Biographical Notes by A.E.E.
Exeter l4 Jan. 1976
One of the headaches of an editor is the writing of obituaries of members of the Society on the melancholy occasions when this duty becomes due. I once inserted an appeal to members to let me have biographical particulars so that these notices might be accurate and according to the wishes of the subject. I had three responses, I believe. Either people are too modest, or else have a morbid fear of anticipating the inevitable. I think I did provide Heppell with biographical particulars some years ago, but they are now probably lost, and in any case a bit out of date. I am therefore sending you the story of my life and list of publications, on which the writer of my obituary will be able to draw. I did supply such particulars to the Linnean Society (which no longer publishes obituaries), but this provided the material for an advance in Biol. J. Linn. Soc. 2:326. Few people are privileged to read their own obituary in advance! Perhaps this document can eventually be placed with the Society’s archives.
I am also sending the last studio portrait I had taken, about 30 years or more ago I think.
A. E. Ellis
Arthur Erskine Ellis: Biographical notes
Born at Bangalore, India, 1st October 1902.
Father. Robert Arthur Ellis, Wesleyan Methodist Minister (obituary in the Minutes of the Methodist Conference, 1963, p. 185), author of Spiderland (Cassell, 1912) and articles on natural history, chiefly in the Magazine of the Wesleyan Methodist Church. All photographs illustrating the works of AEE were taken by RAE, who had been a keen and expert photographer since his student days at Richmond College. He was a son of Robert Powley Ellis, M.C.O., Superintendent of the Line, Great Eastern Railway. The family is traced back to Richard Ellis of Polebrook, Northants., early seventeenth century. The name Erskine is derived from Sir David Erskine, son of the eleventh Earl of Buchan, who married Anne Ellis—the family’s only brush with the nobility; it does, however, include a suspected murderer and its quota of drunkards.
Mother. Mary Ellis (née Gardner), M.B., Ch.B. (Glasgow). She entered Glasgow University the year degrees were first conferred on women.
Places of residence: being a Methodist minister, RAE moved frequently, starting at Taunton on returning from India, then Radcliffe-on-Trent; Triangle, near Sowerby Bridge; Chippenham; St. Just-in-Penwith; Market Harborough; Ampthill; Haverfordwest; Attleborough, Norfolk. He retired in 1932 and lived at Thorpe St. Andrew, till 1951, then at Carshalton, Surrey. Mary Ellis died in August, 1951, and RAE on St. Luke’s Day, 1962, in his ninetieth year.
Education: Sowerby Bridge Secondary School, 1910–12.
Kingswood School, Bath, 1912–21. The pass mark for the entry examination was 80 out of 200: AEE just scraped through; after one term at K.S. was third from bottom of the school, where he had an undistinguished career. Quotes from early reports: ‘Owes his position to native wit rather than industry;’ ‘Laziness is spoiling his work.’ This has always been a besetting failing, inherited, his mother averred, from her Irish father.
School Prefect, 1919; Second Prefect and Head of House, 1920. Apart from a prize for French in the Lower Fourth, won no prizes involving work: Gabriel Prize for natural history, 1920 & 1921; Punshon Prize for reading, 1921. Received an old fashioned classical education and did no science at school, being considered too weak at mathematics—besides, the ‘modern side’ was looked down upon,—but whole life changed in his final term by winning the Gabriel Prize. This came to the notice of Frank Potts, Trinity Hall, Cambridge, University Lecturer in Zoology, an Old Boy and Governor of Kingswood, who happened to visit the school at that time. He recommended AEE to take Biology instead of English at Oxford, so an eleventh hour switch was made. The obstacle was the necessity of passing the Preliminary Examination in Physics and Chemistry, subjects of which AEE was entirely ignorant (he did not even know what Physics was about), but the Prelims. in Physics & Chemistry and in Zoology & Botany were passed in the first year at Oxford. An incalculable debt of eternal gratitude is owed to Potts, who has since been venerated like a patron saint.
Oxford: St. Edmund HaIl, 1921–25. Christopher Welch Scholarship, 1925. First Class, Honour School of Natural Science (Zoology), 1925. B.A., 1925; M.A., 1933. Secretary of Oxford University Junior Scientific Club, 1924 (declined presidency). President of St. Edmund Hall Essay Society, 1925.
Whole career shaped by the good fortune of being useless at games and sport, which left one free as a prefect at Kingswood to explore the country round Bath on an ancient bicycle, and to extend the study of Biology at Oxford beyond the laboratory.
