Thursday, 28 July 2016


Louis Tracy (1863 - 1928) was a newspaper journalist and a very prolific author. He was reputedly born in Liverpool (although that is disputed by Steve Holland in his Bear Alley blog) but lived a significant part of his life in Whitby. The census records for 1901 show that his son, Thomas resided at 23 Skinner Street, Whitby. Tracy himself gave his address in 1911 as Fairlawn, Whitby, Yorkshire.

He often collaborated with M. P. Shiel, author of The Purple Cloud, with whom he sometimes shared the pseudonyms Gordon Holmes and Robert Fraser.

Tracy became a volunteer member of the Coast Guard, and in his book The Pillar of Light an exciting shipwreck takes place. It is clear that Tracy used his real life experiences in Whitby's Coast Guard to inform the thrilling description of the storm, wreck and rescue.

The Shiel scholar John D. Squires has written a long article on Louis Tracy here. In August 2012 Mr Squires promised to furnish me with material about Tracy's life in Whitby, but he sadly died in November of that same year before any correspondence could take place. His message to me read:

I have info on Tracy's life in Whitby, including an (unfortunately) poor quality image of his home showing shell damage from the German cruiser raid. If you want to use on your blog, contact me.

This moving obituary to Tracy appeared in the October 1928 edition of The Bookman, the literary magazine.

I heard with great regret of the death of Mr. Louis Tracy, an able and successful novelist; whose books have enjoyed considerable popularity for the last thirty years. His first novel, The Final War, was published in 1896, and the strenuous work he undertook during that War when it came (for since it was a cold war to end war, one hopes it was the final one), broke down his health and hastened his end. 

He was turned fifty in 1914, but promptly took a hand in forming the Whitby Branch of the North Riding Volunteer Reserve, and in 1915 was made sub-commander of the regiment. He wrote much on the War, went lecturing on it in America in 1916, and in 1917 joined the Headquarters Staff of the British Mission in the U.S.A., and later was temporarily attached to the Foreign Office. For these and other war services he was made a C.B.E. in 1920. 

For six years most of his literary work was suspended, and at fifty eight he had to take up the dropped threads and begin again, and did not find the way easy after that interval, but wrote thirteen more novels in the last seven years, and regained his public, though he could not regain the strength he had lost. By a strange coincidence he died on August 13th, leaving unfinished a story called The Fatal Thirteen, of which he had written only thirteen pages.

A comprehensive bibliography of Tracy's work
Bear Alley
John D. Squires

Friday, 22 July 2016



Excellent day on the rocks at Runswick. I arrived at about an hour before low water. There was a persistent breeze rippling the surfaces of the pools, which always makes it tricky to photograph into the water, but the threatened rain never materialised.

Sheltering under stones there were several 'berried' crabs carrying their clutch of eggs against their abdomens. If you find one with a smooth, yellow-brown, soft lump under the body which doesn't look at all like berries, it is the parasitic barnacle Sacculina carcini or one of it's relatives. These barnacles do not have the hard plates that surround their rock dwelling cousins. They are just a soft lump of tissue which extends itself into the crab's tissues.

A female crab with her eggs held under her abdomen 
Sponges are among the simplest of animals. They do not have seperate tissues and organs and if forced through a tight mesh, the broken pieces will reform again after a short period of time into many small sponges. Oscarella lobularis is a beautiful encrusting sponge, and this one was found beneath a large stone in one of the rock gulleys. 

Oscarella lobularis alongside another sponge Hymeniacidon perleve

Oscarella lobularis (detail)

Under the same large stone as the sponges was this beautiful brittle-star Ophiothrix fragilis. The species can be identified by its large radial shields which are triangular in shape and extend up to ⅔ of the central disc's radius. Brittle-stars are Echinoderms, and like their starfish relatives exhibit five-fold symmetry.

They are often found alongside sponges and other sessile organisms. As their name suggests, they break very easily and it is best not to handle them. Far better to photograph them and then carefully return the stone back to its original position.

 The brittle-star Ophiothrix fragilis
These two fuzzy blobs are colonies of  the ascidian Botrylloides leachii. Known as sea squirts, these tiny creatures form colonies in which individuals are clothed within a common mass of tough, jelly-like material called a test.

The larval stage of sea squirts is tadpole-like and has a notochord (a flexible, rod-like structure) and a dorsal nerve cord. These characteristics are essentially the first stages of vertebrate evolution, so although sea squirts look nothing like fish, birds, mammals, or indeed us, they are in fact our very distant relatives.

Two colonies of Botrylloides leachii