Proteus for scientists and tourists : a history of its 19th century collection and captivity
ENDINS, núm. 28. 2005. Mallorca
PROTEUS FOR SCIENTISTS AND TOURISTS.
A HISTORY OF ITS 19TH CENTURY COLLECTION AND CAPTIVITY
by Trevor SHAW1
Abstract
The cave-dwelling amphibian Proteus anguinus, first described in 1768, and
possibly pictured as early as the 11th century, was by 1800 known to many scholars.
From 1814 when the animals were more widely found, they were sold in markets, at
inns in Postojna and sometimes outside the cave there; and guidebooks drew atten-
tion to their availability. The paper documents all this and examines what happened
to the animals. Some were given to zoos; others were kept by amateur naturalists;
some went to laboratories; and a few were eaten. One was offered to Darwin.
Resum
L’amfibi cavernícola Proteus anguinus, descrit per primera vegada el 1768, i
probablement representat en temps tan remots com el segle XI, era conegut el 1800
per nombrosos savis i erudits de l’època. Des de 1814, quan aquests animals ja
havian estat trobats a diverses coves de la regió de Karst (Kras en llengua eslove-
na), varen ser venuts a mercats, posades i fondes de la població de Postojna i fins
i tot, de vegades, a l’exterior de la cova; les guies de viatgers feien referència a la
seva disponibilitat. L’article documenta aquests fets i prova d’esbrinar que va ser
d’aquells animals. Alguns varen ser donats a zoològics; altres varen ser criats dins
aquaris per naturalistes aficionats; altres varen acabar a laboratoris de Biologia; i
uns pocs varen ser menjats. Un va ser ofert a Darwin com a obsequi.
Introduction
Some years ago a long paper on this subject
Quite apart from its interest from a zoological and
(SHAW, 1999) was published in Acta Carsologica
evolutionary point of view, Proteus anguinus has
whose editor has kindly allowed it to be used as the
become well known for other reasons. It was the first
basis of this one. That paper collected together infor-
cavernicole to be formally described (by J.N. LAUREN-
mation about all the cases then known of Proteus being
TI, 1768) and it is one of the symbols of the town and
sold or given away, quoting extensively from the original
cave of Postojna, used for example on the registration
publications to make them available to modern readers.
plates of road vehicles.
It also contained biographical material, here omitted,
Now a heavily protected species, Proteus in the
about the people concerned and their backgrounds.
19th century was offered for sale to travellers and was
The present paper concentrates on the broad pic-
sometimes eaten. Those bought in Postojna or at the
ture of the way in which specimens were seen,
cave were often taken home just as curiosities, but
obtained, handled and disposed of, considering repre-
some were reported upon by naturalists and others
sentative examples but without seeking to reprint the full
were presented to zoos.
original texts. There is also some new material here that
Before its zoological description and naming by
had not been traced when the earlier paper was written.
Laurenti there had been two descriptions of the animal,
The most notable of this are remarks made by Turnbull
both written by people who had not themselves seen it.
in 1836 and Kohl in 1850, as well as Humphry Davy’s
VALVASOR (1689) described what must have been a
observation of 1818.
Proteus found in the intermittent karst spring Lintvern
near Vrhnika. His information came from the post-
master who told him about “a supposed dragon a small
1
Karst Research Institute, ZRC SAZU, Titov trg 2,
span [c.20 cm] long. Then STEINBERG (1758) record-
SI-6230 Postojna, Slovenia e-mail: izrk@zrc-sazu.si
ed that:
51

