A. E. Salisbury, 1876-1964

By E. C. Badcock

Extracted from Journal of Conchology, Volume 25, pp.293–298
Albert E. Salisbury
Albert Edward Salisbury was born at Putney on 24 January 1876 and passed away peacefully in his sleep at his home at High Wycome on 27 May 1964. He was the son of James Wright Salisbury and Eliza (née Stimpson). His wife Sybil (née Evans) died a few years after their marriage, leaving no issue. He often spoke of his happy childhood with his parents, brothers and sisters at Limbrick Hall, near Harpenden to which the family moved early in his life. His father held a leading position at the Treasury, and played chess for Hertfordshire. This talented family, living in the country, took an interest in natural history and formed collections of local plants, shells and insects, which the children exhibited in aid of charities. The youngest brother, Edward James, was appointed curator of these collections; he later became Quain Professor of Botany at London University and then Director of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, being knighted in 1946. The celebrated artist, Frank O. Salisbury. was a cousin.
Albert was educated at St. George’s School, Harpenden, and University College, London. He received further training as engineer in the works of the London, Tilbury and Southend Railway Company. Later he was employed by the Bastian Meter Company, before becoming an electrical engineer at Loughborough. He was Associate Member of the Institution of Electrical Engineers. At early age of 31 he was sent to Russia, where he held a responsible position and learnt the rudiments of the Russian language.
Salisbury was an ingenious inventor and could construct almost anything that he required. His inventions include the bar electric fire (the patent of which he sold to the Belling Company), the immersion heater, ingenious patented devices for electric organs, and the mercury arc lamp; in conjunction with two other young men, he was beaten by Marconi by only three days in patenting a device for sending Morse signals by wireless telegraphy. During the 1914 -18 war he made certain electrical devices for the Admiralty. On retiring to High Wycombe in 1936 he built in his music room a massive, three-manual electric organ with 27 stops: this operation took him II years. Although Salisbury could play the organ, he admitted that he could not read the music fast enough. When he and the writer were holding a joint microscope evening for the local Natural History Society, he produced a fine large compound microscope; when asked the maker’s name he replied, "It’s a Salisbury," but was rather indignant when it was suggested that he had bought the objectives. "They are easily made," he said, "one only needs to melt a little glass and polish it." The next year he gave the same Society a talk entitled "The building of a microscope." He made hundreds, if not thousands, of glass-topped boxes for his shells. Three weeks before his death he was collecting timber for building himself a table; he needed but a small one, for he lived all alone, as he had done for many years. Salisbury was always interested in how things were constructed and particularly in the way the shells of Mollusca are built. This he explained in an interesting article in the South Bucks Branch Journal of the British Naturalists’ Association. From 1945 to 1962 he gave unstinting service as President and Chairman of the local branch and was extremely popular with the members.
The phenomenal amount of work that he accomplished, including household chores and gardening, was bewildering. As a retired business man, he knew the importance of organising his life. On certain days he went up to the British Museum (Natural History); on Sundays, after attending Holy Communion, he dealt with his world-wide correspondence. All engagements were booked in his diary and casual callers without an appointment were politely discouraged, especially on Sundays. When he rested, as he called it, from conchological studies he made specimen boxes, bound books, repaired clocks, or packed up parcels of shells to send to friends: "Uncle Sarum," as he was affectionately known, was very generous with his duplicates. When I took a single shell to him for identification. he would often give me one or two of the same kind "to keep it company". On a winter’s night a tour of his numerous cabinets was unforgettable: he led the way dragging yards of flex attached to a powerful, shaded electric bulb which could be fixed to the side of an open drawer by means of an ingenious "Salisbury clip". When comparing an unknown shell with those in a cabinet he always held the unknown one in his left hand and the named specimen in his right hand; to avoid mistakes, he considered that this habit should be adopted by all conchologists.
When his great friend Tomlin presented his vast world-wide collection of shells to the National Museum of Wales, Salisbury’s collection became the largest and best in private ownership in the British Isles, possibly in Europe: it had to be seen to be believed. The bulk of it was contained in some fifty cabinets, some of which were eight feet high. Thousands of other shells lay in trays and boxes about the spacious house, even in the roof space. In addition there were cabinets of world-wide Coleoptera (of which he had expert knowledge), Lepidoptera, Hymenoptera, etc., and also various fossils. Interspersed were gramophone records, foreign stamps, some fine antique furniture, clocks, china, glass, paintings and other possessions, which prevented the house from looking too much like a natural history museum. On all the floors and landings were numerous books, neatly classified, on a wide range of subjects. The extensive molluscan library, in many languages, would have been coveted by a millionaire conchologist.
Salisbury’s collection of shells was world-wide and general, including a vast number of British specimens, several of which were in series showing successive stages in growth. About 1946 he purchased almost the entire stock of the late Hugh Fulton (of Sowerby & Fulton), one of the largest scientific shell dealers in the world, who claimed to stock nearly 25000 species. Amongst other purchases were large numbers of Clausiliidae and other groups bought from Tomlin, and numerous exchanges were made with museums and collectors in many parts of the world. His favourite groups were Tellinidae, Pectinidae, Cypraeidae, Volutidae, Pilidae and Clausiliidae; in recent years he has been interested in the genera Prochilus, Achatinella and Amphidromus (he was rather fascinated by sinistral species).
