Page images
[ocr errors][ocr errors]

my subscribers, neither do I put the case in a different light or more forcible manner than heretofore; yet I trust they will pardon me the repetition, in the knowledge that it is to the interest of all parties, to the interest of the science, and to the interest of the public at large, that the proposed object should be attained.

I now proceed with the agreeable occupation of noticing the contents of the present volume; and these I shall attempt to marshal in the usual order, passing over Quadrupeds as a class in which nothing particularly new or striking has been recorded.

In Birds, we have had three additions to the British list during the year :

the most remarkable of these is a bustard shot in Lincolnshire: this bird was first announced as the Little Bustard (Zool. 1969), by Mr. Roberts, who preserved it, but the same gentleman corrected the error in a subsequent number (Zool. 2065), and it was then pronounced to be the Houbara (Otis Houbara), a well-known African species: subsequently, however, Mr. Gould has minutely examined the specimen, and thinks it agrees more closely with the Otis M'Queenii of Persia; but it seems highly probable that these are but local varieties of the same bird, the difference between them being extremely slight; in fact Mr. G. R. Gray has given the names as synonymous in his 'Genera of Birds,' p. 83.

This bird will probably take its station in our lists as the Houbara (Otis Houbara), or, among those who adopt sub-genera, as the Houbara undulata of G. R. Gray. There seems no reason to suspect that this bird had escaped from an aviary, as was at first suggested; its visit to this island seems to have been perfectly spontaneous; yet I do not value so highly as some of our ornithologists the occurrence within our boundaries of a bird which has no kind of claim to be considered a native.

The second addition to our birds is the Melodious Willow-Wren (Sylvia hippolais of Temminck), killed near Dover, and reported to the “ Zoologist' by Dr. Plomley (Zool. 2228). This exquisite songster is well known as a migrant native in Europe, and its occurrence on the southern coast of England was always considered probable. I

trust, that now attention is invited to the subject, other ornithologists will ascertain and report to the “Zoologist' the occurrence of this bird as one of our regular migrants; and at the same time I would beg to solicit a more minute description of the specimen, in order that ornithologists generally may satisfy themselves of the identity of the species.

The third addition to our birds is the American White-winged Crossbill (Loxia leucoptera), a single specimen of which has occurred in Dorsetshire (Zool. 2300), the bird previously known by this name being the Two-barred Crossbill of Europe (Loxia bifasciata of Nilsson). The North-American species can only be considered an accidental visitor.

I have generally refrained as much as possible from expressing approbation of particular contributions,—and where they are so numerous, so interesting, and so highly important in a scientific point of view, as in the present volume, the enumeration of valuable papers would in itself be a task of no small labour; I cannot, however, allow this opportunity to pass without expressing my warmest admiration of Mr. Bury's paper on British Birds occurring in the South of Spain (Zool. 1958), and Mr. Milner's observations on the Birds of Sutherlandshire and Ross-shire (Zool. 2014) and of St. Kilda and the Outer Hebrides (Zool. 2054). I have received several contributions touching the early arrival of the fieldfare ; two of these have been published: I beg to state that the general arrival of fieldfares took place, as usual, on the 30th and 31st of October, and that I fear some mistake has occurred: I consider it probable that the missel thrush, which by the middle of September had collected in small flocks of from ten to thirty, was mistaken for the fieldfare: in this view of the subject I am supported by Mr. Henry Doubleday, and I know of no ornithologist whose opinion is entitled to equal weight.

The communications made to the Admiralty by Captain M'Quhæ has turned public attention to the possibility of the existence of a SeaSerpent (Zool. 2307). My own views on this subject have long been known: two years have elapsed since I expressed an opinion (Zool.

1604), that although the evidence then before the public was perhaps insufficient to convince those who had hypotheses of their own to support, yet that it was far too strong for the fact-naturalist, the inquirer after truth, to dismiss without investigation. To advance such an opinion as this,-to admit the possibility of the existence of a seaserpent in so enlightened an age as the nineteenth century,-of course led to my being loaded with ridicule; loaded, but not overwhelmed, for I immediately afterwards ventured on expressing a still bolder opinion,-no less than that of suggesting its affinity to a tribe of animals supposed to be extinct. I stated on the wrapper of No. 54 that the Enaliosauri of authors would, if living, present the appearances described. Almost immediately after this I published the statement of Captain Sullivan and five other British officers, who deliberately assert (Zool. 1715) that they saw-while on a fishing excursion on the coast of British America-a sea-serpent, which they supposed to be eighty or a hundred feet in length; its head, six feet in length, and its neck, also six feet in length, were the only parts constantly above water, and resembled those of a common snake: the creature passed them with great rapidity, “ leaving a regular wake.” Nothing is said of any undulating movement, or of any appearance of portions or coils of the body.