Figure 1: Two supposed Proteus carved in a stone well-head of the 10th
Figura 1: Dos suposats Proteus esculpits a un brocal de pou del segle
or 11th century, once near San Nicolò church at the Lido,
X o XI. Antigament es trobava a prop de l’església de San
Venezia, and now in the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Wien
Nicolò al Lido de Venècia, actualment al Kunsthistorisches
(Inv. No. 6825). Photograph reproduced by permission of the
Museum de Viena (Inv. No. 6825). Fotografia reproduïda amb
Director.
permís del Director.
“In 1751, at a time of very great flow [from the Malni
repeated several times in the 19th century but Proteus
springs near Planina], Primus Sicherle [PrimoZiherl]
has never been found there. The first specimens inside
caught five unknown fish in the Unica river, one span [c.
a cave were discovered in 1797 by Josef Jers˘inovic˘ von
23 cm] in length, with snow-white skin and long tails.
Lowengreif in the Pivka river at C
˘ rna jama (then known
They each had four feet ... and they cried and wailed as
as Magdalena Grotte). Their true abundance there was
they were put from the net into the boat.”
not realised until 1814 when Hohenwart also found
Such curious creatures, which can be seen at karst
them there. It was from then on that enough Proteus
springs when they come to the surface in flood condi-
could be caught to be sold commercially.
tions, would have been known to country people long
After a brief discussion of the way in which Proteus
before they came to the attention of scholars such as
from Postojna was given to scientists, museums and
these. Indeed confirmation of this may exist in a carving
others in the first few years after its discovery, this paper
on an ancient stone well-head from Venezia (Figure 1)
will examine the various ways in which it was “used”
which has been thought to represent Proteus (VOR-
commercially - for sale as a curiosity and as food, and
NATSCHER,1972). Dating from the 10th or 11th centu-
for exhibition as a form of publicity for Postojnska jama
ry, this was formerly near the church of San Nicolò on
with which it rapidly became associated. The role of
the island of Lido and is now in the Kunsthistorisches
guidebooks in alerting travellers to the existence of this
Museum in Wien.
strange animal, and telling them where they could be
The specimen seen and described by Laurenti in
bought and how they should best be transported, is also
1768 came from the springs at Stic˘na some 40 km
considered.
south-east of Ljubljana, having been brought from there
Next come accounts written by the travellers them-
to the Idrija mine doctor G.A. Scopoli. Laurenti’s des-
selves of how they saw Proteus and how and where
cription was short but sufficient (only 12 lines of print)
specimens were offered to them and sometimes pur-
and it was accompanied by the now classic first illustra-
chased. In many cases no more is heard of these
tion of Proteus (Figure 2). Mistakenly, he gave
particular specimens but some can be traced to the
Cerknis˘ko jezero as its location, perhaps confused by
homes of naturalists where they were closely observed
the fact that Ziherl’s find in 1751 was published in a
and reported on. Some specimens were given by the
book about that lake. The Cerknica location was to be
purchasers to institutions such as universities and zoos.
52

