The wonderful jabberwocky animals


My husband’s great grandfather Maurice John Macauley was an Irish physician who lived much of his life in England. Maurice’s older sister was Mary Elizabeth Macauley, born in 1868 in Belfast. Mary Elizabeth was married, for a very brief time, to another physician (both her husband and Maurice John attended Queens College in Cork within just a few years of each other, which may hold a clue as to how the couple met).

Andrew Augustine Frayne McArdle was born in Portsea Island, UK in 1873. After obtaining his medical degree, he joined the British military Indian Medical Service, eventually rising to the rank of captain. His career took an interesting turn in 1899, when he was appointed as surgeon naturalist for a marine survey mission in India, on the steamship “Investigator”.

A marine survey was performed primarily to develop navigation charts for ships. These were done in India in the second half of the 19th century in order to accommodate the large numbers of ships that Britain needed to support the increasing commercial activities of the area. In addition to extensive and accurate charting of the Indian coast, the work led to building lighthouses, placing buoys, and dredging bays and sea passages. A by-product of the dredging work was that the trawling nets used brought up all kinds of deep water sea life among the mud and gravel. The Surgeon Naturalist was brought on board as a physician, but also to examine, record, and classify the sea creatures found, sometimes identifying new species.

Prior to Captain McArdle’s tenure on the “Investigator”, a prominent biologist named Alfred William Alcock held the post. In his account of the Indian marine survey, Mr Alcock described in detail how the depth sounding and dredging process worked, and explained that

“As we shall often be referring to the wonderful ‘jabberwocky’ animals that the deep-sea trawl brings up, our preliminary observations will have to be still further prolonged, in order that we may form a rough idea of that strange other world beneath the waves in which these animals pass their weird existence.”

Captain McArdle and Major Alcock published the results of their work in scientific journals, with extensive illustrations of their discoveries provided by local Indian artists. The marine life they documented covered a wide variety of crustaceans and mollusks.  Many of the specimens brought back were included in the zoological collection of the Indian Museum in Calcutta, where Alcock held the superintendent position after he left the “Investigator”.

In the survey season of 1901-1902, McArdle traveled with the “Investigator” crew to the Persian Gulf, trawling through the Arabian Sea, Gulf of Oman and the straits of Hormuz.

In the midst of his scientific explorations, Andrew McArdle returned briefly to Belfast to marry Mary Elizabeth Macauley in June of 1901. He brought his new bride to live in Calcutta, where a son was born on October 8, 1902. The sad part of this story is that Captain McArdle died of cholera only three days later. At the time of his death, he was the superintendent of the Indian Museum, again following in the footsteps of his colleague Alfred William Alcock.

Although the research methods and equipment may now be antiquated, the work of Andrew McArdle and his colleagues on the Investigator is still referenced today in scientific publications, so even though his life and work were tragically cut short, his impact remains.


  1. FreeBMD website, civil registration index of birth, marriage, and death records of England and Wales, 2017
  2. A Naturist in Indian Seas, or Four Years with the Royal Indian marine survey ship “Investigator” by A. Alcock 1902
  3. Natural History Notes from the Royal Indian Marine Survey Ship “Investigator”, The Annals and Magazine of Natural History, 1900
  4. Illustrations of the zoology of H. M. Indian Marine surveying steamer Investigator: under the command of the Commander T. H. Heming, R.N. by A. Alcock and A. F. McArdle, 1901
  5. The Indian Museum, 1814-1914,  Trustees of the Indian Museum, 1914
  6. The British Medical Journal, McArdle obituary in notes on members of the Indian Medical Service, November 1902


Be First to Comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *