971, where he illustrated this species for the first time (Figure 5). I have not been able to ascertain whether he had visited these islands himself. In the late 1960’s he used his expertise to sort out many of the minute land snails collected by Peter Dance in Sarawak, among them was a species that Peter described and named after him: Platycochlium barnaclei (J. Conch. 27: 152-3, 1970). Peter also accompanied him on collecting expeditions to the local countryside of Sussex in search of non-marine molluscs.
At the time I met Stepney, he was becoming frail; no longer able to travel to London, he had disposed of his collection to the museum and now offered some of his now unwanted cabinets. Interestingly another larger cabinet, also made of teak with Indian style brass handles, went to Peter Dance. He had a similar experience to me, in that Stepney had offered to help him down with it (even though this was really almost impossible for him) from their first floor flat and it had got wedged in the stairway. Although the Barnacles did not have any children, they kept in touch with Stepney’s family. In 1980 Barnacle wrote a short article in the Conchologist’s Newsletter about some Jamaican snails imported into Liverpool docks on bananas and found by his great nephew. However by this time he was sadly suffering from a debilitating respiratory illness. He was spared any further suffering when death came at the grand age of 95, between April and June of that year.
Barnacle, G.A.S. (1956) A new species of Corilla from Ceylon. J. Conch. 24, 95-96
Barnacle, G.A.S. (1962). The land and freshwater shells of the Seychelles group of islands (including the Amirantes, Coetivy,Farquhar, Cosmoledo and Aldabra). J. Sey. Soc. 2, 53-57. Cited in Gerlach, J. (2006). Terrestrial and freshwater Mollusca of the Seychelles islands. Backhuys, Leiden, Netherlands
Barnacle, G.A.S. (1962). Notes on the genus Acavus Montfort. J. Conch. 25, 128- 131
Barnacle, G.A.S. (1971). Note on a Streptaxid from Seychelles Imperturbatia levieuxi (Nevill &Nevill) J. Conch.Lond. 26, 386-387
Barnacle, G.A.S (1980) A Caribbean land shell in Lancashire. Conchologist’s Newsletter. No. 72, 217
Cave, H.W. 1900. Golden Tips, A description of Ceylon and its great tea industry. Cassell, UK.
Cowie, R. H. 1998. Patterns of introduction of non-indigenous nonmarine snails and slugs in the Hawaiian Islands. Biodiversity and Conservation 7, 349-368.
http://www.huapala.org/Kahuli_Aku.html (re the Hawaiian snail legend and its“solution”)
Naggs, F. (1997) William Benson and the early study of land snails in British India and Ceylon. Arch.Nat. Hist. 24 (1),37-88
Naggs, F. (2002) Sri Lankan snails. The Natural History Museum, London.
Poppe, G.T., Groh, K. & Charles, M. (2002) A Conchological Iconography:The Family Acavidae excluding genus Ampelita. ConchBooks, Hackenheim, Germany.
Trew, A. 1990. John R. Le. B. Tomlin’s New Molluscan Names. National Museum of Wales.
I am grateful to Peter Dance for useful reminiscences and information about G.A.S.Barnacle and for providing examples of his handwriting. Figures 4 and 5 are reproduced from the Journal of Conchology (see refs. Barnacle, 1956,1971).