by Andrea Niepold
007 never visited Chestnut Hill, but the noted ornithologist James Bond, whose name Ian Fleming appropriated for his secret agent, lived here from 1955 until his death in 1989. Although a modest and somewhat shy man, the real James Bond lived as adventurous a life in his own way as his swashbuckling namesake.
Born in 1900 into a prominent Philadelphia family, Bond’s early life was typical for his time and class: town house on Pine Street, weekend house in the country, summers in Maine, St Paul’s School. In 1914, his widowed father married an English woman and moved his family to England, where Bond attended Harrow and Cambridge. On returning to the U.S. in 1922, he began a career in banking. But within a few years, he quit his job and left behind the traditional life expected of a young man of his background.
In 1925, James Bond accompanied a friend on an expedition to the Amazon. On his return, he joined the Academy of Natural Sciences as a “gentleman naturalist,” receiving no pay and living a threadbare existence on the proceeds of a small bequest.
His particular interest was in the birds of the Caribbean, and he undertook a series of expeditions, exploring even the most remote and primitive areas. The result was “Birds of the West Indies,” an exhaustive survey of the subject, initially published by the academy in 1936. In this and in technical papers, Bond proposed – contrary to the generally-held belief at the time – that most Caribbean birds originated in North America rather than in South America.
Since it was first published, “Birds of the West Indies“has become the standard field guide reference work, and Bond’s theory of their North American origin gained universal acceptance; ornithologists now refer to an imaginary boundary – between Grenada to the north and Tobago to the south – that separates northern and southern species, as “Bond’s Line.”
“Birds of the West Indies” was known to Ian Fleming, a keen birdwatcher with a home in Jamaica. According to an interview in The New Yorker, he chose Bond’s name for the hero of “Casino Royale,” the first 007 novel, because, in his words, “I wanted Bond to be an extremely dull, uninteresting man to whom things happened – thought, by God, [James Bond] is the dullest name I ever heard.”
In 1953, the year that “Casino Royale” was published, James Bond married Mary Wickham Porcher Lewis, the daughter of a well-to-do Chestnut Hill family and widow of an eminent Philadelphia lawyer. In 1955, the couple moved from a Center City apartment to a house on Davidson Road, one of several designed by Oskar Stonorov on the grounds of the former Stonehurst Estate; they moved to Hill House in 1974.
A poet, novelist, and frequent contributor to the Chestnut Hill Local, Mary Bond accompanied her husband on many trips to the Caribbean, often chronicling their journeys for Frontiers, the magazine of the Academy of Natural Sciences. In 1966, she published “How 007 Got His Name,” based on a meeting with Ian Fleming, and in 1980, “To James Bond with Love,” a memoir of their life together. Mary Bond died in 1997 at the age of 99.
The fictional James Bond lives on in novels and films; the real James Bond lives on in the definitive “Birds of the West Indies,” now published in the Peterson Field Guide series.
One of these is available for you to take home from the Chestnut Hill Historical Society’s gift shop. Contact us by phone at 215-247-0417, or email at email@example.com to find out which!