A trueVic­to­rian mon­ster

The 19th cen­tury’s un­equalled ver­te­brate palæon­tol­o­gist was also a rub­bish archæol­o­gist and very par­tial to ven­omous anony­mous re­views

Fortean Times - - REVIEWS / BOOKS - Hb, 302pp, £18.99, ISBN 9781473823358

Wil­liam Boyd Dawkins and the Vic­to­rian Science of Cave Hunt­ing Three Men in a Cav­ern Mark John White Pen and Sword 2016

In pop­u­lar cul­ture, Cave Man was a three­t­rick pony: he hunted mam­moths; hauled long­haired women into caves; and fought sabre-toothed tigers (or Tyran­nosaurus

rex). There is ev­i­dence for one of th­ese ‘facts’ in The

Mam­moth Hunters (part of Jean M Auel’s se­ries of well­re­searched nov­els, ‘Earth’s Chil­dren’; there is even a cave lion at­tack). The oth­ers, though long-last­ing, are more fan­ci­ful.

Th­ese fan­cies were built upon the in­ves­ti­ga­tion and col­lec­tion in the 18th cen­tury, but mainly 19th and early 20th cen­turies, of arte­fact and bone finds in the caves of Europe and Amer­ica, and fos­sil hunters’ ini­tial at­tempts to ex­plain them within a frame­work that ini­tially lacked any un­der­stand­ing of the true length of ge­o­log­i­cal time, of mul­ti­ple glacia­tions and of ba­sic tax­on­omy and taphon­omy (the changes to bones and arte­facts af­ter burial). The finds be­came an end in them­selves, a com­pe­ti­tion (be­tween mu­se­ums) and their in­ter­pre­ta­tion needed to be­come ever more im­pres­sive to the lit­er­ate, neo-Darwin/ post-Darwin gen­eral pub­lic that was ea­ger for the next great find. (There are direct par­al­lels with 19th and 20th cen­tury di­nosaur bone col­lect­ing and col­lec­tors).

Prof Wil­liam Boyd Dawkins (1837–1929) was a peer­less ver­te­brate palæon­tol­o­gist. He may well have known more about cave bones than any­body else in the sec­ond half of the 19th cen­tury, and is justly re­mem­bered for his con­tri­bu­tions in that field. But he was a true blue heroic Vic­to­rian mon­ster, and as sav­age as any hyena or the scim­i­tar­tooth cat that con­trib­uted to the shred­ding of his rep­u­ta­tion and legacy. Boyd lived through the crit­i­cal trans­for­ma­tion from tro­phy hunt­ing and ran­domised cave sack­ing to con­trolled digging where mi­cro­prove­nance and con­text be­came kings. By ac­ci­dent not de­sign he re­mained, de­spite be­ing em­ployed by the Bri­tish Ge­o­log­i­cal Sur­vey for seven years, an ap­palling field ge­ol­o­gist/field archæol­o­gist; they had to remap some of his ar­eas – he ex­em­pli­fied the need for pre­ci­sion, truth and ac­cu­rate record­ing in any ex­ca­va­tion.

In 1876 he was present at, in­deed partly claimed to have found, two of the most spec­tac­u­lar Ice Age cave finds in Britain, at Robin Hood Cave, Creswell Crags, Not­ting­hamshire/Der­byshire bor­der, namely an en­graved sketch of a horse’s head and the ca­nine tooth from a scim­i­tar­toothed cat (sabre-toothed tigers are un­known from Europe; in cel­lu­loid and pulp fic­tion they in­hab­ited La La Land. They are not even tigers, but be­long to the aptly sunny Cal­i­for­nian-sound­ing genus Smilodon).

Even for Boyd Dawkins, this was chutz­pah writ large! How­ever, within a few years this amaz­ing piece of wellplaced good for­tune (the right finds by the right per­son) turned into a bane as the finds’ lo­cal­ity, tim­ing, con­text and prove­nance were chal­lenged in ex­changes that pre-echoed the later Pilt­down Man Hoax – chal­lenges and counter chal­lenges that in­cluded pub­lic lec­tures in Manch­ester and Lon­don, ‘anony­mous’ let­ters to the na­tional pa­pers and learned so­ci­eties, ‘lost’ in­vi­ta­tions, harsh book re­views and three-hour lunches. Dawkins’s case was not helped by his re­fusal to clearly an­swer crit­i­cisms, by miss­ing crit­i­cal di­aries, pages torn from oth­ers, and changed en­tries in field notes. All due to care­less­ness or de­ceit/hubris, or a com­bi­na­tion – who knows?

