The Gwillim Collection at McGill University contains twenty nine watercolours of fish, one crocodile and one “Portuguese man o’ war,” also known as a Physalia. Casey A. Wood acquired these images at the same time that he purchased Elizabeth Gwillim’s bird paintings in 1924. While the fish paintings did not “amaze” and “delight” him in comparison to the bird watercolours, the fish paintings still made a “rather favourable impression” upon him (595). When Wood acquired them, he believed the fish were painted by Elizabeth Gwillim. However, from reading Elizabeth and Mary Symonds’ letters, it is now believed that Mary Symonds painted at least some of them.

While the fish paintings are not always as detailed as the bird paintings, they are a valuable source, and help to show us the historical make up of Kovalam’s waters. For instance, as Shyamal Lakshminarayanan notes, the Anoxypristis cuspidata, commonly known as the Knifetooth Sawfish, is now considered endangered and no longer found in the region where it was painted. The painting contains precise details, accurately showing that the basal part of its snout is toothless. Interestingly, as Lakshminarayanan points out, the painting of this fish is unusual as it faces right, while the majority of the fish set face left. The set also includes a painting of the Glaucostegus obtusus, or the Widenose Guitarfish, and it is now considered endangered as well.

Pristis cuspidatus (Anoxypristis cuspidata), Rare Books and Special Collections, McGill University, CA RBD Gwillim-2-25.

For Casey A. Wood’s brief description of the fish, read: