Mapmaker, not Moonraker: the Original James Bond and His Cartographic Legacy

Ian Fleming picked James Bond for the name of his hero because it was “brief, unromantic and yet very masculine”; he later became friends with the original James Bond, author of one of his favourite ornithology guides. 

Mapmaker, not Moonraker: the Original James Bond and His Cartographic Legacy

Bond. James Bond. Not just a fictional character. Also a world-renowned ornithologist. With an unexpected cartographic legacy. The confusion between the two, and the overshadowing of the real person by the fictional character, begins in 1952, when Ian Fleming writes the first of his spy novels – to take his mind off his impending marriage. 

Fleming wanted the protagonist of Casino Royale to be “an uninteresting man to whom interesting things happened”, so it was only fitting that his secret agent should have “the dullest name in the world”. The budding writer found the right name in the library of his home in Orcabessa, Jamaica. A keen bird-watcher, Fleming often thumbed through his copy of the standard field guide for the region's feathered wildlife, Birds of the West Indies (1936). Written by... James Bond. That was to be 007's name: “brief, unromantic and yet very masculine”. 

Birds of the West Indies, by James Bond.

In the early 1960s, just as the first Bond movies were spreading the fame of her husband's name-double across the entire globe, Mrs. Mary Fanning Wickham Bond (née Porcher) wrote a letter to Ian Fleming, in mock complaint of his unauthorised onomastic appropriation. The writer replied in an equally humorous vein, offering the ornithologist “unlimited use of the name Ian Fleming for any purpose he may see fit! Perhaps one day he will discover some particularly horrible species of bird which he would like to christen in an insulting fashion.”

James and Mary Bond, on a field trip to Maine in 1963.

No such instance is recorded. But, as the years passed and 007's reputation grew, Mrs. Bond had more reason to complain: “Soft, female voices [would call] up at 2 or 3 in the morning, asking: Is James there? I finally put an end to such conversations by answering sharply: Yes, James is here, but this is Pussy Galore, and he's busy now!” Mrs. Bond eventually arranged a meeting between her husband and Fleming, and the two became friendly, meeting up occasionally in the Caribbean. She eventually wrote a book about it, titled How 007 Got His Name (1966).

In fact, she too was a writer, producing magazine articles, novels, poetry, short stories and children's stories. In 1980, she published To James Bond With Love, about her life with the 'real' James Bond, whom she married in 1954 and accompanied on his birding expeditions well into their sixties. She described her marriage as “a wonderful life […] He was a relaxed and charming person”.

James Bond (l.) meets Ian Fleming (r.)

Fleming's dedication of a James Bond novel to... James Bond, presented at their first meeting, in February 1964.


James Bond was born in 1900 into a privileged Philadelphia family. After the death of his mother, he and his father moved to England, where he obtained his B.A. from Cambridge in 1922. He would retain more than a hint of an English accent for the rest of his life. 

He was ushered into a career in banking, but resigned from the Foreign Exchange department at the old Pennsylvania Company to pursue his childhood obsession for natural history. In 1925, he accompanied Rodolphe Meyer de Schauensee on an expedition to the Lower Amazon, looking for mammals and birds. The trip determined the rest of James Bond's life. He decided to dedicate his career to the study of Antillean avifauna, because “probably more Antillean birds were in danger of extinction than in all the rest of the world”.

In 1934, he caused a furore in the scientific community by claiming that most Caribbean birds were North American in origin - except on Trinidad and Tobago and a few other islands. Until then, the consensus had been that the local bird species originally were mostly South American. Over the years, Bond supported his theory by field visits to over 100 islands, writing more than 100 papers.

Bond's theory has made a lasting impact on biogeography: in 1971, fellow ornithologist David Lack proposed naming the line that divided the Caribbean birds of North American origin from the others be called Bond's Line: "Wallace has a line [see also #169] and after all your work in the West Indies, I don’t see why you should not have one too! I hope you will agree. As you drew attention to this line, it would be most fitting". Bond agreed, and the line was first mentioned in Lack's Island Biology (1976). 

Bond's Line, first proposed in 1971. 

Bond's Line includes most Caribbean islands and archipelagoes: the Bahamas, the Greater Antilles (Cuba, Jamaica, Hispaniola, the Cayman Islands and Puerto Rico), the Lesser Antilles (from Anguilla down to Grenada), and a few isolated islands close to the Central American coast (Cozumel, Providencia, etc.) It does not include Trinidad and Tobago, the Islas Margaritas, and the Dutch islands of Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao.