Posts: Biology master at Lancing College, 1925–31. This was another critical stroke of fortune: the Principal of St. Edmund Hall happened to be visiting the Headmaster of Lancing, when the latter casually observed that he was starting biology in the school next term (the subject was taught in very few schools then) and wanted a teacher. ‘I have the very man,’ replied Dr. Allen, ‘he has just won a university research scholarship and is bound to get a first.’ The upshot was that while in bed with ‘flu AEE got a telegram from Canon Bowlby summoning him to Lancing.
Head of Biology Dept., Epsom College, 1931–63. This was another random chance: the school secretary happened to remark that he had seen the post advertised, so as the salary offered was twice what AEE was then getting, he applied.
Examiner in Biology (Premedical) to the Royal College of Surgeons for eleven years.
Fellow of the Linnean Society, 1931. H. H. Bloomer Award, 1970.
Fellow of the Zoological Society. Stamford Raffles Award for 1974.
Member of Malacological and Botanical Societies (member of Council and vice-president for former).
Conchological Society, 1923; President, 1939–41; Recorder of non-marine Mollusca, 1948–61; Editor of Journal of Conchology, 1948–64; Curator, 1964. [Honorary Membership of the Conchological Society, 1976.]
First interest was butterflies and moths, then plants, of which a comprehensive herbarium was amassed over 40 years (this is now at Lancaster University); botany has shared equal place with conchology in his interests and enthusiasm. Later on took up various small groups, such as dragonflies, ants, harvestmen, false scorpions, woodlice and Orthoptera (sensu lato). First became interested in freshwater Mollusca at Kingswood (Conchologists’ Newsletter No. 1, p. 16) and in land Mollusca at Oxford, where he became friends with O. W. Richards (later Professor of Entomology at Imperial College), with whom collections were exchanged — AEE receiving OWR’s land & freshwater shells, while OWR received AEE’s Lepidoptera; the latter had the best of the exchange.
While at Lancing became friends with Ronald Winckworth, then living at Brighton, whose elder brother was a visiting violin teacher at Lancing. He was greatly helped and influenced by this remarkable man (see J. Conch. 23: 157). Other valued friends were G. C. Robson, A. E. Boycott, A. S. Kennard, and J. R. le B. Tomlin: their memory has always been precious.
Collections: the non-marine Mollusca, with which were incorporated those from Winckworth’s collection, were presented to the British Museum (Natural History) in 1963. Collections of woodlice, harvestmen and false scorpions were given to the Dept. of Zoology, Oxford. Collections of dragonflies, Orthoptera and ants were left in the museum which AEE created at Epsom College.
Species named after AEE: Limicolariopsis ellisi Crowley & Pain, 1964 (Rev. Zool. Bot, Afr. 69: 191).
Pisidium (Afropisidium) ellisi Dance, 1967 (J. Conch. 26: 178).
Contributed numerous plant records to Rep. Bot. Exchange Club, Wolley-Dod’s Flora of Sussex, Horwood’s Flora of Leics., and Druce’s Flora of Northants. Discovered a sea lavender new to science, Limonium paradoxum Pugsley, 1931 (J. Bot. 69: 44–47), and a new hybrid fumitory, Fumaria officinalis X micrantha (det. Pugsley). Specimens of L. paradoxum were presented to the Druce herbarium at Oxford.
In addition to the publications in the appended list, AEE wrote the section on non-marine Mollusca for the new edition of Farmer’s Book of Nature Study, which never got beyond galley proofs. These were given to the Molluscan Library at the British Museum (Nat. Hist.) and subsequently lost.
Arthur Erskine Ellis: An appraisal
It was typical of Arthur Ellis that he should have written his own obituary, since he had a habit of accuracy which nothing could disturb. This to him was the mark of the scientist and certainly took precedence over popularity, expediency or the peaceful life. It was certain that he knew more about his own career than anyone else did, so he set it out fully for the use of future generations; and if they didn’t want it, he would not have been in the least concerned.
His words were few and always carefully chosen: he rarely made an unsolicited remark except on a matter of importance; such as paying a compliment to a lady. Partly, this was the practice of a shy man and indeed, Ellis was not for everyone an easy man to know. Much of himself was deliberately hidden, but having passed this little barrier and found something in common, you discovered that he had a rather rare genius for friendship, and would be happy to give, psychologically, more than he needed to take from you.
