Egyptian Variant

A vulture, not seen in this country for over 150 years, reminded me of a nightjar from the same neck of the desert, shot by Albert Charles SPINKS in 1883.

I didn’t need much reminding – I read the story while having my breakfast a couple of days ago.

Egyptian Nightjar, Caprimulgus aegyptus. This pale desert nightjar has been recorded just twice in Britain. The second occasion was in 1984, but to the first attaches an entertaining story. A Nottinghamshire gamekeeper, Albert Spinks, flushed a bird from its resting spot while he was shooting rabbits and, thinking it looked unusual, brought it down with his second barrel. A day later when it started to smell he threw it on to the ashpit near his cottage, only for his ornithologist employer, J. Whitaker, to notice and retrieve the skin. Whitaker sent it to his taxidermist and subsequently had its identity confirmed as an Egyptian nightjar, then he honoured ‘his’ find by erecting a monument at the site of discovery (Thieves Wood near Mansfield). The inscription, in which the largest letters spell his own name, was intended to read: ‘This stone was placed here by J. Whitaker, of Rainworth Lodge, to mark the spot where the first British specimen of the Egyptian Nightjar was shot by A. Spinks, on June 23rd, 1883, this is only the second occurrence of this bird in Europe.’ In fact ‘occurrence’ was misspelt and the date appears to have been wrongly given as 1882.

The stone is significant as probably the only memorial raised to an individual wild bird in Britain for more than a century (see Great Auk, page 254). Whitaker’s mounted skin of the bird is now in Mansfield Museum, but his stone was recently replaced by a simple concrete post with only a nightjar etching and the date, which now forms part of a nature trail through Thieves Wood.

Birds Britannica, Mark Cocker & Richard Mabey

There is a photograph of the concrete post on Joseph WHITAKER’s Wikipedia page.

Albert’s claim to infamy isn’t obvious on the FamilySearch Tree and his employer, who didn’t have to work for a living, only has one ancestor – his father Joseph.

Looking for Whitaker descendants offers an example of good sources leading to unbelievable outcomes.

One source attached to the tree places the marriage of Joseph and Mary EDISON (sic) in Mansfield, in the Second Quarter of 1872.

A second source is even more helpful in recording the ceremony at Blidworth on 16 April 1872 and informing us that the bride was the “only surviving daughter of the late Booth Eddison, surgeon of Nottingham”. Booth is represented on the Shared Tree but is not yet married to Eliza ELLIS, with whom he had three daughters and one son, Alfred. Two of his girls were with him when he died on 7 March 1859 in Funchal on the island of Madeira. The more benign climate there was no match for tuberculosis. If one of the daughters at his deathbed was firstborn Sarah Anne, she would die in Mansfield just a few months later, aged 19. Alfred died in Penzance in 1861 aged 16 and middle daughter Margaret in Nottingham in 1866, aged 22.

The middle name of the first child born to ornithologist Joseph and Mary Eddison came from his grandmother Mary RANDALL. His birth in Blidworth in 1875 was registered in Mansfield. In April 1911 he is with his widowed father at Rainworth Lodge (near Thieves Wood) and before the year is out he has married Selina READ in Curling, Newfoundland. A whirlwind romance?

Booth Eddison seems to have been a remarkable doctor. If you want to discover more about his short life, start here and follow the offered links.There is a likeness of him here and lot of information about his forebears here.

But don’t forget the poor Egyptian Nightjar.

Path 140 · Nuns Walk

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