1938 Oxford University Biological Expedition to the Cayman Islands

by P. Ann van B. Stafford, April 2017


The 1938 Oxford University Expedition to the Cayman Islands (April 17 to August 27) was the first natural history survey of all three islands, Grand Cayman, Little Cayman and Cayman Brac, and reports were written about the flora, fauna, geology and wetlands. The founding study of Cayman’s butterflies was done then by entomologists C. Bernard Lewis and Gerald H. Thompson, both Oxford students, (Carpenter and Lewis 1943) and gave a good indication of the number of species on each island at that time.

The expedition was in acceptance of a long-standing invitation by Cayman Islands Commissioner Allen Wolsey Cardinall (1934-1941) to make a biological survey of the islands. Lewis was a Rhodes scholar from the United States, who later became Director of the Institute of Jamaica in Kingston. The identification & documentation of specimens were delayed by of the outbreak of World War II in 1939.

The Butterflies (Lepidoptera: Rhopalocera) collected and observed were fully discussed and published in 1943 by Carpenter and Lewis. (G.D. Hale Carpenter, Hope Department of Entomology, University Museum, Oxford and C.B. Lewis, Museum of the Institute of Jamaica).


People: Oxford

People: Cayman

Places: Grand Cayman, Cayman Brac and Little Cayman

Transportation: CIMBOCO, truck, motor boat, catboats, HMS Orion

Accommodation: Headquarters in George Town

Animals: Reptiles – Lizards and Iguanas

Animals: Reptiles – Geckos

Animals: Reptiles – Snakes

Animals: Insects – Dragonflies, Damselflies

Animals: Insects – Cicadas

Animals: Insects – Beetles

Animals: Insects – Bees, Ants, Wasps

Animals: Insects – Butterflies (Lepidoptera: Rhopalocera)

Animals: Insects – Moths (Lepidoptera)

Animals: Insects – Flies (Diptera)  – Mosquitoes

Animals: Insects – other

Animals: Arachnids

Animals: Birds

Animals: Marine


Poem of farewell by Leila E. Ross

Return to the UK


Selected References



The party comprised:-

W. Gemmel Alexander (Brasenose College) – Leader and Organiser

C. Bernard Lewis (Wadham College) – Biologist (Rhodes Scholar from the United States) (lewisi)

Gerald H. Thompson (St. Edmund Hall)  – Biologist (thompsoni)

W. Neil Paten (Magdalen College) – Marine Biologist

Wilfred Kings  Lawrence Sheriff School, Rugby  –  Botanist (kingsii)


Allen Wolsey Cardinall – Commissioner of the Cayman Islands, from 1934 to 1941

Joseph Rodriguez (Roddie) Watler – Police Inspector, truck owner

Bentley (Benny) Ross – boat owner – the ‘BRAVO’

Urban Myles – cook

Norris Jackson – assistant

Pershing Merren – assistant

Sam Ebanks – assistant

John Howard – assistant

Ira Thompson – Commissioner’s chauffeur


1938 Oxford Expedition homemade equipment

 Oxford University Biological Expedition to the Cayman Islands 1938 – homemade equipment, the still – for recovering waste alcohol. (C. B. Lewis photo 1938). Alcohol was needed for the preservation of specimens.

1938 Oxford Exp. boat

Sam Ebanks, Gerald Thompson and John Howard – off to work – Oxford University Biological Expedition to the Cayman Islands (C. B. Lewis photo 1938)

1938 John Howard_CB Lewis

John Howard, (C. B. Lewis photo 1938)

Urban Myles Mar3-07_523
Urban Myles, 97 years old.  He was the cook on the 1938 Oxford University Biological Expedition to the Cayman Islands.
They camped on the little schooner ‘Meritwell’ in North Sound for one week
and used a motor boat and canoe for their biological observations and collections.
Photo: Ann Stafford, Mar. 3, 2007.

Gemmel Alexander Oxford Exp. 1938. Mar.15, 2004 Compass_r

Gemmel Alexander – 1938 Oxford Expedition Leader and Organiser,had his 20th. birthday in Kingston, Jamaica, on his way to Cayman. Caymanian Compass, March 15, 2004.


Liverpool, UK; Kingston, Jamaica; Grand Cayman (population:4,500); Cayman Brac (population: 1,500); Little Cayman (population: 64).

caribbean map

Caribbean map

Grand Cayman map

Grand Cayman map

Grand Cayman, Wilfred Kings, botanist: May 13  – 17 and June 11 – August 10.

