Keeping Reptiles and Fishes by Maxwell Knight

Knight3This hardbacked book by Charles Henry Maxwell Knight (1900-1968) was published in 1952 by Ivor Nicholson & Watson. As is now well known Maxwell Knight was employed by the British Security Service or MI5 as an agent runner and was highly successful in infiltrating communist organisations in the 1930s. However, in 1952 and not really until his biography, The Man Who Was M by Anthony Masters, was published in 1984 was the professional side of his life revealed. The avuncular Maxwell Knight of BBC radio and television, the author of popular books on animals and natural history, just did not fit the image of spymaster.

The present book I blame for instilling the notion in a generation of British reptile keepers of not trying to breed reptiles and amphibians in captivity for this is what he had to say: Some readers may remember the famous humorous advice given by Punch on the subject of matrimony: “To those about to get married, don’t.” I feel very inclined to give this advice myself with regard to the question of breeding reptiles and amphibia. The irony of this statement emerged later as Knight himself was more than reluctant to mate with at least two of his wives and probably all three.

The book is very much of its time with the same sort of advice as that given by the other book published in the 1950s. There is though an interesting description and two photographs of an outdoor reptiliary built by a Colonel James Wilkins. One of them also shows an interesting array of old vivaria and cages alongside the reptiliary in what happens to be the bottom of Wilkins’s garden. Owning an outdoor reptiliary was then the dream of many amateur herpetologists. The best known was the one at London Zoo. However, I never saw a single inhabitant on several visits and it is now known that local youths sneaked over or though the fence to add to their collections from the reptiliary.

I have not been able to find anything further about Colonel Wilkins other than, as mentioned in The Man Who Was M, he was a member of the Camberley Natural History Society over which MK presided.

Internal layout of Reptiliary [Ron Francis]

Internal layout of Reptiliary [Ron Francis]

Outdoor Reptiliary and Vivaria [Ron Francis]

Outdoor Reptiliary and Vivaria [Ron Francis]

You can download the book from here or the Downloads Page above:

Keeping Reptiles and Fishes by Maxwell Knight


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