David Landsborough

It all began with asking in a second-hand bookshop if they had any books on seaweeds? They offered "Popular British Seaweeds", 1st. ed. 1847, by the Rev. David Landsborough (1779-1854) with the plates torn out. Even without these, the book proved so engrossing, that I read it all the way home on the 'bus. The very real enthusiasm and something indefinable about the writer's personality, made one long to know more about him. Now three years, and many reference books and letters later - I know a lot more about David Landsborough, and am gathering material for a biography. "Excursions to Arran", 1st. ed. 1847, his best known work, describes dredging off that island, and in the Kyles of Bute with his friends Major Martin, Mr. Smith, his son, Joshua Alder and his sister, and various members of the Landsborough family. In June and July of 1846, they got Pecten Landsburgii, Smith (P. striata, Muller) the Mottled Scallop, which made him famous in his day. His little work was an early example of a popular book, in the best sense of the word, and would surely spur on any shell hunter to greater efforts if they got a copy. There were few enough conchological works of any kind at that date - it would be five years before Forbes and Hanley published their great work, and two more before Sowerby's "Popular British Conchology". Landsborough lived in a time of transition, between the awakening of interest in Natural History among the public, as opposed to a few lone people, and the beginning of the more scientific times, when it became commoner to specialise. The Ayrshire minister had many pursuits; he also studied algae, mosses, zoophytes, and fossils; he liked butterflies, spiders and moorland plants. His conchological cabinets seem to be lost without trace, and I am trying to collect the shells he had, and hope to get together a party to dredge off Arran next summer. A time machine might be helpful, though, to go back to the year 1854, and take acceptance of the offer of a Mr. Damon in Dorset - "100 British species, fine specimens, and several of each, for £2.12. 6" or 300 ditto for £12.12. 0" which " could be safely transmitted by post" and to go with them "Neat Labels for British shells, complete, 3s. 6d., Postage included."

A. Rutherford