Proteus used for...
News of it was further spread when Configliachi and
Rusconi’s statement was reprinted in the several editions
of the popular book The Caves of the Earth (ANON.,1847).
FOR GIFTS
Especially in the early days when Proteus was a
FOR EATING
newly discovered as well as a very strange animal,
many specimens were sent away from Slovenia as gifts
Although Cadell had said that Proteus were sold in
to interested scientists and influential people.
Trieste “as objects of curiosity”, their availability in a fish
Scopoli, already mentioned as having supplied the
market suggests that there at least they were some-
specimen that Laurenti described, sent preserved
times sold as food.
specimens to Carl Schreibers (1775-1852), Director of
The first documented occasion of Proteus eating was
the Naturhistorisches Museum in Wien, who passed
in 1834, as reported by HOHENWART (1840). In that
some on to other similar institutions. Later, live Proteus
year the people of Potiskavec in Dobrepolje (Dolenjska)
were sent there too. Baron Sigismund [Z˘iga] Zois (1747-
were cleaning out the cave (Potiskavs˘ka jama) where
1819), who himself studied the animal, also sent speci-
they obtained their drinking water and from which the vil-
mens to Schreibers and elsewhere abroad, as did a
lagers still get their water in times of drought. Along with
19th century director of the Ljubljana Museum, Heinrich
mud and stones they found several Proteus which they
Freyer (1802-1866).
put aside to return afterwards. They themselves did not
Proteus has been used as a high status gift in more
plan to eat the animals which were probably regarded as
recent times too, as an animal specially associated with
poisonous like some similar creatures; but a group of gyp-
Slovenia. Thus in the 1960s about five from Planinska
sies fried and ate them without any ill effect.
jama were given by President Tito to Emperor Hirohito
of Japan, himself a biologist.
IN GUIDEBOOKS
FOR SALE
Historical facts on the sale of Proteus are interest-
ing now but they will not have had any influence on
Proteus was offered for sale at least as early as
travellers and visitors at the time. Quite different is this
1816. It was in August of that year that CONFIGLIACHI
statement in Murray’s Handbook for Travellers in
and RUSCONI (1819) had looked for them in C
˘ rna jama
Southern Germany...
and wrote in their Italian monograph:
“Specimens of the Proteus may generally be pur-
“... the people of Adelsberg catch Proteus, which
chased at the inn at Adelsberg [=Postojna]. The only
they call “white fish”, [in C
˘ rna jama] and they keep them
means of preserving it is by keeping it in water, which
alive in pots to sell later to travellers who come to
should be taken from a river, and should be repeatedly
Carniola and are interested in such things, or else to
changed, protecting it from the light, which is very hurt-
take to the market at Trieste where they sell quite
ful to it, and maintaining an equal temperature about it.”
cheaply, for two or three lire each.”
It appeared in the first edition of this guide (MUR-
Sale of Proteus at Trieste was made known in English
RAY, 1837) and was repeated in every edition up to and
when W. A. CADELL (1820) published his account of visit-
including the 14th, published in 1881. That travellers not
ing Postojnska jama in November 1817. Speaking of
only read but acted upon the Murray statements is clear
Proteus, he wrote “The country people sometimes bring
from their repeated references to using river water and
them alive to Trieste, and sell them as objects of curiosity”.
changing it frequently during their journey home.
Figure 2: The first picture of Proteus, published in LAURENTI (1768).
Figura 2: El primer dibuix de Proteus, publicat per LAURENTI (1768).
53

ing pieces of stalactite of various kinds and also little
fishes in flasks of water that look a bit like lampreys,
winged at the head and not beautiful to look at because,
without any scales, they have the colour of living flesh
and, in addition, they are without eyes. They live in the
water which flows through the cave”.
(PANCINI, 1881).
AS PROMOTIONAL GIFTS BY THE CAVE MANAGEMENT
The archives of Postojnska jama show that some
specimens of “Grottenolm (proteus anguineus)” were
sent to the World International Exhibition at Wien in
1873. Stalagmites were sent also, as they had been to
the Paris International Exhibition of 1867, as a form of
eye-catching publicity which was to increase later in the
century, but no other records of Proteus being used in
this way have been traced.
The Wien specimens certainly aroused interest,
though, for requests for others were made afterwards
from Braunschweig and from the Russian consulate in
Trieste. Whether these requests were met is not known.
Proteus purchased
or seen by travellers

