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Robert Service (1854–1911)

Robert Service

Robert Service was a "Reconstitution Member" of the Society indicating that he had been elected at the reconstitution meeting of 3rd November 1876. At this first meeting he was also appointed Hon. Secretary — a position he held until he resigned from that office in October 1882.

Along with messrs Robb and Glover-Anderson he was appointed a member of the committee created 'to make the necessary arrangements for publication [of the Proceedings and Transactions].'

He was appointed a Vice-President in 1902-03, an honorary Vice-President in 1907-08 and on 20th January 1911 he was appointed an honorary member. He died on 8th May 1911.

Obituaries for Service, no doubt among many others, appeared in the Dumfries & Galloway Standard, 10th May 1911; the Annals of Scottish Natural History, No. 79, July 1911, p. 129 (by Hugh S Gladstone) and in the Gallovidian, Volume XIII, Summer 1911, pp. 62-64.

  A listing of his publications in the Society's Transactions will be found elsewhere on this WebPage.



Gallovidian, Volume XIII, No. 50, Summer 1911, pp. 62-64

Robert Service, Naturalist (1855–1911)

That the memory of him who for so many years, under the pen-name of “Mabie Moss,” contributed such delightful and original natural history and scientific notes and papers to the local press should have tribute paid in these pages is fitting in the extreme, for in Galloway and Dumfriesshire his true talent and bent found their fullest expression.

In the south-west of Scotland Robert Service has been happily described as the successor of that distinguished ornithologist and naturalist, the late Sir William Jardine of Applegarth; certainly as a field naturalist he had few equals, even in broad Scotland. Familiar with every branch of natural history, he exhibited high-standing ability in the world of science generally, and also, he was an astronomer whose observations had the merit of true scientific value. A native of Ayrshire, he was born at Netherplace, near Mauchline, where his father held the appointment of gardener to Lord Justice-Clerk Hope. Later, though only for some little time, the family resided at Houghton House, three miles on the Scottish side of Carlisle, and he was only little more than three years of age when his father finally settled in Dumfries, and founded the nursery business which eventually came to have such a high reputation.

Educated at the old Free Church School, David Street, Maxwelltown, under Mr Fairley, a fine type of the old-world “dominie,” the boy passed to his father’s business, a circumstance which, for a lad of his tastes and tendencies towards the study of natural history, can only be described as happy in the extreme. In this congenial atmosphere boyhood merged into manhood, habits of diligent study and observation gradually evolving, until all unconsciously, his varied knowledge had become of very real worth, his reputation for skill as a nurseryman going hand in hand with recognition far and near as a naturalist of note.

It is a fortunate circumstance that Robert Service wielded a ready pen. Indeed, he may be described as having been a prolific writer on scientific subjects. His first assumed literary nom de plume was “Zoologicus,” but this soon gave way to the happier term of “Mabie Moss,” by which he will always be best remembered, at all events in the south-west of Scotland. In this connection special mention must be made of his “Notes for Naturalists,” which for several years appeared regularly in the Kirkcudbrightshire Advertiser, and notice taken also of the special chapter on “The Vertebrate Zoology of Kirkcudbrightshire,” which he furnished for Maxwell’s Guide to the Stewartry.

More strictly scientific papers were regularly contributed to the Zoologist and the Annals of Scottish History. His special attainments naturally gained for him recognition and admission to the best Natural History and Scientific Societies of the day, and it is pleasing to record that he was a member, and in close touch with bodies such as the British Ornithological Union, the British Association for the Advancement of Science, The Edinburgh Field Naturalists and Microscopic Society, and the Andersonian Society, Glasgow, to whose “transactions” he made frequent communications. Close personal friendships were also formed with many outstanding people in the world of science, including Professor Newton of Cambridge; the late Rev. Hugh a. Macpherson, the eminent Cumberland ornithologist, whose wonderful collection of birds is housed in the Carlisle Museum; the Duke and Duchess of Bedford, Mr J.A. Harvie Brown, Mr Eagle Clarke, of the Edinburgh Museum, and not a few others.

