Bird Talk

Today, Sharon ‘fesses up to talking to animals… but finds an ally in Mary.

There’s no two ways about it, I’m an animal lover – both domestic and wild. I constantly chat away to my cats, who in turn communicate their needs to me. The change in tone or pitch of their purr, their stature, the lifting of a paw to be stroked and the numerous vocal noises all indicate a different need to which I instinctively react. In the garden I find myself reassuring the  birds and squirrels that I’m not a threat when refilling their feeders and when a curious little robin tilts its head I do wonder whether it is actually trying to make sense of what this mad human is saying.

It is refreshing to know that I am not alone when it comes to communicating with animals. Since working on the Dr Mary Gillham Archive project and having the privilege of reading some of her diaries, I have discovered that Mary also communicated with her feathered friends.

In May 1960, during a visit to South Africa, which was primarily to study the effect of guano and its harvesting on bird and other wildlife on some of the islands off the Western Cape (Documented in her paper: Some Interactions of Plants, Rabbits and Sea Birds on South African Islands).

Mary describes summoning a flock of red-winged starlings (Onychognathus morio)…

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… and later in the afternoon she was chatting with a Cape Robin (Cossypha caffra).

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Discover more about Mary’s interaction with birds and other animals by reading other blogs on the Mary Gillham Archive Project website, and follow our progress on Facebook, Flickr and on Twitter.

Colleagues and contemporaries…

Explore Your Archive is a joint campaign delivered by The National Archives and the Archives and Records Association across the UK and Ireland. It aims to showcase the unique potential of archives to excite people, bring communities together, and tell amazing stories. We’re blogging all week to show off Mary Gillham’s archive…

Dr Mary Gillham was obviously quite an exceptional person. The willingness and drive to travel at a time uncommon for many women; a database-like mind that could come up with the location of a piece of paper hidden away in a particular folder; the foresightedness to write down everything she saw in the knowledge that it would be useful at some point in the future. She was, by all accounts, a very good botanist and teacher educating hundreds (thousands?) of people throughout a lecturing, teaching and authoring career spanning well over half a century.

However, she didn’t do it all alone. There are many, many names written in her archive of people who she worked with or shared knowledge with. As a member (and occasional president) of the Cardiff Naturalists’ Society and Glamorgan Naturalists’ Trust she was surrounded by many enthusiastic biologists who contributed to her knowledge; she relied on staff in the botany department from the National Museum to assist with particularly difficult plant identifications and went on numerous joint field excursions with colleagues from Cardiff University. Then, of course, there was the network of community members – birders, botanists, historians, geologists and more – who provided knowledge, experience and help to enable Mary to achieve all that she did.

Those people are acknowledged in this blog.

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There are loads more people mentioned in Mary’s archive who we don’t have pictures of; listed below are some of the names which reappear in the archive. Sincere apologies to those we’ve missed – it’s still a work in progress and this list continues to grow…

Name
Adrian Amsden Chris Powell (Cardiff Council)
Alex Coxhead Nicola Hutchinson (Cardiff Council)
Allan Pickens Alan Orange (Cardiff Museum)
Ceri Williams George Hutchinson (Cardiff Museum)
Clive and Lyn Thomas Gwynn Ellis (Cardiff Museum)
Colin Titcombe John Deeming (Cardiff Museum)
David Lewis June Chatfield (Cardiff Museum)
David White Roy Perry (Cardiff Museum)
Dick Blaire Alan Wilkins (Cardiff Naturalists’ Society)
Doug Thomas Andy and Rhian Kendall (Cardiff Naturalists’ Society)
Dr K Jones Brian Bond (Cardiff Naturalists’ Society)
Dr. John Howden Colonel H Morrey Salmon (Cardiff Naturalists’ Society)
Gilbert Davies Cynthia Merritt (Cardiff Naturalists’ Society)
Gladys Barrett Hilary Perry (Cardiff Naturalists’ Society)
Gladys James Jeff Curtis (Cardiff Naturalists’ Society)
Gwynn Thomas Jenny Tann (Cardiff Naturalists’ Society)
Gwynneth Lougher Joan Andrews (Cardiff Naturalists’ Society)
Ian Smith Joan Raum (Cardiff Naturalists’ Society)
Ivor Penberthy Linda Morris and Phil Blanning (Cardiff Naturalists’ Society)
Jack Evans Mary Leishman (Cardiff Naturalists’ Society)
Jan Turton Mary Salter (Cardiff Naturalists’ Society)
Joan Andrews Rob and Linda Nottage (Cardiff Naturalists’ Society)
John Chater Chris Mettam (Cardiff University)
John Zehetmayer David Erasmus (Cardiff University)
Linda Morgan John Perkins (Cardiff University)
Mairead Sutherland Madeleine Havard (Cardiff University)
Margaret Barrow Mike Claridge (Cardiff University)
Mary and Bill Cleaver Peter Ferns (Cardiff University)
Mary Bruce Ursula Henriques (Cardiff University)
Nanće James Doug Fraser (Extramural)
Nigel Ajax Lewis Richard Marks (Extramural)
Norma Proctor Martin Doe (Howardian)
Ozzi Gates Martin McVay (Howardian)
Paul Marshman Derek Packer (Merthyr Naturalists’ Society)
Professor Harry Lloyd Gil Barter (Natural Resources Wales)
Raymond Lyle Peter Jones (Natural Resources Wales)
Robert Hubbard Mel Watkins (Nature Conservancy Council)
Rosemary and David Hufton Cliff Woodhead (WTSWW)
Syd Johnson Diana Phillips (WTSWW)
Ted Parry William Loughour
Trevor Evans Wynn Thomas
Will Evans Yvonne Cairns