Despite being overshadowed by his fictional namesake, James Bond achieved world fame in his field, and was awarded many academic accolades, among them the Leidy Medal of the Academy of Natural Sciences, as only the second scientist to receive it. James Bond died in 1989, Mrs. Bond passed away in 1997.  

Many thanks to Mark Feldman for alerting me to the existence of the other James Bond, and his biogeographical legacy. Cover image for Birds of the West Indies taken here from Rolling Harbour Abaco. Picture of James and Mary Bond, of Fleming's dedication and of the map image taken from James Bond Authenticus. Picture of James Bond and Ian Fleming taken here from the Audubon Magazine.

Strange Maps #672

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This is what aliens would 'hear' if they flew by Earth

A Mercury-bound spacecraft's noisy flyby of our home planet.

Image source: sdecoret on Shutterstock/ESA/Big Think
Surprising Science
  • There is no sound in space, but if there was, this is what it might sound like passing by Earth.
  • A spacecraft bound for Mercury recorded data while swinging around our planet, and that data was converted into sound.
  • Yes, in space no one can hear you scream, but this is still some chill stuff.

First off, let's be clear what we mean by "hear" here. (Here, here!)

Sound, as we know it, requires air. What our ears capture is actually oscillating waves of fluctuating air pressure. Cilia, fibers in our ears, respond to these fluctuations by firing off corresponding clusters of tones at different pitches to our brains. This is what we perceive as sound.

All of which is to say, sound requires air, and space is notoriously void of that. So, in terms of human-perceivable sound, it's silent out there. Nonetheless, there can be cyclical events in space — such as oscillating values in streams of captured data — that can be mapped to pitches, and thus made audible.


Image source: European Space Agency

The European Space Agency's BepiColombo spacecraft took off from Kourou, French Guyana on October 20, 2019, on its way to Mercury. To reduce its speed for the proper trajectory to Mercury, BepiColombo executed a "gravity-assist flyby," slinging itself around the Earth before leaving home. Over the course of its 34-minute flyby, its two data recorders captured five data sets that Italy's National Institute for Astrophysics (INAF) enhanced and converted into sound waves.

Into and out of Earth's shadow

In April, BepiColombo began its closest approach to Earth, ranging from 256,393 kilometers (159,315 miles) to 129,488 kilometers (80,460 miles) away. The audio above starts as BepiColombo begins to sneak into the Earth's shadow facing away from the sun.

The data was captured by BepiColombo's Italian Spring Accelerometer (ISA) instrument. Says Carmelo Magnafico of the ISA team, "When the spacecraft enters the shadow and the force of the Sun disappears, we can hear a slight vibration. The solar panels, previously flexed by the Sun, then find a new balance. Upon exiting the shadow, we can hear the effect again."

In addition to making for some cool sounds, the phenomenon allowed the ISA team to confirm just how sensitive their instrument is. "This is an extraordinary situation," says Carmelo. "Since we started the cruise, we have only been in direct sunshine, so we did not have the possibility to check effectively whether our instrument is measuring the variations of the force of the sunlight."

When the craft arrives at Mercury, the ISA will be tasked with studying the planets gravity.

Magentosphere melody

The second clip is derived from data captured by BepiColombo's MPO-MAG magnetometer, AKA MERMAG, as the craft traveled through Earth's magnetosphere, the area surrounding the planet that's determined by the its magnetic field.

BepiColombo eventually entered the hellish mangentosheath, the region battered by cosmic plasma from the sun before the craft passed into the relatively peaceful magentopause that marks the transition between the magnetosphere and Earth's own magnetic field.

MERMAG will map Mercury's magnetosphere, as well as the magnetic state of the planet's interior. As a secondary objective, it will assess the interaction of the solar wind, Mercury's magnetic field, and the planet, analyzing the dynamics of the magnetosphere and its interaction with Mercury.

Recording session over, BepiColombo is now slipping through space silently with its arrival at Mercury planned for 2025.

Learn the Netflix model of high-performing teams

Erin Meyer explains the keeper test and how it can make or break a team.

  • There are numerous strategies for building and maintaining a high-performing team, but unfortunately they are not plug-and-play. What works for some companies will not necessarily work for others. Erin Meyer, co-author of No Rules Rules: Netflix and the Culture of Reinvention, shares one alternative employed by one of the largest tech and media services companies in the world.
  • Instead of the 'Rank and Yank' method once used by GE, Meyer explains how Netflix managers use the 'keeper test' to determine if employees are crucial pieces of the larger team and are worth fighting to keep.
  • "An individual performance problem is a systemic problem that impacts the entire team," she says. This is a valuable lesson that could determine whether the team fails or whether an organization advances to the next level.
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Photo by Martin Adams on Unsplash
Culture & Religion
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