Of the many aspects of natural history study, the one above all others that Robert Service specially devoted himself to, was the study of Bird-life, and especially the fascinating subject of Bird-migration. Inconvenience of time, distance, and midnight vigil, were as naught when opportunity for observation seemed at all within reach, and in this connection it was always to him a pleasing remembrance that in crossing to Germany to spend a brief holiday he was able to pass and obtain a glimpse of Heligoland, where so much important observation in this particular direction of bird-life had been made. In 1884, along with Mr T. B. Bruce of Slogarie, his friend, and a devoted naturalist as well, some nights were spent on Ailsa Craig, also an important bird observation station. On the bird-life of the Solway area itself he was an undoubted and leading authority; indeed, his real life’s literary and scientific achievement was to have been a comprehensive work on the “Fauna of the Solway Area,” which unfortunately did not pass beyond its inception and the gathering together of the fruits of his own observations, the gleanings of many all-night vigils along the Solway shore. Generous and large-minded however, to a degree, his manuscript notes and records — his whole material, in short — were unreservedly placed at the disposal of another worker in the same field, Mr Hugh S. Gladstone, when compiling an important local work, The Birds of Dumfriesshire, which generous service Mr Gladstone acknowledges in that work in no half-hearted way.

Some of Mr Service’s special papers on the bird-life and natural history aspect of the Solway district are “Bird Migration in the Solway,” “Changes in the Avifauna of the Solway Area,” “The Diurnal and Nocturnal Raptorial Birds of the Solway Area,” “The Rara Birds of the Solway Area,” “The Sylviidae of Solway,” “The Vertebrates of Solway: A Century’s Changes,” and “The Waders of the Solway.”

The Dumfriesshire and Galloway Natural History and Antiquarian Society owes much indeed to Robert Service. A constant attender of its meetings, a frequent exhibiter, and a regular contributor of valuable papers, he over and above, for the long period of twelve years (1870 to 1882) discharged the duties of secretary. A similar post he held for some years in connection with the Dumfries and Maxwelltown Observatory. That Museum was his constant care, and it was ever a matter of regret that he could spare so little time to devote to an adequate scheme of classification and arrangement. Its shelves, however, hold many specimens which he presented to it, as indeed do those of the splendid zoological collection in the Royal Scottish Museum in Edinburgh. Mention must also be made of the expert assistance he rendered in connection with the plague of field voles which specially affected Nithsdale and Eskdale and other parts of the district in 1891-93. A Departmental Committee of Enquiry, presided over by Sir Herbert Maxwell, was appointed by the Board of Agriculture, and before this body Mr Service gave valuable evidence. His special biological knowledge was also taken advantage of by the Solway Fishery Commission, before whom he appeared as a skilled witness.

Reference has incidentally been made to Robert Service as an astronomer. His skill in this vast study was singularly demonstrated on the evening of February 22nd, 1901, when he satisfied himself of the appearance in the heavens of a new star, in the constellation of Perseus. His independent discovery, which he noted at 8.45 p.m., received almost startling confirmation, for next day he learned that the new star had been picked out and recognised by Dr Anderson of Edinburgh, and that only between 2 and 3 a.m. of the same day in which he himself had identified it. On this subject of astronomy also, his fertile pen plied lucidly, a series of articles of the highest interest appearing about this same time in the Dumfries Standard under the title of “Among other Worlds.”

In the affairs of most men’s lives there comes the crisis which, “taken or not taken at the flood,” either “makes or mars.” To Robert Service this period came in the year 1882, when Joseph Thomson, the African Explorer and Traveller, offered him the position of Naturalist in an expedition to East Africa, which he was undertaking on behalf of the Royal Geographical Society. The opportunity was splendid, and the prospect, not only of travel but of exploration into the very heart of forest and field, teeming with new animal life, and the tropical luxuriance of quite as novel forms of vegetation, must have been very alluring. There were also possibilities of name and fame. How it all must have stirred and quickened his pulse, but tugging at his heart-strings in quite the opposite direction were home responsibilities and a deep sense that his departure would unduly influence the lives and affairs of those around him, and to his deep regret, though never a murmur was heard from his lips, he reluctantly allowed the opportunity to pass, and with it, as those who knew him best well recognised, the chance and opportunity which might have elevated him to his own true place in the world of Science, and even in the world itself, was gone.