Figure 3: J.G. Kohl in 1854 (ANELLI, 1940).
Figura 3: J.G. Kohl en 1854 (ANELLI, 1940).
At least fourteen travellers visiting Postojna
between 1816 and 1900 described how they were
offered or bought or wanted to buy live Proteus, and
Somewhat similar guidance was offered in a popu-
other records show that many more were purchased.
lar book, The Subterranean World (HARTWIG, 1871):
As would be expected, the constant trade in live
“The best method for transporting the Proteus is
Proteus reduced their numbers. Johann Georg Kohl
now perfectly understood, and living specimens have
(1808-1878) (Figure 3), who had visited the cave on 4
been conveyed as far as Russia, Hungary, and
November 1850, wrote:
Scotland. All that they need is a frequent supply of fresh
“A local writer has estimated that, since Proteus
water, and a careful removal of all light. Their food need
was discovered more than 4000 specimens have been
cause no trouble, as the water contains all they require.
sent all over the world. The guides always have living
It is recommended to lay a piece of stalactite from their
Proteus in buckets, ready for sale. In Ljubljana I met
native grotto in the vase in which they are transported.
several nature lovers who kept it in the cellars of their
When resting or sleeping, they then coil themselves
houses … so that they could more readily observe it.”
round the stone, as if tenderly embracing it. In this man-
(KOHL. 1852).
ner they have already been kept above five years out of
Kohl was not necessarily aware of the danger of
their caverns. The guides to the Grotto of Adelsberg
this trade but, unusually for a century that was far from
have always got a supply on hand, and sell them for
conservation-conscious, a popular book did draw atten-
about two florins a-piece.”
tion to this only ten years later. The Subterranean World
(HARTWIG, 1871), first published in German in 1863,
had this to say:
FOR SALE AT THE ANNUAL GROTTENFEST
“... as hundreds of specimens have since found
their way to the cabinets of naturalists, to be observed,
In 1881 certainly, and probably in other years also,
dissected, or bottled up in spirits, their number has very
there was a stall selling Proteus outside the cave on the
much decreased, and the time is perhaps not far distant
day of the annual Grottenfest held in Postojnska jama
when they will be entirely extirpated in the grotto, where
twice each year, when the cave was specially illuminat-
from time immemorial they had enjoyed an undisturbed
ed and excursion trains brought extra visitors from near
security.”
and far. In 1881 the Grottenfest was on 6 June and was
This book appeared in many editions in at least three
described in a little book written by the Friulian poet
languages between 1863 and 1892, so the message was
Domenico Pancini:
widely read and may have been one of the reasons why
“On the road not far from the cave are people sell-
sales seem to have declined from the 1880s.
54

PIETRO CONFIGLIACHI AND MAURO RUSCONI IN 1816
Configliachi (1777-1844) (Figure 4) and Rusconi
(1776-1849) of the University of Pavia, already referred to
in connection with the Trieste fish market, seem to have
been the first visitors to record their attempts to obtain
Proteus specimens, only two years after these had first
been actively collected in C
˘ rna jama:
“On the 2d of August 1816, the authors, attended by
three peasants, furnished with torches, and with a small
net in the shape of a bag, fixed to the end of a staff, pre-
pared to enter this cavern [C

˘ rna jama]. They saw one pro-
teus, but did not succeed in taking him; and from the water
being turbid, and in too great quantity, in consequence of
heavy rains the day before, they were obliged to reascend,
after having been two hours in the cavern, without taking a
single proteus.”
(CONFIGLIACHI & RUSCONI, 1819).
Then comes the statement, already quoted, that the
peasants “catch Proteus ... to sell later to travellers”, sug-
gesting that they bought their own specimens at Postojna
and took them home to Pavia.
WILLIAM ARCHIBALD CADELL IN 1817 AND 1818
It must have been these Proteus bought by
Configliachi and Rusconi that were seen in 1818 by Cadell
Figure 4: Pietro Configliachi. Portrait provided by Dr Carlo Violani of the
(1775-1855), a Fellow of the Royal Society who had come
Università of the Università di Pavia.
from England:
“I saw one of these animals alive at Pavia, it was kept
Figura 4: Pietro Configliachi. Retrat facilitat pel Dr. Carlo Violani de la
in a bucket of water in a dark place …” (CADELL, 1820).
Università di Pavia.
Cadell had been at Postojna in November 1817 but
saw none there.
cm] long; but they have been found of twice that length.
HUMPHRY DAVY IN 1818
...They appear most frequently in certain small streams
which issue from the mountain at Sittich [Stic˘na], in the