LC CB Sister Is map Acorn r

Little Cayman and Cayman Brac – the Sister Islands (Acorn Publishing Co Ltd 2013)

Cayman Brac, Wilfred Kings, botanist: May 18 – May 28.

Little Cayman, Wilfred Kings, botanist: May 28 – June 11


Ship from Liverpool, UK March 22, (14 days voyage) to Kingston, Jamaica, CIMBOCO (motor boat) from Kingston to Grand Cayman, truck, motor boat, catboats.

Cimboco launching 1927 N.L.Booker cr

CIMBOCO, Cayman Islands Motor Boat Company, was the first locally built, motorized sailing ship in Cayman. CIMBOCO was Cayman’s connection to the world: regular travel, shipping, parcel post, providing a reliable supply of staple & exotic foods, such as flour, sugar, fruit & even ice! “Her launching in May 1927 was a great day in the history of the Cayman Islands,” said Miss Annie Huldah Bodden, secretary until 1947.

Launching of the CIMBOCO, May 1927,  photo: N.L Booker, father of Aarona Booker Kohlman, who is the author of ‘UNDER TIN ROOFS Cayman in the 1920’s’ (1993).

Catboats 1.60 stamp unloading cargo Aug31-11_200

Catboats: unloading cargo stamp  $1.60, (release date Aug. 31, 2011).

CIMBOCO and HMS Orion from Grand Cayman to Kingston, Jamaica.


Expedtion Headquarters in George Town – Althea’s cottage

Rum Point – tents

Cayman Brac

Little Cayman

South Sound – Czar Hurlston’s house

Oxford house Nov30-07_747

‘Oxford House’ (photo: Ann Stafford, Nov.30, 2007). The team stayed in Czar Hurlston’s house on South Sound. It was subsequently moved to South Church St, its current location. The front porch was added.


REPTILES: Lizards and Iguanas

Eastern Grand Cayman Blue-throated Anole – Anolis conspersus lewisi (endemic)

Reptile Database – Anolis conspersus

Anole Adventures in the Cayman Islands

The endemic Blue Iguana – Cyclura lewisi, Grand Cayman’s largest native land animal, is named after Bernard Lewis.

Blue iguana BPk Apr22-12_038_tBlue Iguana – Cyclura lewisi, Endangered Grand Cayman endemic, named after biologist C. Bernard Lewis, Rhodes Scholar, who took a male and female to the British Museum of Natural History, collected during the 1938 Oxford University Biological Expedition to the Cayman Islands. Photo: Ann Stafford, on the Woodland Trail, Queen Elizabeth II Botanic Park, Grand Cayman, Apr. 22,  2012.

Blue Iguana BPk Aug18-13_i ASBlue Iguana – Cyclura lewisi. Photo: Ann Stafford, on the Woodland Trail, Queen Elizabeth II Botanic Park, Grand Cayman, Aug.18, 2013.

Blue Iguana BIRP Mar3-11Grand Cayman Blue Iguana  – Cyclura lewisi. Photo: Ann Stafford,  Queen Elizabeth II Botanic Park, Grand Cayman, March 3, 2011.

Cyclura nubila cay stampSister Islands Rock Iguana (Lesser Cayman Islands Rock Iguana) – Cyclura nubila caymanensis, subspecies endemic to Little Cayman and Cayman Brac.


Ground Gecko, Cayman Least Gecko – Sphaerodactylus argivus

This Antillean species is endemic to the Cayman Islands (Henderson and Powell 2009).

Ground Gecko, Wood Lizard – Spherodactylus argivus lewisi, Grand Cayman endemic subspecies. It probably occurs island-wide, including the satellite islands. It has been found under rocks at the bottom of sink holes, in the mouths of caves on a limestone ridge (south of Old Man Bay), and in bromeliads (Seidel and Franz 1994) .

On Little Cayman, the subspecies bartschi probably occurs island-wide, but most known specimens were collected near the beach at South Town and at Tarpon Lake (Seidel and Franz 1994); it also occurs in Owen Island.

Cayman Brac, the subspecies argivus is found island-wide (Schwartz and Henderson 1991).


Water Snake – Tretanorhinus variabilis lewisi, Grand Cayman endemic subspecies

Tretanorhinus variabilis lewisi, FB, CP Sep.21-03 AS

Grand Cayman Water Snake – Tretanorhinus variabilis lewisi, found by Fred Burton and photographed by Courtney Platt. Photo: Ann Stafford, Queen Elizabeth II Botanic Park, Sept. 21, 2003.

