Birds & Birding, Books

First Cuckoo in 1913

I was thinking about the seasons and how we look out for our first Yellow-billed Kite every year around Spring. We also love hearing the first Piet-My-Vrou and other cuckoo calls.

Richard Lydekker (1849 – 1915) was an English naturalist, geologist and writer of numerous books on natural history. In fact, about thirty books in thirty years, some of them multi-volume tomes – up to six volumes!

Lydekker attracted amused public attention with a pair of letters to The Times in 1913. He wrote on 6 February that he had heard a cuckoo, contrary to Yarrell’s History of British Birds which doubted the bird arrived before April. Six days later on 12 February, he wrote again, confessing that “the note was uttered by a bricklayer’s labourer”.

We have all been caught out by a tape recording, a cellphone audio clip – and a mimic like our Natal Robin, so we feel for poor Lydekker over a century later!

After the mirth subsided, letters about the first cuckoo became a tradition every Spring in The Times.

Books, Life

Darwin Day

Charles Darwin was born 210 years ago today. He died aged 73 in 1882. One of the single most profound ideas ever to enter a human brain seeped into his around 1836 and stewed and bubbled there until in 1858 he was jolted into action and finally published his stunning insight.

No, NOT “the theory of evolution”! Evolution is not a theory, it’s an established scientific fact that happens around us all the time. Don’t listen to claptrap. Evolution is accepted and observed, and is the reason – just for one example – that we have a major problem with drug resistance. Germs evolve to be resistant to drugs. Daily.

No, the theory that evolution happens by natural selection; THAT’s the amazing thought that Darwin had. One hundred and sixty years later, despite the devious efforts of naysayers – and the earnest efforts of real scientists – all the evidence still points to Darwin’s idea being right. Discovery after discovery in the fields of biology, paleontology, geology, molecular biology, genetics, anthropology, and more – each one of which could potentially sabotage his theory – have instead reinforced it. The age of the earth, plate tectonics, fossils, common structures, the distribution of species, embryonic development, germ theory, DNA, etc. Each new discovery has been found to align with Darwin’s powerful theory – biological evolution by natural selection or “descent with modification,” the differential survival of organisms following their naturally occurring variation. His amazing insight, his ‘dangerous idea’, remains a good brief definition of the process to this day.

What Darwin discovered was that “all life is one”! An amazing thought. Who could ever have thought that one day when we became able to test the genes of plants and animals we’d discover that we shared some genes with chimps, yes – one of the reasons the bishop of London fought so hard against the idea when first announced in 1859 – but that we also share some of our genes with grass! NO-ONE would have predicted that. All life is one. Stunning.

As a student Darwin was a proper, normal person! He neglected his medical studies in Edinburgh, preferring to study natural history on interesting field trips, then when his wealthy medical doctor father sent him to Cambridge to study to become an Anglican parson, he preferred riding, shooting and beetle collecting! Only beer drinking seems to be missing from a well-balanced start in life.

Darwin’s room, Christ’s College

Then he took a gap year – five years, actually – and traveled:

Five years on the Beagle
The Beagle on the coast of South America

On his return from sailing around the world he threw himself into scientific work, experimentation, meticulous research and lots of thinking. But he couldn’t bring himself to publish his big insight. His wife Emma was very religious and they both were very aware of the stir his amazing insight would cause. After twenty years of this he was suddenly nudged into action when a younger man sent him a paper to publish which he felt was almost identical to his theory. He scrambled to action, and so it happened that his friends Lyell and Hooker arranged to have his and Alfred Russel Wallace’s papers read jointly to the Linnean Society on 1 July 1958. On the evening of 28 June, Darwin’s baby son died of scarlet fever after a week of severe illness, and he was too distraught to attend the presentation. Their joint paper On the Tendency of Species to form Varieties; and on the Perpetuation of Varieties and Species by Natural Means of Selection was read. What followed was . . nothing. Little attention was given to this announcement of their theory; the president of the Linnean Society made the now-notorious remark in May 1859 that the year 1858 “had not been marked by any revolutionary discoveries.”

In 1859 he finally published his amazing book On The Origin Of Species, ‘one long argument’ for the idea, hatching in his head since 1837, of the ‘common descent’ of all life.

Book Darwin Origin

His theory is simply stated in the introduction: As many more individuals of each species are born than can possibly survive; and as, consequently, there is a frequently recurring struggle for existence, it follows that any being, if it vary however slightly in any manner profitable to itself, under the complex and sometimes varying conditions of life, will have a better chance of surviving, and thus be naturally selected. From the strong principle of inheritance, any selected variety will tend to propagate its new and modified form.

