Tag Archives: biohistory

Auguste Ghiesbreght’s travels in Mexico

Through serendipity I found an interesting paper on Auguste Ghiesbreght and his collecting work in Mexico (Schätti et al., 2018). Ghiesbreght (1812-1893) was a Belgian botanist, who lived for several decades in Mexico and collected plants, animals and other natural history objects, which were shipped to Europe for identification. His malacological material was used e.g. by Nyst, L. Pfeiffer and Crosse and P. Fischer.

Although the paper focusses on frogs, snakes and lizards, the content is interesting as the land snails were in all likelihood collected by Ghiesbreght during the same trip. He sent end 1841 a shipment which contained among others “sixty-two terrestrial snails (24 spp.)”.

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Despite some biographical data having been published previously, a correct itinerary of his travels through Mexico has never been detailed and as such this paper fills a gap which may help to locate the occurrences of some species.

Schätti, B., Ineich, I & Kucharzewski, C., 2018. Auguste Ghiesbreght’s natural history exploration in Oaxaca and other parts of Mexico until 1854. – Acta Zoológica Mexicana (n.s.) 34: e3411184 (22 pp.).


Roeters van Lennep (1820-1879)

Freshly pressed: a new paper on the history of malacology, i.e. about the 19th Century Dutch cabinet collector H.C. Roeters van Lennep.

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H.C. Roeters van Lennep was one of the most famous Dutch shell collectors during the mid-19th century, for whom we here present new and additional biographical information. His collection was auctioned in 1876, but so far only a limited amount of information has been published on this topic. The details of the auction are reconstructed on the basis of his correspondence with H. Crosse. Such new information provides an insight into who buyers were during the auction, which prices were realised, and where parts of the material ended up. There ap- pears to have been a second auction in 1879 where possibly a large part of the remainder of the first auction was sold.

Breure, A.S.H. & Backhuys, W. Herman Christiaan Roeters van Lennep (1820-1879) and the auction of his collection. – Spirula, 418: 10-16.

Colonel Messager: a new paper

Freshly pressed: a new paper on the mysterious ‘Colonel Messager’ that is mentioned in the literature. This research was based on archival material in the Dautzenberg collection in Brussels, and the Messager material that is present in Paris.

The abstract reads: “We present a brief biography of Louis Gabriel Martin Messager, a French military who served in several French colonies during the last part of the 19th century and who is mentioned several time in the malacological literature as ‘Colonel Messager’. We present details on his collecting activities, also reflected in his correspondence to Bavay and Martel, and illustrated by some samples from his former collection. Also a list of eponyms is included”.

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Unfortunately we have been unable to find a picture of Messager, hence his name remains somewhat mysterious in the end.

Breure, A.S.H. & Páll-Gergely, B., 2019. More than just a name: Colonel Messager and his correspondents. – Zoosystema, 41 (2): 7-19. Link

Contributions of Morretes

Recently a paper was published on the contributions of a Brazilian malacologist, Federico Lange de Morretes (Gernet et al., 2018). The text is in Portuguese, but there is also an abstract in English: “Frederico Lange de Morretes was born on May 5, 1892, in the municipality of Morretes, Paraná, Brazil. A renowned plastic artist, he was also an important malacologist, and his scientific production in the area made him a reference for Brazilian researchers. The main objective of this paper is to make a commented compilation of the malacological studies produced by him. He published 13 scientific papers in the area of malacology, eight of them related to the description of 25 new species, two new genera and three subgenera. He also wrote three institutional technical reports on activities carried out at the Museu Paulista and at the Museu Paranaense”. He died in 1954.

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The paper contains illustrations of the type material of the newly described taxa by Morretes, one figure of which is copied above. The authors made me aware there are two persons with similar names, Frederico Godefredo Lange de Morretes and Frederico Waldemar Lange. The first was a malacologist, the latter a palaeontologist; both worked in Museu Paranaense in the 1950s. Only the latter is mentioned in ‘2400 years of malacology’ (ed. 2018) but apparently with the wrong years of birth and death, which was the source of confusion for these two semi-homonyms.

Gernet, M., et al., 2018. A contribuição de Frederico Lange de Morretes para a malacologia brasileira. – Arquivos de Zoología, 49 (3): 153-165.