He never sought the limelight, this would not have been in accordance with his logical attitude: his term as President of the Society occurred during the dark days of the War, and nothing would induce him to take the Office again when meetings became so much better attended. It was with difficulty that he could even be prevailed upon to lecture the Society, and then only with the stipulation that all alternatives had been found wanting; but what a treat for members it was when he did. To learn from Ellis’s lips about his own favourite freshwater bivalves (among many other things) was an intellectual joy. Those who studied under him at Epsom College seemed to have had a healthy awe of him but felt at the same time a great allegiance and agreed in calling him an unusually effective instructor.
He remarked that he left his profession without regrets, but later, after a temporary appointment at a girl’s school, was heard to say that he had been wasting his time on horrid boys when he might have been teaching such attractive and delightful maidens. This may have been one of his occasional provocative remarks: Ellis has little use for humour in the restricted sense, but his wit was dry and could make the hearer squirm with delight. It was straight faced, bore not a trace of sarcasm or malice, and criticised no one (except sometimes, himself). Criticism was too serious a matter for wit, though he did not hesitate to criticise too, where he thought it deserved. To submit a paper to the Journal when he was editor was to take a risk. If he thought the work capable of improvement, either in matter or manner, back it would come, with a schoolmasterly note. References were always checked and if a quotation lacked so much as a comma, it was incorrect and had to be amended. Such a policy maintained a very high standard, both of the Journal and of those who wrote for it. Who could not improve under such an editor?
On the other hand, his book British Snails 1926, which was the standard work on the subject and the only up to date reference book for forty years, he dismissed as ‘a youthful indiscretion’.
The character portrayed above does seem to come out as a rather arid individual, but in fact Ellis was far from that. No toffee-nose could have written half the things he did—his ghost stories, for instance, or his studies of poetry. His chief delight for many years was a field meeting to survey an area or seek a rarity with one or two friends, or even solo, finishing up in a cosy pub with a pint or two of ale—providing it was understood that there was to be no treating. This was another matter of principle.
The men who worked in the molluscan field during the reign of King George V laid the foundations of the subject which has now reached scientific refinement. The best of them were not only men who had an immense general knowledge of the whole subject (and usually others as well), but where themselves great characters, remembered for what they were as well as what they did. To some of us, joining the Society after the last War, Ellis seemed then like the last member of that great company. Thirty years later, that is how he appears still. Logic ruled his life but left much room for humanity as well.
T. E. C.
Publications by A. E. Ellis
|1929||Birds at Lancing. Lancing College Magazine 22: 62–65.|
|1930||More Lancing Birds. ibid. 23:2–4.|
|1929–30||Animal Associations. School Science Review, No. 41, pp. 31–38; No. 43, pp. 246–258; No. 45, pp. 43–54.|
|1942||The natural history of Wheatfen Broad, part 4. The woodlice and harvestmen. Trans. Norfolk & Norwich Nat. Soc. 15:291–300.|
|1943||Miscellaneous observations: notes on Ampipoda, Oniscoida, Chelonethi, Opiliones, Orthoptera and Odonata. ibid. 372–374.|
|1943||Notes on the woodlice of Surrey. Proc. Croydon Nat. Hist. & Sci. Soc. 11: 152–153.|
|1943||Miscellaneous notes (Opiliones, Dermaptera). ibid. 153.|
|1948||The survey of Bookham Common. Woodlice of Bookham Common. London Naturalist for 1947: 59–60. Ibid., Amphipoda: p. 60.|
|1948||Fauna and flora of Norfolk: miscellaneous observations. Notes on snails, amphipods, false scorpions, dragonflies and grasshoppers.
Trans. Norf & Norw. Nat. Soc. 16: 330–332.
|1949||Flora and fauna in Dutt, W. A.,Norfolk (The Little Guides), revised by E. T. Long (brother-in-law of AEE) pp. 15–19. Methuen & Batsford, London.|
|1965||Molluscs, Woodlice and Harvestmen (pp. 164–171) in Ellis, E. A., The Broads. The New Naturalist vol.46. Collins, London.
(Edward Augustus Ellis and Arthur Erskine Ellis are not related though often confused)
Articles contributed to the Magazine of the Wesleyan Methodist Church:
|1925||vol. 148: Nature’s Calendar, Jan., March, April, Dec.|
|1926||vol. 149: Nature’s Calendar (all months), in co-operation with RAE.|
|1926||vol. 149: The relation of snails and their allies to man. pp. 289–91.|
French version, ‘La port hanté’, in 13 Histoires d’Oceans Maléfigues, Marabout, Brussels, 1976.