We hope you have enjoyed Exploring our Archive this week. We’ll be exploring Mary’s archive for a little while longer yet, so please get in touch with your thoughts, opinions, memories or suggestions. We’d love to hear from you.

The Mary Gillham Archive Project is funded by HLF and managed by SEWBReC
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The March of Mary Gillham

Explore Your Archive is a joint campaign delivered by The National Archives and the Archives and Records Association across the UK and Ireland. It aims to showcase the unique potential of archives to excite people, bring communities together, and tell amazing stories. We’re blogging all week to show off Mary Gillham’s archive…

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Laura, project volunteer and Cardiff University student

Today, one of the project’s volunteers, Laura, relates some of Mary’s many encounters with penguins...

Throughout her life, Mary Gillham had a fascination with seabirds and their effect on surrounding vegetation. This founded her interest in penguins and seeing as today would have been Mary’s 95th birthday, we have explored a few of her many fieldtrips in which she studied the feeding and mating behaviour of these birds we have all grown to love.

 

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Mary Gillham introducing herself to two royal penguins

One of Mary’s first trips to see penguins was her Antarctic expedition to Macquarie Island in 1959, which was the first trip to the region to include females (more on this later in the year!). Not only was this a huge step forward in the work of female scientists but also a chance to observe one of the “great penguin colonies” with thousands of royal penguin’s resident on the island. Mary described the penguins as delightful, with having little fear of humans or interacting with her. She noted every detail of their behaviour from the raising of their chicks to the youngsters practising their nest-making by “picking up pebbles and even paper balls” found on the beach.

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Newspaper article from ‘The Australian Women’s Weekly’ on the 23rd December 1959, describing the departure of Mary and her academic peers to the Antarctic.

The presence of other penguin species was also recorded by Mary with the island being home to rock hoppers, gentoo and king penguins, and other researchers have since visited Macquarie to continue some of her work. As part of the Explore Your Archive campaign, I was lucky enough to see a royal penguin specimen taken from Macquarie Island at the time of Mary’s visit on display in the National Museum Cardiff. This brought to life some of Mary’s work and allowed me to admire some of her detailed descriptions of the species.

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 King penguin collected from Macquarie Island by Shackleton showcased at the Explore Your Archive event at National Museum Cardiff

Mary also visited regions of South Africa on her return from Antarctica and Australasia where she recorded further penguin colonies, in the more unlikely regions of the globe. She kept detailed journals in which she would record everything from behaviour of penguins she encountered to locals waiting to greet her on arrival at a new location.  Mary visited many islands along the South African coastline, with Dassen Island being of particular interest to her. Despite the island wall African penguins still nested in large numbers and were described as “objecting” to such man made features. On this particular island Mary focused on looking at the survival of offspring, with local fisherman being reported to often take penguin eggs as the area could not constantly be monitored by police. She investigated the affectability and methods used to remove eggs from a nest and also looked at the economic value, with 200lbs estimated to sell for roughly £1.13 a bag at the time. Mary was likely one of the first scientists to identify potential threats to penguin populations in South Africa and emphasised the need to conserve local colonies from anthropogenic threats.