Tretanorhinus FB, C Platt Sep.21-03 AS

Grand Cayman Water Snake – Tretanorhinus variabilis lewisi, found by Fred Burton and photographed by Courtney Platt. Photo: Ann Stafford, Queen Elizabeth II Botanic Park, Sept. 21, 2003.

Tretanorhinus FB LB Sept.21-03 AS

Grand Cayman Water Snake – Tretanorhinus variabilis lewisi, found by Fred Burton and photographed by Lois Blumenthal. Photo: Ann Stafford, Queen Elizabeth II Botanic Park, Sept. 21, 2003.


INSECTS: CICADAS (Order: Hemiptera – True Bugs)

Suborder: Auchenorrhyncha (Cicadas, Leafhoppers)

Family: Cicadidae

Diceroprocta caymanensis Davis, 1939

Diceroprocta cleavesi Davis, 1930

Diceroprocta ovata Davis, 1939

Each island has its own endemic Cicada species –

Grand Cayman Cicada – Diceroprocta cleavesi

Little Cayman Cicada – Diceroprocta caymanensis

Cayman Brac Cicada – Diceroprocta ovata

The species are morphologically very similar, differing principally in their colouration, and they are allied to D. biconia from Cuba.

Grand Cayman Cicada – Diceroprocta cleavesi 

Photo: Ann Stafford, Grand Cayman, Aug. 13, 2005

Cicadas are locally called ‘crickets’ . The male Cicadas’ ‘song’ is a high-pitched buzzing sound. Female Cicadas lay their eggs in the bark of a twig. When the eggs hatch, the nymphs drop to the ground. They burrow with their front legs, which are enlarged for tunneling, and they live underground, feeding on roots. When they are ready for their fifth and final molt, they dig their way out to the surface and climb a short distance on to a plant to which they anchors themselves.  The winged adults emerge in July and August, leaving the empty nymph case attached to the plant.

Diceroprocta cleavesi Aug5-02 AS

Adult Cicada, just emerged from its nymph exoskeleton. Photo: Ann Stafford, Grand Cayman, Aug. 5, 2002.

Cicadas collected in the Cayman Islands by the Oxford University Biological Expedition of 1938

Davis, William T. 1939  Journal of the New York Entomological Society, vol. 47, no. 3, pages 207-213

Diceroprocta ovata May1-11 WP

Cayman Brac Cicada – Diceroprocta ovata

Photo: Wallace Platts, Cayman Brac, May 1, 2011.

INSECTS: BEETLES:  (Order: Coleoptera)

Visual Guide to Beetle Families

Family: Carabidae – Ground Beetles

Family: Staphylinidae – Rove Beetles

Family: Scarabaeidae – Chafers and Dung Beetles

Family: Cerambycidae – Long-horned Beetles or Timber Beetles

Cerambycidae of the World

Cerambycidae Family, SubFamily and Tribe List

Styloleptus lewisi (Fisher) 1948, (synonym: Leptostylus lewisi)

Elaphidion lewisi Fisher 1941

Elaphidion thompsoni Fisher 1941

Anelaphus fasciatum (Fisher 1932) (synonym: Elaphidion truncatipenne)

Eburia caymanensis Fisher 1941

Eburia concisispinis Fisher 1941

Eburia lewisi Fisher 1948

Derancistrus (Elateropsis) nigripes (Fisher) 1941

Derancistrus (Elateropsis) nigricornis (Fisher) 1941

Derancistrus (Elateropsis) caymanensis (Fisher) 1941

INSECTS: BEES, ANTS, WASPS: (Order Hymenoptera)

Cicada Killer Wasp Aug5,1938 Jun26-12 AS

Caribbean Cicada Killer Wasp, Mangrove Giant Wasp – Sphecius hogardii

Cicada Killer Wasp NT NL Dec.2012

INSECTS: BUTTERFLIES: (Order Lepidoptera: Rhopalocera)

Cayman Brown Leaf Butterfly – Memphis verticordia danielana – Cayman Islands endemic subspecies

Memphis larvae Nov17-09_536 ASCayman Brown Leaf Butterfly – Memphis verticordia danielana larvae on their pseudospurs they made on their larval food plant Wild Cinnamon – Croton nitens, Ann Stafford, Grand Cayman, Nov. 17, 2009.

Memphis larva Sep21-10 AS

Cayman Brown Leaf Butterfly – Memphis verticordia danielana larva securing its rolled-leaf shelter with silk, on larval food plant Wild Cinnamon – Croton nitens, Ann Stafford, Grand Cayman,Sept. 21, 2010.