The Chapel Men. The Tenth Fantasia Book of Great Ghost Stories, edited by R. Chetwynd-Hayes. Collins/Fontana, 1974.
‘If thy right hand offend three...’ Frighteners, edited by Mary Danby. Fontana/Collins, 1974.
The Life-Buoy. The Thrill of Horror, edited by Hugh Lamb. W. H. Allen, London, 1975 (also published in USA).
Compartment 1313A. The Second Book of Horror. 1976.
‘Snail-Country Trail’ (not the author’s title). The Western Morning News, 28 July 1975. [on Devon snails and collections]
‘A once-maligned mollusch’ (again not the author’s title). ibid. 25 April 1975. [on the oyster riddle in the Exeter Book]
International Commission on Zoological Nomenclature: Applications resulting in the following Opinions:
Publications on non-marine mollusca and obituaries of conchologists
|1924||Mollusca of Flamborough. JC 17: 149–153|
|1924||Notes on some British Helicidae.JC 17: 162–167|
|1924||Land Mollusca on the Mewstone.JC 17: 187–188|
|1924||Mollusca in the neighbourhood of Market Harborough.JC 17: 188–192, 212–219; 18:8|
|1925||Experimental acclimatisation of Sabinea ulvae (Pennant) to fresh-water. Ann. & Mag. Nat. Hist. 15: 96–7|
|1925||The invalidity of Sabinea Sowerby. ibid. 16: 48–49|
|1926||Planorbis (Gyraulus) acronicus Férussac at Oxford. JC 18: 52–53|
|1926||British Snails. Clarendon Press (2nd edition, 1969).|
|1926||Helix draparnaudi Sheppard, and Planorbis draparnaldi Jeffreys. JC 18: 54|
|1926||Notes on some land Molluscs from Land’s End. PMS 17: 123–6|
|1927||Variation in Trichia liberta (Westerlund).JC 18: 118|
|1927||Additional notes on the Molluscs of the Oxford district. JC 18: 137–8|
|1927||An abnormality in Limnaea stagnalis (Linn.).JC 18: 139|
|1927||The snail as a zoological type, School Science Review No. 34: 102–110|
|1928||Vertigo moulinsiana (Dupuy) near Norwich. JC 18: 208|
|1928||Planorbis vorticulus Troschel in West Sussex. PMS 18: 127|
|1929||A garden fauna. JC 18: 312|
|1930||Mollusca on Gateholm. JC 19: 61|
|1931||A reclaimed salt-marsh. PMS 19: 278–9|
|1931||Molluscs of Wicken Fen [note]. JC 19: 170|
|1931||Notes on some Norfolk Molluscs. JC 19: 177–8|
|1931||(with D. Aubertin & G. C. Robson) The natural history and variation of the Pointed Snail, Cochlicella acuta (Müll.). Proc. Zool. Soc. Lond. for 1930: 1027–1055, pl. 1|
|1932||The habitats of Hydrobiidae in the Adur estuary. PMS 20: 11–18|
|1932||Further localities for Planorbis vorticulus Troschel. JC 19: 258–9|
|1939||A Surrey Bronze Age interment. JC 21: 90|
|1939||A discussion on the variation of Lymnaea, etc. PMS 23: 313|
|1940||The identification of the British species of Pisidium. PMS 24: 44–88, pl. 3–6|
|1940||Some Devon land snails. JC 21: 190|
|1941||The Mollusca of a Norfolk broad (presidential address). JC 21: 224–243|
|1941||Ecological notes. JC 21: 258–9|
|1941||Anodonta minima Millet in Norfolk. JC 21: 280|
|1942||Milax gracilis (Leydig) in woodland. JC 21: 325–6|
|1945||Limax flavus L. in a ‘wild’ habitat. JC 22: 135|
|1946||Milax sowerbyi (Fér.) in woodland. JC 22: 177|
|1946||On Potomida Swainson. PMS 27: 105–8, pl. 7|
|1946||Freshwater bivalves (Mollusca). Corbicula,Sphaerium, Dreissena. Linn. Soc. Synopses of the British Fauna, No. 4|
|1947||Freshwater bivalves (Mollusca). Unionacea. ibid. No. 5|
|1947||Retinella nitidula (Drap.) monstr. sinistrorsum. JC 22: 271|
|1947||Dimensions of Anodonta minima Millet. JC 22: 271|
|1948||The survey of Bookham Common. Land Mollusca of Bookham Common. London Naturalist for 1947: 56–59|