See: Some interactions of plants, rabbits and sea birds on South African island, 1963

One of our own volunteers at the Mary Gillham Archive Project, Laura Missen, has since been able to visit South Africa, following in Mary’s footsteps to observe African penguin populations on Boulder Beach near Cape Town. Laura described her experience as “surreal” with penguins surfing and nesting on the beach for as far as the eye could see. Laura was particularly surprised to see penguins swimming in the warm open ocean whilst exploring the coastline by boat as this is not the typical habitat portrayed for this iconic bird species. Extensive efforts have since been put into place to conserve penguin habitats in South Africa, with specific beaches such as Boulders being made into a marine protected area, in the hope to protect and minimise human impact on exposed penguin colonies.

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African penguin braving the surf. Photo credits: Laura Missen

If you want to learn more about Mary’s work on penguins and her travels to various seabird colonies around the globe feel free to contact the archiving team. Alternatively, Mary wrote a book on the ecology and behaviour of sea-birds based on her scientific studies, which provides an insight into some of her research and expeditions.

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The Mary Gillham Archive Project is funded by HLF and managed by SEWBReC


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Penelope

Explore Your Archive is a joint campaign delivered by The National Archives and the Archives and Records Association across the UK and Ireland. It aims to showcase the unique potential of archives to excite people, bring communities together, and tell amazing stories. We’re blogging all week to show off Mary Gillham’s archive…

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Dr Catherine Duigan, Steering Group member and proudly Irish

Today, one of the project’s Steering Group, Dr Catherine Duigan started to write about Mary’s many visits to Ireland but got distracted by Mary’s first car on its first trip out – to Catherine’s homeland, Ireland.

Everybody remembers their first car with affection and that glorious sense of freedom. My first car was a Renault 5 called “Liberty” which allowed me to collect zooplankton samples from lakes throughout Ireland, from Donegal to Kerry. It was fun to discover that Mary Gillham’s first car also gave her the freedom to explore Ireland. We could have exchanged tales of adventure.

In her book This Island Life (date), Mary wrote:

“I had recently returned from my wanderings in the Southern Hemisphere, to settle in South Wales and had become the proud owner of my first car. A lover of winding lanes rather than screeching highways, I decided to try her out in the Emerald Isles. It was a little unnerving seeing her swung aboard the Irish ferry by crane at Fishguard, three chocks fixed around each wheel, also backing her down the ramp from the railway wagon on which she had achieved her first short passage in Rosslare, but the miles to come were delightful.”

Examination of the Irish photographs revealed the little car was a blue Hillman Minx, with the registration number 6613PL. On its first outing this brave car made it all the way to Slea Head on the end of the Dingle Peninsula.

 

Working on instinct I then set Annie, our marvellous volunteer, the challenge of finding out if Mary gave her car a name. Annie loves being surrounded by Mary’s diaries and books and having the time to read them, especially the accounts from her native New Zealand.

She hit pay dirt on pages 62-63 of This Island Life:

“Penelope (my car) turned west, across the head of Roaringwater Bay to Balledehob and Mizzen Head, she enjoying the uncluttered roads, me the fabulous scenery.”

 Read more wonderful blog posts by Catherine HERE!

 

The Mary Gillham Archive Project is funded by HLF and managed by SEWBReC


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Chapman’s Peak Road and Hout Bay, Cape Peninsula, South Africa

Explore Your Archive is a joint campaign delivered by The National Archives and the Archives and Records Association across the UK and Ireland. It aims to showcase the unique potential of archives to excite people, bring communities together, and tell amazing stories. We’re blogging all week to show off Mary Gillham’s archive…

Today, one of the project’s volunteers, Sharon, writes about Mary’s trip through South Africa, a place she knows herself.

The drive along the west coast of the Cape Peninsula from Noordhoek to Hout Bay takes you on the Chapman’s Peak Road. The road, an engineering feat of its time, is cut into the rugged, near vertical side of the Chapman’s Peak mountain from which it gets its name. The winding road caresses the mountain side and the scenery in both directions is absolutely stunning.