Memphis verticordia danielana life cycle

The endemic Pygmy Blue Butterfly – Brephidium exilis thompsoni Carpenter & Lewis 1943 is named after Gerald Thompson. He discovered it on June 23, 1938 in English Sound (named after T.M. Savage English), a lagoon off North Sound.
Pygmy Blue Jan19-08_Askew

Cayman Pygmy Blue butterfly – Brephidium exilis thompsoni, Grand Cayman endemic subspecies named after Gerald Harvey Thompson, 1938 Oxford University biology student.
Photo: R. R. Askew, Jan. 19, 2008
Carpenter & Lewis 1943:

This tiny butterfly is indeed limited in its distribution for it was not found outside of an area of about fifty square yards, on the edge of a secluded lagoon, known as English Sound, lying to the east of and off of the Great Sound. The vegetation of this area is low, but not unusual, and is typical of such situations which are numerous on the island. No early stages were found.

English Sound LB Jun-08_011_t

English Sound is a very shallow lagoon off North Sound, Grand Cayman, where Grand Cayman’s Pygmy Blue butterfly – Brephidium exilis thompsonii was discovered by Bernard Lewis and Gerald Thompson in 1938. English Sound is not named on maps, but was the locality of property of naturalist T. M. Savage English, who resided in Grand Cayman from late 1910 to 1914.

English Sound Mar.6, 2007

Naturalist Thomas Mylius Savage English lived in Grand Cayman between late 1910 and 1914. He owned property in the Cayman Kai area. This shallow lagoon, English Sound, is named after him, but it is not named on maps. The location of his dock can be seen in the centre of this photo.

English Sound dock Jun18-08_939_t
Photo: Kayaker James Macfee June 18, 2008

Butterfly book cover Nov-08 r

Butterflies of the Cayman Islands 2008 by R.R. Askew and P.A. van B. Stafford 2008

Cayman Butterfly book back Nov-08
This book includes records from the

1938 Oxford University Expedition to the Cayman Islands and

1975 Joint Royal Society – Cayman Islands Government Expedition to Little Cayman

INSECTS: MOTHS (Order Lepidoptera)

Family: Sphingidae – Sphinx or Hawk Moths

INSECTS: FLIES (Order Diptera)

Family: Culicidae – Mosquitoes

Family: Psychodidae, SubFamily: Phlebotominae, Sandflies (Luyzomyia) ?


Black Widow Spiders  Order: Araneae, Family: Theridiidae – Comb-footed Spiders)

Latrodectus mactans – Southern Black Widow Spider – GC and LC

unidentified species – GC and CB (The Cayman Islands Natural History and Biogeography book p. 310, Chapter 16. Terrestrial invertebrates (other than insects) of the Cayman Islands by M. V. Hounsome).

Black Widow spider, egg sac Latroectus May2-03_10.

Black Widow Spider, with egg sac, found by Carla Reid, Grand Cayman, May 2, 2003


Avibase – Bird Checklists of the World – Cayman Islands:

Birds of the Cayman Islands Checklist

History of Ornithology in the Cayman Islands:

1880’s C. B. C. Cory (1857-1921), a wealthy amateur ornithologist and founder member of the American Ornithologist’s Union, was the first to study Cayman’s avifauna. He described 13 new species of landbirds. All but one, the Grand Cayman Thrush, were later reclassified as endemic subspecies (Bangs 1916).

1889  Charles J. Maynard first reported the two sulids as a single new species, later named as two:

Red-footed Booby on Little Cayman, and Brown Booby on Cayman Brac.

1892 C. B. C. Cory’s checklist of 55 species, 30 of them breeding.

Late 1910 – 1914 Thomas Mylius Savage English, naturalist, lived on Grand Cayman. He did not see the endemic Grand Cayman Thrush (Turdus ravidus) until his third year on the island.

1911 P. R. Lowe published a checklist of 75 species, 40 of them breeding.

1904 – 1938 Avian collectors visited from time to time. Their specimens were housed in various museums:

Chicago, New York, Washington, Boston (Harvard), London (Tring) and Baton Rouge (Louisiana).

1938 C. Bernard Lewis was the last person to record seeing the Grand Cayman Thrush, which became extinct.

Grand Cayman Thrush – Turdus ravidus

‘The beautiful Grand Cayman Thrush is extinct. The thrush was relatively common when first described in the 1880s, but was rare by the turn of the 19th century, and the last report came in 1938. It is unclear why this species went extinct, although habitat conversion, as well as hurricanes, have been blamed. This thrush was dark gray with a white belly, and dark, graduated tail with white tail corners; the bill and legs were bright red. The white-tipped tail, largely grayish plumage and red bare parts all suggest a close relationship with the Caribbean endemic Red-legged Thrush (Turdus plumbeus). Very little is known about this thrush as it was gone before much of the Caribbean was explored.’

