The Aquarist and Pondkeeper: Herpetology Articles 1972-77 for Download

I have now extracted the articles for all the issues I have of the Aquarist for 1972-1977. They can be found on the Download page above, including notes on missing issues). If I obtain these issues later, I will amend the .pdfs on the Download page.

There are articles by Andrew Allen, H.G.B Gilpin and Jack Hems plus our own which often appeared under the title, Herpetological Notes. There are a couple of articles written by keepers of the Green Iguana. There is also the appearance of Chris Mattison.


L.G Payne in the 1930s

I have added information to that I had on L.G Payne (22 February 2014). The Liverpool naturalist, Eric Hardy, wrote about his studying Natterjack Toads in the wild in the 1930s.

Water Life Magazine 1936-58. Part 16. Herpetology Articles in Volume 1, 1936

An extract of volume 1 containing the articles on herpetology can be found on the Downloads page.

The usual contributors to Water Life (were they also contributors to Bird Fancy and Aquaria News?) have articles: L.G. Payne, Ian Harman and ‘Amphibius’. There are also articles by the editor on newts and terrapins. There are warnings about the survival of the Sand Lizard in England and the arrival of Gila Monsters at the Zoo. The list of dealers shown is interesting but not comprehensive; it would seem that few paid to have an entry. There is a photograph of a chamaeleon, one of a number being sold in the shop of Mr Boughton’s Artistic Aquaria Company; those who know anything about chamaeleons will see the shrunken eye that indicates the animal would not have survived much longer. Alligators (possibly caymans?) are advertised at 6/- each (£18 in today’s money).

The most interesting articles are those by Amphibius, especially that on his giant salamanders which he kept in a 6′ tank. He does not say whether they were Chinese or Japanese. Another article is on the Radiated Tortoises which were imported from Madagascar fairly regularly and found their way into books on keeping tortoises.

Water Life Magazine 1936-58. Part 15. The First Volume, 1936

A few days ago, a bound copy of volume 1 of Water Life arrived; I have been looking for this final addition to the pre-war volumes (1-7) for several years. I have now scanned the articles on herpetology and uploaded the extract (see the Downloads page above). Before discussing what gems are in there, I will describe what I uncovered about the early history of the magazine together with a few non-herpetological snippets that caught my eye.

Margery Elwin, the editor, began with a full-page editorial on 9 June 1936:

FELLOW AQUARISTS! Here at least is the paper for which so many of you have been asking—a weekly paper published particularly for you. In presenting this first number, with a selection of articles which are intended to please all branches of our hobby, we want to convey to you our sincere wish that you shall feel WATER LIFE to be your own paper…
The greater space available in WATER LIFE will enable us to give you a far bigger selection of articles than we could hope to do in Aquaria News*…

*Note.—This paper began five years ago as a supplement to Bird Fancy, the bird keepers’ weekly paper, known as Bird Fancy and Aquaria News. With this issue the two papers are divided to devote themselves exclusively to their own hobbies.

I have never seen a copy of Bird Fancy and Aquaria News, which first appeared in 1931, presumably to compete with Cage Birds. It was taken over and incorporated into Cage Birds by the Poultry World publishing empire, probably at the same time as Water Life, after the Second World War (for some time the full title was Cage Birds & Bird Fancy). There are several books on bird keeping which were published by Bird Fancy and Aquaria News in the 1930s, including a well-known one by Ian Harman on the grassfinch family.

I cannot find reference to any library keeping copies of Bird Fancy and Aquaria News or of any book seller having a bound volume on their shelves, so I have no idea if articles on herpetology appeared in it before the splitting off of Water Life as a separate publication, or whether Margery Elwin was editor of the Aquaria News section before it became Water Life.

