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Letter 1194

Henry C St John to John Hancock (16 December 1877)

St John is pleased to hear that the Big Japanese Spider Crab has been put on display and he asks whether Hancock had remodelled the missing two legs and explains its provenance. He goes into a long discussion on the identification of the specimens of birds brought back from Japan. He is glad to hear that Hancock has sold some of the skins for him as he now has 7 children to care for. He is considering re-issuing his late father’s books.




Dear Hancock

I am delighted to think the Big Crab is “on his legs” again — did you model him two for those eaten by the Japanese — This creature came from Misaki at the entrance to Yedo Gulf Japan South Coast Lat. 35.6 N. Long.’ 139.40’ E.  just in this locality they are common — again in the N. & on the West Coast of Yeso they are equally [p.2.]

Capt. H. St. John [In John Hancock’s hand]

So — I have seen them at least several feet more from Tip to Tip.

Many thanks for the list of Birds — The Pheasant I do not fancy is P. Versicolor — If I mistake not Versicolor is the common Green Pheasant of Japan — P. Sömmeringii [Soemmerringii] being that lovely species the Copper pheasant – 1 The skin you name is that of a female, taking unto itself the plumage of the male — but what male it neither resembles the male of Japanese or [p.3.] Chinese common bird — This is the point that puzzled me — I hope the Scarlet Finch may turn out something valuable — It comes only from the Northern parts of the Island  – and only once have I ever seen the bird —  I was very pleased when I got it. The Snipe which you think is probably Swinhoe’s. G. Myala. is a rare bird in Japan and of entirely solitary habits — indeed they — the few I ever saw were either in low cover such as Chestnut scrub or Alder — and always alone — now the Great Snipe of Japan is doubtless G. Australis which bird is much [p.4.] more common and inhabits the big plains — similar in fact to the common bird S. Gallinago.  With this very interesting diff. [difference]. It perches on the trees. Not only on the stumps — but on the branches and while there keeps up a constant note, 1/2 song 1/2 chirp, a queer note –this also is the bird that drums in the air — both the above peculiarities I have only observed during the breeding season — again this latter bird is as a rule two or three ounces heavier than “Megala” –also or rather like Megala. It is a solitary creature. Seldom two being found within 40 yds of each other.



I took the Duck which you note as the female Widgion [Widgeon],  to be the female of the Gadwall — A. Strepera &. [etc.] on account of the brown patch on the wing — but of course you are right. I never closely examined the bird — I don’t remember the other bird A. Galericulata a bit — what is it in the vulgar tongue — is it the Mandarin – 2

Don’t forget that the irides and rim round eyelid of Columba janthina3

— My Columba Nigrum — all noted from life on my tickets — and from many birds — all those you have are mature birds — [p.6.] but now adieu I have a lot of letters to write.

These remarks of course are to be taken, for mere observations — but I know you understand me –

Very much indeed do I hope I may be able to see you sometime soon — About the birds — I am perfectly agreeable to have the term you mention for them — I suppose the Museum Authorities can afford it — With 7. Bairns4 I fear it behoves one to be glad to turn [p.7.] an honest penny when oppty. [opportunity] occurs. — You had better send me the money when convenient –

When you write, tell me if you think it would be worthwhile, or payable to bring out my fathers “Tour in Southerland”5 in a cheap way –Murray says he cannot undertake it himself on his own account but would gladly see one forthcoming and will hand over the copy right to me if I like –

The first Wild Sports had been published cheaply –

[p.8] Again adieu with kindest regards | Y[ours] sinly [sincerely] | H.C. St. John [signature]


1. The Copper Pheasant Syrmaticus soemmerringii, also known as
Soemmerring’s Pheasant, a species endemic to Japan.

2. The Gadwall Anas strepera and Mandarin Duck Aix galericulata

3. The Japanese Wood Pigeon Columba janthina.

4. ‘Bairns’ colloquial for children.

5. “Tour in Sutherland”. In 1849 Henry’s father Charles St John published A tour in Sutherlandshire, with extracts from the fieldbooks of a sportsman and naturalist. London, J. Murray.