At the end of the book he concluded that: There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved.

A toast to an amazing man and his insight!


Evolution was already old in 1859: Contrary to popular opinion, neither the term nor the idea of biological evolution began with Charles Darwin and his 1859 paper, On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection. Many scholars from the ancient Greek philosophers on had inferred that similar species were descended from a common ancestor. The word “evolution” was widely used in English for all sorts of progressions from simpler beginnings from 1647 on. The term Darwin most often used to refer to biological evolution was “descent with modification,” which remains a good brief definition of the process today.

Darwin proposed that evolution could be explained by the differential survival of organisms following their naturally occurring variation—a process he termed “natural selection.” Offspring of organisms differ from one another and from their parents in ways that are heritable – that is, they can pass on the differences genetically to their own offspring.

See more evidence supporting biological evolution.

To this day the truly ignorant – just as the bishop of London did in 1859 – and the merely dishonest misrepresent Darwin’s theory
  • Yes, evolution is also a scientific theory, but not when used in a negative sense. If anyone says ‘it’s only a theory nya nya’, ignore them. If anyone says its a scientific theory matter-of-factly they’re right, but then those people will also immediately tell you it’s also a scientific fact. Read about that here.

Jerry Coyne wrote a lovely affirming letter to Charles Darwin on his 200th birthday, back in 2009. How Darwin would have loved reading it, and how it would have brought relief and peace of mind to a wonderful man who worried a lot!

Birds & Birding


Sy Montgomery sounds like a wonderful person. You think she has to be interesting, anyway, when you learn she wrote a book called The Soul Of An Octopus. Then you learn she kept a pet pig and you think, Hmm, maybe dodgy like some other people you know who will remain nameless, right Bruce and Heather Soutar? She wrote a book on the pig called The Good Good Pig, so you think, OK, maybe unlike Bruce and Heather she turned it into tasty bacon, but no, she loved the pig live. Then you see her petting a tiger and again you think Hmmm . .

But then you find out she wrote “birdology”:

Birdology - Sy Montgomery book
read book review

People know that birds are descendants of dinosaurs, but actually the truth is that Birds Are Dinosaurs. That may be difficult to see when you’re watching a flycatcher, but it is more apparent when you are watching an ostrich or a cassowary, as tall as a man, crowned with a helmet of bone on its head and a killer claw on each foot.

Most of the dinosaurs that became today’s birds took up flying. And in doing so, they utterly reshaped their bodies inside and out. Their bones are hollow and their bodies are full of air sacs; their feathers weigh more than the skeleton and are hollow shafted and shaped to capture and move air. Birds are essentially feather-fringed air bubbles.

Birds can see polarized and ultraviolet light, experience colors we can never know, sense the earth’s magnetic field, and navigate using subtle changes in odor and barometric pressure.

In Birdology Sy Montgomery communicates a heartfelt fascination and awe for birds and hopefully kindles in more of us humans a connection to these complex, mysterious fellow creatures that I personally find so fascinating.

Birds are the only wild animals most people see every day. No matter where we live, birds live with us. Yet many of us don’t appreciate how very strange they are, how different to us. Their hearts look like those of crocodiles. They have no hands. They give birth to eggs. And they’re covered with modi­fied scales called feathers. We shared a common ancestor with even the most distant of our fellow placen­tal mammals as recently as 100 million years ago; The last ancestor we shared with the birds, however, traces back 325 to 350 million years ago.

Sy says her life with animals has taught her “how to be a good creature. How to be compassionate. How to get yourself inside the mind and heart of someone else. Seeing someone’s soul, looking for their truth. Animals teach you all of that and that’s how you get compassion and heart.”

Sy Montgomery sounds like a wonderful person.


Books, Life

Project Gutenberg

Project Gutenberg is a volunteer effort to digitise and archive books and other cultural works and make them freely available on the internet.

It was started in 1971 by Michael Hart, a student at the University of Illinois.

The university had a Xerox Sigma 5 mainframe computer in their Materials Research Lab. By befriending the operators, Hart was given an account with a virtually unlimited amount of computer time; Hey! It was there and they didn’t really have a whole lot they could do with it. Everything was so new!

Michael Hart & Sigma computer

Seen above is a later Xerox Sigma 9 with a pic of Michael Hart pasted on.

Now, what would the average 24yr-old male do with this novel ‘thing’ called “access to a computer”? We know what most of us would do NOW: Search for titty pictures.


