Archive | June, 2014

Writing up and even more fishy tales

17 Jun

Last week I met my supervisors to discuss me moving on into my final year. We have drafted a month-by-month plan for me to write my chapters with an ideal submission date of May 31st, so I have almost exactly a year to wrap it all up! It’s nice to be within sight of the finish line, but looking at my jumbled mountain of notes it’s also a bit intimidating taking the plunge into writing it up and making some sense out of it all!

One story I don’t think I’ve shared yet is that of our tarpon fish, still in his case in the tenants hall. Here he is:


I really don’t have any personal interest in fishing, yet Maurice’s stories of fishing have been some of my favourite so far. I’ve certainly been surprised at just how much time Maurice spent fishing, and have had to understand that it was as important a hobby to him, or if not more important, as any of his other interests such as game hunting, flight, radio etc.

In January 1908 Maurice travelled from his business interests in British Columbia to Mexico, visiting Oregon, San Francisco and Texas on the way. His diary shows that he enjoyed playing the tourist, and he tells some great stories of participating in local customs and sightseeing. We always think of him exploring wild and untamed regions, but he also writes about visiting the popular sights and museums of New York, Washington Venice, Pompeii and Egypt during his travels.

On January 30th he paid for a tour of Los Angeles China Town. It was here in a Chinese chemists shop that he bought his small dried sea-horse that is one of the more delicate and precious objects in his collection. He also visited an opium den but was a bit disappointed:

“The opium den was unfortunately empty except for the proprietor, but he smoked a pipeful for our benefit”.

He also spent a few days fishing from Avalon in LA, and it was here that he collected his abalone shells.

On Feb 4th he arrived in El Paso, Texas. He went to a dance hall and commented that:

“There were boxes where one could take one’s lady and crack a bottle of “wine” with her. On the other side were several rooms where one could also do likewise or more!”

On Feb 16th he arrived in Mexico and went to a bullfight. Although by this time he was an experienced game hunter with moose and bear under his belt, he didn’t enjoy the spectacle:

“An interesting sight but on the whole very disgusting and not a spectacle I should ever care to see again!”

He tried tequila, which was a more pleasant experience:

“I tried at Don Felixo some tequila. It is not bad, about on a par and not unlike vodhka”.

He also tried tortilla:

“I sampled some tortillas, which look and taste like soggy flapjacks”.

Maurice described the traditional hats with interest:

“The hats here are enormous, the driver of the mule-car today had to put his head sideways to get through the door!”

Finally on Feb 26th he made it to Tampico and began his quest to catch a tarpon fish for his collection. From what I can find out (which is very little on this subject!) Tarpon fishing in Tampico was similar to the Tunny craze in Scarborough- wealthy Americans and British nobility would travel there to catch one of the monster fish. One of these ladies there at the same time as Maurice in 1908 was Lady Juliet Duff, 1881-1965. She was the daughter of the 4th Earl of Lonsdale and married Sir Robert Duff, 2nd Baronet in 1903.

Other aristocratic fishermen and women there at the same time were Sir Frederick Johnston, 1872-1947, and Lady Wilton, who I think would be Mariota Egerton, married to Arthur Egerton the 5th Earl of Wilton. In that case she would have been a relative of the Heaton Hall line of Egertons. 

When Maurice was fishing in 1908 the current tarpon record was 7ft 2in long. On Feb 28th Maurice hooked a 2ft tarpon which he put straight back. Lady Duff caught one of 6ft that day, and a second 6 footer the following day, so Maurice must have been disappointed.

On March 4th he landed his first fish:

“about 11am got into a fair sized fish and had a grand time with it for about half an hour- eventually towed it ashore and Lorenzo got out into the mud and gaffed it and dragged him out of the water. Put a rope through his gills and towed him to a good dry landing”.

This fish measure 5ft 8in so was a good catch, but strangely this fish didn’t end up in Maurice’s collection and was given to Longford Hall. 

Maurice described March 26th as his “grand finale”. He caught a 6ft 3 1/2 inch fish weighing exactly 100lbs.

His journey back to America was very interesting. On March 29th the engine of his train de-railed. Maurice spent a night under the stars which consisted of:

“camp fires and songs and discussion. Lay down on the grass among some sleepers- very suitably- and with my pipe for comforter”.

He also describes going through customs into America, and was pleased that he passed through very easily and escaped paying tax. He wrote:

“I escaped paying Head Tax, never being asked my nationality. I guess I look pretty tough in my dirty old tarpon clothes, and still more disreputable El Paso Black Hat.”

I love this idea of him fitting in as a weathered and natural Mexican- he certainly didn’t conform to expectations of an aristocratic Englishman!

Tomorrow I am going on a little holiday in Kent and combining it with a research trip to Quex Park and the Powell Cotton Museum. Powell Cotton was a friend of Maurice and established his own collection of Rowland Ward taxidermy, but displayed them very differently to Maurice. Stay posted for an update when I’m I’m back.