It’s the best title we could come up with, because how can you properly convey the experience of living on two uninhabited, waterless islands in the Pacific in the mid 1960s? Everyone has heard of the Galapagos and Bryan and June Nelson were not there on a contrived test of endurance, but because if you are a zoologist specialising in the gannet family, then the three species of booby on this archipelago make the perfect study subject.
The desert island adventure was coincidental, but impressed the Duke of Edinburgh, who met the pair on Hood (Española) Island: ‘Although the author makes light of their long period of isolated existence, it ranks as a major achievement in itself.
I think he is also particularly fortunate to have found a wife and helper willing and able to put up with that kind of life and at the end of it all to appear as neat and tidy as the day she left civilisation.’ The Duke was unaware of the consternation the royal visit and invitation to lunch on the Britannia caused a woman accustomed to working naked.
I first visited the Galapagos in 1973, the year before accidentally founding Bradt Guides, and the book that most educated and enthralled me was Galapagos: Islands of Birds by Bryan Nelson. As soon as my publishing company was properly established in the 1980s, I contacted Bryan to see if there was a possibility of reprinting it.
Bryan was keen but I was defeated by the red tape. Nearly 40 years later my company looked again at the possibility of a reprint but this time I concluded, sadly, there was too much scientific detail to make it a book for the general public, and it was once again shelved.
I never gave up, however. Learning that Bryan had, sadly, died in 2015 but that June was very much alive, I contacted her and together we saw the way forward: ‘It would be such a privilege to be able to add my voice to Bryan’s and be involved in a book which will bring his lyrical writing to a wider audience.
Many readers of his original abandoned ship when they hit Chapters 4 and 5 on the behaviour and ecology of the red-footed booby. They completely missed the delights of most of his chapters.’
Bryan Nelson was the world's foremost authority on The Northern Gannet and its related species (sulidae). In this interview filmed just a few months before he died Bryan tells us how he could not have achieved this without his wife June and how fortunate he was to have chosen this remarkable bird to study as a student.
Video © Lever Photography & Film Production
So, Galapagos Crusoes is a combination of still-relevant and fascinating observations about bird behaviour and the trials and tribulations of a year of meagre rations and wildlife that was too tame for comfort.
‘Now our flour had around 50 maggots or beetles per pound. Sieving with a spoon squashed the maggots and blocked the sieve; I had to use gentle fingers. Dried beans had three or four beetles per bean which left no bean. In spaghetti a black shadow meant beetle, a grey one maggot. It took a long time, breaking out each shadow, to make a meal. Both macaroni and rice had beetles and tasted of sacking’. June
‘[Mockingbirds] used to come from at least a mile away, probably much farther, and 30 or 40 pestered us from dawn till dusk. One or two bold individuals, which we could recognise, behaved exactly like mischievous children. When we tried to keep them out of the tent by blocking every conceivable entry, they would squirm and scuffle violently to squeeze through any crack, unshakably convinced that they were missing something.
However quiet things seemed, a few moments' inattention inevitably brought trouble from a slyly entered mocker. Their concerted predations, particularly when June was baking, drove a normally placid female into a state of frenzy. Only the bright-eyed mockers dared defy her shouts and gesticulations and, having knocked over the fermenting yeast and scuffled devastatingly through the bowl of flour, finish off by excreting into everything before taking to their heels.’ Bryan
This is your opportunity to buy a beautifully produced, limited edition hardback of Galapagos Crusoes, signed by June.
This book will be published two months ahead of the paperback edition and will not be available in bookshops anywhere. We will print just enough copies to fulfil crowdfunding pledges and once they’re gone, they’re gone!
FINALLY... you can help save the Floreana Mockingbird from extinction!
We have teamed up with Monty Halls (see video) to help this feisty little bird, and its subspecies which is found only on a large rock off Floreana island. Fewer than 300 remain. Given the Nelsons’ intimate relationship with mocking birds during their stay on both Tower (Genovesa) and Hood (Española) June has thrown her considerable enthusiasm behind this project so the birds that have meant so much to her will benefit from the publication of her book.
The author and publisher are jointly donating £10 from each sale to the Galapagos Conservation Trust (galapagosconservation.org.uk) specifically for the Floreana Mockingbird Project.