Tuck Lee & Chimera Eggs


The following opening remarks written by William K. Gregory in The Bashford Dean Memorial Volume (1930) provide a grand description of a summer day that revolved around the efforts of Bashford Dean, the wife of Tuck Lee and the “zoological treasures” that were the results of Tuck Lee’s fishing skills.

"On a certain bright California day in the summer of 1899, I looked out of the window from my table at the Hopkins Marine Laboratory at Pacific Grove and saw Dr. Bashford Dean swinging rapidly up the path leading to the laboratory. A few steps in front of him was a dumpy little Chinese woman, the wife of Ah Tak the fisherman, and from Dean's square shoulder to hers stretched a stout bamboo pole. Between them was slung a large tin can full of water and evidently containing some zoological treasure brought in from the waters of the bay by Ah Tak. I rushed out to meet them and assisted in turning the can gently over so that its contents poured slowly into a large wooden trough containing fresh seawater. Then out came a living Silver Shark {Chimaera colliei) glistening in silver and black, waving its gossamer wing-like pectorals and staring vacantly with great round eyes. At that moment I caught for the first time a spark from Dean's ardor, which had already sent him into many parts of the world in pursuit of chimaeroid fishes and their development.” (32)

As described by Dean, The first eggs of Chimaera were obtained on the California coast during the latter part of the same summer (1896). "The writer is greatly indebted to President Jordan for his invitation to visit the Hopkins Marine Laboratory at Monterey, and for his suggestion as to the value of the Chinese fisher-people as zoological collectors. Among the fishermen Ah Tack Lee was found to be of the utmost service, skillful [sic], persevering, accurate in locating Chimaera grounds, and keen in observing. He had even noticed that Chimaera has the curious habit of carrying temporarily its pair of eggs hung freely in the water attached only by elastic threads, and that the terminal filament of the egg-case is provided with an end-bulb which secures its attachment." (33)

With the help of Tuck Lee and the Chinese fishermen from the Point Alones fishing village, Dean took fishing trips off the coast each day. In doing so, he obtained more than three hundred Chimaera fish. Of these three hundred Chimaera, thirty females contained eggs, and among these eggs were presented the stages of early development. To obtain the later stages of development, a hatching case was stocked with eggs and held at three fathoms of water, directly off the beach of Hopkins Seaside Laboratory. From these submersed eggs, several later stages of development were acquired. (34)


In the publication Development of a Chimeroid, which discusses his research findings associated with Chimaera development, Bashford Dean expresses his indebtedness to, not only the Directors of Hopkins Seaside Laboratory and David Starr Jordan but also his indebtedness to both Ray L. Wilber and Ah Tuck Lee.

"The writer is greatly indebted to President Jordan and to the directors of the Hopkins Seaside Laboratory, at Pacific Grove, for many courtesies extended him during two summers at the laboratory; and to Dr. Ray L. Wilbur for much generous and skilful [sic] cooperation in securing material from the Chinese fisher-people during the years 1897, 1898 and 1899. Dr. Wilbur made numerous trips from San Francisco to Monterey during this time, and to his interest in my work and to his boundless energy I am indebted for many of the later and rarer stages of this interesting fish. To Ah Tack Lee, most skillful and intelligent of local fishermen, I owe my best thanks for his services as a collector." (35)

At this point, you might be asking yourself, who was Ray Lyman Wilbur, and what connection does he haveto the history of Hopkins Seaside Laboratory. RL Wilbur was a Stanford undergraduate (1892-1896) and graduate (1897), who spent three summers at the Seaside Laboratory as part of his program in the Department of Physiology. Wilbur received from Stanford University, a B. A. degree in 1896 and an M. A. degree in 1897; he then studied at Cooper Medical College, receiving a Doctor of Medicine degree in 1899. RL Wilbur then served as the Dean of the Stanford University School of Medicine from 1911 to 1916, and as President of Stanford University from 1916 until 1943. During his time as President of Stanford University, Ray Lyman Wilbur also served as Secretary of the Interior of the United States (1929-1933) during the Hoover administration. Beyond these accomplishments, Wilbur served as Chancellor of the University from 1943 until his death in 1949. Ray Lyman Wilbur, Stanford's third president, described in his memoir his summers at the seaside laboratory as being "one of the great experiences of my University career." (36)