Sir Humphry Davy (1778-1829), chemist and
neighbourhood of Laybach, being hurried forth from the
President of the Royal Society, was a frequent visitor to
caverns within by the force of the stream, when the inter-
Slovenia. In 1818 he went to C
˘ rna jama and saw five
nal reservoirs have been swollen by heavy rains, or a long
Proteus “close to the bank on the mud covering the bottom
continued thaw. Those which I saw had been taken in the
of the lake” (DAVY, 1830). His manuscript notebook
small subterranean lake which terminates the Magdalene
(DAVY, 1818), unfortunately not dated, adds to this:
grotto [C
˘ rna jama], not far from that of Adelsberg.” (RUS-
“The Proteus in the Madelena Grotto is found on mud
SELL, 1825).
in water. … The proteus that I saw was reposing on the
mud & did not move when the light was held over it; but

CHARLES BABBAGE IN 1828
when the water was moved by the man who dipped the net
into the water it rapidly hid itself under a stone.”

Charles Babbage (1792-1871), professor at Cam-
bridge and best known for inventing a mechanical comput-
JOHN RUSSELL IN 1822
ing machine, visited the cave on 17 July 1828:
“When I visited the caves of Adelsburg, … I inquired
John Russell (c. 1795-1846), a Scottish lawyer, visited
whether any of these singular creatures could be pro-
Postojnska jama on 11 March 1822 (Figure 5):
cured. I purchased all I could get, being six in number. I
...Some living specimens, which I saw in the posses-
conveyed them in large bottles full of river water, which
sion of a peasant in Adelsberg, were about eight inches [20
I changed every night. …
Figure 5: The visitors’ book entry for Russell’s visit to Postojnska jama
Figura 5: Registre al llibre de visitants de la visita de Russell a
on 11 March 1822.
Postonjska Jama, amb data 11 de Març de 1822.
55

other cave. It is in the stream that the singular reptile
Proteus anguinus is found; when the water is clear they
are not unfrequently seen, but the stream was so
muddy that none were visible, and after groping about
with my scoop-net for some time, I was obliged to give
up the pursuit. On our return to Adelsberg I procured
one from the guide, who had three or four alive. They
may be kept for a year or two, and require no food,
though they will occasionally eat a worm. The only pre-
caution neccessary is to change the water often, and
keep them from the light, which always renders them
uneasy. Had I been on my way home I would have tried
to keep my specimen alive, but situate as I was, my only
alternative was to put my Proteus in spirits.”

PETER EVAN TURNBULL IN 1836
Turnbull (1786-1852) on 1 April 1936 visited both
Postojnska jama and the nearby C
˘ rna jama. In the latter:
“One of the guides, however, stationed at the bot-
tom with his torch and hand-net, endeavoured to cap-
ture two or three of the protei, but on his attempting to
take them they escaped under the rock.

On our return to the inn at Adelsberg, I saw some of
these creatures alive in a decanter of water, where, by
changing the water every day, and without any other
food, they had lived (as their owner told us) more than

Figure 6: Hugh Edwin Strickland in 1837 (JARDINE, 1858).
a twelvemonth … It is evident from the length of time
Figura 6: Hugh Edwin Strickland en 1837 (JARDINE, 1858).
that they have lived in the bottle, that the light and air of
this upper world is not destructive of their vitality. Those
which we saw were moving about with activity over
each other, and climbing with a sort of reptile motion

The first of these pets died at Vienna, and another
along the sides of the glass. Whether their propagation
at Prague. After three months, two only survived, and
has been attempted in other places, I know not. Some
reached Berlin, where they also died …” (BABBAGE,
were transported to the St. Catherine [Adelsberg] cave
1864).
and placed therein, mostly in the river, but partly also in
small standing pools. Those in the former may still exist:

AN AMERICAN PRIEST IN 1833
the water is too deep and dark to allow the fact to be
ascertained with certainly; but none have been seen or

