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Nigel Wace

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  • Bob Conrich
    telegraph.co.uk Nigel Wace (Filed: 05/08/2005) Nigel Wace, who has died aged 76, was the leading authority on the plant life of the four Tristan da Cunha
    Message 1 of 1 , Aug 5, 2005
      Nigel Wace
      (Filed: 05/08/2005)

      Nigel Wace, who has died aged 76, was the leading authority on the plant life of the four Tristan da Cunha Islands, which
      are midway between South Africa and South America.

      Wace made his first visit to Tristan da Cunha and its neighbour, Gough Island, in 1955, as a member of an expedition, under
      the leadership of John Heaney and Martin Holdgate, which carried out a study of the islands' geography, geology, biology and

      During their six-month stay on the uninhabited Gough Island, where Wace identified some 12 plant species found nowhere else
      in the world, the expedition team built a base which was subsequently handed over to the South Africans, who maintain a
      weather station there.

      Wace was primarily concerned with vegetation, but, like his seven colleagues, he became very aware of the huge number of
      wild house mice - an introduced species - all over the island. Specimens collected by the expedition showed that they were
      the largest house mice in the world.

      Although the expedition did not catch any of the mice in the act of killing baby albatrosses - as they have recently been
      reported doing - they noticed that the rodents would nibble people's hair when they were asleep in camp on the mountains.

      Wace produced the first detailed description of the Gough Island's vegetation, and this later earned him a PhD from the
      Queen's University, Belfast. After the volcanic eruption on Tristan da Cunha in 1961, he collaborated with Jim Dickson to
      prepare what is still the most authoritative overview of the flora of the Tristan islands' group.

      For six weeks in 1968 Wace returned with Holdgate to Gough and to Tristan da Cunha in order to produce a monograph on the
      inter-action of man and nature since the islands' discovery by Portuguese navigators in the early 16th century. Wace was
      indignant that the discoverer of Gough Island, Goncalo Alvarez, was nowhere commemorated on the map, and campaigned
      successfully to have the second highest summit renamed Goncalo Alvarez Peak.

      On further visits in 1976, 1984 and 1995, he drew up proposals for the prevention and elimination of invasive plants, and
      urged that action tbe taken against the house mice. He also vigorously campaigned for Gough Island to be declared a world
      heritage site.

      Nigel Morritt Wace was born in India on January 10 1929, the only son of Sir Blyth Wace, Commissioner and Secretary to the
      Government of the Punjab. The family claims descent from Wace, the 12th-century Jerseyman and chronicler of the House of

      Young Nigel attended Brambletye School in Sussex before going to Sheikh Bagh preparatory school in Kashmir, where a strong
      emphasis on outdoor activities left him, he said, with "a continuing delight and inquisitive interest in different sorts of
      landscape and people".

      Having completed his schooling at Cheltenham, Wace was commissioned in the Royal Marines in 1947, but two years later was
      invalided out with tuberculosis. He then went up to Brasenose College, Oxford, to read Agricultural Economics, before
      switching to Botany.

      His first visit to Gough Island was the result of meeting John Heaney, who also went to Sheikh Bagh, on a skiing holiday in
      Switzerland. After returning from Gough in 1955, Wace became an assistant lecturer at Belfast, then worked for the British
      Council in London (where he loathed the bureaucracy).

      Following his marriage to Margaret White, a secretary at the British embassy in Athens, with whom he was to have a son and
      two daughters, Wace joined the Geography department of Adelaide University, South Australia. After two years he moved to the
      National University at Canberra.

      He served there for many years as lecturer and head of the univeristy's department of Biogeography and Geomorphology. He
      contributed greatly to knowledge of the Australian flora, both in settled parts and in the outback, recalling how a grazier
      at an outback station greeted him as his first visitor in six months.

      In later life, Wace acted as a guide and lecturer in cruise ships to the Antarctic. Like Darwin, he had always been
      interested in the distribution of seeds around the world, and he liked to encourage passengers to drop bottles with messages
      inside them into the sea.

      After a "bottle throwing party" in Drake Passage, at which passengers inserted 80 messages with a return address at
      Canberra, he was delighted when one was was recovered in New Zealand and another on Easter Island, confirming the pattern of
      circumpolar drift first demonstrated by Sir James Clark Ross in 1842.

      Ever the expatriate pom, Wace was a man of boyish charm, always devising new ploys to entertain; he never failed to
      fascinate friends with his "rolling rabbit run", in which rabbits in a cage moved it along to eat fresh grass.

      He also devised "Operation Weed", which involved asking anyone he met for the definition of weeds, often beginning with
      "D'you think there were weeds in the Garden of Eden?", going on to discuss whether they could be classified as weeds before
      the Fall.

      Wace enjoyed investigating the mud collected on car tyres or in trouser turn-ups, to demonstrate their role in transporting
      seeds around Australia. He failed to gain tax exemption for the trousers used in his research.

      © Copyright of Telegraph Group Limited 2005
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