Grand Cayman Thrush - Turdus ravidus

Thrushes, © Princeton University Press/ illustration by Ren Hathway

Grand Cayman Thrush d stamp Jun.5, 1969

Grand Cayman Thrush on Cayman Islands 1/4 d (1/4 penny) = one farthing, stamp, June 5, 1969, when the Cayman Islands currency was British pounds, shillings and pence.
Grand Cayman Thrush – Turdus ravidus, GC endemic, is extinct. This was the only Cayman Islands endemic bird species, as opposed to subspecies.

Grand Cayman Thrush cent stamp Sep8, 1970

Grand Cayman Thrush on Cayman Islands 1/4 cent stamp, Sept. 8, 1970, after the Cayman Islands currency changed to the Cayman Islands Dollar from British pounds, shillings and pence.

Grand Cayman Thrush 1c coin 2008

Grand Cayman Thrush  on Cayman Islands 1 cent coin, currently in use.


W. Neil Paten (Magdalen College) was the Marine Biologist. (He was killed in World War II.)

North Sound map reef_tMap of North Sound (the Great Sound), Grand Cayman and the barrier reef.

Vidal Cay (named after survey ship HMS Vidal), off Barkers, West Bay, is also known as Barkers Cay. It was the site of the original  Stingray City, about 12 ft deep. Stingray City sandbar is the location of the current shallow, popular, Stingray City. Fisherman’s Rock can be seen as a pimple on the horizon from the southern area of North Sound, and is a useful landmark near the Main Channel through the reef.

Much of Gemmel Alexander’s work (the 19 year old Team Leader) was carried out in conjunction with Neil Paten, in North Sound, inside the reef, examining and collecting specimens from the spongy, Turtle Grasscovered bottom (Thalassia testudinum). They camped on the little schooner, the ‘Meritwell’, in North Sound for one week, and used a motor boat, operated by Benny Ross, and canoe for their biological observations and collections. Urban Myles was the cook.

Ford’s Lagoon is probably English Sound, (neither are marked on any maps), named after Thomas Mylius Savage English who live in Cayman for about 3 years (late 1910-1914). It is a very shallow lagoon, with a narrow entrance, off Little Sound, south of Rum Point.

Jackson Pt rockpool Jul.9-17Jackson Point rock-pool, SW of George Town. Neil collected from the rock-pools on April 23 and 26, 1938.

Neil had a lot of special requirements. He ran out of alcohol to preserve specimens, because they had done so much collecting, more than expected. They set up a still to make their own alcohol, in the garden of the house in George Town that was their headquarters.

The Cap Pilar , a 3-masted square rigged French Barquentine (Schooner Barque), owned and captained by Adrian Seligman (1909-2003), nearing the conclusion of its two year round the world voyage, visited Grand Cayman in June, on its way from Montego Bay, Jamaica (May), to New York (July). The Cap Pilar had a marine biologist on board, with equipment from the British Museum. W. Gemmel Alexander, Oxford Expedition Team Leader, cabled the British Museum to request the transfer of equipment from the Cap Pilar, in George Town harbour, to the Oxford Expedition. Permission was granted.


The Voyage of the Cap Pilar

The purpose of the Cap Pilar’s two-year round the world voyage, begun in September 1936, captained by Adrian Seligman, then of Wimbledon, England, was partly adventure and partly to collect plants for the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.

The original botanist on the Cap Pilar was A. F. Roper, but when the ship reached South Africa on its outward journey, his place was taken by C.M. Maggs, then a Horticulturalist at the Kirstenbosch Botanical Garden, Cape Town, South Africa. The Cap Pilar visited Australia and after making collections on various Pacific Islands (including the Galapagos) and at Panama, made a final stop at Grand Cayman, where a few plants and seeds were collected.

The Cap Pilar set sail from Grand Cayman on June 23, 1938 and arrived in New York on July 12, 1938. They were upstaged by Howard Hughes, who had just flown around the world nonstop and was being given a ticker-tape reception up Broadway.


Wilfred Kings was invited to join the Oxford University Biological Expedition to the Cayman Islands by Gemmel Alexander on March 21, 1938 in the capacity of Botanist, as their Botanist was unable to join the Expedition at last moment.