But there was no internet then, no World Wide Web. This would only come later, starting with something like this:

1973: Global networking becomes a reality as the University College of London and the Royal Radar Establishment of Norway connect to the American ‘ARPANET’. The term ‘internet’ is born.

1974: The first Internet Service Provider is born with the introduction of a commercial version of ARPANET, known as Telenet.

What Michael Hart did was amazing: He decided to just ‘make things available’ to anyone who could access them. As he added free content, his idea grew to wanting to encourage the creation and distribution of ‘ebooks’ – as many as possible in as many formats as possible for the entire world to read in as many languages as possible. The aim became ‘to break down the bars of ignorance and illiteracy’. His initial goal was to make the 10,000 most-consulted books available to the public at little or no charge, and to do so by the end of the 20th century.

He named the project after Johannes Gutenberg, the fifteenth century German printer who propelled the movable type printing press revolution which made knowledge more widely available.

– the famous gutenberg bible – a plate and a page –

There are now over 56 000 books available free on (March 2019: 58 000). (January 2020: over 60 000).

see wikipedia Project Gutenberg


Incredibly, the Sigma 5 base memory was just 64K Bytes. Maximum memory was limited by the length of the instruction address field of 17 bits, or 512K Bytes.

Books, Nostalgia, Travel Africa, Wildlife, Game Reserves

Hacks, Shifts and Contrivances

The internet is full of ‘hacks’: Simple and – sometimes – effective solutions to everyday problems (or ‘problems’). Often quirky or inelegant. Sometimes satirised. Here’s a typical geek hack:

dirty dishes

I found some camping hacks – these are a bit more real: A shoe-holder kitchen; eggs in a bottle; toilet paper jar; a handy tent floor; etc.

camping hacks

But here’s what really got me going: An 1872 book on ‘hacks’ for going on a long expedition into Darkest Africa called The Art of Travel, or Shifts and Contrivances available in Wild Countries by Francis Galton, grandson of the famous Erasmus Darwin and cousin of the even more famous Charles Darwin.

The first edition was written in 1855. It provides detailed instructions on ‘wagons and boats, horses and oxen, tents and firearms, hunting and fishing, observing and collecting, carpentry and metal-working, camping requisites, bush cuisine, medical improvisation, the best ways to cross rivers, how to move heavy objects and how to build huts.’

– 1855 edition – Galton book – The Art of Travel – Shifts and Contrivances – My reprint –

Now, let me tell ya: If you have traveled before reading this book you didn’t know what you were doing. You took a big chance! Read this sound advice and find out what you SHOULD have done:


Travelers must be healthy, adventurous, and have ‘at least a moderate fortune.’ If your fortune isn’t quite large enough, shoot elephants for their ivory or collect insects, birds and plants and sell them to fund your travels. – Galton fortunately inherited enough so he no longer needed to practice medicine and could travel as he wished without collecting beetles!

Washing Clothes

Here’s how to wash your clothes after you have worn them night and day for six weeks: Kill an animal – any animal – take its gall bladder and add it to boiling water full of ash from the fire. Peel off your greasy clothes and soak them in this mess overnight. Next morning, take them to water and wash and beat them with a flat piece of wood. To get rid of the vermin with which you are infested by now, take half an ounce of mercury, mix it with old tea leaves reduced to pulp by mastication and add saliva (not water) to make a paste. Infuse this into a string which you hang around your neck. The lice will be sure to bite at the bait, swell, become red and die. See. Easy.

Making Soap

Save up the fat from the cooking till you have half a bucket-full. Collect as much wood as you can and wood ashes from plants whose ashes taste acrid. Correct, taste the ashes. Get a man to make two very large clay pots, ‘which is a very easy thing to do when proper clay can be obtained.’ In one pot place the ashes. In the other, under which a fire has been lit, place the fat. Now employ a Damara of sedentary disposition to supervise the process to the end, he or she simply having to keep the fire going under the grease-pot night and day, and from time to time ladle into it a spoonful of the ash-water or lye. This ash-water is sucked up by the grease and in only ten days of constant attendance the stuff is transformed into good white soap. See. Easy.

Make a Boat

If you need to cross a river with your belongings, a make-shift boat is useful: Kill two bulls – or in Africa, maybe buffaloes; skin them and sew the skins together. Cut down ten small willow trees, fourteen feet long. Lash the willow poles as shown, wrap the skins around them. Two men can make this craft in a mere two days.

Galton shift boat

Easy. Assuming, of course, that the buffaloes cooperate.

– pic from Jock of the Bushveld –

Theory of Loads and Distances – and Women

You need to take a lot of stuff along, so Galton works out how much you can get animals and men to carry. He does this ‘partly by theory and partly by experiment’!

“Let d be the distance the beast or man could travel daily if unburdened; Let b be the burden which would just suffice to prevent an animal from moving a step; Let b’ be some burden less than b and let d’ be the distance he could travel daily when carrying b’.”

He comes to a magic formula b’d² = b(d – d’)² which ‘proves’ the pack animal can carry 4/9 of his maximum staggering load! From this he works out that a man can carry 119lbs a distance of 11 miles a day. By this of course, he means ‘some other man,’ not him. It’s a bit like the definition of minor surgery: Minor surgery is surgery on someone else.

He also confidently states that – unlike many travelers – he believes taking women along is an asset, ‘for they work hard and can carry double the load men can.’ Mind you, this is the man who once used his expertise in trigonometry to discreetly measure the posterior development (her bum) of a South African woman at a distance. Ahem, English gentlemen . . .

Taking along the wives of the hired hands ‘gives great life to a party,’ and they can endure a long journey ‘nearly as well as a man, and certainly better than a horse or a bullock.’ Women were also ‘invaluable in picking up and retailing information and hearsay gossip’ which the traveler might otherwise miss. Plus, they are cheap to run, as Samuel Hearne of the Hudson’s Bay Company had pointed out: ‘Women were made for labor, and though they do everything, they are maintained at a trifling expense, for, as they always cook, the very licking of their fingers, in scarce times, is sufficient for their subsistence.’

Noisy Donkeys?

Just tie a heavy stone around the ass’s tail. ‘When an ass wants to bray, he elevates his tail, and, if his tail be weighted down, he has not the heart to bray.’

Solitary Travel

‘Neither sleepy nor deaf men should think of traveling alone.’ What’s that!?

On Being Held Up by Brigands

When the robber orders you to lie down, draw your own gun and yell, ‘If this were loaded, you should not treat me thus!’ Then lie on the ground as ordered. As the robber approaches to relieve you of your belongings, ‘aim quickly and shoot him dead – the pistol being really loaded all the time. It’s a trick that has been practiced in most countries, from England to Peru.Right. Although one supposes that if this happened in South West Africa it might be best to utter that dramatic speech in fluent Damara?


After giving long lists of necessities per day and per person and per six months, he comes to a final rough formula for ‘Stores for Individual Use’: You need 7lbs a month for every white man and 3lbs a month for every black man. Cos, you know . . .


You need to take aperient, cordial, quinine, camphor, carbolic acid, Warburg’s fever drops, glycerine, mustard paper, and emetic. Or, for an emetic you could use a charge of gunpowder in a tumblerful of warm water, then tickle your throat with a feather. A bustard feather works best.

Boots Pinching?

‘A raw egg broken into the boot before putting it on, greatly softens the leather.’ Probly also stops your companions from crowding around you?


Your bedding must be warm and windproof, but not airtight, as ‘sleeping clothes that are absolutely impervious to the passage of the wind necessarily retain the cutaneous excretions. These poison the sleeper, acting upon his blood through his skin, and materially weaken his power of emitting vital heat: the fire of his life burns more languidly.’ He also advises you to sleep outside: ‘a tent is too much like home.’

Always Keep a Diary

Keep a daily travelogue: ‘It appears impossible to a traveler, at the close of his journey, to believe he will ever forget its events, however trivial. They seem branded into his memory. But this is not the case – the crowds of new impressions during a few months of civilised life will efface the sharpness of the old ones. I have conversed with . . many men . . the greater part of whose experiences in savagedom had passed out of their memories like the events of a dream. So: Every day, write up your diary.

Galton camp SWA
– Galton’s camp in Damaraland – or savagedom –

To Raise and Move a Heavy Body

When a violent hurricane had driven his eighty ton schooner several hundred yards inland, Mr Williams, a missionary in the South Sea Islands, said, ‘The method by which we raised and moved the vessel was exceedingly simple and we accomplished the task with great ease.’ They raised her out of the 4ft hole she had worked herself into by levering her out with long levers and stone weights. Then they filled the bog that lay between her and the sea with stones and logs as rollers. Then they used a chain cable and ‘compelled her to take a short voyage upon the land before she floated in her pride on the sea once more.’ It was easy.

Oh, and then he did deign to mention, the ‘great ease with which they accomplished this task’ took ‘the united strength of about 2000 people.’ ‘Twas nothing, the missionary reverend murmured modestly . .