The statement of Captain M'Quhæ (Zool. 2307), and that obligingly furnished expressly for the Zoologist' by Lieutenant Drummond (Zool. 2306), essentially corroborate the evidence of Captain Sullivan and his companions: the length and position of the head and neck, and their being kept constantly above water, closely correspond; the estimated total length corresponds; the nonobservance of any undulation corresponds,-indeed Captain M'Quhæ expressly states that no portion of the animal appeared to be used in “propelling it through the water, either by vertical or horizontal undulation.” Thus we have two separate statements closely corresponding with each other, and each statement is vouched for by several British officers whose veracity has never been called in question : under these circumstances we may afford to dismiss from this inquiry all those assertions of American captains which have been treated in this country with such contempt. Resting the evidence solely on the

authority of British officers, I then wish to state my unhesitating conviction that a marine animal of enormous size does exist, and that it differs essentially from any living animal described in our systematic works; and here I cannot refrain from expressing my regret that the statement of Captain Sullivan should have been so entirely neglected as it has been: it appears to me in all respects equally trustworthy with the official statement of Captain M'Quhæ.

The next question which occurs is this——to what class of vertebrate animals must we refer this monster of the deep? Is it a mammal, bird, reptile, or fish? All these classes include animals whose home is the ocean.

To commence with placental mammals ;--we have otters, seals, walruses and sea-cows, all of which breathe atmospheric air, and, therefore, when swimming on the surface usually keep their nostrils--often their heads-above the water: they also propel themselves by means of submerged feet or paddles, and, when inclined, can move along the surface with rapid, direct and continuous motion. Professor Owen (Zool. 2312), in accordance with these views, declares the animal to be a seal, Phoca proboscidia or P. leonina, but his reasoning on the point appears to me very inconclusive: he assigns to the animal a “capacious vaulted cranium,” whereas Lieutenant Drummond (Zool. 2307) declares the head was “long, pointed, and flattened at the top," adding that it was “perhaps ten feet in length, the upper jaw projecting considerably.” Captain M'Qubæ, also, subsequently to Professor Owen's paper, repeats (Zool. 2323) that “the head was flat, and not a capacious vaulted cranium.” The captain, who must be annoyed at the insinuation that in an official report he had magnified a seal into a sea-serpent, emphatically declares that

its great length and its totally differing physiognomy preclude the possibility of its being a Phoca of any species.” This idea must therefore be abandoned; the other marine mammals still remaining open for future consideration.

Among Birds we have no approach to the animal described.

The Enaliosauri next claim our attention, and, for the present purpose, I could wish to separate them from the Reptiles, because I feel doubtful of their reptilian nature.

For this doubt I could urge many

reasons in connexion with the views I have long since published in the ‘System of Nature, but, waiving all considerations which may be considered speculative, I would invite the attention of naturalists to the figure of Ichthyosaurus as restored by geologists, to the shape of the beak, the situation of the blow-holes, the character of the paddles, the mammalian structure exhibited by a section of the vertebræ, the extraordinary conformation of the sternum, and the smoothness of the skin ; and when they have well considered these important points, I would inquire whether these distinguishing features are not rather mammalian than reptilian? and, again, whether they are not rather marsupial than placental ? I have already pointed out the manupedine, ferine, glirine and brutine groups of warsupials; why should we not also have a cetine group? Without making any other use of this suggestion than that of temporarily separating the Enaliosaurians from the reptiles, I now request the reader's attention to the arguments of Mr. Morries Stirling (Zool. 2309) and of F. G. S. (Zool. 2311), both of whom support the opinion which I had previously broached as to the Enaliosaurian character of the sea-serpent,-a view controverted by Dr. Melville (Zool. 2310) and Professor Owen (Zool. 2316), on the ground that the Enaliosaurians are extinct; but here I may perhaps be permitted to remark, that this fact, being only assumed, does not touch the main question.

Proceeding to Reptiles proper, and referring to the suggestion of an anonymous contributor to the Times,' quoted by Dr. Cogswell (Zool. 2321, note), we find it questioned whether the animal may not have been a boa; and I may observe that the evidence concerning the head, which has been repeatedly described as precisely resembling that of a snake or serpent, together with the fact of the animal holding its head clear of the water, are so many points in favour of its belonging to the Ophidia; but, on the other hand, we must place the non-observance of that undulating mode of progression which every snake must employ,—and it amounts to more than non-observance, for Captain M'Quhæ, who directed his attention to this point especially, declares that such undulation did not exist. Again, the enormous length-three times that of a boa-militates against this

« EelmineJätka »