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  • Natator 2#: Buckland Speaks March 29, 2015

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Modern , trackback


    Natator had no biographer: who would be equal to such a life! However,  10 August 1867 Frank Buckland the celebrated naturalist and son of a great British eccentric (who once ate a king’s heart) visited the Cremorne Gardens to examine Frog Man. We learn more from this account than from any other. First, the aquarium:

    A huge human aquarium (for I can call it nothing else) is placed on the stage. It is made of iron, with a plate-glass front, and measures nine feet by five. It contains four tons of water, the depth being about six feet. It cost nearly 100L. When I arrived, the ‘human frog’ had just begun his performances, and through the plate-glass I beheld a human form twisting itself round and round with the velocity of a cockchafer on a pin, and looking like a huge jack fighting in his last efforts to get rid of the fatal gorge-bait.

    Buckland then lists Natator’s tricks.

    (i) He stands on his head: it was called the ‘minute trick’ and was done to show how long Natator could stay underwater. ‘The longest time he has ever remained under water at a stretch has been 69 seconds, and several times he has remained 64; his ordinary tricks require from 10 to 30 seconds under water.’

    (ii) Natator swims around and around the tank without coming up. ‘This is a very difficult trick, inasmuch as the aquarium is not long enough for him to take a full stroke, and he has to stop his force at either end as well as he can. The performance of this feat requires from 40 to 45 seconds under water.’

    (iii) Natator sits down and ‘grins at the people through the plate-glass front’; he too ‘opens and shuts his eyes under water, to show that this can be done. He also opens his mouth quite wide under the water; this, he tells me, is very difficult.’

    (iv) Natator eats a bun or a sponge-cake at the bottom of the tank. Natator told Buckland that it took him three years to learn the trick.

    (v) Natator drinks milk from a ‘soda-water bottle’: milk so it can clearly be seen. Natator called this his most difficult trick and who are we to question Frog Man?

    (vi) Natator smokes a pipe underwater. ‘When under water, he manages somehow to keep it alight, and to emit bubbles, which rising through the water, burst in little puffs of tobacco smoke. Coming to the surface, he shows that his pipe is still alight.’

    (vii) the piano plays ‘Froggy would a wooing go’ and Natator dances while singing the song (Buckland noted the bubbles rising up.

    (viii) Natator swims in the styles of different fishes: carp, shrimps… He also does somersaults in the water.

    Buckland finished by examining Natator.

    He is a young man, twenty years old, 5 feet 7 inches in stature, and 9 stone 6 lbs. in weight; he is lightly built, but exceedingly well made and muscular. His pulse on coming out of the water gave 148 beats to the minute; twenty minutes afterward they were 92 to the minute. I listened to the lungs and heart, and observed phenomena showing how wonderfully nature can accommodate the machinery of the heart and lungs in an airbreathing animal… to long stays in an element only suited for the existence of fish, and other cold-blooded vertebrata, and this without interfering with the good health of the individual.

    Natator claimed that he had, at first suffered from severe headaches ‘but now these have quite disappeared; he never has rheumatism, or other ache or pain in any form, though he goes through his performance at half-past ten every night, and sometimes twice a day.’

    This is in many ways an unimpressive list. Beach is a rheumatic old man but could still manage half a minute beneath the waves. The world record is for over twenty minutes. What Natator is playing on here is a new element, underwater viewing – one that your average Cockney was simply not familiar with – and some parlour tricks (Beach definitely cannot eat underwater). Soon Natator would have rivals who would challenge his easy dominance of the waters, but until then let us enjoy his success.

    Buckland also gives some details of the water temperature and one nightmare story.

    He nearly had a bad accident with the first aquarium that was made for him; the front was composed of one large piece of plate glass. Just as he was about, at a rehearsal, to get into the water, the glass gave way with a sudden crash, and washed him with terrible force into the orchestra, which was instantly flooded. If he had been inside the aquarium, and not providentially outside, he must have been killed by the rush of water through the fractured glass. This glass is now subdivided into four, with strong iron frames, and the aquarium is perfectly safe.’

    If you are coming to this late, follow the Natator tag.

    31 Mar 2015: Oz steps in with this memory of eating underwater, oh those long ago halcyon summers before Game Boys.

    ‘Actually, eating under water is not difficult.  As a young tad (before I became old enough to “stop playing around and get a job,” in the words of my father”) my friends and I spent many hours each summer day at the local swimming pool.  We routinely purchased chocolate bars and ate them sitting on the bottom of he pool’s deep end.  For some reason we found this unendingly amusing.  More difficult was eating the candy bar while standing on your head at the bottom.  I only accomplished this a few times.  For some reason in this position the urge to inhale through the nose was hard to resist, with unpleasant results.  My longest time submerged (after hyperventilating, as recorded by the lifeguard, was three minutes. Truly, it’s a wonder any of us survive to adulthood.’

    So there you are! Thanks Oz!