An unidentified “American clergyman” wrote
caught. Those in the pools have disappeared – stolen,
(ANON., 1833):
it is supposed, by the strangers on Whit-Monday
“One of the guides brought for sale four very
[Grottenfest]. …
extraordinary animals, in shape between a lizard and an
In the stomach of one Proteus has been found a
eel, transparently white, with a tinge of rose-colour
small shell mollusc, thus showing what food the crea-
about their heads. They were of the species called the
tures will take in when free; but they have never been
Proteus anguillaris, and were very active in the wide-
brought to eat in a state of captivity. Yet in that condi-
mouthed bottle of water in which he brought them. I saw
tion they will live for a very long period. Of some which
some at Trieste, which had been kept in that way for
were presented to the Zoological Society, one continued
several months, by changing the water every day, and
alive for four years, and the others for not much shorter
giving them occasionally a few crumbs of bread.”
periods, without any food except what might be supplied
by the water in which they were kept. They lived in tubs,

WILLIAM JOHN HAMILTON AND HUGH EDWIN
the water of which was changed daily; and they
STRICKLAND IN 1835
appeared to have an aversion to light, as they habitual-
ly sheltered themselves under a blanket which was

Hamilton (1805-1867) and Strickland (1811-1853)
thrown over a portion of the tub.” (TURNBULL, 1840).
(Figure 6) were English geologists who visited
Postojnska jama and C
˘ rna jama on 25 and 26 August
EDMUND SPENCER IN 1836
1835. Strickland wrote (JARDINE, 1858):
“As we had a great deal to do on the morrow, we
Edmund Spencer was an English army captain,
resolved on visiting the cave of Maddalena the same
long resident in Germany, a historian and a traveller. He
night, much to the astonishment of our landlady ... This
was at Postojnska jama on 14 April 1836 and wrote as
cavern is terminated by a stream of water, said to be the
follows about Proteus (SPENCER, 1836):
same as the Pinka [sic], which is swallowed up in the
“In a state of freedom it is voracious, feeding on
56

small fish and insects, particularly the helix therma; but,
above, & from which, originally a larger Bason or
once a captive, it instantly and steadily refuses all
Reservoir was formed, & stocked with a number of
nourishment, although it lives to a great age if kept in
Protei, brought from the Magdalena Grotto, for the
partial darkness, and clear water, about eight degrees of
inspection of scientific & curious Visitors desirous of
Reaumur; which however, must be changed every five
observing this singular reptile-fish; but at the present
or six days. It is not less susceptible of cold than heat;
time, however, not a single Specimen is to be found
for, if a piece of ice is thrown into the water, or the rep-
therein.” (OLIVER 1856).
tile is exposed to great cold, it sickens and dies in a few
This must have been one of the pools mentioned by
hours. …
Turnbull the year before.
On my return through Laybach, I was introduced to
The Oliver manuscript is notable also for the water-
a gentleman who kept several in a large stone basin in
colour of two Proteus bound into it (Figure 7). The ani-
his cellar; they had been already in confinement four or
mals are shown crawling over some mud just above the
five years, and seemed very healthy, but diminished to
water. An almost identical drawing appears as an
half their natural size.”
engraving in the 1851 edition of Sir Humphry Davy’s
Consolations in Travel (DAVY, 1851), suggesting that
JOHN OLIVER IN 1837 AND 1852
such pictures were then commonly sold at the cave, as
postcards were to be later. Oliver probably acquired his
John Oliver (1804-1883), a priest whose English
picture about the same time, during his 1852 visit.
translation of Schaffenrath’s 1834 book on Postojnska
jama remains unpublished (SHAW,1981), visited the
JAMES DAVID FORBES IN 1837
cave on 4 June 1837 and again in September 1852. He
remarked, in a note of his own attached to the transla-
Professor Forbes (1809-1868), geologist and
tion, that in Pisani rov,
glaciologist, spent two hours in Postojnska jama on 23
“On the right hand side, are to be found several
September 1837. His unpublished diary (FORBES,
small Pools, formed by the Water-droppings from
1837) records:
Figure 7: Watercolour of two Proteus in John OLIVER’s (1856) manuscript.
Figura 7: Aquarel.la amb dos Proteus, al manuscrit de John OLIVER (1856).
57