It is dif­fi­cult to feel sorry for the man; his ‘anony­mous’ re­view of Darwin’s De­scent of

Man likened it to a novel, and Darwin was not alone in be­ing scorned and dis­missed. Lesser men were more fiercely mauled and side­lined as Dawkins tried to out-Trump ev­ery slight and en­emy. But in­ex­orable karma is best served cold.

Prof Mark White un­earths Boyd Dawkins’s life in great de­tail (ex­cept for his last years when he be­came an eco­nomic ge­ol­o­gist of some note and worth, in­volved in the ex­ploita­tion of the Kent Coal­field and the Vic­to­rian at­tempt at a Chan­nel Tun­nel) in a straight­for­ward and neu­tral style, but makes the story, the man, Manch­ester and the in­tel­lec­tual times to­tally com­pelling. This is non-fic­tion ‘fac­tion’ at its best. Was Boyd Dawkins a fraud, a dupe or in­cred­i­bly lucky? White’s last chap­ter weighs up the al­ter­na­tives and… but it would be a pity to spoil a clas­si­cal Vic­to­rian mys­tery story by re­veal­ing the end­ing. Read, en­joy and be mildly scan­dalised by this man, his mi­lieu and meals. It is one of the most en­joy­able bi­ogra­phies of any Vic­to­rian/ Ed­war­dian sci­en­tist writ­ten in the last cou­ple of decades.

Read it and be glad that aca­demic science is a bit less of an Old Boys’ Club now. Rob Ixer

Cry Havoc Vol­ume 1 – My­thing in Ac­tion Si­mon Spurrier, Ryan Kelly, Nick Fi­lardi, Lee Lough­bridge, Matt Wil­son, Si­mon Bow­land, Emma Price Im­age Comics 2017 Pb, 160pp, il­lus, notes, £13.99, ISBN 9781632158338

Cry Havoc

is not the first ap­pear­ance of the Bargh­est in a comic (that hon­our goes to Won­der Comics in 1948), yet it is eas­ily one of the most ac­com­plished. Si­mon Spurrier, a mas­ter­ful sto­ry­teller, turns his at­ten­tion to the com­plex­i­ties of folk­lore with the story of Lou, a Lon­don busker who is bit­ten by some­thing she thinks is a were­wolf, but isn’t. Then ev­ery­thing changes. The story could be summed up as sim­ply as that, yet there is a lot more go­ing on here. First, how Lou’s story is pre­sented. Rather than a lin­ear be­gin­ning, mid­dle and end, the three sec­tions are told along­side each other. Even though the whole comic is drawn by the same artist, Ryan Kelly, three colourists (Nick Fi­lardi, Lee Loughridge and Matt Wil­son) worked on the comic to give each part of the story its own char­ac­ter. This is tied to­gether by the de­sign work of Emma Price.

Spurrier has a feel for the nu­ance in folk­lore, and as the story brings in el­e­ments from Norse myth or Ja­panese folk­tales it never feels forced or crow­barred in.

On one level Cry Havoc is a vis­ceral story about some­one trans­formed into a beast from the shad­ows, dropped into a con­flict they don’t un­der­stand. On an­other it is an ex­plo­ration of story and folk­lore in the 21st cen­tury. At turns bawdy, graphic and ten­der, it takes the reader along and never talks down to them.

Of par­tic­u­lar in­ter­est to the fortean will be the an­no­ta­tions at the back of the vol­ume, where Spurrier out­lines in­spi­ra­tion (such as the Black Dog of New­gate, and the de­light­fully ter­ri­fy­ing Pe­nang­galan) and de­ci­sions taken dur­ing the cre­ation of the comic.

Cry Havoc is an ex­am­ple of how sto­ry­telling in comics can be dis­tinct from ei­ther nov­els or film, and will ap­peal to many who read this mag­a­zine. Steve Toase

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