Little did I know when I visited there in 2012 that I was walking in the footsteps of Dr. Mary Gillham. Mary’s primary reason for visiting South Africa was to study the affect of guano and its harvesting on bird and other wildlife on some of the islands off the Western Cape, which was documented in her journal, “Some Interactions of Plants, Rabbits and Sea Birds on South African Islands” – Journal of Ecology, Vol. 51, No. 2 (Jul., 1963), pp. 275-294.

Mary took full advantage of her time in South Africa and, like me, did a lot of sightseeing. As a volunteer of the Dr. Mary Gillham Archive project I have had the privilege of reading some of Mary’s travel diaries detailing her visit to Africa in 1960. While in Cape Town she stayed in Claremont with Bunty Rowan (Mary Katherine Rowan; a microbiologist at the Fishing Industry Research Institute and an active member of the South African Ornithological Society) and her husband Bertus (who was also involved in the fishing industry). On the 5th May 1960 she too traveled along the Chapman’s Peak Road and recorded it in her diary.

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Mary’s recollections from travelling around the Cape Peninsula

Unfortunately, in the archive, we do not have the photographs Mary took, so I have included my own from 2012. I am sure we stopped at exactly the same view point along the road as Mary did and this would have been the spectacular view she would have had of Hout Bay.

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Hout Bay

Hout Bay, formerly a fishing village still maintains a fishing harbour and its beach, enclosed by mountains on three sides, is a huge attraction for those seeking solace from the hustle and bustle of Cape Town. I love the way Mary’s diaries show her constantly absorbing information, making historical references and corrections. Reading her work makes you want to find out more yourself.

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Mary writing about the Bay

Here she mentions the Skaifes. Sydney Skaife (an eminent South African entomologist and naturalist) was Bunty Rowan’s father and was key to setting up the Cape of Good Hope Nature Reserve.

Cape fur seals (Arctocephalus pusillus) have been protected in South Africa since 1990. Duiker Island near Hout Bay is a sanctuary for thousands of seals and birds and the seals can often be seen in Hout Bay enjoying a few titbits from the fishermen there.


As a volunteer on the Mary Gillham Archive project it has been lovely looking back at my own memories of the Cape Peninsula and seeing it through Mary’s eyes.

 

The Mary Gillham Archive Project is funded by HLF and managed by SEWBReC
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Accessing memories

Explore Your Archive is a joint campaign delivered by The National Archives and the Archives and Records Association across the UK and Ireland. It aims to showcase the unique potential of archives to excite people, bring communities together, and tell amazing stories. We’re blogging all week to show off Mary Gillham’s archive…

One of the aspects of Mary’s archives which fascinates me is how much of it acts as an extention of her memory. Natalie has already talked about how accessible the language is that Mary uses but, more than that, it feels like a lot of the archive is written as if to herself – to remind her about the places she visited and even the conversation she had whilst there.

Mary was not short of words (her archive, 20+ books and innumerable talks and lectures proves that) and there is often a profusion of words describing in great detail what she and her colleagues had been up to. The sheer effort, time and motivation to do this so regularly speaks volumes about the character of Mary, recognising the importance of what she is doing and preserving it for when it may be required.

What’s more she appeared to have had the ability to recollect the position of certain documents within her filing system and reach straight for them – even amending and augmenting them months or even years later.  This at a time, don’t forget, where she had no database nor fine scale filing system and no computer to search for documents.

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She makes notes to herself which are either corrected or answered at a later date showing none of the outward concern that many of us have of appearing to be wrong, or not knowing something.

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Take this slide for instance; after taking the time to record what it shows (an ox-bow on the River Rhymney which has been pinched off to leave an island) at some point in the future (different pen, slight changes to the handwriting) she has realised that the picture is actually of something completely different. Rather than cover her erroneous text and write afresh she decided to leave it and correct the description. Why..? I’m not sure we’ll find out.

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Finally, here is an example of many of these in one document. There is a note to self (describing a dithyrambic staff member), confirmation of the site being along the Llanishen Brook and an update 22(!) years after the letter was written about the value of acid heath.