“Saw several Proteus which are not nearly as active
“On leaving Adelsberg I first placed him in a soda-
as I expected. They are sluggish and easily caught.”
water bottle, and this again in a small leathern bag hung
These, again, are likely to have been in one of the
outside my coat … Heat and change of temperature are
pools in which Turnbull states that some had been
obnoxious to his constitution. … and five days in an
placed. Their uncharacteristic sluggishness suggests ill
open carriage, along the shores of the Mediterranean,
health, which may explain their decline in these pools.
under a blazing sun, might have been expected to pro-
duce a catastrophe; but he is a brave little follow, and

FRANCIS GALTON IN 1840
survived it all. The extreme heat and occasional expo-
sure to light produced, however, a great change in his

Sir Francis Galton (1822-1911), English scientist,
colour; his skin became a dark cinnamon brown with
African explorer and Fellow of the Royal Society, visited
blotches of bright scarlet, nor was it until after several
the cave on 22 September 1840 (Figure 8).
days of careful exclusion of light that it resumed its
“I bought two of the curious creatures called
usual pale flesh-colour.” (HENDERSON, 1866).
Proteus, that live in these underground waters. ... They
were the first living creatures of their kind brought to

HENRY EDMUND BUXTON IN 1863
England. ... I went from Trieste by steamer to Venice
and thence by diligence to Milan, whence I travelled by

H. E. Buxton (1844-1905) wrote of the way in which
diligence to Geneva with the bottle containing the two
the Proteus are caught and sold. His visit to Postojnska
Proteus under my thin coat, for fear of the water freez-
jama was on 6 January 1863:
ing while crossing the Alps.” (GALTON, 1908).
“I procured it, with another specimen, at the caves
Galton’s were not, in fact, the first living Proteus to
of Adelsberg, near Trieste, which I visited about a month
come to England. Those had been brought (ANON.,
ago, in company with Mr Gurney, M. P., who has the
1833) by the Rev. Francis Lunn (1795-1839) who had
other specimen. We did not catch them ourselves, but
been at Postojna on 27 June 1832.
bought them of the guides in the caves, who evidently
thought them of very little value, and were very glad to

JOHN CALL DALTON ABOUT 1853
sell them for a few shillings, though they said they had
before sold several specimens to Englishmen and

It is not clear whether John Dalton (1825-1889), an
others. … The guides told us that the protei are only to
American physiologist, visited Postojna himself but his
be obtained after several weeks of drought, when the
description of Proteus does provide some new informa-
water in the cave is very low. They have landing-nets on
tion on their capture:
very long poles, and with these, when the water is shal-
“The Proteus is taken in small hand-nets by the
low enough for them to reach the bottom, they general-
peasants, who watch for the animal as he lies almost
ly succeed in catching one or two. From this it appears
motionless near the bottom of the pool [in C
˘ rna jama],
that the proteus frequents the deepest parts of the
and capture him by a sudden motion of the net. They are
pool.… We brought them to England without any diffi-
not very abundant, however, and as they can be taken
culty, only changing their water daily, and keeping them
only when the water is perfectly clear, it is seldom that
as much as possible in the dark, as any light is said to
more than 15 or 20 are obtained during the course of a
be very injurious to them.” (BUXTON, 1863).
year. The animals should be kept afterward in obscurity,
and at a temperature as nearly as possible resembling
that of the grotto. It is necessary, also, to change the
water in which they are kept regularly every day. With
these precautions it is said they may be preserved alive

