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Specimens Presented

Blakiston, noted for the " Blakiston Line " and other pioneering observations, also preserved many
bird specimens, and 1,331 specimens of his collection are now in the museum attached to the Agricultural Dept. of Hokkaido University. They are undamaged and almost in their original condition, and serve as important data for ornithological study.

Blakiston collected and stuffed the specimens himself, which even 100 years later are considered very excellent work. Naritoyo Fukushi, a surveying engineer from the Kaitakushi, helped Blakiston as an assistant in collecting wild birds in Hokkaido. In return Blakiston favored Fukushi very much, teaching him the techniques of surveying and secrets of taxidermy.

Blakiston tried to send his first specimens by ship to the British Museum. Unfortunately. however, the ship was caught in a typhoon and many of the specimens were broken or lost, some of them being sent back to him. He then decided he had better give the valuable specimens he had collected as a gift to the town of Hakodate, where he had been treated with so much goodwill, rather than sending them to England at such great risk. In 1880 he contributed 1,338 specimens of stuffed birds and animals to the Kaitakushi. In return for his contribution, the Kaitakushi tried to present him some sea-otter skins but he firmly refused them, accepting only a trigonometric survey map and two letters of appreciation, one in English and the other in Japanese.

The specimens he contributed were first preserved in the Hakodate museum, under the jurisdiction of the Kaitakushi. When the Hokkaido government was properly established in 1886, following Hokkaido's division into three prefectures, the museum was sold to Hakodate. But the town used the museum as an exhibition gallery for marine products, and the specimens contributed by Blakiston were transferred to the Hakodate Commercial School, obviously not appreciated for their true value.

The Hakodate Commercial School did not take good care of Blakiston's collection, even losing the attached list ultimately. A Mr. Thompson, an Englishman who visited Hakodate and saw this, was so surprised and angry that he insisted on lodging a strict official protest with the authorities in charge against such loose administration. But, because of somebody's arbitration, the matter was settled amicably. Later, in 1895, Blakiston's collection were divided into three parts; one was left in Hakodate Middle School, another was moved to Sapporo Middle School and the rest to the Sapporo Agricultural School, and the specimens were in even further danger of being damaged or lost.

In 1908, Professor Saburo Hatta of the Sapporo Agricultural School, ashamed of the fact that the specimens contributed by Blakiston were under such lax care, insisted, with some difficulties, on having the whole collection brought under the charge of the Agricultural Dept. of Tohoku Imperial University (the former Sapporo Agricultural school). These are the specimens now preserved in the museum of the Agricultural Dept. of Hokkaido University. Although seven of them are missing, the rest have been preserved, with labels in Blakiston's own writing.

The Blakiston Line

With excellent foresight, Professor Hatta recognized the permanent value of Blakiston's specimens and kept strict supervision of them. In 1932, the specimens were officially made public to the scientific world, being brought up-to-date with the addition of scientific lists prepared by Tetsuo Inukai (chief of the museum and successor to Hatta), who was assisted by Yoshimaro Yamashina, one of the authorities of the Ornithological Society of Japan.

Blakiston often published in scientific magazines records of his explorations and his study of birds and animals in Hokkaido. The name " Blakiston Line " was derived from an essay of his published by the Asiatic Society of Japan, a scientific group organized at the time by some European and American scholars in Japan who lived mainly around Tokyo and Yokohama.

The subject of the essay is the " Zoological Evidence of the Japanese Islands and the Asian Continent Having Been Connected in Ancient Times." The essay was published in 1883. It received extra-ordinary attention and all the people who were concerned with such matters recognized with keen interest the great scientific significance of the Tsugaru Straits, whereupon, at a suggestion from John Milne, a noted seismologist who then lived in Japan, they decided to call the Tsugaru Straits the "Blakiston Line," in order to honor Blakiston for a great achievement.

At the time when Blakiston worked in Hokkaido as a business-man, nobody had ever investigated nature in Hokkaido. Then came this man, with wide experience through explorations of the Yangtze River and Canada. Attracted by the charm of nature in Hokkaido, he devoted himself to a full study of its birds and animals.

In those days, scientific study in Japan was still in its infancy. and people only vaguely recognized that the animals in Hokkaido were different from those in Honshu. Blakiston discovered many remarkable things, such as the fact that the bears and wolves in Hokkaido belong to Asian species, closely resembling those in Siberia, while in Honshu there live Japanese bears and wolves of very different appearance from those in Hokkaido. Furthermore, he found that monkeys do not live in Hokkaido, the Straits being the northernmost limit for simians. Blakiston connected these facts to the origin of the islands of Japan.

The main import of the Blakiston line thesis is that, noting the geological fact that the Mamiya and the Soya Straits are shallower than that of the Tsugaru, the latter existed in ancient times, when Sakhalin and Hokkaido were peninsulas of the Asian continent, separated by the Japan Sea from the main islands of Japan. The theory also states that animals in the northern continent were prevented from going south because of the Tsugaru Straits, and animals in the southern area were prevented from coming up north for the same reason. It further maintains that, because of the geological change caused later with the appearance of the Mamiya and the Soya Straits, Sakhalin and Hokkaido respectively became islands, and animals then living in these islands were left there, producing the distribution seen today.

Honor Came by Birds

Blakiston published surveying records, various essays on birds in Japan, and some accounts of his explorations in the Tohoku district, besides the accounts of his expedition along the Yangtze River, and his essays on birds in Canada. But it was the so-called "Blakiston Line" essay on the Tsugaru Straits that brought him everlasting fame. He showed admirable insights in his travels across Siberia, capped by his scientific hypotheses.

Most of his scientific essays are now stored in the Hakodate City Library, together with his favorite hunting gun, bullet-bag, collection- bag, whip, telescope, stick and some bills he issued. Kenzo Okada, a former chief of the library, devoted extraordinary efforts to collecting these things. The total number of specimens collected and stuffed by Blakiston amounts to several thousands, including the 1,331 birds mentioned above, which are now stored in the museum of Hokkaido University. Others were sent and stored in the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D. C., U.S.A., some in the Brltish Museum in London, and some in Paris. All of them are very valuable evidence concerning the famous Blakiston distribution-line of animals.

First page of Blakiston in Japan

Thomas Blakiston in Canada

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