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Walter Oliver Cernohorsky 1927-2014

By Gregor Macaulay

Walter Oliver Cernohorsky

Walter Oliver Cernohorsky

Walter Cernohorsky, longstanding member and councillor of The Heraldry Society of New Zealand (HSNZ), and valued contributor to the Society’s journal The New Zealand Armorist (the Armorist), died in Auckland on 23 September 2014, aged 87. Walter was born on 30 June 1927 in Brno, in what is now the Czech Republic, the youngest son of Jan Cernohorsky (an hotelier descended from a noble Czech family that had held medieval lordships in Bohemia and Moravia) and his wife Maria (née Markova). Walter’s parents died when he was seven and so he was brought up by his brother Jan and sister-in-law Vlasta. He lived through the German occupation of his homeland and recalled the requisition of the family’s hotel and the execution of an uncle, an officer in the Czech army who was shot by the Germans. Walter was at university, studying architecture, when the Communists came to power in Czechoslovakia. Having been warned that the Communist authorities were looking for him, he decided to leave the country. Without being able to return home for papers or belongings, or to say goodbye to his brother, Walter and a friend hid on a train and escaped in 1948, never to return. He spent a period working as a translator for the American army (he spoke Czech, English, German, and some Russian) and in 1949 sailed from Italy as a refugee for Australia. He worked in Queensland cutting sugar cane and in factories and brickworks and as a surveyor. At the Golden Plateau Mine in Cracow, Queensland, he met his wife Irene. They married in 1953 and departed for Fiji, where Walter was chief surveyor at the Emperor Gold Mines in Vatukoula until 1968.

Walter Cernohorsky c1960

Walter Cernohorsky c1960

A fascination with photographing shells developed into a passion for conchology and a deep interest and expertise in malacological science. In 1968 he was awarded a research associateship at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington DC. His hobby eventually became his job and in 1969 he was appointed Curator of Molluscs at the Auckland War Memorial Museum, where he was a popular colleague. His first book, Marine Shells of the Pacific (volume 1), had appeared in 1961 (volume 2 followed in 1972) and he was the author of many other scientific publications, especially on the families Mitridae, Nassaridae, and Terebridae, about which he was a recognised authority. Five new species of molluscs were named in his honour. His other interests included numismatics, philately (he designed three values of a Fijian stamp issue of 1968 – featuring shells), heraldry, and chivalry. His knowledge of languages and continental nobility informed his numerous contributions on European heraldry to the Armorist. Walter’s wife Irene died in August 2012 but he is survived by his son Roy and daughter Diana. Walter’s 2003 bookplate (below), by Jim McCready, shows (clockwise from top right) the arms of Bohemia, Moravia, New Zealand, the Linnaean Society of London (of which Walter was a Fellow; the arms are flanked by shells of Ziba cernohorskyi), Cernohorsky (original arms), and the crest and banner of an ancestor, a Cernohorsky of Horaimierzicz, who was Chief Commissioner of Customs for Ferdinand I, King (later Emperor) of Bohemia, who granted him personal arms in 1552. These arms are canting: the black triple mount is from the crest of the Cernohorskys of Cerna Hora (‘black mountain’) and blazoned as schuppenartig (‘scale-like’). Cernohorsky bookplate The following legendary account of the origin of Walter’s ancestral arms is taken from an article by the Czech heraldist (and Communist collaborator) Jiří Louda (The Coat of Arms, vol. VIII, no. 59, July 1964).

Cernohorsky Arms

Cernohorsky Arms

The forests of Moravia formed the setting for another legend. The King of Moravia (whoever that may have been) lost his way when hunting and was glad to find a shabby cabin owned by a poor man called Velen. Velen, not knowing who his guest was, gave him a square meal and brought him to a brook where he made the King sit on a cushion and helped him to wash himself with two bunches of oak leaves. Afterwards, he even combed the King’s hair with a simple wooden comb. Then the King departed, asking Velen to visit him at the castle in Brno where he said he was working as a servant. We may well imagine Velen’s surprise when he was, on arriving at Brno, led straight to the King who ennobled the good man and granted him for arms: Gules, a comb Argent (represented invariably as a chevron dancetty of seven), and for crest, two bunches of oak leaves in saltire, Proper, on a cushion Gules, to commemorate Velen’s hospitality. Velen became, so the legend asserts, the ancestor of the noble lords of Boskovice. Acknowledgements Assistance with information for this obituary was kindly provided by Diana Cernohorsky, Ian Thwaites, and Roger Barnes. G.A.M.

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