Natural History specimens collected by Mr. and Mrs. Rogers in Tristan da Cunha and Inaccessible and Nightingale Islands and now at the British Museum (Natural History)



WHEN the Shackleton‑Rowett Expedition touched, in 1922, at the Tristan da Cunha group on its way home from the South Atlantic, Mr. G. H. Wilkins, the naturalist on board the Quest, was unable to procure specimens of the " Island Hen " on Inaccessible Island. So desirable was it, however, to find out what this flightless rail was like that he left collecting material with the late Rev. H. M. C. Rogers, then acting as resident chaplain on Tristan da Cunha, with a request that he would try every means in his power to get specimens at the first opportunity. As a result, two skins of an almost black and diminutive flightless rail arrived at the British Museum on July 5, 1923. From what had been previously gathered from past reports no one was very much surprised when this rail proved to be totally different in character from the so‑called " Island Hen " (Porphyriornis nesiotis) which once lived upon Tristan da Cunha, and still lives upon Gough Island, though in a slightly different form, known as Porphyriornis comeri.

The diminutive and flightless rail which lives on Inaccessible Island and, as far as is known, nowhere else in the Atlantic, or for that matter in the whole world, is in fact not even generically allied to the moorhen-like gallinules just referred to. It is a true rail ; and besides this there is nothing specifically like it known to science, although it may be that certain rails living on islands in the Pacific Ocean may have sprung from the same original stock. It was for these and other reasons, therefore, that I referred this rail to an entirely new genus and species, naming it in honour of Mr. Rogers, who was the first to procure specimens of it with the object of making it known to science.1

The bird will therefore now be known as

Atlantisia Rogersi

Although this was the first occasion on which this interesting little rail had ever been taken in the interests of science, other attempts had previously been made to secure specimens of it. Among the most historic of these was that made during the visit of the Challenger to Inaccessible Island on October 16, 1873. Sir Whyville Thomson, who accompanied this expedition, writes:2

"Inaccessible, like Tristan, has its 'Island Hen,' and it is one of very few regrets that we found it impossible to, get a specimen of it. It is probably a gallinule, but it is certainly a different species from the Tristan bird. It is only about a fourth the size, and it seems to be markedly different in appearance. The Stoltenhoffs were very familiar with it, and described it as being exactly like a black chicken two days old, the legs and beak black, the latter long and slender, the head small, the wings short and soft and useless for flight. It is common on the plateau, and runs like a partridge among the long grass and ferns, feeding upon insects and seeds."

Judging from the specimens in the possession of the British Museum, of which one is apparently older than the other, it would appear that the young, full‑grown rail is almost uniformly black, but as maturity is attained there is some slight barring on the wing‑coverts, flanks and abdomen, typical of the genus Rallus.

The feathers in both old and immature have discontinuous barbs so that a loose, hairy appearance is given to the plumage. The wings are very small and the tail very feeble. The old bird would appear to acquire a sienna‑brown tinge of colour on its upper parts, a slaty-grey below, a condition of plumage somewhat reminiscent of a small rail found in the Pacific (Porzana tabuensis).

We are given to understand that these little Inaccessible Island rails live in subterranean retreats beneath the debris of fallen rocks. It is to be hoped that the islanders will do their best to preserve them in memory of the man who with such devotion looked after their welfare on Tristan da Cunha. They may at any rate pride themselves on the fact that there is no other rail like theirs in the whole world. It is also certain that attempts will be made on the part of dealers and collectors to acquire specimens. It is of the utmost importance that no animals such as cats should be introduced on to the island, as they would be certain to exterminate the rails and other birds. The protection of all the birds on their islands within practical limits is indeed a trust for which the islanders are responsible.

(Sgd.) PERCY R. LOWE.       
In charge of Ornithology, British Museum (Nat. Hist.).

2. The Sooty Albatros (Phaebetria fusca).
3. The Broad-billed Prion (Pachyptila vittata keyteli).
4. The Tristan da Cunha Thrush (Nesocichla eremita).
5. The Tristan da Cunha Bunting (Nesospiza acunhae).
6. The Tern (Sterna vittata).
7. The Great Shearwater (Puffinus gravis), locally known as the Pediunker.

Birds from Tristan da Cunha

1. Purple Gallinule (Ionornis martinica).
2. Long-winged Sulmer (Pterodroma macroptera).

Eggs from Tristan da Cunha

1. The egg of the Yellow-nosed Albatros (Thalassarche chlororhynchus).
2. The egg of the Cape Seas Albatros (Thalassarche chrysostoma).
3. The egg of the Broad-billed Prion (Pachyptila vittata keyteli).
4. The egg of the Broad-winged Petrel (Pterodroma macroptera).
5. The egg of the Crested Penguin (Catarrhaites chrysocome).
6. The egg of the Southern Black-backed Gull (Larus dominicanus).
7. The egg of the Great Shearwater (Puffinus gravis).

Sea Shells, etc., from Tristan da Cunha

Shells (Argobuccinum vexillum, Sowerby).
Sea-urchins (Arbacia, Gray).

From Inaccessible Island

Shells (Siphonaria tristanensis).
Shells (Ianthina communis).
Shells (Marinata tristanensis, Connolly).

Botanical Specimens from Tristan da Cunha

1. The Lady's Fingers3 (Lycopodium diapharnum, Swartz).
2. Tape-leaf Fern (Blenchnum australe L.).
3. Fern (Asplenium obtusatum var. obliquum, Baker).
4. Fern (Polystichum adiantiforme, J. Sm.) (Aspidium coriaceum Sw.).
5. Fern (Lomaria penna marina, Kuhn).
6. Dog-catcher Plant (Acaena sanguisorbae, Vahl).
7. Pelargonium grassularioidis, Ait.
8. Wild Cram Bush (Empetrum nigrum Linn var. rubrum—Hemsley).
9. Wild Daisy (Chrysanthemum lecanthemum L.).
10. Mountain Maiden-hair Fern (Dryopteris aguilina C. Chr. Polypodium aguilinum, Thonars).
11. Shamrock (Apium australe, Thonars).
12. Fern (Oxalis corniculata L.).
13. Island Tea (Chenopodium tomentosum, Thonars).
14. Island Blackberry (Solanum nigrum L.).
15. Plantago major L.
16. Fowl Berry (Nertera depressa Goeotn).
17. Rat-tail Grass (Plantaga lanceolata L.).
18. Cow‑pudding Grass (Graphalium pyramidale , Thonars).
19. Island Moss (Polytrichum juniperinum—Hedw).
20. Bog Fern growing on mountain‑top (Blechnum tabulare, Kuhn) (Lomaria Boryana Willd).

  1. First described in the Bulletin of the British Ornithologists' Club, vol. xliii, 1923, p. 175.
  2. Challenger Reports: Atlantic: vol. ii. p. 185. See also Moseley's Notes by a Naturalist on the " Challenger,".
  3. The common names given here are those in use on the island.

Appendix 3