What becomes evident is that Margery Elwin, before becoming editor, taught at a preparatory school (For readers not in the U.K. a preparatory school prepares pupils for the common entrance examination to ‘public’ schools; both types of school are ‘private’ in that the parents pay fees and neither receives public funding via taxation. In the 1930s, as in the 2010s, only the wealthy could afford to send their children to such schools.). She wrote in an editorial of 15 December 1936:

…Having myself had considerable experience of aquariums in preparatory school, I am fully convinced that these are invaluable adjuncts to the Nature Study class…Several boys at the school in which I was teaching became so enthusiastic that they saved up their pocket money and installed small aquariums in their own homes…

On the Television

The issue of 1 December 1936 contained this snippet of news:

 The Editor made history on Friday last by making the first television of fishes, when some of the exhibits for Water Life and Bird Fancy Exhibition, including cold-water and tropical fishes and some of the larger Foreign Birds, were included in a programme arranged by Cecil Lewis and broadcast from Alexandra Palace.

The BBC Television Service had been launched as the first regular television service in the world three weeks earlier. Details of the programmes have recently become available online. This is what the record says for Friday 27 November 1936:

Cats, Birds, and Fishes. Some champion exhibits from the National Cat Club Show and the Combined Bird and Aquaria Show, described by W. Cox-Ife, F. Hopkins, and L.C. Mandeville. Arranged by Cecil Lewis.

Only a subset of the very small number of people owning television sets could have seen the programme because at that time the BBC broadcast on alternate weeks the incompatible Baird and Marconi-EMI systems of television.

L.C. Mandeville was, of course, Margery Elwin’s husband and she did not get a mention in the BBC record. Did he do the talking and she the fish wrangling, or was there just a mix-up with who did what? Cecil Lewis was a co-founder of the BBC, First World War fighter ace and author; he wrote the classic, Sagittarius Rising, and died, aged 98 in 1997.

A photograph of the Water Life Exhibition stand:

Water Life Stand


Gulliver Aquarium Shop

The 14 July 1936 issue contains a photograph of Gulliver Aquarium, a shop “opposite Whiteley’s”. That would make it in Queensway, Bayswater, London. I can find no other details because the free publicity does not seem to have induced Gullivers to place an advertisement in the magazine. Google Streetview now shows the whole block redeveloped.


Obituary of A.E. Hodge

Water Life of 29 September 1936 carried an obituary of A.E. Hodge, founder and editor of the Aquarist:

It is with deep regret that we have to announce the death on September 19. of Mr. A.E. Hodge, F.Z.S. In 1927 [it was actually 1924], when the keeping of fishes was a new and rare hobby, Mr Hodge took courage and founded The Aquarist and Pondkeeper. No aquaria paper had ever been published before in this country and the enterprise which started it, and the unceasing hard work which was necessary for it to prosper, claim our greatest admiration…

Maxwell Knight and the Neon Tetra

An article by Maxwell Knight appears in the issue of 24 November 1936, A Fish to Dream About. Maxwell Knight was at this time a member of the Security Service or MI5 responsible for the successful of infiltration of fascist and communist organisations, the author of thrillers, an all-round naturalist and animal keeper. He was later to become a well-known broadcaster. I have described his book on keeping reptiles and amphibians previously.

He wrote:

Less than a month ago the first consignment of Neon Tetra was imported into England; there was only a score of specimens, and I count myself lucky in being one of the very first British aquarists to own this gem among fishes. I bought three pairs—or rather I should say six fishes—for they are very difficult to sex. Since the first arrival two further consignments have arrived and it is to be hoped that this fish will now become firmly established in the tanks of our really keen collectors.

Not being attracted to conspiracy theories when cock-up usually provides a more likely explanation, the thought did cross my mind though that given the editor’s political affiliations, as demonstrated earlier in this series, was the contact between the author of this article and the editor concerned solely with water life?

Leicester and an Attenborough Connection

I cannot help myself from including this family connection:

7 July 1936: Club Reports: Leicester Aquarists. Please Note! By kind permission of Mr F.L. Attenborough, M.A., Principal, the next meeting of the Leicester Aquarist Society will be held at University College on July 13 at 8 p.m. prompt.

F.L. Attenborough is Frederick Levi Attenborough, father of Richard and David, my third cousin three-times removed and great friend, colleague and cousin of my great-uncle (grand-uncle in genealogical usage).