In 1962 Salisbury sent 39 cabinets of shells and 14 cases of books on Mollusca, in two furniture vans, to the Royal Scottish Museum, which lacked a really good molluscan collection. He was delighted that his old friend, A. R. Waterston, was going to be curator of this fine collection. While the vans were being loaded, Salisbury was highly amused when a massive 15-stone removals man tried to sound a conch shell: the giant could not raise a note, but his colleague, half the size, produced a series of bugle calls. He had been a regimental bugler! This shell music was much appreciated by Salisbury, who had once learnt to play the cornet. Not long after the shells and books had gone north, he had restarted collecting shells and molluscan literature: he was a born collector. Once when we were discussing the longevity of some of his departed conchological friends, he said that collectors were always looking to the future for fresh acquisitions, and he felt sure that it was this anticipation that kept them going so long. Not all his shells went to Edinburgh; for example, the world-wide collection of Tellinidae was willed to the British Museum (Natural History).
Salisbury collected many specimens of land, freshwater and marine shells during his extensive travels in the British Isles, including the Channel Islands. On these excursions he was often accompanied by his friends "Jack" Tomlin and Ronald Winckworth, and sometimes others. He attended numerous field meetings of the London branch of the Conchological Society. During field excursions he became closely acquainted with many conchologists. He regarded Ronald Winckworth as the greatest natural genius and the finest character had met in any walk of life. Like Tomlin, Salisbury was a coleopterist: often they found snails when hunting for beetles and vice versa. His Professor of Engineering, Sir Thomas Hudson Beare. a celebrated coleopterist, sometimes joined the excursions.
Salisbury was an Associate of the British Museum (Natural History) and spent much of his time working there in the Mollusca Section until about a year before his death, when his doctor advised him to discontinue the journey from High Wycombe; he was amused to learn at his angina tablets contained T.N.T. At the Museum his genial nature endeared him to many of the staff, not only in the Mollusca Section, for in the restaurant he met many from other sections. Numerous British and overseas molluscan experts and students who visited the Museum can recall his unstinted help and advice. "Uncle Sarum" spoke highly of his Museum colleagues; he was not one to belittle the efforts of his fellow workers, for, as a regular communicant, believed firmly in living in love and charity with his neighbours. Of course he had his criticisms (and one or two critics). He was averse unnecessary genus splitting, which was sometimes, he asserted, for the splitter’s self advertisement. Such people he regarded as a menace to natural history and told them so. In his presidential address to the Malacological Society (1934) he stressed this matter (see pp. 79 and 87). In his 33 years of editing the Mollusca Section of the Zoological Record he saw much of this genus splitting. Other criticisms were directed against poor enunciation at scientific meetings, and amateur conchologists who "play" with shells rather than work with them; here he made charitable allowance for the capacity and training of the individual. Unlike some conchologists, Salisbury at an early age appreciated the importance of the "animal". His dexterity when dissecting the soft parts with needles and scalpel was most amazing.
Photography was another hobby: his many published photographs of shells testify to his proficiency. He was also a competent artist and made several excellent coloured drawings (unpublished) of shells. Until latterly the steadiness of his hands was quite remarkable. No doubt that, combined with great physical strength, enabled him to win the rifle shooting cup when he belonged to the lst London Engineering Volunteers. He remarked more than once that it is no good believing in the Almighty unless one believes that He is almighty to guide one’s hand. Here mention must be made of his wise administrative work at High Wycombe parish church, and his leading role in the town's Air Raid Precautions Committee during the last war.
Salisbury took an intense interest in the literature of Mollusca, as shown by the fine library he amassed. His presidential address to the Conchological Society (1945) dealt with the writings (mainly) of British conchologists from the reign of Queen Anne to nearly the end of the nineteenth century. In 1931 Salisbury took over from H. B. Preston the editing of the Mollusca section of the Zoological Record, which he continued up to the time of his death, the longest editorship of the Record since its commencement in 1868. For this task his working knowledge of some of the principal European languages, together with his early study of Latin, was a great asset. As the molluscan records became more numerous, the Zoological Society employed two very capable assistants. Dr. Marcia Edwards and Mrs. Pauline Curds, for whom Salisbury had nothing but praise.
Salisbury served conchology and malacology as well as anyone and in numerous ways. He was elected a member of the Conchological Society in 1906, was Hon. Treasurer from 1940 to 1958, and President from 1943 to 1945; he was elected an Honorary Member in 1955. He was President of the (now extinct) London Branch of the Society from 1915 to 1919. He was elected a member of the Malacological Society of London in 1915, was Hon. Secretary from 1920 to 1936, and President from 1933 to 1936.
Of Salisbury’s publications on Mollusca, those competent to judge consider that his two most important papers are on Tellinidae 1934) and his joint paper on the types of Lamarck’s genera selected by Children (1931). He was laid to rest on 4 June beside his wife in Westminster City Cemetery. Those of us who were privileged to know this brilliant outstanding personality must have been impressed by his genial sincerity; he was a Christian gentleman. Conchology has lost one of the last of the old school of great amateurs.
Salisbury’s portrait forms the frontispiece to volume 23 of the Proceedings of the Malacological Society of London (1938). An excellent photograph taken at the British Museum (Natural History) appeared in The Shell Magazine, January 1953, and is here reproduced by courtesy of the Shell Photographic Unit. The writer is indebted to the following for information and assistance in writing this obituary of his old friend: Sir Edward Salisbury, Mr. T. E. Crowley, Mr. S. P. Dance, Mr. H. O. Ricketts and Dr. Joyce Rigby.