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That Mary was so conscientious about making notes and recording what she did is something that we can be very grateful for indeed. In time, these notes will serve as a great social-cultural record and the description of wildlife and landscapes will become increasingly important as generations advance and there is no-one left with a living memory of how they were…

 

The Mary Gillham Archive Project is funded by HLF and managed by SEWBReC
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At Sea with the Great Whales

Explore Your Archive is a joint campaign delivered by The National Archives and the Archives and Records Association across the UK and Ireland. It aims to showcase the unique potential of archives to excite people, bring communities together, and tell amazing stories. We’re blogging all week to show off Mary Gillham’s archive…

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Laura, project volunteer and future marine mammalogist.

Today, one of the project’s volunteers, Laura, tells the tail of a journey she unwittingly shared with Mary though a few years later...

Mary visited Cape Cod, Massachusetts on the 15th October 1988. She set off with the Whale Watch Dolphin Fleet of Provincetown, the first ever whale-watching company to be established in Cape Cod. I visited the same area in August 2012, 24 years on and it seems we had some very similar encounters. I want to take you through the journey and share some photos I took on my trip to hopefully inspire you to get out and see them for yourselves!

Mary sailed out from the very north tip of the Cape, 6 miles to Stellwagan Bank, a well-known feeding area for whales. The cold upwelling of nutrients from the Labrador Current makes Cape Cod a hotspot for whales.Mary noted the sea being calm, like rippling sand, the perfect conditions to spot a whale.

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It wasn’t long before gulls were seen swarming above the water; a good indicator of a nearby whale, and to Mary’s delight, there appeared a Humpback whale (Megaptera novaeangliae) . Below you will see a picture of one of the many humpbacks that I encountered on my trip. You can see the trace of its big blow as it came up to surface, just arching it takes another dive, the white underside of its huge pectoral fins visible. Their flippers can be a third of the size of their bodies, larger than any other whale.

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A humpback whale (Megaptera novaeangliae)

Onboard marine biologists had named 280 humpback whales in the area; Mary came across a well-known female called ‘Old Salt’. With her were three males; all feeding together, That day Mary witnessed a cooperative behaviour that is still baffling scientists; a behaviour that few had ever seen.

The whales worked together, blowing huge bubbles from below a bait ball of sand eels to cast a ‘bubble net’ from which the fish could not escape. When the time was right all the whales rose through the middle in synchrony, their knobbly noses protruding from the surface and their mouths wide open. Their baleen plates hung like curtains from their upper jaw as they cruised through the surface, jaws agape, catching hundreds of sand eels before eventually clamping their jaws shut, trapping the struggling little fish, a tasty snack for the whales.

Seagulls also played their part in this feeding frenzy. Perching near the blowhole of the whale’s back, they would feed off the damaged scraps missed by the giant lunge of the whale’s mouth. One of the whales tried to make a show of it, cruising alongside the lower deck of the boat, displaying his magnificent baleen plates, nearly close enough for Mary to reach out and touch. Considering these animals can reach 53ft, this must have been a thrilling experience for Mary.

Eventually the whales dipped under the surface, arching vertically with grace, bringing up their tail flukes and dived beneath the surface, into the abyss. Not all whales will lift their flukes out of the water upon diving, humpback are one of the more charismatic species and love to show off. I caught the moment one displayed her magnificent flukes to me as she went beneath the blue.

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So long, and thanks for all the fish…

Mary was so lucky to have seen this bubble net behaviour, work has only just begun on understanding how whales coordinate with each other so synchronously, they will never stop surprising us.

As one whale disappeared, another appeared from the blue. This time it was a fin whale (Balaenoptera physalus), the second largest animal on the planet. Mary described them as submarines, and from my experience I would have to agree! They lack the hump of the humpback whales; they are more streamlined, looking so graceful as they glide across the surface and take a breath, leaving a giant ‘footprint’ on the water as they continue on. Unlike the humpbacks, fin whales rarely emerge any part of their body from the water. I was very lucky to witness one surface so closely, catching the moment it took a large breath, presenting a glimpse of its long back and mouth.

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A fin whale (Balaenoptera physalus)

Mary encountered quite an unusual whale, the entirety of the left side of his fluke was missing, a cut so clean it must have been from a boat propeller, highlighting the detrimental impact that humans can still have upon such a large animal.

