My indefatigable correspondent Dr. A. Raman sends from Australia information about another find he has made while continuing his research into Madras medical and science history. This time he thinks he has found “the first formal scientific paper in entomology from India”. The paper, by Dr. Johann Gerhard Konig, was on termites and was published in Germany in 1779.
Konig was the doctor of the Halle Mission in Tranquebar from 1768 to 1775. He was a surgeon who had trained in Uppsala, Sweden, where his interest in Botany was nurtured by the famous Carolus Linnaeus. He then joined the Court of the Nawab of Arcot where he had all the time to pursue his interest in the subject, travelling in the hinterland of the Coromandel Coast and in Ceylon, collecting plants.
In 1778, Konig was offered the post of Naturalist of the Madras Government by the East India Company and he held it till his death in 1785. While travelling to Vizagapatam, he fell ill and was treated by William Roxburgh, who was then at Samalkot. The treatment was unsuccessful and Konig passed away at Jagernaikpuram near Cocanada (Kakinada) where he was buried.
Konig’s landmark paper in German was titled, in effect The Natural History of the So-called White Ants — the Termites and was published in a German scientific journal that might, in rude translation, have been called The Research Activities of the Berlin Society of the Friends Of Nature. Konig stated that he had studied the ants and their homes (termitaria) east-south-east of Tanjore and had been inspired to do so by Johann Christian Fabricius, a famous Danish naturalist who had published in Germany a study of European termites. Konig’s study provides a “vivid description” of termitaria and considerable biological details about the Indian termite.
It was not till 1781 that the next formal entomological paper from India was published. This was by another medical doctor in the East India Company’s service. John Kerr’s paper, The natural history of the insect which produces the gum lacca, was published in The Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, London.
A ballad to the saviour
What’s an Anglo-Indian function if there’s not a bit of song even if there’s no dance?! So song there was at the recent release of Anglo-Ink’s latest title, Footprints on the Track — Anglo-Indian Railway Memories, edited by Noel Thomas who retired as a Divisional Mechanical Engineer after serving the railways in several parts of India for 42 years.
Eloquent and entertaining as Thomas’s introduction of the book was, it was his ballad, Percy Carroll’s Final Run, that stole the evening when, to a score composed by his father Stephen Dique, 11-year-old Hansel Dique sang these and the few more verses:
Percy Carroll was a brave Railwayman
He loved his engine, and kept it spic and span.
His firemen loved him, cause he treated them well,
He was a big hearted driver, more than words can tell.
On that tragic morning, he came full speed round the bend,
At that very moment, he knew his life could end.
His sole concern was how to save the train
So that hundreds of travellers, they wouldn’t die in vain.
He eased the throttle and applied the brakes,
He knew he’d have to hit the fouling rakes.
He yelled to his firemen, “Save yourselves, JUMP,”
And along with his engine, he went over the hump
These were his last words, “How’s everyone?”
He smiled when they told him, no damage was done.
His life was ended and his race was won
When Percy Carroll made his final run.
A 30-year-old railwayman, Percy Carroll was the driver of the Up Bombay-Calcutta Mail on March 20, 1959. Given the all clear at a station he kept going till, round the bend a few miles away, he saw the consequences of two goods trains that had crashed into each other only a little earlier — wagons strewn all over both tracks. Braking for all his life but knowing he was not going to make it, he had his crew jump. He was at his post, trying to slow his train down as much as possible, when his engine crashed into a couple of wagons and toppled over the embankment. He was caught under the wheels of the engine, but the carriages of his train held the tracks. Carroll died on March 22 and was posthumously awarded the Ashoka Chakra.
This and other railway memories from Arakonam and Bitragunta to Chakradharpur, Jamalpur and Lillooah and tales of Mack Johannes, another to be awarded the Ashoka Cross, the Fullers who still serve the Railways in the fifth generation, and Noel ‘Bully’ Netto who at 94 was still ready that evening to take the floor if only there had been dancing to demonstrate, how the Tango should be danced, make the book an entertaining foray into nostalgia as well as a commemoration of the Anglo-Indian contribution to the Indian Railways. A notable feature about this collection is that it features railway towns all over India and has been contributed to by writers not only from India but from all the major countries abroad where Anglo-Indians have settled. Books such as these are what Anglo-Ink looks forward to publishing.
Speaking of his new venture, Harry MacLure of Anglos in the Wind, an international quarterly, says, “Anglo-Ink is the first Anglo-Indian book publishing company in India. We plan to publish writers from within and without the community who would look deep into various facets of the community then and now and offer insights into the community to Anglo-Indians and, more importantly, others.”
When the postman knocked…
*Elaine Charwat, a Librarian with The Linnaean Society of London, writing with reference to a search she had made on Dr. Senjee Pulney Andy ( Miscellany, March 11), says she came across another early Indian Fellow of the LSL, Dr. P.S. Mootooswamy Modeliar. He was, she discovered, “a native surgeon from Tanjore “and was admitted as a Fellow in 1875. While Pulney Andy was the first Indian Fellow, Modeliar was the third. She would like more details about him. But from what she has gathered, it would appear he was recommended by Dr. John Shortt, a surgeon in the Madras Army, who contributed significantly to the natural history of Madras, a subject Modeliar too was interested in. Modeliar, she writes, graduated from Madras Medical College and was attached in the 1870s to the ‘Monargudi (Mannargudi?) Station (local dispensary?) near Tanjore. He has been cited in a few pages of the Pharamacographia India (1890).
* Janaki Lenin writes that anyone wanting to follow up on the Palmyra tree I had written about (Miscellany, October 21) should read “a gem of an old treatise,” The Palmyra Tree by William Fergusson, which “can be downloaded from here.”
*I am informed by several readers that U. Krishna Rau was the son of U. Rama Rau and not his brother, as I had stated (Miscellany, September 30). I stand corrected. I also erred in calling A.M.V. Alagappan as A.M. V. Arunachalam (Miscellany, October 28). Mea culpa.