Rodney Jonklaas - Diving Pioneer

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Rex De Silva

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Sri Lanka
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30th October 2009 marks the 20th death anniversary of Sri Lanka's legendary pioneer diver Rodney Jonklaas. Rodney was a renaissance man: a fine free diver, SCUBA diver, spearfisherman and underwater photographer. He was author of a few books and numerous scientific papers. In 1967 he discovered the wreck of the aircraft carrier Hermes which was sunk by Japanese bombers in 1942 off the east coast of Sri Lanka. Rodney was the founder in 1946/7 of the "Reefcombers of Ceylon", one of the world's earliest diving clubs. Two species of freshwater fish have been named after him.

Rodney was, in his early days, a renowned racing cyclist. He was a marksman with pistol, rifle and shotgun, and was a good musician, playing the electric organ, harmonica and piano accordion.

Sadly Rodney's many achievements are now almost forgotten by the younger generation.

Rex De Silva
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Thanks Rex for the note on Rodney and reminding us of his death anniversary. Yes Rodney was indeed a pioneer of diving in Sri Lanka and in fact probably the world. He was also one of the lpioneers in the aquarium fish trade. I think Rodney's experience and knowledge of diving in Sri Lanka will be hard to match by anyone even in the future.

I dont think Rodney has been forgotten by the current generation. Those of us who know about him will never forget him or many of the others from that generation. I have been lucky to be a member of the Sri Lanka Sub Aqua Club and dive with and talk to some of the senior members who knew the pioneer divers of Sri Lanka and listen to their stories. I think for many who start diving now there is no information about the past and I hope your efforts to document the past through your book will be successful. It is certainly a very important task and I would be glad to assist in any way possible. As a photographer I am now documenting the reefs in their current condition for this very same purpose. I have seen how fast things have changed in my limited time diving and hope to document it so that future generations know what used to be. The accounts of Clarke and others about large fish, sharks and pristine reefs can only be dreamed of now.

Best regards,

Dear Nishan,

Really glad to know that Rodney is still remembered. He was unique. Do you know that when he located the Hermes in 1967, he made several dives, including at least three night dives, all by himself? His only "companion" was a .357 Magnum "Bangstick" which he never had to use. I look forward to your cooperation and that of the Sri Lanka Sub Aqua Club (SLSAC) in writing my book.

Best wishes

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You are so correct that the current generation of divers have never heard of Rodney Jonklass or his many contributions and accomplishments.

I first became aware of Mr. Jonklass via the pages of early Skin diver magazines which at the time your county was known as Ceylon. He was indeed Mr. Diver of your fine county.

I was amazed at his skill in using the Cressi Spring powered Spear Guns, a gun that we in California considered to long to maneuver in our thick kelp beds and certainly underpowered for our fish. However, month after month, we were treated in SDM to a smiling Rodney displaying his personal best for the previous month with and grasping his trusty Cressi spring gun.

I never met or corresponded with him, however, prior to Emails I did establish a on going letter exchange with the noted author Mr. A. C .Clarke, who did considerable diving around Sri Lanka and wrote several of his early diving books while originally living there. On numerous occasions I mentioned Mr. Jonklass, but Mr.Clarke never mentioned him in his replies. Therefore, I was some what taken back but not surprised when I learned of his passing.

He was indeed a pioneer of the sport, not only in Sri Lanka but in the world.

I have only one book authored by Mr. Jonklass, on Aquariums, which is something I know very little about but I purchased the book because he had authored it. Are there other books on diving or spear fishing by Mr. Jonklass? If so titles etc..

Yes it is indeed sad that we lost another of the great ones
Hi Sam, I am indeed very pleased by your very kind comments on my old friend and diving mentor Rodney Jonklaas. As you have observed, Rodney was indeed a remarkable person. I am currently writing an article entitled "A Tribute to Rodney Jonklaas" and a book entitled "History of Diving in Sri Lanka" and would greatly appreciate permission to include some of your very kind and inspiring comments in one or both of these publications. On viewing your extremely impressive profile, I was reminded of Rodney's dive boats which were named "Mini Spooker", "Super Spooker", "Super Dooper Spooker" and his raft "The Good Ship Venus" named after the famous (rather bawdy) Rugby song.

Rodney wrote a book called "Collecting Marine Tropicals" (1975) which was published by TFH publications NJ. ISBN 0-87666-119-3. I have seen this advertised on the internet and I am the proud owner of an autographed copy. Rodney was featured in "Modern Spearfishing" by Vane Ivanovich, "Reefs of Taprobane", "Indian Ocean Adventure" and "Treasure of the Great Reef", all three by Arthur C. Clarke.