After spending some time taking in the beauty of the fin whale, Mary and team left it in peace and set off to find one of the more elusive species present in the cape, the minke whale (Balaenoptera acutorostrata). They are the smallest of the baleen whales and were a little more shy and distant. My personal experience was similar, they were very hesitant to come close and quickly swam away as the boat approached, though I did catch a glimpse. Mary, however, managed to note the huge numbers of barnacles present on one Minke whale’s skin, which gives them a white speckled appearance. This individual was identified as Freski. Little was known about minke whales at the time, and there are still many questions to be answered. However this male was known to have been living in Cape Cod for more than 70 years, and we don’t even know if this is old for a whale!

Cape cod was at the peak of whaling in the 1700’s, most were hunted to near extinction. However, it seems that these great whales have made a staggering recovery and we are so lucky to still have them roaming these waters for us to enjoy, and hopefully they will thrive for future generations to see. I am so lucky to have visited Cape Cod myself and to have followed in Mary’s footsteps, and would encourage anyone to get on a boat, wherever whales can be found, and go see for yourselves how magnificent these giants are, it truly puts everything in perspective.

 

The Mary Gillham Archive Project is funded by HLF and managed by SEWBReC
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Food for my spirit

Explore Your Archive is a joint campaign delivered by The National Archives and the Archives and Records Association across the UK and Ireland. It aims to showcase the unique potential of archives to excite people, bring communities together, and tell amazing stories. We’re blogging all week to show off Mary Gillham’s archive …

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Annie Irving – Project volunteer (and Kiwi!)

Today, one of the Project volunteers, Annie, writes about Mary’s time spent in Annie’s h0meland.

On my very first day of volunteering on the Mary Gillham Archive Project I was reading Mary’s diaries of her time in New Zealand, my homeland, and almost immediately came across the name of someone I knew so I feel a personal, albeit very tenuous connection to Mary. She spent a year in New Zealand, arriving on board the SS Rangitoto on Saturday 22 December 1956:

The ‘long white cloud’ – Maori ‘Ao Tea Roa’ – which lies typically over N.Z. was to be seen as a long black strop with scalloped gold edge as a blazing red sun sank behind it. Beams of light radiated upwards and outwards and the sky was pink and turquoise – a sunset like no other I have seen.

If it’s true what they say about ‘red sky at night, shepherd’s delight’ then I think Mary was fated to enjoy her time in the Shaky Isles, and she certainly explored more of Aotearoa than the average New Zealander.

Though officially in New Zealand on an exchange lecturership at Massey University, Mary also used her time for field research into the country’s unique flora and fauna, in particular the bird life of the many islands dotted around New Zealand’s extremely long coastline. Within weeks of her arrival she was marvelling at a magnificent male Royal Albatross on Otago Peninsula with ranger Stanley Sharpe: ‘a lone male was sitting out on the hillside and we were able to watch it at close quarters for almost an hour – he, having no natural enemies, taking little notice of us’; and, a week later, delighting in the antics of penguins at Ringa Ringa Beach on Stewart Island: ‘[we] were entertained by a yellow crested penguin who had come inshore to moult and wasn’t going back to sea for any humans’.

 

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Mary at Ringa Ringa Beach on Stewart Island

 

She marvelled at the nesting gannets at Cape Kidnappers: ‘Adults were “necking” and “billing” and holding grass in their beaks and we saw some “swallow” the chick’s head in feeding’; was unsettled by the kakas on Kapiti Island: ‘it was most disconcerting to be firing the [camera] trigger at a couple of wekas and a tui with a kaka landing plomp on my head’; and was entertained by blue penguins on The Brothers: ‘2 of them ran into a fallen Hebe bough and one got annoyed and blamed the other, leaping across his back and then slapping the bird’s sides with resounding thwacks of his flippers’.
 

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Gannets at Cape Kidnappers by Annie Irving

 

Although she moved in intellectual social circles, rubbing shoulders with world-famous ecologists and meeting mayors, ministers and members of parliament, I get the impression from reading her diaries that Mary enjoyed most the many hours she spent in New Zealand’s wilder, less inhabited places.

She was delighted by the hospitality of the friendly natives during a week-long sojourn at the Maori village on Motiti Island: ‘I gathered after that this community was a very conservative one, seldom allowing pakehas [white people] within the walls and that I had been very favoured’, and revelled in the solitude of remote East Coast locations: ‘thistles grew about the hotel and the only sign of life was an odd Maori. Quiet we found it but not that dead and the setting was altogether delightful.’