|1949||A Broadland slug [Agriolimax agrestis L.] Trans. Norf. & Norw. Nat. Soc. 16: 388|
|1950||Succinea putris (L.) parasitized by Leucochloridium. JC 23: 107|
|1950||The type species of Testacella. JC 23: 115|
|1951||R. Winckworth, obituary. JC 23: 157–62|
|1954||Volvulus Oken. JC 23: 394|
|1959||E. W. Swanton, obituary. JC 24: 326|
|1961||Land and freshwater Mollusca in Norwich and its region, p. 73. British Association. Jarrold, Norwich|
|1961||H. H. Bloomer, obituary. Proc. Linn. Soc. Lond. 172nd session:part 1.|
|1962||British freshwater bivalve Molluscs. Linn. Soc. Synopses of Brit.fauna, No. 13|
|1964||L. W. Grensted, obituary. JC 25: 291–3, pl. 20|
|1964||Arion lusitanicus Mabille in Cornwall. JC 25: 285–287|
|1964||Milax budapestensis (Hazay) in woodland. JC 25: 298|
|1965||Arion lusitanicus Mabille in Devon. JC 25: 345–347|
|1967||Agriolimax agrestis (L.): some observations. JC 25: 345–7|
|1978||British freshwater bivalve Molluscs, Linn. Soc. Synopses of British Fauna (New Series) No. 11|
Conchological Society; Papers for Students
No. 3 (2nd edition, 1974). Key to the land snails of the British Isles.
No. 12 (1969). Key to British slugs
Publications in the Conchologists' Newsletter
|1961||Land and freshwater snails, additions to the British list, 3:12–13|
|1962||Biographical note, 4:16|
|1964||Some etymology, 9:50–51|
|1964||Snails extinct in England, but living abroad, 11:68–69|
|1964||Posting living molluscs, 11:68–69|
|1966||and Turk, S. M., Cornish localities for Arion lusitanicus 16:108|
|1967||Conkers and conchology, 20:138–139|
|1967||Nesovitrea hammonis and N. petronella, 21:6|
|1967||Unorthodox orthography, 22:15–16|
|1967||Poems on Conchology, 22:24–25|
|1968||Arion lusitanicus in Ireland, 25:40–41|
|1969||Snail-eating dragons, 31:13 122|
|1970||Slugs and the poets, 35:185–186|
|1971||Names of British marine Molluscs, 37:205–206|
|1971||Slugs and the poets, 39:233–234|
|1972||Blue print for peace, 43:289|
|1972||Such numbers of snails, 43:289|
|1973||Who is Brittannia? What is She? 4.44:302|
|1973||Perils of the deep, 44:310|
|1973||Footnote to, Who is Britannia, 44:313|
|1973||An Old English Riddle, 45:316–317|
|1973||Hooper’s hypothesis, 45:323|
|1973||Biographical and historical footnotes, 45:323|
|1973||Cochlea liberum, the snail in old nursery rhymes, 47:346–348|
|1974||Paradise lost? 49:373|
|1974||First record of Arion lusitanicus in Ireland, 49:384|
|1974||Review, From the diary of a snail, Günter Grass, 50:393–394|
|1974||First record of Arion lusitanicus in Ireland, 50:395|
|1974||Excelsior: the snail ascending, 51:398–399|
|1975||Place names with a molluscan flavour, 52:412–414|
|1975||Why collect shells? 53:434–435|
|1975||Pestalozzian conchology, a note, 54:449–450|
|1975||Shells as musical instruments, 55:460–461|
|1975||The snail in 19th century verse, 55:464–466|
|1975||Pestalozzian conchology, 55:469|
|1976||Molluscan place names: supplement, 58:520–521|
|1976||Correction to an Old English Riddle, 58:521|
|1977||Shells murmurs, 71:189-190. 62:33–34|
|1977||The mollusc in fables, 63:44–46|
|1978||Shakespeare and sea shells, 67:105–106|
|1979||Adventure of a snail hunter, 69:153–154|
|1979||Poem on the limpet, 71:182–183|
|1979||Snails and slugs in Shakespeare, 71:189–190|
|1981||Cassel’s Natural History, 76:309–310.|
|1982||Celebrities in shells, 81:9|
|1982||Concerning Captain Thomas Brown, 82:35–36|
|1982||Sue Wells, international trade in ornamental shells, 83:56|