Report on the Botanical Collections

from Grand Cayman, Cayman Brac and Little Cayman

Wilfred Kings    Sept. 1938

Grand Cayman               May 13 – May 17 and June 11 – Aug.10

Cayman Brac                 May 18 – May 28

Little Cayman                May 28 – June 11

Kings saw Mr Alston at the British Museum (Natural History), explained the situation, and that he was not a Specialist in any capacity. They were satisfied that he should go merely as a Collector.

Mr Charles Elton and Dr Hobby in a interview at the Hope Department of Entomology, Oxford, were also willing for Kings to work in that capacity.

Lawrence Sheriff School, Rugby, Governors granted Kings a leave of absence for the term, where he was the Geography Master. Kings eventually joined the party in Grand Cayman on May 13, 1938.

The Collection, as far as the Flowering Plants and Ferns were concerned, was almost entirely in duplicate.

Grand Cayman:

George Town area – beach, bluff and pasture lands

East End – beach and bluff

West Bay – beach

South Sound – beach and bluff, mainly along ‘Leg and Knee Road’

Red Bay

East End – inland to the swampy Savannah Land

Little Sound

Governor’s Creek and Sound

Batabano – pasture land

Booby Creek

North Side – beach, bluff, Forest Glen, Cedar Cliff, Malportas Pond, Round Cay Pond, Savage English’s Cistern, Rum Point

Old Man Bay

North East Coast – from Old Man Bay to Roger Wreck

Frank Sound Bridge

George Town Barcadere

West Bay – North West Point, Mount Pleasant

Pedro Castle and Newlands

Cayman Brac localities visited:

Stakes Bay

Earthquake Hole

Cotton Tree Land, West End

West End

Across the Island from Stakes Bay to the North Side with its abrupt Undercut Cliff and sandy coastal strip, with broken coral on the coastline.

Along the NE to Spot Bay and on the high bluff to the North East Point Lighthouse

Little Cayman localities visited, there were no roads on the Island:

South Town wide strip of coast land at the Western end – most collecting was done here.

Duck Hole

Track from South Town to SW of Bloody Bay

North coast to Jackson

‘Cross the Land Road’ to South Hole Sound

Extreme East End  was visited by boat.

Information on place names and locations:

Round Cay, North Side, Grand Cayman

Where the ground is pure Coral Sand a plantation is made by collecting bush and coral rock from the shore, roughly in the proportion of 3:1 and burning this in a carefully constructed fire. On such a “Ground” at Round Cay, North Side, the owner grew six crops of maize in three years. No rotation or manuring is attempted and such ground is then left to grow bush for a few years and this is then burned for further planting. The constant burning of the bush also fragments the Limestone and improves the tilth. This method is commonly used in road-making.

map Rum Point 1988_OS

1988 Ordnance Survey map of the Rum Point, Cayman Kai, English Sound, Bowse Land area of North Side, Grand Cayman.

Savage English’s Cistern, Old Man English’s Cistern

Fresh Water Sponges – It was hoped to obtain specimens – for Mr. M. Burton of the British Museum (now the Natural History Museum, London) as I understand that none have been recorded from the Caymans. Only one possible specimen (and this may prove to be an alga) was found in SAVAGE ENGLISH’S CISTERN (the circular one) North Side. This cistern has not been used since about 1917 when the house was destroyed (by a hurricane).

Thomas Mylius Savage ENGLISH – naturalist, lived in Grand Cayman over a hundred years ago (late 1910 to 1914)

Thomas Mylius Savage ENGLISH

Link to List of plants by Collector – Kings, W.

on Missouri Botanical Garden website, Tropicos.org:

1938 Oxford University Expedition to the Cayman Islands – Wilfred Kings flora specimens


by C. Dennis Adams, 1972

Dennis Adams’ intermittent visits to the Natural History Museum (formerly the British Museum – BM), London, began in 1959 when it was suggested that he might get a useful preliminary overview of a West Indian flora by checking through a rather comprehensive collection of Cayman Island specimens (645) made there in 1938 by Wilfred Kings during the Oxford University Expedition. That was prior to Adams’ move from Ghana to Jamaica.

 If a Cayman species was also found in Jamaica, Adams included it in the range in his book Flowering Plants of Jamaica 1972.

FLORA of the Cayman Islands


by George R. Proctor, 2012

PLANTS index

Agalinis kingsii

Encyclia kingsii

Heliotropium humifusum

Salvia caymanensis


Encyclia kingsii

Encylia kingsii Orchid (synonym Epidendrum kingsii), named after Wilfred Kings, biologist on the 1938 Oxford Expedition, June 7, Jackson, Little Cayman.