What a delightful book of days gone by! I love it! Days of adventure, of knowing everything, including what other men and women thought, needed and wanted – without ever having to go through the tedious process of asking them! The Good Old Daze indeed.


– just get me to the river and I’ll make a boat of your hide – OK? –


Another Book Of Advice

In 1871 Thomas Baines decided he too, had advice for travelers:

– Shifts and Expedients of Camp Life –

Thomas Baines 1871 book: Shifts and Expedients of Camp Life, Travel & Exploration, written with William Barry Lord, a soldier with the Royal Artillery, built on Galton and offered even more detail.

Your clothes – have them made. Firstly, shirts:

Have them made to measure from flannel which has been previously well shrunk, of thoroughly good quality, of medium substance, and unobtrusive pattern or colour. It will be well to order them of extra length, both of sleeve and body, so as to allow for the shrinkage which is certain to take place after a few washings, in spite of all precautions. Two breast pockets should be made in each. These are very convenient for holding a variety of small matters when no waistcoat is worn. For outer clothing nothing can surpass good heather-coloured tweed, or Waterford frieze, for ordinary wear; jackets of shooting-coat pattern, made with plenty of pockets, formed from much stronger materials than are usually made use of by tailors for that purpose, will be found most useful for knocking about in.

Your coat:

Take a blue cloth pilot coat, cut long enough to reach just below the knees; have it lined throughout with woollen material; let the pockets be made extra strong, and order the buttons to be large, of black horn, and sewn on with double-waxed thread. The left hand breast pocket should be deep and lined with leather, as it not unfrequently becomes a resting-place for the revolver when you do not wish to make an ostentatious display of it.

Boots and shoes:

For real work these are in no part of the world equal to those made at home, and a thoroughly good stock should be laid in before quitting England; ‘Butcher boots,’ so made as to fit the leg compactly just below the bend of the knee, with low heels, and broad heel seats; several pairs of shooting boots of the regular ankle-jack gamekeeper’s pattern, tipped at toe and heel; A pair or two of high shoes made from soft undressed russet leather will be found very useful to wear instead of slippers, or for camp use when the ground is dry; A pair of Cording’s wading boots will be found invaluable. They occupy little space, are comparatively light, and keep the legs and feet dry and warm when nothing else will; It will be well also to provide two or three pairs of brown leather shooting boots without heels and with single soles, free from nails, and flexible enough to admit of the wearer walking softly and with perfect freedom.

Making your own shoes:

– a velschoen –

Most countries have some form of shoe easily made from materials obtainable upon the spot, and in Africa the ‘velschoen’ of untanned leather is the general wear. Sometimes these are very clumsily made, the naked foot is planted on the piece of leather intended for the sole, and the outline is marked out with the point of a knife, the blade being held so far clear as to obviate all danger of cutting the foot, a plan which certainly has the merit of making the shoe sufficiently roomy.

The hides of the giraffe, the eland, or the buffalo are used for soles, and a piece large enough for a pair may generally be purchased for eighteenpence. These are simply dried, and a native must be hired to beat and soften them, working grease into them as he does so till they become so soft and supple that, though they are not waterproof in the sense of absolutely repelling the liquid, they may be wetted through and dried again without becoming hard. Sometimes a native will do this for a knife (value ninepence or a shilling) and the grease; but a sharp look-out must be kept upon the latter, or he will rub it into his own skin instead of that which he is employed to soften. An African can no more be trusted with fat than many of our own countrymen with ardent spirits.

What? Only one gun?

To the traveler whose means of transport confine him to the possession of only one gun, we say without hesitation, purchase a plain, strong, muzzle-loading, double-barrelled smooth bore of 11 or 12 gauge. Length of barrel, 2ft. 6in., weight 8½lb. without the ramrod, a front action bar, side locks, and ramrod pipes large enough to carry a rod of extra large size and power. Two pairs of spare nipples, and one pair of fitted main springs, in addition to those in the locks. Bullets. A bell-metal or iron spherical bullet mould must be selected with the greatest care, as it by no means follows that because the figure 12 or 11 is stamped on it, that, like a wadding punch, it is calculated for a gun of the same gauge. And so on and on – I have given here 130 words of Baines’ 4628 words on guns!


For persons wishing to employ their leisure in pleasing mementoes of the scenes they visit, perhaps the following brief list—amplified, should they desire it—will afford sufficient guidance; and they will also do well to choose one or more of the shilling handbooks published by Rowney and Co., or Winsor and Newton.

A sketching portfolio, with folding tin frame to confine the paper while in use, and pocket for spare paper—quarto size.