J.C. = Journal of Conchology
P.M S. = Proceedings of the Malacological Society of London


1916. Physa heterostropha Say in Bucks. J.C.15: 96
1925. [with A. S. Kennard and B. B. Woodward] Notes on the British post-Pliocene Unionidae, with more special regard to the means of identification of fossil fragments.P.M.S. 16 : 267–285. pls. 12–23 [photographs by A.E.S.].
1926. [with B. B. Woodward] Note on the misidentification by Hanley of Müllerian species of Corbicula with Cardium virgineum of Linné P.M.S. 17 : 102.
1927. [with A. S. Kennard and B. B. Woodward] Notes on British post-Pliocene Unionidae. 2. The hybrids between Unio pictorum, Linn., and U. tumidus, Retz., from Repton Park, Derbyshire. P.M.S. 17: 191–197, pls. 15–27 [photographs by A.E.S.].
1928. A reference to the Portland Catalogue. P.M.S. 18: 31.
1928. [with J. R. le B. Tomlin] Laborde’s ‘Voyage’ and the Mollusca therein described by Deshayes. P.M.S. 18; 32–35
1929. Variation in the shell of H. lapicida L. J.C. 18 : 324.
1929. A twice pre-occupied generic name. P.M.S. 18: 255.
1929. Polymetis. P.M.S. 18: 258.
1931. [with A. S. Kennard and B. B. Woodward] The types of Lamarck’s genera of shells as selected by J. G. Children in 1823. Smithsonian Miscellaneous Collections, 82, No. 17: 1–40.
1932. On Lepton squamosum (Montagu) and Montacuta ferruginosa (Montagu) and some other molluscs observed in the Salcombe estuary, Devon. P.M.S. 20: l00–103, pl. 9B.
1934. On the nomenclature of Tellinidae, with descriptions of new species and some remarks on distribution. P.M.S. 21: 74–91. pls. 9–14.
1934. [with J. R. le B. Tomlin] Cypraea fultoni Sowerby. P.M.S. 21: 1–18, pl. 18.
1934. A new species of Lucina. J.C. 20: 58, pl. 1.
1936. Two new species of marine gastropods. P.M.S. 22: 124–125, pl. 13A.
1942. Charles Oldham as a conchologist. North Western Naturalist, Sept. 1942.
1943. Note by A. E. Salisbury [on Charles Oldham] J.C. 22: 2.
1943. H. C. Fulton (1861–1942) [obituary]. J.C. 22: 2–3.
1945. Work and workers on British Mollusca. J.C. 22: 136–145, 149–165.
1946. Report on the Mollusca in Hertfordshire in 1945. Trans. Herts. nat. Hist. Soc., 22: 129.
1946. A copse in the Cotswolds. J.C. 22: 194 -196.
1948. The Conchologia Iconica of Lovell Reeve. J.C. 22: 306.
1949. A new species of Rhiostoma. P.M.S. 28: 41–42, pl. 3B.
1949. A note on the Jeffreys collections [in Editorial Notes]. J.C. 23: 55–56.
1951. Ronald Winckworth, 1884–1950 [obituary]. P.M.S. 29: 1–5.
1952. Bumham Beeches, Bucks,, 22 September 1951 [report of field meeting). J.C. 23: 283.
1953. Mollusca of the University of Oxford expedition to the Cayman Islands in 1938. P.M.S. 30: 39–54, pls. 7, 8.
1953. Obituary: Harry Overton, 1875 -1951. J.C. 23: 299.
1953. Obituary: J. E. Cooper, 1864–1952. J.C. 23: 339–341.
1954. Obituary notice: Henry Otho Nicholson Shaw, 1889–1954. P.M.S. 31: 29.
1955. Obituary: J. R. Ie B. Tomlin, 1864–1954. J.C. 24: 29–33.
1955. Obituary notice: J. R. le B. Tomlin, 1864–1954. P.M.S. 31: 85–87.
1955. [with H. O. Ricketts] List of papers on Mollusca and obituaries of conchologists published by the late J. R. Ie B. Tomlin. P.M.S. 31: 87–94.
1959. Hugh Watson, 1885–1959 [obituary]. P.M.S. 33: 173–175.


Turritella salisburyi Tomlin, 1925. Ann. S. Afr. Mus. 20: 314.
Pusinus salisburyi Fulton, 1930. Proc. maloc. Soc. Lond. 19:16.
Squamopleura salisburyi Leloup, 1939. Bull. Mus. Hist. nat. Belg. 15: 9.