Of the man himself and his personality, a concluding word is due, which may be drawn from an appreciation written at the time of his death by one of his many friends, a comrade who knew him well:—

As one who shared and highly valued his friendship, admired his erudition in various branches of science, his rare modesty, his consistent and sincere attachment to principles and causes whereof his judgement might approve, his incomparable knowledge of local wild birds, of the fauna and flora of the Stewartry, and his superior virtues in domestic, social, and business life, may I crave to be allowed to cast a little flower of panegyric upon his premature grave. The Stewartry, Dumfries, Scotland, had only one Robert Service. His personality haunts me now as one of the strongest minds who are often those, as Wordsworth sang, ‘of whom the noisy world hears least’; his was a spirit finely touched, and his quiet life was for commentary upon the lines which the same poet of nature added to Coleridge’s ‘Ancient Mariner’:—

‘He prayeth well who loved well
Both man and bird and beast,
He prayeth best who loveth best
All things both great and small.’”



Dumfries & Galloway Standard, May 10th 1911.

THE LATE MR ROBERT SERVICE

Mr Robert Service, nurseryman, died on Monday forenoon at his residence, Janefield, Maxwelltown. For some months he had been a confirmed invalid, and the loss of the power of speech from which he suffered was deprivation felt with special acuteness by one of such active mind. The deep sympathy of the community went out to him during that trying period; and now they mourn a loss which will be felt throughout the world of science. It is a pathetic circumstance that one whose activities in the pursuit and dissemination of knowledge were so multifarious and sustained should have been cut off thus early—he would only have completed his fifty-seventh year on the 23d of this month—and with his life-work as it seems unaccomplished; for it was the hope of Mr Service’s friends that his projected book on the bird life of the Solway area would have embodied the records of his long, patient, and intelligently directed research. But the demands of business, leaving ever less of untrammelled leisure, caused the task to be put aside from time to time; and now the night has fallen in which no work is done.

Mr Service was one of the most eminent field naturalists in the country. Ornithology was his special sphere, and he paid particular attention to the important and fascinating subject of bird migration—a habit all but universal—and the circumstances which control it. In 1884 he spent some nights on Ailsa Craig along with Mr T. B. Bruce of Slogarie, who had been his friend from early manhood, in order that they might study bird life on an islet which stands in the very first rank among the important breeding stations. Two years ago he gratified a long cherished desire when, on a visit to Germany, he was enabled to obtain a passing glimpse of Heligoland, an observation station that has yielded much material to help towards the solution of the mystery of migration. Mr Service’s interest in science took a wide range. Besides that branch in which he was specially recognised as an authority, he had extensive knowledge of zoology in its various departments, of botany and geology; and he was a noted astronomer. He was among the first half-dozen to observe the new star which appeared in Perseus in 1901. He observed it at 8.45 on the evening of February 22d. Dr Anderson of Edinburgh had discovered it between two and three o’clock on the morning of the same day. Mr Service contributed a series of well-informed and popularly written articles to the “Standard” under the title, “Amongst Other Worlds, by an Amateur Astronomer.” He did much by his pen and by lectures to church and other societies to foster a love of science and of nature study, particularly among young people. In this district he was practically the successor of the late Sir William Jardine of Applegarth as a naturalist of outstanding attainments. For twelve years from 1870 to 1882, he was secretary of the Dumfriesshire and Galloway Natural History and Antiquarian Society, and both during that period and in subsequent years, when he was a member and from time to time an office-bearer, its Transactions were enriched with many communications from his pen. He was also a member of the British Ornithological Union; of the Edinburgh Field Naturalists’ and Microscopic Society; of the Natural History Society of Glasgow; of the Andersonian Society, Glasgow; of the British Association for the Advancement of Science; and a corresponding member of the Yorkshire Naturalists’ Club. In addition to papers embodied in the published proceedings of these societies, he was a frequent contributor to various scientific periodicals; among others “Annals of Scottish Natural History” and “The Zoologist” and to various newspapers under the pen name first of “Zoologicus” and afterwards of “Mabie Moss.” He took an important part in investigating the plague of field voles with which a great tract of country in Eskdale, Nithsdale, and the valley of the AE was afflicted in the years 1891-93; and he was one of the expert witnesses called to give evidence before the Departmental Committee of Inquiry which was appointed by the Board of Agriculture and presided over by Sir Herbert Maxwell. His intimate knowledge of the habits of fish also led to his being invited to give evidence before the Solway Fishery Commission which sat a year or two before; and when the inquiry was held which resulted in the construction of the works of the purification of Dumfries and Maxwelltown sewage he was examined regarding the effect on fish life of various forms of river pollution. He was a shareholder and for many years secretary of the Dumfries and Maxwelltown Observatory Company. Its museum was a subject of his constant care, and it contained many specimens gifted by him. In the Scottish Museum at Edinburgh he has many exhibits, some of them of great rarity, in the section devoted to British mammals. Perhaps the most interesting event in his life was when, in 1882, Joseph Thomson, the African explorer, offered him the position of naturalist on an expedition which he was undertaking to Eastern Africa on behalf of the Royal Geographical Society. Mr Service was then associated with his father in business, and he yielded to the persuasion of his parents to decline the invitation. Those who knew him intimately were aware that throughout his life he regretted that decision; and it was also a matter of regret to his friends who felt that he had thus missed the opportunity of finding a specially congenial sphere of work in which his talents would have had full play. He was the friend of many outstanding people in the world of science, including Professor Newton, of Cambridge; the late Rev. Hugh A. Macpherson, the eminent Cumberland ornithologist, whose wonderful collection of birds is housed in the Carlisle Museum; the Duke and Duchess of Bedford, Mr J.A. Harvie Brown, Mr W. Eagle Clarke, of the Edinburgh Museum, and many others. He was generous in placing the fruits of his observation at the command of other workers in the same field. Mr Hugh Gladstone, in preparing his important work, “The Birds of Dumfriesshire,” had access to Mr Service’s manuscript notes as well as his printed records, a privilege of which he makes grateful acknowledgement in his pages; and it is [a] matter of satisfaction that, by being incorporated in that work, much of the material which our late friend had amassed has been preserved in permanent form.