A good strong havresac of canvas, with leather slings for each folio. Stout canvas is almost waterproof. This should have pockets for colour box, water bottle, pencils, and penknife.

Half quire Whatman’s drawing paper (white). Some of it should be cut to the size of the folio.

Half quire sketching cartridge for less finished work.

Half quire tinted drawing paper (pearl, light drab, cool and warm greys).

A proportion of all these papers should be cut to the size of the sketch book when purchased; but a few sheets should be kept whole, as a larger drawing may be required.

Two dozen drawing pencils—8 HH., 12 H., and 4 HB. In practice, it will be found HB. is black enough, and it should be used sparingly, as, unless a drawing is fixed immediately, the deep shades are very apt to smear when the backs of other sketches are packed against them.

Two single bladed penknives.

Very compact sketching boxes with assorted colours in cakes, in porcelain pans, or in collapsible tubes, are provided; and the amateur can hardly do better than select one of these with any number of colours.

One tube of sepia and a cake of Chinese white. With these we should advise three brown sable pencils in flat German silver ferrules—Nos. 1, 3, and 6. With the addition to these of the three primitive colours—red, blue, and yellow—a considerable range of subjects may be painted; indeed could we obtain these in perfect purity, we should require no other. But, as this is impossible, we subjoin a list of colours, placing first in order those that we have found most useful:—

  • Indian yellow,
  • Carmine,
  • French blue,
  • Yellow ochre,
  • Light red,
  • Prussian blue,
  • Gamboge,
  • Rose madder (perhaps in cake),
  • Cobalt,
  • Raw sienna (cake),
  • urnt sienna,
  • Indigo,
  • Yellow lake,
  • Mars orange,
  • Payne’s grey,
  • Vermilion (cake),
  • Vandyke brown,
  • Emerald green,
  • Scarlet lake (cake),
  • Crimson lake,
  • Purple lake,
  • Cadmium yellow (cake),
  • Brown madder (cake),
  • Purple madder (cake).

With these, the whole set from 1 to 6 of the sables in flat albata will be needed, and we advise two each of 1, 2, and 3, as well as one or two large swans’ quills for washing in the sky or flat tints. A tripod sketching stool folding to the size of a special’s staff would be useful, but the rivet should be strong and well clinched. Let the watercolour box have divisions on the edge of the palette for every colour it contains. If you take an easel, let the joint be brass. (Note: I give you 516 words of 1677. Baines being an artist, this subject would have been close to his heart).

The Traveler’s Library:

I usually take about ten books and sometimes think I’m overdoing it! Baines says I should take these 32:


Outlines of Astronomy. Sir J. Herschel, Bart (Longman and Co. 1858) 11s.

Astronomy and General Physics. W. Whewell (W. Pickering. 1857) 4s.

Illustrated London Astronomy. J. R. Hind (Ingram and Co. 1853) 1s. 6d.

Handbook—Descriptive and Practical Astronomy. G. F. Chambers (J. Murray. 1861) 10s.

Elements of Plane Astronomy. J. Brinkley, D.D (Hodges and Smith. 1845) 6s.

Orbs of Heaven; Planetary and Stellar Worlds. O. M. Mitchell (N. Cooke. 1856) 2s. 3d.


Navigation and Nautical Astronomy. Rev. J. Inman (Rivingtons. 1862) 6s. 3d.

Complete Epitome of Practical Navigation (J. W. Norie. 1864) 14s. [N.B. The latest edition should be asked for.]

Lunar Time Tables. J. Gordon (Imray. 1853) 7s.

Handbook for the Stars. H. W. Jeans (Levey, Robson, and Co. 1848) 3s. 6d.

Mathematics, Trigonometry, and Spherics.

Manual of Mathematical Tables. Galbraith and Houghton (Longman and Co. 1860) 2s.

Mathematical Tracts. G. B. Airy (J. W. Parker. 1842) 9s. 6d.

Treatise on Practical Mensuration. A. Nesbit (Longman and Co. 1864) 5s. 4d.

Practical Introduction to Spherics and Nautical Astronomy. P. Kelly, LL.D (Baldwin and Co. 1822) 7s.

Treatise on Trigonometry. G. B. Airy (Griffin and Co. 1855) 2s. 3d.

For Travellers.

What to Observe; or, Travelling Remembrancer. Col. Jackson. Revised by Dr. Norton Shaw (Houlston and Wright. 1861) 9s. 6d.

Geodesy and Surveying, Military, Nautical, and Land Surveying.

