An utterly miserable day and all that I have managed to photograph is a photograph.
The original photograph taken in 1884, at the rear of Marischal College in Aberdeen, shows John Struthers (right) and his faithful attendant, Mr Robert Gibb, of whom he said, 'he took intelligent interest in the work and never grudged sitting with me at extra hours'.
John Struthers graduated in medicine at Edinburgh in 1845 and was immediately appointed lecturer in Anatomy at Henry Lonsdale's School of Anatomy. In1863 Struthers was appointed to the first Regius Chair of Human Anatomy at Aberdeen University, a post that he held until 1889. He was knighted in1898. He became one of the most famous teachers in the history of Anatomy at Aberdeen and was particularly well known for his enthusiasm in using comparative animal material in his presentations. The most notable examples of his heroic dissections include a huge humpback whale, beached on the Scottish coast at Dundee and a sei whale whose skeleton can still be seen in the Aberdeen University Zoology Museum.
Struthers was one of the earliest advocates in Scotland of Darwin's theory of natural selection. Charles Darwin's ideas on the evolution of species by natural selection was still the subject of intense debate and there was a great need for hard evidence that species really did change with time. Vestigial, apparently functionless organs were offered as one kind of evidence. The argument went that such organs would have been functional in an ancient ancestor but with time, and with a change in lifestyle, the organs had become less and less useful. As their utility declined they became reduced in size and in the fullness of time they might be expected to disappear altogether. Whales have a number of vestigial structures that would have been fully functional in their land-living ancestors, including the pelvic girdle, the hind limbs and the finger muscles. Whales were a Godsend to the Darwinians and Struthers grasped it with both hands!
In the photograph Struthers and Gibb and are inspecting a dead, but very fresh, beluga whale (Delphinapterus leucas). This small toothed whale is a species associated with the edge of the pack ice and has only very rarely been stranded on the Scottish coast. The beluga had been found, alive, in salmon fishing nets at Dunsbeath, Caithness, on April 26th 1884. It lived for 8 hours after capture and died only after being stabbed in the belly by some local youths. The beluga was carted to Wick, a distance of 21 miles, on the 29th, and at once shipped for Aberdeen where it arrived on the following day in quite fresh condition: photos were taken and measurements made.