The subject of our notice was the elder son of Mr James Service, nurseryman. Although practically the whole of his life was spent in Dumfries, he was a native of Ayrshire, having been born at Netherplace, near Mauchline, where his father was a gardener to Lord Justice Clerk Hope. Afterwards for a short time they lived at Houghton House, three miles north of Carlisle. It was in 1858 when his elder son was four years of age that Mr Service established at Greenbrae, in the suburbs of Dumfries, the nursery business which he soon after wards transferred to Maxwelltown, and which developed to large proportions in his hands. Robert received all his education at the old Free Church School in David Street, Maxwelltown, which was conducted by Mr Fairley: and on leaving school he began to assist his father in the business. His bent for natural history showed itself at a very early age; and when his father took the Corberry Hill nurseries he had many opportunities for cultivating that hobby. After his father’s death in 1901 he carried on the business, for a number of years in partnership with his brother. As a nurseryman and seedsman he was widely known and enjoyed a high reputation. He officiated as judge at numerous local shows and also repeatedly at those of the Royal Horticultural Society of Scotland in Edinburgh, where he adjudicated on roses so recently as last summer. His guidance was also often sought in connection with the laying out of gardens, pleasure grounds and plantations. His scientific pursuits were followed in the leisure hours snatched from business. Often when the working day was over he would keep far into the night a vigil with the stars; and Saturday afternoons and other rare brief respites were made the occasion for fruitful country rambles. Interesting himself in the Solway Ramblers, a junior field naturalist club formed through the instrumentality of Mr M’Cutcheon, formerly a teacher of science in the Academy. Mr Service repeatedly acted as conductor at their walking excursions. His pen was always busy. He possessed great facility in composition and no small literary ability. Withal he found time to take an active interest in politics and in the public affairs of the district, and also maintained a close interest in sport in various forms. A keen Conservative, he took a prominent part in the affairs of the Junior Conservative Association during its early and more aggressive years, and threw himself with ardour into the spirited election of 1885, when with Mr Miles Mattinson as their candidate and the support of the Irish vote the Conservatives came nearer than they have ever done before or since to winning the seat for Dumfries Burghs. Mr Service also acted on the committees which promoted the candidature of subsequent party candidates, and at the election of January last he recorded his vote in the Burghs and in the Stewarty, although he was unable to walk to the polling place. For several years his contributions on natural history were addressed to our Conservative contemporary; he was even invited to become its editor on occasion of one of the frequent changes in the holder of that office. He prudently declined to accept responsibility for the fortunes of that organ. Some years ago he transferred his communications to the columns of the “Standard.” Sharp differences on imperial affairs and in local controversies never interrupted the cordiality of our intercourse, and we continued to receive interesting notes and articles from his pen until he became incapacitated by illness. A man of intense nature, Mr Service was a formidable opponent and a fast friend. A chivalrous feeling of friendship led him to take a prominent part in a prolonged School Board controversy now happily ended. He was for a short period a member of the Town Council of Maxwelltown and of Troqueer Parish Council; and he represented the former body for a series of years on the committee of management of the Public Library. The Dumfriesshire and Galloway Horticultural Society was another institution with which he was closely identified, being for a series of years the chairman of committee, and he was looking forward with pleasurable anticipation to the celebration of its centenary. In his younger days he served for some years in the Dumfries Volunteers, and when cycle road racing was in favour he took an active part in that sport. He was a member of Troqueer Parish Church.