Treatise on Military Surveying. Lieut. Col. Jackson (Allen and Co. 1860) 12s.

Outline of Method of conducting a Trigonometrical Survey. Col. Frome (Weale. 1862) 10s. 6d.

Practical Geodesy. J. W. Williams (Parker and Son. 1835) 7s. 6d.

Trigonometrical Surveying, Levelling, and Engineering. W. Galbraith (Blackwood and Son. 1842) 6s. 9d.

Engineering Field Notes on Parish and Railway Surveying and Levelling. H. J. Castle (Simpkin and Co. 1847) 8s.

Practice of Engineering Field Work. W. D. Haskoll (Atchley and Co. 1858) 17s. 6d.

Treatise on Nautical Surveyings. Com. Belcher (Richardson. 1835) 12s.

Weights and Measures.

Weights and Measures of All Nations. W. Woolhouse (Virtue Bros. 1863) 1s. 6d.

Foreign Measures and their English Values. R. C. Carrington (Potter. 1864)

Construction of Maps.

Manual of Map-making. A. Jamieson (Fullarton. 1846) 2s.

Manual of Topographical Drawing. Lieut. R. Smith (J. Wiley. 1854) 5s.

Projection of the Sphere.

Projection and Calculation of the Sphere. S. M. Saxby (Longman and Co. 1861) 4s. 3d.

Use of Instruments.

Treatise on Principal Mathematical and Drawing Instruments. F. Williams (Weale. 1857) 3s. 2d.

The Sextant and its Applications. Simms (Troughton and Simms. 1858) 4s. 6d.

Treatise on Mathematical Instruments. J. Heather (Virtue Bros. 1863) 1s.


Geography Generalised. R. Sullivan (Longman and Co. 1863) 2s.

In addition to these, every one ought to possess the Admiralty Manual of Scientific Enquiry, which is a series of papers written for the direction of explorers by men of the highest standing in various sciences; and no better general work can be recommended.

– my little sample book set for a trip to Botswana – mammals missing! –

Off we go then:

Should twenty one of us decide on an eighteen month expedition, we would need – among other stuff – the following:

The Commander (that would be me!), an Assistant (you), a Geologist, an Artist and Storekeeper, a Surgeon and Naturalist, a Botanist, a Collector, Natural History, &c., an Overseer, a Farrier and Smith; a Harness-maker; Stockmen and Shepherds.

Provisions, &c. for 18 months.—17,000lb. flour, 5000lb. salt pork, 2000lb. bacon, 2000lb. preserved fresh meat in 6lb. tins, 2800lb. rice, 2500lb. sugar, 400lb. tea, 350lb. tobacco, 350lb. soap, 50lb. pepper, 500lb. salt, 100 galls. vinegar, 300 sheep, 200lb. sago, 640 pints peas, 2 cwt. coffee, 500lb. lime juice, 6 galls. lamp oil, 1lb. cotton wick, 3 cwt. preserved potatoes.

Land Conveyance.—50 horses, 35 pack saddles, 15 riding saddles, 50 horse blankets, 800 fathoms tether rope 1½in. and 2in., 20 horse bells with straps, 100 pair hobbles, 3 light horse drays; 3 sets harness, 3 horses each; 50 spare girths, 50yds. strong girth web, 50 bridles, 10 pair holster bags, 10 pair stirrup leathers, 5 pair stirrup irons, 40 pair canvas pack-saddle bags, 100 straps, 200 buckles, 4 leather water bags, 20 pair spurs, 150lb. leather for repairs, 600 horseshoes and nails, 240 provision bags, 300 yds. canvas, 20lb. sewing twine, 100 needles, 6 palms, 24 saddler’s awls, 48 balls hemp, ½lb. bristles, 6lb. resin, 6lb. beeswax, 12 hanks small cord, 6 currycombs and brushes, 25 tether swivels.

Arms and Ammunition.—16 double guns, 4 rifles, 10 revolvers, 10 pistols, 200lb. gunpowder, 1000lb. shot and lead, 30,000 percussion caps, 20 belts and pouches, 15 gun buckets, straps, locks, spare nipples, moulds, punches, 4 ladles, powder flasks, shot pouches, &c., for each gun.

Camp Furniture.—5 tents 8ft. square calico, 150 yds. calico, 12 camp kettles (½ to 3 galls.), 6 doz. pannikins, 4 doz. tin dishes (small), 1 doz. large, 4 doz. knives and forks, 4 doz. iron spoons, 6 frying pans, 6 leather buckets, 6 water kegs (6, 4, and 2 galls.), 6 spades, 4 socket shovels, 4 pickaxes, 2 spring balances (25 and 50lb.), 1 steelyard (150lb.), 1 sheep net (150 yds.).