Gifts to learned Institutions
for an indefinite length of time. I have myself kept one of
them for several weeks.”
(DALTON, 1853).
and Zoos
WILLIAM HENDERSON IN 1862
From the very nature of any living animal, the
William Henderson (1813-1891) (Figure 9) visited
majority of Proteus gifts have been to zoological
the cave on 14 October 1862 and the extract here deals
societies or to museums associated with or possessing
with the way in which his specimen travelled with him to
a zoo. Some however went to universities where they
England.
could usually be kept alive in the zoology department.
Figure 8: The visitors’ book entry for Francis Galton on 22 September
Figura 8: Registre al llibre de visitants de Francis Galton, amb data 22
1840.
de setembre de 1840.
58

UNIVERSITIES
Charles Babbage’s visit to Postojnska jama in 1828
resulted in his buying six live Proteus as already
described. They all died en route to England, though,
and their fate was: “When their gloomy lives terminated
I preserved them in spirits, and sent the specimens to
the collections of our own universities, to India, and
some of our colonies.”
(BABBAGE, 1864).
Francis Galton bought two specimens in 1840 and
successfully brought them back to England: “I gave
them to King’s College; one died, the other lived and
was yearly lectured on, as I heard, until fate in the form
of a cat ended him.”
(GALTON, 1908).
The King’s College in question would have been
King’s College, London, at whose medical school he
had studied. The medical school did keep live animals
in its museum and ten years later the curator there pre-
sented two Proteus to London Zoo.
In the 20th century Reginald Smithson Julian Hawes
(1911?-1963) studied cave fauna in Slovenia before
World War II and took several Proteus back to England.
He was at King’s College, London at that time and col-
laborated with Leonard Harrison Matthews (1901-1986)
at the University of Bristol. It is probably these Proteus
that were in the zoology department at Bristol around
that time. Some of them were released about 1940 in
Read’s Cavern on the Mendip Hills. Others of the Bristol
specimens were preserved: two of them remained at
Bristol until 1998 when they went to the Natural History
Museum in London. Those now at the University of
Figure 9: William Henderson in 1876 or before (HENDERSON, 1879).
Exeter, where Hawes later worked, are probably also
some of those he collected in the 1930s.
Figura 9: William Henderson en 1876 o potser abans (HENDERSON, 1879).
ZOOLOGICAL SOCIETY OF LONDON
The Society was founded in 1826 and its Zoological
Gardens (the “Zoo”) were opened two years later.
Prof. Rudolph Wagner (1805-1864) had sent one
live Proteus to be exhibited at a meeting of the Society
on 14 November 1837 (WAGNER, 1837) but there is no
trace of it being given to the zoo itself. The first Proteus
recorded there was presented in 1839.
Gifts of animals were recorded in manuscript on
daily sheets headed “Occurrences at the Garden”,
bound up into annual volumes. A total of 31 Proteus are
recorded as having been received there between 1839
and 1887. The information on Proteus arrivals derived
from the published and unpublished sources described
above is summarized by SHAW (1999). Records of only
a very few deaths have been traced, namely three on
either 7 or 11 July 1852. In any case it would not be pos-
sible to calculate even approximate ages at death
because until about 1906 the individual animals were
not separately identified and their ages on arrival were
not known.
Figure10: Charles Robert Darwin, probably in the early 1860s. Reproduced
with permission from a photograph in the archives of the
THE OFFER TO DARWIN
Geological Society of London (P.56/box PE4).
Figura 10: Charles Robert Darwin, probablement en els primers anys de la
One specimen, received in 1861, has a notable
dècada del 1860. Reproduït amb permís a partir d’una fotografia
provenance. The English geologist Hugh Falconer
dels Arxius de la Geological Society of London (P.56/box PE4).
59

(1808-1865) visited Postojnska jama on 5 June 1861
References
when he purchased the Proteus which on 27 June he
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of London, 5:107-108.
60