In my next post I will cover the herpetological articles that appear in Volume 1.


One of the great joys of buying old books is finding a name on the flyleaf or some piece of paper left between the leaves. This volume has the name A.D. Joyce on the fly and a hand-written sheet amongst the pages of an invitation to form a local club for aquarists. I recall seeing the published notice either in Water Life or in the Aquarist. This is his draft:

Aquarists/Association with others interested in aquaria is of unestimable value. Many a wrough [sic] spot is made smooth through friendly comparison of knowledge. An endeavour is being made to local a local Aquarist Society to promote this interesting hobby. Mr Joyce 13 Ranelagh Rd would be pleased to meet others interested.

There are several Ranelagh Roads in England so I do not know where he was writing from.

The Aquarist and Pondkeeper Magazine from 1924 to the mid-1970s

I have not seen early editions of the Aquarist but thanks to an article in the April 1966 issue of the magazine by P.M. Fuller and the Silver Jubilee edition of 1949, I have been able to trace its early history.

A.E. Hodge

A.E. Hodge

As I have mentioned in earlier posts, the magazine was founded by Albert Ernest Hodge (1877-1936) in 1924 as The Amateur Aquarist. The first issue of 12 pages was in May 1924; it was priced at 6d. Publication was monthly. Each issue became 16 pages from July 1924 and in August it was retitled as The Amateur Aquarist and Reptilian Review.

It is apparent that not only were finances tight from the start, with appeals throughout the 1920s and 1930s for subscribers to pay more than the minimum (those making such donations were listed in each issue), but that Hodge was having difficulty managing a monthly publication. He announced that from September 1924 it would be published quarterly. In 1925, as initial subscriptions expired, he had a ‘buy-one-get-one-free’ offer to new subscribers.

Spring 1928 and volume 2 brought a change in title, to The Aquarist and Pondkeeper; that title lasted almost until the end.

F. Austin Watson

F. Austin Watson

After Hodge’s death, a friend, Frank Austin Watson (1903-1942) took over as editor. In 1941 the offices and printing works were destroyed by bombing. With the shortage of paper, readers, advertisers and staff, publication was suspended. Watson died in 1942, as a result of injuries sustained during Civil Defence duties.

A letter from Frank Tomkins in the Golden Jubilee edition of the Aquarist in October 1974 states that Hodge’s daughter, Violet, took over as publisher of the magazine, with the then printers, The Buckley Press, eventually acquiring it. Whether this change in ownership was before publication was suspended for the rest of the War is not stated.

After the war, the magazine was resurrected in 1946. The new editor was another friend of A.E. Hodge, Alec Frederick Fraser-Brunner (1906-1986). The Natural History Museum has biographical details, and he was the author of a number of books on fish. He made models and produced artwork for the new Fish Gallery in 1931. He was then employed part-time to work on the Plectognathi or Tetraodontiformes (trigger fish, puffer fish, molas etc) and he worked with the evacuated collection kept in the tunnels of Godstone Quarry from 1941 to 1944 during the Second World War. After his spell as editor of the Aquarist, he worked for the Colonial Office on a survey of the fish in the Gulf of Aden and then for FAO. He was appointed Director of the Van Kleef Aquarium (now demolished) in Singapore in 1956; in 1970 he became Curator of the Carnegie Aquarium (now also demolished except for a wall) at Edinburgh Zoo.

A.F. Fraser-Brunner

A.F. Fraser-Brunner

As Editor of the Aquarist Fraser-Brunner wrote to J.B.S. Haldane on 6 November 1946:

Could I prevail upon you to give me a little advice, and possibly help, on a matter which I feel is of some importance in my own field?
This journal [The Aquarist] caters for those people who try to keep fishes and other creatures alive in aquaria and ponds — a hobby which has provided science with much valuable data, and at the same time presents many interesting technical problems. So far most of the results have been achieved by empirical means, and it seems to me that the time is more than ripe to introduce more scientific methods.
     I have in mind what may be termed a Hydrobiological Society, consisting of zoologists, botanists, ecologists, biochemists, hydrologists, electrical and other engineers (for apparatus), geneticists, and other specialists whose work is in any way linked to aquarium-keeping. Such a Society could act in an advisory capacity to the Federation of British Aquatic Societies in which most aquarists are organised, and I am sure that both the hobby and science would benefit greatly by such co-operation.
     My aim in writing to you is to ask whether you can suggest any likely people to approach for such a purpose, since you have such wide contacts and are most likely to recommend the right kind of specialist.
     Trusting this is not too much to ask,

FB Sign

The reader of this blog will recall that Haldane had also been approached by Margery Elwin (Mrs Mandeville) of the rival publication, Water Life, earlier in 1946 and links were being established both scientifically and politically between the Mandevilles, Haldane and his new wife, Helen Spurway. Fraser-Brunner got what could be described as a polite brush off in a reply from Haldane’s secretary:

Professor Haldane was very interested in your letter of Nov 6th. He suggests that good people to approach would be 1) on the physiological side, Professor Munro Fox F.R.S. Bedford College 2) on the genetical side, Dr Helen Spurway, University College, Mrs Mandeville, 79, Eastcote Rd, Ruislip, Middx.
     Professor Haldane thinks they they all would be interested.

(There is a handwritten note to show that this letter was retyped with Lantz of Manchester added)

The lack of enthusiasm is evident in the fact that had he been really keen he would surely have passed the letter to his wife, rather than simply suggesting that Fraser-Brunner get in touch with her.

Nothing seems to have come of Fraser-Brunner’s initiative.

The Merlion logo designed by Fraser-Brunner

The Merlion logo designed by Fraser-Brunner

Fraser-Brunner is remembered by his lasting legacy to Singapore. He designed the Merlion logo for the Singapore Tourist Board which has become symbolic of Singapore since a statue of the beast was constructed in 1972.

Anthony Evans in 1976

Anthony Evans in 1976 when Editor of Pet Fish Monthly

Anthony Evans was editor from 1948 to 1966. He had a letter in the Times on 2 June 1951 on the tortoise trade:

Sir,—The report in The Times of the discovery of “about 1,500 dead tortoises” abandoned at Barking comes but a few months after another large batch of these animals was reported found on a London bombed site. Tortoises are now being imported in their thousands, and it is unfortunately true that the great majority of them have a very short life in our climate. Whether or not their natural reproduction can keep up with this pillage of their numbers is a matter for conjecture, and I suggest that the time has come for the question to be asked: “Is the further importation of these doomed creatures really necessary?

He left the Aquarist in January 1966 to become editor of the new magazine, Pet Fish Monthly. That magazine became the still extant Practical Fishkeeping.

Perkins Feb 1954

Lawrence E Perkins (right) holding an old single-lems reflex small plate camera while his brother fed a crayfish on whale meat. Meat was still, in this continuing post-war austerity, rationed and whale meat was sold as a protein source. From Water Life magazine, February-March 1954.

Lawrence E. Perkins became editor from the February 1966 edition. His had appeared in the magazine earlier mainly as a photographer but also as an author. From the index of births, marriages and deaths, I am pretty sure that he is Lawrence Edgar Perkins (1915-1987). His photographs often illustrated articles by his brother, Norman E. Perkins; there is a Norman E Perkins born in 1914 and died in 1966 (a note in the magazine by the owner of Tachbook Tropicals records his death).

That is as far as I am going. The Aquarist continued but eventually lost out to Practical Fishkeeping (no herpetology there). The title was sold, became Today’s Fishkeeper and eventually closed in the 1990s, I think.

For those with herpetological interests, coverage of the topic was always by and for a minority. Fish keepers became less interested in other forms of aquatic life in the wild, and the market became dominated by the tropical fish importer and retailer, together with the trade that supplied the often unreliable equipment.

UPDATED 23 April 2016

Letter heading of the magazine in 1946 (Fraser-Brunner's letter to J.B.S. Haldane)

Letter heading of the magazine in 1946 (Fraser-Brunner’s letter to J.B.S. Haldane)