Once again many thanks for your inspiring comments and observations.


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Yes the stories about Rodney are indeed amazing. Although I never met him I have read about and heard stories about him from many others. What Rodney seemed to have was not just great skill as a diver but also an amazing knowledge and instinct about the sea and marine life and of course a very healthy dose of adventure and courage.

Btw Rex I had not heard of the Hermes story before but can certainly imagine Rodney and many of the pioneer divers doing that!
I, my wife and family would be honored if you would reference me in your fourth coming books and would certainly treasure copies.

As a historical bibliophile, I have a rather large (aka huge over flowing) and certainly rare collection of historical recreational diving related books, periodicals, and associated ephemera dating to the early 1900s. A some what abridged list can be found here on the SCUBA board in my post of August 10, 2009 at "Vintage Diving Equipment; sub forum History of Diving Museum; Books and or any reference suggestions."

I have the aquarium book you referenced by Mr. Jonklass. However, if one comes available in Sri Lanka that is either inscribed or autographed in decent bibliophile collector condition please think of me.

I have all of Sir Arthur's diving related books that were printed in the US including the ones you listed. During our correspondence exchanges he was so kind as to send me a complete set of "Book Plates" all autographed scribed with a short personal message. Needless to say they occupy a place of honor in my library.

Yesterday I was reviewing all the spear fishing books published in the US and great Britain by Vane Ivanovic;
Sub-marine spearfishing by I.S Ivanovic, Nicolas Kaye, London, 1950; Spearfishing (same book) A.S. Barnes, NYC, 1951 (see statement page 10:) Mr. Ivanovic then changed his name to "Vane Ivanovic" and published Modern Spearfishing, A.S. Barnes, NYC, 1955: and his last revised book. Modern Spearfishing, two volumes, Kaye-Ward, London, 1974 and Henry Regnery &Co, NYC 1975.I agree that Mr. Jonklass was mentioned on numerous occasions, however, I was researching the early SoCal divers; the Bottom Scratchers and an old friend and dive club member Frank Roedecker.

Re: Frank Roedecker... We always called him "Frankie the Frogman." I thought from his early national and international club by the same name..Send in a dollar and Frank would send you a patch and a membership card. After his demise and rise of the electronic revolution which created the world wide book market I discovered "The Frogmen of Burma" by Lt Comdr Bruce Wright. CD, 1968, Clarke Irwin &Co Limited, Toronto, no ISBN or LCCC number. This book explained Frank's contributions to training the Canadian Frogmen in WW11and of course how he received the name "Frankie the frogman."

I am certainly delighted that you are documenting via the written word about Mr. Jonklass his contributions to the sport were were enormous--

Keep up the good work and lets remain in touch,

SDM, 111
Hi Sam,

Couldn't agree with you more. They don't make 'em like they used to. Thanks for the useful information re. Ivanovic. Incidentally, Ivanovic visited Sri Lanka twice in the 1950s and dived with Rodney, although I didn't meet him. Thanks for permission to quote you in my proposed book. Incidentally I read a fascinating article dealing with the perils of the deep by Bruce Wright. This appeared in "Sports Afield" (an American outdoors magazine) in the 1950s. Wish I had kept my copy. Also wish I had kept my copy of Waldron and Gleeson's "Frogmen" - a friend borrowed it and like a migrating seabird it flew away.

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"Also wish I had kept my copy of Waldron and Gleeson's "Frogmen" - a friend borrowed it and like a migrating seabird it flew away."
A very informative book..
I have a copy in the paperback section of my library..
Mine is the American edition, Berkley edition, June 1959, Berkley Highland books,15 East 26 Street, NYC 10, NY.

The English edition was published by Evans brothers,Ltd

Hope this assists on finding it on E bay,

Good luck,


In my modest library of diving books I also have a hardback copy of The Frogmen, subtitled "The Story of the Wartime Underwater Operators", by T. J. Waldron and James Gleeson and published by Evans Brothers Limited in London. The page following the title page in my copy reads:
First published, November 1950
Reprinted, December 1950
Reprinted, 1951
Reprinted, 1952

from which I conclude that my own copy dates from 1952.

In 1954, a paperback edition of the book was published by PAN-Books. As for purchasing a copy of the book, Amazon lists 3 used hardback copies at prices starting from $19.95: The Frogmen - The Story Of The Wartime Underwater Operators: T. J. Waldron and James Gleeson: Books
Amazon also lists copies of the paperback edition for sale. Hope this helps.

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