It is about a year since Mr Service was first seized by what was to prove his fatal illness, although there were substantial periods of partial recovery. While on a journey to Germany, where a daughter was at school, he had a slight paralytic seizure. On his return he was able to give attention to business; but a more severe attack in November completely invalided him, and for about a fortnight before the end he had been confined to bed. Many will mourn him for his warm-hearted generous nature, no less than for the useful labours that occupied a well-filled life.

Mr Service married in 1879 a daughter of the late Mrs Glendinning, of Glasgow Street, Maxwelltown, by whom he is survived, and by a family of two sons and three daughters.

The funeral takes place on Friday, at half-past one.



Annals of Scottish Natural History, No. 79, July 1911, p. 129
[By Hugh S Gladstone]

IN MEMORIAM : ROBERT SERVICE.

By the death of Robert Service, the "Annals of Scottish Natural History" loses one of its most valued contributors. It will always be regretted that he did not live long enough to publish a Fauna of the Solway Area, a district with which he was so intimately acquainted. His published notes on the subject testify to his knowledge, not only of its Ornithology, but of its Zoology generally, gained by personal observations in the field. He was rightly regarded as the local authority on Natural History and Botanical matters, and as such was the friend and correspondent of authorities like Professor Alfred Newton, William Lennon, Rev. H. A. Macpherson, Howard Saunders, Major Barrett Hamilton, Professor G. F. Scott-Elliot, W. Eagle-Clarke, J. A. Harvie-Brown, W. Evans, and many others. His generosity in giving specimens to those who would appreciate them was wide-spread, and the Royal Scottish Museum, Edinburgh, contains many of his donations; of which, perhaps, the Whiskered Tern, shot near Dumfries in 1894, is the most prized.

Robert Service was born on 23rd May 1854, at Netherplace near Mauchline, Ayrshire. His father, four years after his birth, set up as a nurseryman at Greenbrae, near Dumfries, and Robert received his education at the Old Free Kirk School, Maxwelltown. After completing his education there, he joined his father in the business, which he was to follow all his days. From his childhood his inclinations led him to study Nature, and any moments that he could spare from his work were devoted to this pursuit. His note-book was ever ready to jot down any observations he might be able to record during the day, and when night came he was often to be found studying the stars at the Maxwelltown Observatory. He did much to reorganise the Dumfriesshire and Galloway Natural History and Antiquarian Society when in 1876 it had fallen into abeyance; and at this period he was appointed Secretary. In 1879 he married a daughter of Mrs. Glendinning of Glasgow Street, Maxwelltown, and three years later he was called upon to make a decision which must have indeed been difficult. Joseph Thomson, the African traveller, had been commissioned to undertake an exploration of Eastern Africa for the Royal Geographical Society, and invited him to act as Naturalist to the expedition; his sense of duty overcame his desire, and Robert Service stayed at home.

His knowledge of Natural History was utilised in 1892 when he gave evidence before the Commission appointed to investigate the Plague of Field Voles in Scotland, and also in 1895 when he appeared as a witness before the Solway Fisheries Commission. On 23rd February 1901 his astronomical studies were all but rewarded by the discovery of a new star, which, however, had been observed by Dr. Anderson of Edinburgh a few hours earlier. At his father's death in October, his business became even more engrossing, though in 1903 he was persuaded to undertake the honorary duties of Secretary and Curator to the Dumfries and Maxwelltown Observatory Museum, and held these posts for seven years. He took a keen interest in politics, being a staunch Conservative; and more than once he served on the Town and Parish Councils. He was in constant request at Horticultural Shows, and he judged the roses at the Royal Caledonian Horticultural Society's Exhibition only the summer before his death. Overwork was undoubtedly the cause of the attack of paralysis which eventually proved fatal to him on 8th May 1911. Three days later he was laid to his rest in Troqueer Kirkyard, being survived by his wife, two sons, and three daughters.

