A gunshot rang out on the shores of the River Blythe, shattering the silence of the idyllic English countryside. Some minutes later, the shotgun blast was soon followed by another, from the second barrel. Three gentlemen were busy at their craft, but this was no wing shooting party. Passersby would have been startled to see two gentlemen (one, a man of the cloth) in an eccentric-looking octagonal hut built over the waters of the river, staring through the windows at their quarry as the gunshots went off.

The beast being tracked was a trout, some six inches beneath the surface of the water. The gentlemen in the hut were Rev. Brown and the ringleader who built the hut, Alfred Ronalds.

blythe-valley
Blythe Valley. Looking north along the River Blythe. Accessed via Wikipedia.

Ronalds (1802-1860) was conducting comprehensive studies on the habits of trout and grayling, and the shotgun blasts were part of an experiment to determine if fish could hear conversational noises above the water. The experimenters were careful not to be seen by the fish, and many loud noises were tried before finding that the fish showed no signs of distress from the noise.

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The location of Ronalds’ fishing hut. From The Fly-fisher’s Entomology, by Alfred Ronalds. Fifth edition, London: Longman, Brown, Green and Longmans, 1856. National Sporting Library & Museum.

Ronalds was not a scientist by trade, instead making his living as an etcher and lithographer in 1830s England. His primary source of leisure was in fly fishing, and in his quest to unlock the secrets of the successful catch, he’d gone as far as the construction of a special shack from which to observe the fishes of the Blythe. From this headquarters, he carefully noted fish habits and diets, studied their vision, hearing, and even taste (offering foods to fish coated in cayenne pepper and mustard, he found the fish enjoyed the spicy food).

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Findings on the vision of the trout, detailing differences in vision through water and air. From The Fly-fisher’s Entomology, by Alfred Ronalds. Fifth edition, London: Longman, Brown, Green and Longmans, 1856. National Sporting Library & Museum.

The result of Ronalds’ experimentation was his 1836 book, The Fly-fisher’s Entomology. Drawing on his talents as an engraver and his scientific observations, Ronalds developed an illustrated list of artificial flies and the times of year they should be used.

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Flies for April: Golden Dun Midge, Sand Fly, Stone Fly. From The Fly-fisher’s Entomology, by Alfred Ronalds. Fifth edition, London: Longman, Brown, Green and Longmans, 1856. National Sporting Library & Museum.

The real key to Ronalds’ book was combining awareness of the insect life-cycle to a clearer understanding of the feeding habits of fish. If you want to catch a fish, imitate the bugs they eat at the correct time of season. Though this maxim might seem simple today, the book was a wildly-successful turning point in the literature of fly fishing, and Ronald is widely credited with launching modern fly-fishing writing. The Fly-fisher’s Entomology would go through 11 editions between 1836 and 1913 and be extensively reprinted in the 20th Century.

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Flies for April: Iron Blue Dun, Jenny Spinner, Hawthorn Fly. From The Fly-fisher’s Entomology, by Alfred Ronalds. Fifth edition, London: Longman, Brown, Green and Longmans, 1856. National Sporting Library & Museum.

Ronalds went on to relocate to Wales in 1844, and after his first wife died in 1847 he moved his family to Australia. He set up his own engraving business in Melbourne, then in Ballarat after the Australian gold rushes in the 1850s. He died of a stroke in 1860. The Fly-fisher’s Entomology was the only book he ever produced. But considering its massive influence on the sport Ronalds loved, we can safely say that it was a great one.


Wedding Photography by Spiering Photography

John Connolly has served as the George L. Ohrstrom, Jr. Librarian at the National Sporting Library & Museum (NSLM) since early 2014. He is responsible for the care of the Library collections, including books, magazines, photographs, diaries, letters, and much more. The NSLM collections span over 350 years of the history of equestrian sport, as well as fly fishing, wing shooting, and other field sports. Have a question? Contact John by e-mail

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Today we’re highlighting Pictures of Life & Character (volume one of five), by John Leech (1817-1864). Leech was a prominent caricaturist and illustrator in 19th Century Britain, and was widely regarded for his humorous and political cartoons in the comic magazine Punch.

Rather Severe. "Shall I 'old your 'orse, sir?"
Rather Severe.
“Shall I ‘old your ‘orse, sir?”

Pictures of Life & Character is an undated collection of Leech’s cartoons from Punch. Most of them are satirical commentary on social or political events, and quite a few are simply jocular. We’ve focused today on the sporting cartoons in the first volume.

Tableau -- Representing Mr. Briggs out for a day's rabbit-shooting.
Tableau — Representing Mr. Briggs out for a day’s rabbit-shooting.

Leech’s subjects often dealt with the sporting culture of his time, and he also illustrated many of the humorous sporting novels of his contemporary, R. S. Surtees (1805-1864). Many of the sporting cartoons in Pictures of Life & Character focus on the misadventures of Mr. Briggs, an enthusiastic (but ultimately incompetent) sportsman.

