Tuesday, 16 January 2007

The Autobiography of A. Hyatt Verrill

The Autobiography of A. Hyatt Verrill

born 23 July 1871, died November 14, 1954


This book is the life-story of A. Hyatt Verrill, author of one hundred and seventeen books and contributor to most of the leading periodicals in America and England, as told by himself.

Verrill has discovered and described more than thirty new species of birds, reptiles, shells and insects. He was the first man to discover a process of natural photography and the first to photograph marine invertebrates, and insects.

He re-discovered the almost mythical Solonodon paradoxus in the Dominican Republic. He was in charge of an expedition that partly salvaged a Spanish galleon sunk in the West Indies in 1637. He discovered and excavated the remains of a previously unknown pre-historic culture in Panama and has excavated countless tombs and ruins in South America and has lived among more than one hundred Indian tribes in South, Central and North America.

He has made ninety-nine trips to the West Indies and Latin America, has crossed the Atlantic eleven times and has devoted nearly forty years to jungle and desert explorations in Central and South America.

He has built boats, voyaged on a square-rigger to the West Indies, cruised through the Antilles on a vessel once a pirate ship, has served as steward, assistant engineer and purser on West Indian cruise ships and has held a Master’s Certificate.

At one time he was a member of Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show and as an expert rifle shot, demonstrated ammunition for the Winchester Arms Company. He knew personally such famous men as General Grant, General Sherman, P.T. Barnum, Dom Padro of Brazil, Professors Baird, Agassiz, Dall and others, the Prince of Monaco, Crown Prince of Bulgaria as well as Will Rogers and many famous Indian chiefs.

He discovered and patented a refining process for sulphur and at one time developed and worked copper and gold mines in Panama. He has collected thousands of archaeological and ethnological specimens for the Museum of the American Indian, New York City and made a series of over one hundred oil paintings from life of South and Central American Indians.

He was made a member of the Oglala Sioux tribe, became blood brother of a Carib chief of Guiana and Medicine Chief of the Guaymi Indians of Panama. He is the only white man to have seen the remains of the long lost fabulously rich Tsingal mine and the only white man who has been permitted to live among the wild and hostile Mountain Cunas of Panama.

He has been through earthquakes, hurricanes and shipwreck, has explored unknown areas in South America, been invited to attend voodoo dances and yet for all this he was still going strong at seventy-nine when these memoirs were written.

The subjects of his books are as varied as his interests and attainments. They include boys' stories and adventure, science fiction, exploration, historical works, travel books, books on archaeology and ethnology, popular science, sea stories, highly technical books on scientific and other subjects, and books on maritime matters. His REAL STORY OF THE PIRATE and REAL STORY OF THE WHALER are considered classics. His OCEAN AND ITS MYSTERIES is used by the United States and British Navy and his MASTING AND RIGGING is used as a text book by the British Naval Schools.

At one time he even wrote poetry that won many prizes and was published in periodicals in England and in this country. Many of his books deal with mechanics, gardening, farming, etc. and he wrote the first book on radio ever published.

He is a talented artist and his paintings, mainly of Indian and Latin American scenes have been exhibited in London, New York, Havana, Panama, Lima, Peru and Valpariso, Chile. He illustrates all of his own books and designs his jackets and made all of the natural history illustrations for Webster's International Dictionary and has made hundreds of drawings of marine invertebrates for scientific monographs and pamphlets. He is considered the outstanding illustrator in this line.

The story of his long and adventurous life starting with his boyhood and carrying him through the years of adventure, marriage and parenthood, literary success and constant scientific exploration and every field open to the human mind reads like a tale of fiction. We think the reader will agree that the book like the author's life - holds never a dull moment.

Although the chapters are dated, the dates merely represent the periods during which certain events related in the chapter took place. I cannot recall exact dates of many of the events. Moreover, I made frequent visits to the same place over a period of years and I cannot recall on which of these visits the events occurred. Neither can I be sure of the date on which I wrote some of my books, or in what order the books were written so that the dates on the chapters merely represent the chronological sequence of my activities.


As I write the story of my life it is indeed difficult to realize that nearly eight tenths of a century slipped by since my birth in 1871. Only when I meet those who were babes in arms when I was a married man who now are wrinkled, white-haired and doddering, do I realize how the years have slipped by and it dawns upon me that I am very old.

Age, perhaps, is largely a mental state, and despite my many serious injuries and illnesses, I feel no older than I did fifty years ago. My joints may be a little stiff, my hair and beard may be white and my physical strength may be less, but my mind has not aged. I am as active as ever and my hands do not tremble and I can still put in s good day's work. Largely, I think an active old age results from a keen interest in many matters. A fixed determination to accomplish something worth while or the impresa as the Spaniards say with no thoughts wasted on the passing of time. Perhaps, too - excitement, danger and adventure play a large part in prolonging life, but however that may be, as I look back upon the many years that have passed I can truthfully say that I have lived a full life and never known a dull moment.

Since the above was written a great change has come over my life. In September, 1953 and again in November of the same year I suffered severe paralytic strokes; the result of a fractured skull when the mast fell on me as described in the story, plus subsequent head injuries that left a fragment of skull pressing on a nerve in my brain. I soon regained the use of my limbs but cannot write, pronounce, or spell certain words and am unable to do any active, work and must spend my time in bed. The only bright spot in the picture is the constant tender care of my beloved wife, who endures all my crankiness, complaints, peevishness and crustiness without complaint and who attends to all of my correspondence and business matters.

It is hard to believe that I am condemned to remain a helpless invalid for the rest of my life but I have my past to look back upon and can revisualize my adventures and activities.

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As an armed forces brat, we lived in Rockcliff (Ottawa), Namao (Edmonton), Southport (Portage La Prairie), Manitoba, and Dad retired to St. Margaret's Bay, NS.
Working with the Federal Govenment for 25 years, Canadian Hydrographic Service, mostly. Now married to Gail Kelly, with two grown children, Luke and Denyse. Retired to my woodlot at Stillwater Lake, NS, on the rainy days I study the life and work of A. Hyatt Verrill 1871-1954.