Instruments.—2 sextants (5in. and 6in.), 2 box do., 2 artificial horizons, 10lb. mercury in 2 iron bottles, 4 prismatic compasses, 11 pocket compasses, spare cards and glasses for compasses, 3 aneroid barometers, 4 thermometers to 180°, 2 telescopes, 1 duplex watch, 1 lever watch, 1 case drawing instruments; 2 pocket cases, pillar compass, and protractor; surveying chain and arrows, 2 measuring tapes, 1 drawing board (30 × 40 inches), 2 pocket lenses.

Stationery and Nautical Tables.

Tools.—1 portable forge, 1 anvil (½ cwt.), 2 hammers and set of tongs, 10lb. cast steel, 11lb. blister steel, 100lb. bar and rod iron, 3 smiths’ files, 3 large axes (American), 6 small do.; 1 large tool chest.

Clothing.—120 pair moleskin trowsers, 120 serge shirts, 120 cotton shirts, 60 pair boots, 40 oiled calico capes, 40 hats (Manilla), 40 blankets.

Artists’ Materials.

Miscellaneous.—5 yds. mosquito net, green; 500 fish-hooks, 25 fishing-lines, 2 gross matches, 1 gross tobacco-pipes; 2 strong cases, or instruments, stationery, &c.; 8 doz. pocket-knives, 8 doz. pocket-combs, 20 yds. red serge for presents to blacks, 20lb. iron wire, 5lb. brass ditto, grindstone and spindle, coffee-mill, 3 iron saucepans, 2 iron kettles, 6 galls. linseed oil, 6 pints olive oil, 2lb. red lead, 23lb. alum, 1lb. borax.

Forage for Horses and Sheep from Moreton Bay to Victoria River, 2200 miles, at 14lb. per diem.—13 tons pressed hay, 9 tons bran, 200 bushels maize or barley, 500 bushels corn for horses after landing.

Medical Chest for 2 years and 20 men.

Naturalists’ Stores.

I can’t help noticing – who else noticed? – he has forgotten the fridge and the beer!! This puts the rest of the book’s authority in some doubt, no?


Sometimes Baines would offer a simple solution. I like his blanket tent – this is a bit more like a Harrismith he-man traveling light !


I have given here about ten pages of information. The book is 831 pages! Just on Boats, Rafts and Make-Shift Floats, Baines and Lord write 36 786 words! And I’ve not even got to communication in the days before satellite phones. Suffice to say: You build a stone cairn; you dig a deep hole ten feet north of it; in the hole you leave instructions written on a lead sheet made from three melted bullets . . .


You can read it online at – after the 831 pages there are useful advertisements for shops that can supply your needs, including gun shops where you can buy your muzzle loader; and you’ll find ladies waterproofs and portable boats are in the same department . . . What a WONDERFUL book!



Possible World Record

I may be in line for a world record soon. We’ll know in about 190 years time.

I read it here-

Heroic Failures

Seems the Slowest Selling Book Ever was a 1716 translation of the New Testament from Coptic into Latin by David Wilkins. He sold 191 copies.

Well, as far as underachievement goes that’s piffling stuff! I sold exactly zero of my 2016 Umko 50 years book, so I should be able to whip this Wilkins’ ass handily. We printed 300 and gave them all away, so unless people start re-selling them I’m safe, and should become an honorary member of the Not Terribly Good Club of Great Britain.

Only danger is his 191st copy sold in 1907, so he still has those 190 years in which he can claim “Yes, but . . “.


The Book of Heroic Failures was written by Stephen Pile in 1979 in celebration of human inadequacy in all its forms. Entries include William McGonagall, a notoriously bad poet, and Teruo Nakamura a soldier of the Imperial Japanese Army who fought World War II until 1974.

The original edition included an application to become a member of the Not Terribly Good Club of Great Britain; However, this was taken out in later editions because the club received over 30,000 applications and closed on the grounds that it was “a failure as a failure” (but not before Pile himself had been deposed as president for showing alarming competence by preventing a disaster involving a soup toureen, then being expelled from the club for publishing a bestseller). The American version of the book was misprinted by the publishers, who left out half the introduction. As a consequence, later versions of the book came out with an erratum slip longer than the entire introduction. (wikipedia)

Pile says “People keep talking about the things man does well, when these few blades of grass are surrounded by vast prairies of inadequacy which are much more interesting”.