Nora McMillan and Annotating Stelfox

More than two dozen field diaries by Irish naturalist Arthur Stelfox are housed in the Smithsonian Institution Archives--what a note left inside one field notebook tells us about his network of scientist colleagues.

A note written by naturalist Nora F. McMillan, found in the diaries of Arthur W. Stelfox. More than two dozen field diaries handwritten by Arthur Wilson Stelfox (1883-1972), an Irish naturalist, are housed in the Smithsonian Institution Archives. Among them is a diary with an intriguing note attached to the inside of the front cover. It reads:

“All scribblings by M.P. Kerney in these 3 vols. of Stelfox’s journal have been removed today 10/2/1975. N.F. McMillan”

In different handwriting on the same slip of paper is written the following:

“Vols. 1, 2 and 3 of Stelfox’s Journal were lent to M.P. Kerney (Imperial College, London) and were returned heavily annotated—naturally without my permission or knowledge. Nora F. McMillan”

This small slip of paper offers several clues into Stelfox’s network of fellow naturalists. Both notes are signed by Nora Fisher McMillan, a fellow naturalist who spent her career working primarily in Liverpool, England. Born in Belfast as Eleanor Fisher, she made her mark as a self-taught naturalist and published her first paper in 1926, at the age of 18. Through the Belfast Naturalists’ Field Club she met Stelfox whom she described as a major influence. Second, we have the mention of M.P. Kerney, a geologist. From McMillan’s note, we learn that he is from Imperial College London, although there is no information about when or why he borrowed the journals.

Interestingly, the note is written in two distinctive hands. There are other differences as well. The first is much less formal, using the term ‘scribblings’ rather than ‘annotations’ and it gives a date of 10/2/1975 for removing the unwanted writings. The second is more specific about Kerney, noting his university affiliation, and specifying that his annotations were done without McMillan’s “permission or knowledge”. Of the two, the second seems more likely to have been written by McMillan.

While we cannot know how Stelfox himself might have felt about the annotations, McMillan’s distaste for the practice was quite clear.

McMillan trusted Kerney with the journals. It is unlikely that Kerney meant any harm by his scribblings, but it is a good friend indeed who defends against unwanted annotations.

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