During the time spent at Hopkins Seaside Laboratory as a Stanford undergraduate, Wilbur assisted the research interests of Bashford Dean and his efforts to acquire “hen sharks” (i.e. chimeras). In his memoirs Wilber writes the following of his friendly interactions with Tuck Lee in the summer of 1896 in relation to this effort:

"In my collecting work for the Seaside Laboratory one of my best friends was Ah Tock, a Chinese fisherman near Monterey. He was a skillful fisherman and collector. I paid him 10 cents a piece for "hen sharks." Once he had a field day and brought in seventy-one of them. His boat was loaded down with them, his lines were broken. It was a sight. This was before the days of vitamins and shark livers. We were looking for eggs maturing within the body of the shark." (37)

Also within his memoirs, Wilber writes that in December 1898, directly after his wedding, he and his new bride Marguerite (May Blake) took their honeymoon in Pacific Grove, which included a visit with Tuck Lee. Wilber writes the following of their visit to the Chinese village:

"Since I wanted to start in to collect some specimens anyhow, one of the first things I did was take my bride over to the Chinese fishing village, near Monterey, to see Ah Tock. My Chinese friends gathered about us. Mrs. Ah Tock was particularly pleased and [indicating Marguerite] asked me “Him your wife?” When I answered yes, she said, “Ah, him very nice, you smart!” To all of which we agreed." (38)

In 1905, the Pacific Improvement Company, the owners of the property where the village was located and to whom the villagers paid rent, were negotiating with the Chinese of the Point Alones fishing village for their relocating the community along the beach near Seaside, California. (39) Faced with a February 1906 deadline and no agreed upon site for relocation, the Chinese returned to the Pacific Improvement Company and requested an extension which the company granted. During these negotiations the village was led by a group of America-born Chinese, one of whom was Quock Tuck Lee. A tenacious opponent of the Pacific Improvement Company’s efforts to relocate the village, Tuck Lee was arrested a number of times and named in many of the lawsuits filed by the Company. (40)

On the night of May 16, 1906, a disastrous fire swept through the Point Alones Chinese fishing village destroying almost every existing structure. Regulations were promptly put into place that prohibited the Chinese community from rebuilding their homes on the property. A few Chinese families relocated to McAbee Beach, but Tuck Lee resisted any such move for as long as possible. (41) According to a newspaper article, the Evening News, San Jose California, dated May 16, 1907, Tuck Lee would be the last resident to leave the fishing village:

"Only one Chinaman remains at the old Pacific Grove Chinatown, and that is Tuck Lee, says the Monterey Cypress. All the others have been ejected and have take up their home at McAbeeville. Many of the old shacks have been removed from the once popular bathing beach. Tuck Lee has promised to move, and in a few days will do so. As soon as he moves all of the old remaining shack will be razed and the grounds cleaned. The Pacific Improvement Company will then turn the grounds over to the Regents of the University of California, who will begin the erection of the buildings for the biological college, which will cost $200,000." (42)

Almost exactly 365 days after the 1906 fire, Tuck Lee, the last to depart the Chinese fishing village, left Point Alones forever. The construction of a “biological college” by the University of California at Point Alones never commenced and the property sat vacant for more than ten years.


(32) Gregory, William K. (1930). The Bashford Dean Memorial Volume : Archaic Fishes / edited by Eugene Willis Gudger.

(33) Dean, Bashford. (1906). Chimæroid Fishes and Their Development. The Carnegie Institution Of Washington, Washington DC Publication 32: 1-194.

(34) Dean, Bashford; Harrington, Nathan R; Calkins, Gary N; Griffin, Bradney B. (1897). The Columbia University Zoological Expedition of 1896 With a Brief Account of the Work of Collecting in Puget Sound and on the Pacific Coast, Transactions of the New York Academy of Sciences: New York Academy of Sciences, New York. 16:33-42.

(35) Dean, Bashford. (1903). An Outline of the Development of a Chimaeroid. The Biological Bulletin. By Marine Biological Laboratory (Woods Hole, Mass.) 4 (5): 270-286.

(36) Wilbur, R. L. (1960). The Memoirs of Ray Lyman Wilbur, 1875-1949. Stanford, California. Stanford University Press.

(37) Ibid.

(38) Ibid.

(39) Lydon, Sandy (2008) Chinese Gold: the Chinese in the Monterey Bay Region. Capitola, California. Capitola Book Company.

(40) Ibid.

(41) Ibid.

(42) The Evening News, San Jose California. (1907). Lone Occupant of Chinatown. May 16, 1907.