Tortoises and Other Reptiles (Ditchfield’s Little Wonder Books)

DitchfieldDitchfield’s Little Wonder Books were a British institution. The covered pets, domestic livestock, gardening, fishing and beekeeping. They were never seen for sale in bookshops but in pet shops, hardware stores, seed merchants and fishing tackle shops. That is probably because they were cheap, very cheap. In the early to mid-1950s they were 6d (equivalent to GBP 0.56 today). By contrast Alfred Leutscher’s Vivarium Life cost 16 shillings in 1958 (equivalent to GBP 15.29 today).

Ditchfield’s books were small (106 x 134 mm) paperbacks. They were published by Ditchfield’s British Books Ltd of Leyland, Lancashire. Nearly all were published anonymously* so I have no idea who wrote the one on reptiles and amphibians. The company was—and I think still is— a subsidiary of a printing company formed in 1901 by Thomas Edward Mould. Leyprint, the parent company is still run by the great-grandchildren of the founder.

The books were numbered, as in a series, up to 31 but some new titles were assigned old numbers as books went out of print. No date of publication is given. Some of the titles listed on Amazon are shown with a publication date of 1940, others with 1960. The price was marked (probably handwritten by the shopkeeper) in a circle on the front cover. The lowest price I have seen in those listed on eBay is 4d, the highest 10d, probably immediately before decimalisation in 1971.

The book shown here is No 23, shown on the front cover as Tortoises and Other Reptiles but on the list on the back cover as Tortoises and Other Popular Pets. The first page explains:

No. 13 Book, Tortoises, etc., is now out of print, but the whole book, every word and every picture IS given in THIS Book, only in smaller type.

Included in No 23 are: rabbits, cavies (guinea-pigs), mice and rats, squirrels and hedgehogs as well as reptiles and amphibians.

The author, whoever he or she was, actually did a good job—for the 1940s and 50s—in describing what was needed to keep these animals. The only real blemish, that caused sniggers about this cheap book, is that the Axolotl was referred to as the Axolotyl. This misspelling is still common, perhaps even more common than it was as the ability even to notice an error has decreased. This book was clearly intended for the new tortoise keeper. Tortoises (mainly Spur-thighed) were invited in vast quantities in the 1950s and 1960s and many pet shops sold them (as opposed to other reptiles and amphibians). Buying this book at the same time may have prevented the early death of many a pet.

The book can be downloaded here or the Downloads page above:

Tortoises and Other Reptiles


*The only ones I have found with the author named are 28, The Golden Hamster (T W Pond) and 31, An Approach to Beekeeping (A G Wheeler).


Reptiles as Pets by Ian Harman

Harman coverReptiles as Pets by Ian Harman was published by Blandford Press in 1950. It was still in print in the late 1950s when I found my first copy in a bookshop.The author, Ian Denys Anthony Harman produced a number of books on keeping birds, dogs, cats, reptiles and fish beginning in 1935 with The Garden Fish Pond. Its Construction, Stocking and Management. There followed: Waxbills, Australian Finches. A complete work on all the species, with field notes and management in captivity (1935); The Grassfinch Family. A Complete Work on All the Species, with Field Notes and Management in Captivity (1938); Cats for Pets and Shows (1948); Pekingese (1949); Tropical Aquariums (1950); Cocker Spaniels (1950); Butterflies and Moths (1950); Fishponds and Aquariums (1950 or 1951); Tropical Aquariums (1951); Pekinese (1953); Finches (1955); Bird-keeping in Australia (1962 and 1978); All About Finches and Other Seed-eating Birds with M M Vriends (1978); All About Finches and Related Birds with M M Vriends (1978); Australian Parrots in Bush and Aviary (1981); Peach Faced Love Birds and Related Colours (1989).

Ian Denys Anthony Harman was born in 1911 in Lewisham, London. His father, Leonard is shown as a medical practitioner in the 1911 census, aged 39; his mother, Adeline was 30. They were living at 179 Hither Green Lane, Lewisham.

In his entry in The Author’s and Writer’s Who’s Who (6th edition, 1971), Harman stated that he was educated privately at then at Hutchins School, Hobart, Tasmania. In 1923 he was a passenger, with his mother on the SS Borda which arrived at Fremantle in Western Australia in November 1923.

Hutchins School, an Anglican school for boys, is still in Hobart, and they have scanned the school magazines and put them on their website. The December 1925 magazine shows the arrival of I. Harman under Salvete (the pretentious addiction to latin headings was alive and well at my school at least until 1962).

In the same issue he had this article:

The following is the first of a series of articles by a boy in the Fourth Form, which we intend to publish from time to time, as occasion offers. They are reprinted from “Countryside,” the monthly journal of the British Empire Naturalists’ Association.


We start on a nice fine morning in the autumn when the early mist is clearing away on a ramble through the bush, for the purpose of studying birds. As we pass out of the garden we come to a bush of tree lucerne in full bloom. Our attention is attracted by two small yellow-winged birds chasing each other. Up into the air they go, then down through the shrubbery and out again with extreme agility. These birds are called Honeyeaters, and Tasmania has six different species: the yellow-throated,crescent, white~bearded, strong-billed, tawny- crowned, and spine-bill Honeyeaters. All these are common, except the tawny-crowned, and the two birds that we saw in the bush were the crescent and white-bearded honeyeaters, who haunt it in numbers, fighting each other or any unfortunate bird that should happen to perch in it. The crescent honeyeaters have pretty voices; and, as they have a habit of singing in company, one after another, the effect is very pleasing to the ear. The other species of honeyeaters often visit the shrubbery, but can only hold their own for a short time.

Walking over the field beyond, we see a ground lark (Australian pipit) run along and rise off the ground in front of us. It is like a crestless, well-spotted skylark, but has little or no voice. It is more fond of posts, fences, &c., than the skylark, and frequently perches on them.

Passing, out of the field along the beach. we see, perching (unlike the English shags) on a log, a white-breasted cormorant, popularly called the white shag, a bird about the size of the English shag,but with the back of the head and body not so glossy a black, and the neck, sides of the head, and breast white.
The eyes are bluey grey, and the tail black. This shag has obtained a bad reputation for eating small trout fry and other fish, and 6d. is often placed on their heads. They do not, however, really do much harm, not being at all particular in their choice of fish. These birds would willingly be friendly with man, but man does not allow it, shooting all he can. There is something in the bird, however, that has won my affection, and I should like to get near him, as he sits on the fallen tree bending his long neck up, down, sideways, and in every direction as if to see whether we have a gun behind us. Evidently he suspects us; for, before we are anything like within gunshot, he bends his body, spreads his wings, and is off. The quick flapping of his wings and his out-stretched neck are very noticeable in flight, as he travels a fair distance out to sea and then settles on the calm water. Like other shags and cormorants he swims very low in the sea, and can dive well and stay for a long time under the surface. Further along the shore we see a black cormorant standing on a rock in the water. He is the same species as the European cormorant, and often visits the lakes, rivers, and ponds in numbers, doing great damage to imported fish.

By this time we have passed the beach and have come to a stretch of muddy sand, about three-quarters of a mile long, and one-quarter wide, which is only covered by 4 feet of water at high tide. Here, perching on a fallen tree, we come across a white-fronted heron. Off it flies with quick strokes of wing for a short distance, then changing to slow, heavy beats. This bird is one of the prettiest wading birds in Tasmania. It is a small slab-sided bird, and paddles out in the sea until the water has reached the top of its long legs.

On a dry patch of sand, near the water’s edge, we see a number of silver gulls. They are pretty birds. with bright scarlet legs and beaks. You can usually see some of these gulls. in the waders’ aviary in the London Zoo.

A short distance away we notice three large dark-brown gulls, very similar ‘to the immature herring gulls of Europe. These birds are young Pacific gulls. Flying out at sea we may also see the adult bird. It is exactly like the greater black-backed gull with a huge fat bill. We watch it and (to the Englishman’s surprise) it hovers over a spot, then dashes down and dives, taking to wing again as soon as it reaches the surface. This and the silver gull are the only gulls in Australia, and they both dive. Two long-winged birds are seen a few yards from the Pacific gull, diving and swallowing little fry. These are Caspian terns. Leaving the beach we walk back through the bush. Just in front of us we see a flame-breasted robin perched on a twig. It is something like the English robin in shape, but has much brighter colours. We also see dusky and scarlet-breasted robins, and many other birds, that I shall hope to tell you of some other time.

Ian Harman, Kinsale,Tasmania.

He had other articles on birds published in the Midwinter 1926 (Small winter birds of Tasmania) and December 1927 (Tasmanian birds’ nests) issues of the magazine. Curiously, I cannot find any record of his leaving the school; his name does not appear in any of the relevant Valete lists.

The next piece of information I can find is another shipping record. He left London on Orient Line’s SS Orontes on 15 February 1951 with his wife for Melbourne. They were travelling Tourist B Class from 150 Hither Green Lane, Lewisham and intended permanent residence in Australia. His occupation is shown as ‘Fitter’. In The Author’s and Writer’s Who’s Who his wife is shown as Winifred Lilian (I cannot find a marriage in England which suggests they were married in Australia). They had one daughter. Their address in Melbourne is given as 10 Arlington Street, Ringwood, Victoria which a search on Google shows as a small detached house or bungalow in a quiet street.

[Note Added on 24 Febraury 2016. He is listed in the membership of the Lepidopterists’ Society in December 1952. His address is given as c/o Mrs Bisdee at an address in Croydon, Victoria, which suggests that he did return to Australia in 1951.]

Somehow down the years I must have seen articles in periodicals by Ian Harman because in the back of my mind I was aware that he was in Australia. My impression is that he returned to UK after schooling in Australia and finally emigrated in the 1950s but I would welcome more information. His father and mother appeared to have died in 1940 and 1943, respectively, in Lewisham.

More recently (March 2015) I have found a short biography in the Silver Jubilee Issue of the Aquarist and Pondkeeper (volume 14, number 2, May 1949):

IAN HARMAN is a well-known naturalist and nature writer. As a school-boy he lived in Tasmania with relatives for four years, and had his first article , on Tasmanian birds, in print at the age of thirteen. He is now a free-lance writer, and has written several books, including recent ones on cats and Pekingese dogs. A book on tropical fishes written by him is expected to be published this year, and he is already planning a companion volume of coldwater fishes.

The illustrator of Reptiles as Pets is Littlewood-Moore. That name appears as an author of some books for children but with F.Z.S. after it and no initial. The only clue is that there was a company in North London, now defunct, called Littlewood-Moore. Was this a partnership, with both partners fellows of ZSL? Incidentally, the illustrations are nothing to write home about.

The book is well-written and well-researched for its time. I find it difficult to tell how much experience Harman had in keeping reptiles and amphibians. My guess is that he had kept these animals as well as fish (he had an article in Water Life in 1937 on the Climbing Perch and on marine and reshwater aquarium matters in postwar issues of the Aquarist) and small birds before the Second World War. He was obviously a keen naturalist from his schooldays. Perhaps people who can remember his writing in Australia can enlighten me.

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

Reptiles as Pets by Ian Harman