I have already had to perform the melancholy task of writing my friend's obituary for "British Birds" magazine, and I have there referred to the example which Robert Service has left us "of generosity, of a stern sense of duty, of an untiring energy, of patient and loving study of the beauties of Nature." Besides being a constant contributor to the Transactions of many Societies, Robert Service's papers often appeared in the "Scottish Naturalist," the "Annals of Scottish Natural History," and the "Zoologist". To give a complete list of his papers is here impracticable; but the following are perhaps some of the most valuable:

1885 Disappearance of the Chough (Pyrrhocorax graculus, L.) from the Stewartry of Kirkcudbright. (Read 28th April 1885.) "Proceedings and Transactions of the Natural History Society of Glasgow," N.S. vol. i. (1883-1886), pp. 117-122.
1887 On the Former Existence of Ptarmigan in South-West Scotland. "Zoologist," 1887, pp. 81-89.
Wild White Cattle in South-Western Scotland. op. cit. 1887, pp. 448-457
1891 The Old Fur Market of Dumfries. "Scottish Naturalist," vol. xi. 1891, pp. 97-102
1892 Freshwater Fishes of the Solway Area. "Annals of Scottish Natural History," 1892, pp. 18-25.
1893 Distribution of the Alpine Hare in South-West Scotland. "Zoologist," 1893, pp. 265-266.
1894 Occurrence of Whiskered Tern in Solway. "Annals of Scottish Natural History," 1894, pp. 179-181
Charaas graminis in Southern Scotland. "Entomologist," xxvii. pp. 278-282.
1895 The Starling in Solway. "Annals of Scottish Natural History," 1895, pp. 92-96
1896 Mammals of Solway. op cit 1896, pp. 201-210.
The Aculeate Hymenoptera of Mid-Solway, in the "Flora of Dumfriesshire" by G. F. Scott-Elliot, 1896, pp. iv-xxii
1901 The Vertebrates of Solway : A century's changes. (Printed for private circulation.) 12mo. 23 pp. [A reprint (with introduction added) of his paper read on 16th Nov. 1900, published in the "Transactions of the Dumfriesshire and Galloway Natural History and Antiquarian Society,"1906. N.S. vol. xvii. pp. 15-31.]
1902 The Adder in Solway. "Annals of Scottish Natural History," 1902, pp. 153-162
The Vertebrate Zoology of Kirkcudbrightshire [revised] in Maxwell's "Guide Book to the Stewartry of Kirkcudbright," 7th edition, 1902, pp. 193-215.
1903 Colour Variations in Solway Mammals. " Annals of Scottish Natural History," 1903, pp. 65-69
Bird Migration in Solway. op. cit. 1903, pp. 193-204.
1905 The Sylviidae of Solway. (Read 23rd Feb. 1904.) "Transactions of the Natural History Society of Glasgow," 1905. N.S. vol. vii. pp. 137-147.
The Rarer Birds of the Solway Area, 1905. 8vo. pp. 1-15. (A reprint of his paper read before the Dumfriesshire and Galloway Natural History and Antiquarian Society, 20th April 1905.) See also "Transactions of the Dumfriesshire and Galloway Natural History and Antiquarian Society," 1906, pp. 423-435.
1906 The Waders of Solway. (Read 28th Nov. 1905.) "Transactions of the Natural History Society of Glasgow," 1905-1906. N.S. vol. viii. pp. 46-60
Diurnal and Nocturnal Raptorial Birds of the Solway Area. (Read 15th Dec. 1903.) "Transactions of the Dumfriesshire and Galloway Natural History and Antiquarian Society," 1906. N.S. vol. xvii. pp. 327-339.
1911 Notes on the British Starling. (Read 28th Jan. 1910.) op. cit. 1911. N.S. vol. xxii. pp. 100-103

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