Encyclia kingsii

Encyclia kingsii (C.D. Adams) Nir, Lindleyana 9(3): 147. 1994.

Bas.: Epidendrum kingsii C.D. Adams, Orquideología 6(3): 145. 1971.

TYPE: Pequeno Cayman: En un árbol al lado norte, Jackson, elev. 10-15 pies, Junio 7 de 1938, “Bulbo algo cónico con superficie arrugada; flores marchitas”, W. Kings L. C. 117 A (holotype, BM; illustration of type).

The illustration (link) shows the shape of the lip, petal and sepal.

Encyclia kingsii stamp

Encyclia kingsii  Cayman Islands Orchid stamps issue 2005.

Encyclia kingsii Jun24-07_078 AS r

Encyclia kingsii and Banana Orchid (Myrmecophila thomsoniana var. thomsoniana) on Shake Hand tree (Xylosma bahamense). Photo: P. Ann van B. Stafford, East End, Grand Cayman, June 24, 2007. Flora of the Cayman Islands by George R. Proctor, 2012, p.201, 206 & 319.Encyclia kingsii EE Jun24-07_600 ASGrand Cayman, June 24, 2007.

Encyclia kingsii Brac_600 Jul.2-10 A.Ebanks AS Encyclia kingsii (= Epidendrum kingsii), ORCHIDACEAE, from Cayman Brac, in a private collection in Grand Cayman.  P. Ann van B. Stafford, July 2, 2010.


Agalinis kingsii  Proctor, Sloanea 1: 3 (1977)

King’s Agalinis   (Agalinis – False Foxglove)  Agalinis kingsii

Agalinis kingsii

A hemiparasitic slender ANNUAL herb with pink flowers, Critically Endangered Grand Cayman endemic, (Family was SCROPHULARIACEAE, is now OROBANCHACEAE) was collected by Kings (Kings GC 257) “in mangrove swamps on the drier land” at Forest Glen, North Side. The species has since been found east of Duck Pond Bight and          south of the Salina Reserve (Proctor, Aug. 8, 1992).

Ref. Flora of the Cayman Islands by George R. Proctor, p. 601, Fig. 224, Plate 58.

Agalinis kingsii – IUCN Red List

In the Salina Reserve sedge wetlands, this species appears to benefit from fire. This occasionally spreads from neighbouring agricultural land and burns back stands of Cladium jamaicense sedge during the dry season. In the Central Mangrove Wetland the species colonizes exposed peat in trail clearings through Conocarpus erectus shrubland, suggesting that populations might expand widely in the Central Mangrove after widespread tree fall resulting from major hurricanes.

Agalinis kingsii habitat Maribeth Latvis 2011 t

Agalinis kingsii, showing habitat, with Cutting Grass, Saw Grass – Cladium jamaicanse (Sedge) and Buttonwood – Conocarpus erectus. Photo: Maribeth Latvis, Salina Reserve, Grand Cayman, 2011.

This species is reported to be hemi-parasitic, tapping into root connections to other plants. An unknown species of ant colonizes the raised peat mounds where the species grows. These ants may be involved in pollination and/or dispersal of its seeds.

Agalinis kingsii fls Maribeth Latvis 2011 t

Agalinis kingsii, photo: Maribeth Latvis, Salina Reserve, Grand Cayman, 2011.


Salina Reserve, where Agalinis kingsii grows,  affected by fire.

Fire burns Salina Reserve, Jan. 2015

The reserve, which is owned and maintained by the Cayman Islands National Trust and is home to hundreds of the protected indigenous Blue Iguana (Cyclura lewisi), is described on its website as totaling 646 acres “comprising sedge and buttonwood swamps, dry shrubland and forest in an intricate mosaic.”

Agalinis kingsii_Maribeth Latvis

Expeditions 2011: Grand Cayman Island  Agalinis  kingsii, Maribeth Latvis

Maribeth Latvis – Plant Systematics and Evolution

Heliotropium humifusum  – Matlike Heliotrope    Kings GC 59, LC 48, LC 78

Heliotropium humifusum

Salvia caymanensis – Cayman Sage     Kings GC 422

Salvia caymanensis

Fresh water sponges?

TM Savage English cistern CB Lewis 1938 t.jpg

Thomas Mylius Savage English’s Cistern (the circular one). Photo: C. Bernard Lewis, North Side, Grand Cayman, 1938.