New edition of ‘2400 years’

Eugene Coan and Alan Kabat have recently published an update of their index to biographical and bibliographical works on malacologists. The main text has been updated with new information, as well as Annex 1 (collations of books); the other two annexes have not changed.

The download page may be here: http://www.malacological.org/2004_malacology.html.

Just published: Crosse correspondence

My last paper this year deals with the correspondence of Hippolyte Crosse, managing director of the Journal de conchyliologie from 1861 till 1898. This archive contains nearly 3000 letters from 391 natural persons. We have listed all correspondents and provided examples of their handwriting of many persons, as well of photographs as far as these were available.

This archive is a rich source of information, which already has partly been studied in papers earlier this year, but much still waits for further research. The paper is available through the link on my publications page.

Breure, A.S.H. & Audibert, C., 2017. ‘Mon cher Directeur’: an inventory of the correspondence addressed to Hippolyte Crosse during his years as director of the ‘Journal de conchyliologie’. – Folia conchyliologica, 44: 3-108.

Morelet and the Neotropics

Arthur Morelet (1809-1892) was a French amateur malacologist who has contributed much to malacology (nearly 100 publications, describing more than 700 taxa). He was one of the first malacologists who personally went on expedition to the Neotropics; a trip lasting more than a year during 1846-1848 which yielded nearly 150 new species collected on Cuba, and in Mexico and Guatemala. A few of these are illustrated below (scale: 5 mm).

The advantage of collecting in an unexplored area is indeed the reward to find many species new to science. But the legend above also shows one of the problems (possibly one of the least!) which Morelet faced: there was no Zoological Record or BHL mid-19th century, so there was a chance of introducing a name already used by someone else. Nevertheless, about 2/3 of the species described by Morelet from this expedition are still bearing his author name today.

In the 19th century not every author was able to give precise type localities; often they had to rely on information given by field collectors. So another advantage of collecting your own material: you knew where it had be found. Morelet, in many cases, gave (relatively) good locality data, but still described a number of species with a (relatively) imprecise locality; like “sylvis provinciae Vera-Paz”, a huge area.

As I had come across Morelet and his material for quite some years, I decided it was time to make an in-depth study of this man and his contributions to malacology. Since much of his type material has ended up in the London museum, Jonathan Ablett was willing to join me in this effort. And after more than 200 letters of Morelet became available, Cédric Audibert (Lyon) joined in as well. Together we are busy preparing a bio-bibliography with a list of taxa, illustrated with type material of as much taxa as possible. The transcription and translation of his correspondence will make it possible for the reader to get a much better idea of the life of a malacologist during the late 19th century. Currently we have located about 80% of his type material in several European and some American museums. The remaining taxa will be illustrated with reporductions from the original figures if these are available. Since Morelet started his career as a draftsman, he always paid special attention to the illustration of his papers.

To my surprise nobody has made an attempt to reconstruct the expedition of Morelet to the Neotropics, which brought him not only to the three countries mentioned above but also in Belize. Morelet was not only gifted with a special interest in malacology, but also in history and literature; his library had many travel accounts on its shelves. As Central America was largely unexplored in the 1840s, he published a few years after his taxonomic descriptions also a travel account of his own journey, aimed to a larger public, with many details on the geography and history of the areas visited. These two books allowed me, with some close reading, to reconstruct his trip.

One of the interesting things I discovered was the description of some species from areas, e.g. from eastern Cuba, which he apparently never visited. González Guillén (2014: 147) assumed that Morelet had confused the habours where his ship landed in eastern Cuba. However, from Morelet’s travel account it is clear that he never visited eastern Cuba. He must therefore have received the material from this area, on which he based his descriptions, from another person.

Our monograph is scheduled to appear during Spring 2018 as a book published by the Netherlands Malacological Society. The figures have been taken from a preliminary study which was just published (Breure, 2017).

Breure, A.S.H., 2017. Een expeditie naar de Neotropen: reconstructie van Arthur Morelet’s reis naar Centraal Amerika, 1846-1848. – Spirula, 411: 4-11.[Dutch]
González Guillén, A., 2014. Polymita, the most beautiful land snail of the world. – [Miami]: Estévez & Associates, 359 pp.