Pleasures of Horsekeeping. The frost goes, and Mr. Briggs's horse is disagreeably fresh after his long rest. He sets up his back and squeaks and plunges at everything he meets.
Pleasures of Horsekeeping.
The frost goes, and Mr. Briggs’s horse is disagreeably fresh after his long rest. He sets up his back and squeaks and plunges at everything he meets.
Our friend Briggs contemplates a day's fishing.
Our friend Briggs contemplates a day’s fishing.
Mr. Briggs, on his way to the "Metropolitan Steeple chase," tries whether his horse is a good one across country. He is represented riding at a brook (!).
Mr. Briggs, on his way to the “Metropolitan Steeple chase,” tries whether his horse is a good one across country. He is represented riding at a brook (!).
Mr. Briggs, not being good at his "fences," goes through the performance of opening a gate.
Mr. Briggs, not being good at his “fences,” goes through the performance of opening a gate.
Mr. Briggs Grouse Shooting. 9 a.m., his arrival on the moor. Mr. Briggs says that the fine bracing air makes him so vigorous that he shall never be beat. He also facetiously remarks that he is on "his native health," and that his "name is MacGregor!" The result of the Day's Sport will be communicated by Electric Telegraph.
Mr. Briggs Grouse Shooting.
9 a.m., his arrival on the moor. Mr. Briggs says that the fine bracing air makes him so vigorous that he shall never be beat. He also facetiously remarks that he is on “his native health,” and that his “name is MacGregor!”
The result of the Day’s Sport will be communicated by Electric Telegraph.

12 a.m. [noon], total prostration of Mr. Briggs.
12 a.m. [noon], total prostration of Mr. Briggs.
Thank you for reading along with us this year! Drawing Covert has been a huge success; we’ve received over 11,000 visits since we launched the blog one year ago. We wish all our readers a happy and peaceful holiday season and we’ll be back to look at more books next week.

Are you hungry for a taste of the Scottish countryside? Lionel Edwards obliges in his 1929 work, Scottish Sketchbook. The compilation of many sporting (and sketching) trips to Scotland, the book is a lovely gem filled with impressions of Scottish country life in early 20th Century.

"This picture is a fraud, for it suggests a midday rest after a strenuous morning over dogs in pursuit of the elusive grouse bird. In actual fact it depicts a brother artist, plus my host's dogs, on a hot August day above Loch Ness, all in that drowsy state peculiar to after luncheon on the Sabbath!"
“This picture is a fraud, for it suggests a midday rest after a strenuous morning over dogs in pursuit of the elusive grouse bird. In actual fact it depicts a brother artist, plus my host’s dogs, on a hot August day above Loch Ness, all in that drowsy state peculiar to after luncheon on the Sabbath!”

The sketches are as varied as the landscape of Scotland itself, and Edwards relates the collection to the variety and admixture of Scottish foods. There’s a lot to dig into in the book, which is full of small vignettes and memories.

“These sketches – for they do not aspire to be anything higher – have now been collected, and are served up in the mixed form of a hash. Perhaps, to continue in gastronomical terms, “Scotch Collops” would be a more appropriate title, since with one exception they have not been previously published, and therefore resemble the latter dish in being composed entirely of fresh meat.”
–– Lionel Edwards, Scottish Sketchbook, Introduction

"I hope I can claim the negative virtue of being not worse than my neighbours, but, if one can gauge the minds of others by one's own, one is bound to admit that the green-eyed monster at times mocks one's best endeavours. Although I cannot claim to be a real fisherman, even I have noticed that usually all the luck goes to 'the other boat'!"

“I hope I can claim the negative virtue of being not worse than my neighbours, but, if one can gauge the minds of others by one’s own, one is bound to admit that the green-eyed monster at times mocks one’s best endeavours. Although I cannot claim to be a real fisherman, even I have noticed that usually all the luck goes to ‘the other boat’!”

Lionel Edwards (1878-1966) was a prolific sporting artist of the early 20th Century. Born in Wales, the fifth son of a doctor, Edwards learned to love the countryside and country sport at an early age. Much of his career was spent depicting country pursuits in their element, including foxhunting, fishing and shooting.

"This memory note was made after hunting with the Linlithgow and Stirlingshire, and represents hounds climbing the park wall of Dalmahoy (now a golf club), which is one of the nearest points to Edinburgh over which hounds still hunt."
“This memory note was made after hunting with the Linlithgow and Stirlingshire, and represents hounds climbing the park wall of Dalmahoy (now a golf club), which is one of the nearest points to Edinburgh over which hounds still hunt.”

Hungry for more? This is one of over 100 books available to purchase through the NSLM Annual Auction. The Annual Auction, composed of duplicates from the Library collections, will continue until November 8. This year’s Auction includes some lovely sporting art and is perfect for holiday shopping; contact John Connolly, the George L. Ohrstrom, Jr. Librarian for more information.