 

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Mary at Waipiro Bay, East Coast

As she wrote in her book about her experiences, A Naturalist in New Zealand (Museum Press, London and Reed Books, New Zealand, 1966), New Zealand was to her ‘a place where I could run free and find food for my spirit’.

 

You can read more excellent blogs by Annie HERE and HERE!

 

The Mary Gillham Archive Project is funded by HLF and managed by SEWBReC
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Explore Your Archive: Wonder Women!

Saturday 19th November marked the beginning of Explore Your Archive week, which kicked off with the ‘Wonder Women’ event at National Museum Cardiff. This all-day event celebrated the work and lives of women that feature within archives, from scientists and archaeologists to the ‘Welsh mam’.

At the event we had a Mary Gillham table where snippets of her work were displayed; including her diaries, slides, field work and some of her books, and volunteers educated people about Mary’s life and career in conservation.

An impressive stuffed penguin from the museum’s collections obtained by Ernest Shackleton on a 1900’s trip to Macquarie Islands was on display, and a TV screen at our table was playing an old video of Glamorgan from the 1960’s called ‘County Awakening’; both of which sparked a lot of interest and turned out to be a big hit with visitors!

Alongside the information stalls there was a very busy kid’s colouring table and a board where people could share who their own ‘wonder woman’ was, meaning there was something for everyone at the event.

Overall the day was a huge success and visitors of all ages were engaged with the amazing work of Mary and the other Wonder Women at the event.

A big thanks to all of the lovely volunteers (Annie, Pat, Sarah, Laura P, Laura M) that were able to be there on Saturday to make the day as great as it was!

 

Mary’s love of language

Explore Your Archive is a joint campaign delivered by The National Archives and the Archives and Records Association across the UK and Ireland. It aims to showcase the unique potential of archives to excite people, bring communities together, and tell amazing stories. We’re blogging all week to show off Mary Gillham’s archive…

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Natalie Christie – Biodiversity Information Assistant

Today, our Cardiff University placement student Nat, who is spending a year working on the project, writes about Mary’s use of language. 

Whilst studying a Zoology degree at university we are constantly reminded to be as concise and precise as possible in the way that we write. This can be advantageous when trying to make a point when writing a scientific paper, however it also means that the writing style is less engaging and more difficult to read.

What I’m noticing during my time at the Mary Gillham Archive Project is how, whilst communicating in a scientific way, Mary also includes detailed and eloquent descriptions in her written work; really making the science come alive.

Take, for example, the jellyfish. A textbook from the university library, ‘Marine Biology’ by Thurman and Webber (1984), describes them like this: “Schyphozoa, or jellyfish, are feeble swimmers. Their body, which is mostly mesoglea, can reach a relatively large size and still have virtually no biomass. Schyphozoa are carnivores that use tentacles with nematocysts to capture prey.”

However Mary describes them as “beautiful pulsating phantoms with silken fringes, like animated lamp shades”, a much more poetic description than the former.

Whilst relaying scientific information, unlike a lot of modern scientific writing, Mary has the ability to create incredible imagery in the reader’s mind; making her work much more engaging to read. Her creative description of Australian geckoes is a perfect example; she describes how they had “fat stored in their tails – making them resemble Dr. Doolittle’s Pushmi-pullyu”… Not a comparison you’re likely to find in a modern-day textbook!

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Mary’s descriptions of ‘flying fish’ throughout her work are captivating, frequently using similes to portray these fish as “aeroplanes”. On top of this her work is often accompanied by her own artistic drawings and sketches, adding an additional element of creativity to the science…

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The inclusion of sketches in her species lists adds an extra something to the scientific data:

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The use of metaphors are also not infrequent in Mary’s writing; when recalling the species found during a 1959 trip to St. Alouarn, Australia, she doesn’t fail to poetically mention how the “island was alive with big king skinks” and the “bushes were haunted by twittering silver eyes”…

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Mary’s exquisite drawings, alongside her elegant writing style, emphasise the talents she held as both a scientist and an artist.

You don’t have to search far through Mary’s work to find examples of her mesmerising descriptions and explanations; with the ability to hold the reader’s attention for so long, it’s easy to get lost in her writings for hours at a time… Why not pick up one of Mary’s many published books and see for yourself just how engaging her work can be?

 

The Mary Gillham Archive Project is funded by HLF and managed by SEWBReC
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