Wilfred Kings hoped to obtain specimens of Fresh Water Sponges for Mr Burton of the British Museum, as none had been recorded from the Cayman Islands. The only possible specimen, which might have proved to be an alga, was found in this cistern, which had not been used since 1917 when the house was destroyed by a hurricane.


In 1930 Leila Ross-Shier (nee McTaggart) composed a song she called “Beloved Isle Cayman” and for many years it was regarded as the unofficial national song. It was not until 1993 when it became the official national song when the Cayman Islands Coat of Arms, Flag and National Song Law were passed. She was the mother of Benny Ross, boat owner and driver.

Leila Ross-Shier

She wrote a poem of farewell to the Oxford team in C. Bernard Lewis’s copy of the book Life and Adventures in the West Indies, by Vaquero, originally published in 1914, which it in the Cayman Islands National Archive.

Oxford University Cayman Islands Biological Expedition

by Leila E. Ross

August 18, 1938

It seems so unworthy to tell your worth,

For you are the very salt of the earth,

Messrs. Alexander, Thompson, Neil, Lewis and Kings,

We wish you the best of all good things.


You have shared our hardships, and our joys,

Grown friendly with our girls and boys;

You have killed mosquitoes, butterflies caught

And wonderful things with your hands have wrought.


We wish you “Godspeed” as home you go

Starting out on the good ship “CIMBOCO”;

May you find your loved ones happy and well,

Good news of our isle be able to tell.


But we hope that sometime soon you’ll come

Again, to visit our island home,

For we have grown so used to you, you know,

We shall very much miss you, when you go.

Return to the UK

Types and paratypes are held in South Kensington Natural History Museum, London, the Hope Department of Entomology, Oxford, London Zoo and American Zoos.

Aug. 31, 1938. Quote from The Telegraph, 31.8.38 under the heading GREEN TURTLES AND IGUANAS ‘Animals and reptiles rarely, if ever, seen in Europe, were landed in Liverpool today on the return, after a six month absence, of members of the Oxford University expedition to the Cayman Islands in the West Indies…….some of the specimens will shortly be seen at the London Zoo, which is to have the choice of the collection………’

The collection included 19 iguanas or spine lizards up to four feet in length, two green turtles, four hawksbill turtles, 16 land turtles, several lizards and land crabs, 27 black snakes and nine wood snakes as well as spiders, scorpions and centipedes.


1938 Oxford Expedition to the Cayman Islands pictures

1938 Oxford University Expedition – Gerald Thompson’s account

Butterflies of the Cayman Islands – Book

Butterflies of the Cayman Islands – List

Cayman Islands National Archive

Flora of the Cayman Islands by George R. Proctor 2012 – Book

Insect Fauna of Little Cayman – R.R. Askew 1975

Little Cayman is seldom mentioned in entomological literature. The 1938 Oxford University Biological Expedition spent thirteen days on the island and reports on the resulting collection deal with Odonata (Fraser, 1943), water-bugs (Hungerford, 1940),  Nemoptera (Banks, 1941), cicadas (Davis, 1939), Carabidae (Darlington, 1947), Cerambycidae (Fisher, 1941, 1948), butterflies (Carpenter and Lewis, 1943) and Sphingidae (Jordan, 1940). During the 1975 expedition, insects of all orders were studied, over a period of about five weeks, and many additions will eventually be made to the island’s species list. At present, however, identification of the insects collected has, with the exception of the butterflies which have been considered separately, proceeded in the majority of cases as far as the family level. Application of the family names for the most part follows Borror and DeLong (1966). In this paper the general characteristics of the insect fauna are described.

CI Nat.History, Biogeography_cover

The Cayman Islands Natural History and Biogeography

M.A. Brunt & J.E. Davies / Editors, 1994

Selected References:

Adams,  C. Dennis    1972  Flowering Plants of Jamaica (Reader in Botany at the University of the West Indies, Mona, Jamaica.

Bradley, P.E and Rey-Millet, Y-J.   2013  Birds of the Cayman Islands

Cayman Islands National Archive

Cerambycidae of the World

Kings,  Wilfred    September 1938 Report on the Botanical Collections from Grand Cayman, Cayman Brac and Little Cayman

Lewis, C. Bernard, Photographic Collection 1938. Cayman Islands National Archive Accession No. 414 B.












































































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One response to “1938 Oxford University Biological Expedition to the Cayman Islands”

  1. Wallace Platts says :

    Most encouraging. Gives us the incentive to press on in the line of these plant pioneers and those who followed. Much work remains — primarily preservation but identification too! A few of us have found species on Cayman Brac that have not been recorded for this island … more than a few species in fact! We go into the field at least once a week.

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