Author Archives: Hellen Pethers

About Hellen Pethers

Hi I'm the Researcher Services Librarian at the Natural History Museum, London. My particular interests are printed ephemera, menageries, pangolins and Hereward Chune Dollman. Find us on Twitter via @NHM_Library

Dorothea Bate, pioneering palaeontologist and explorer in the early 20th Century | Library and Archives

Imagine travel with no need for a passport, no lengthy queues for security, no limits to baggage, and when passing through customs, you could happily note, ‘no questions asked about my gun’.

Portrait of Dorothea Bate in profile from the shoulders upwards.

Portrait of Dorothea Bate (published in Idök Volume 38, July 1932)

That, for the pioneering palaeontologist, Dorothea Bate, was the upside to travel in the early years of the 20th Century. It was by no means all positive, however. Travel by ship and train round Europe, not to mention journeying by a variety of ‘quads’ – donkey, mule and pony – over mountainous Mediterranean islands could be challenging, to say the least.

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The lost art of cheque writing, a treasure trove for researchers | Library and Archives

The art of writing a cheque is somewhat of a lost one these days, what with direct debits and online transfers revolutionising the way in which we pay our bills. However discovering a box of cheque book stubs within the remnants of the Tring Correspondence (in the Natural History Museum Archives) has given me a vital source of evidence for tracing the history and finances of the Natural History Museum at Tring.

A selection of cashbooks, cheque books and maps laid out on a table by the author during her visit to the public Library and Archives reading room. On the left are two piles (unknown quantity), sitting inside an archive box with the lid removed. To the right are approximately 16 others loosely distributed on the table. All relate to Walter Rothschild and Tring Museum, and come from the Natural History Museum Archives collection. Reference number TM3/1. The authors phone, pencil, readers pass, pencil pot and 'reading room requirements' place mat can also be seen on the table

A selection of cashbooks, cheque books and maps relating to Walter Rothschild and Tring Museum (NHM Archives TM3/1)

Within the box there are surviving cheque stubs for the years 1895 through to 1897, a key period in the museums history. Lord Walter Rothschild (1868-1937) had begun to employ staff, furnish and expand his museum and of course, buy large existing collections of specimens from other private collectors and smaller ones from natural history dealers and suppliers, in order to enhance his own rapidly growing collection of zoological specimens.

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Spitting feathers: causing a stir amongst the pages | Library and Archives

There are thousands of books in the Natural History Museum Library, covering the subjects of Zoology, Botany, Entomology, Ornithology and Earth Sciences. A book can often tell a story other than that originally published on its pages. This is the additional story written by one or more owners during its lifetime. Some people add a bookplate, record their name or dedication on the flyleaf when presenting to a loved one, others annotate text with comments or bookmark sections with ephemeral items such as tickets or receipts. Many in a collection such as the Museum Library include relevant additional information added by the owner such as newspaper cuttings, photographs and pressed specimens.

Photo of an ivory miniature portrait of Thomas Pennant from the right side, within an oval shaped medallion.

Thomas Pennant, miniature by Josiah Wedgwood. Image StephenCDickson, CC BY-SA 4.0

Edwin Rose has been using the Museum Library and Archives for research into his PhD. In this blog he highlights one such example, British Zoology by Thomas Pennant.

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The day the ‘Sea elephant’ came through the roof – Explore Your Archive Week | Library and Archives

Elle Larsson is a PhD student at King’s College London, researching the specimen and archival collections related to Lord Walter Rothschild, at the Natural History Museum (at both South Kensington and Tring). A significant part of this involves going letter by letter through the volumes of correspondence of the Museum at Tring. In the following blog, Elle highlights one particular letter which describes the planned arrival for a very large #AnimalArchive acquisition in 1900.

Being able to delve into the Archives of the Museum has to be one of the most exciting things about doing a collaborative PhD with the Museum. In my case I’m looking at the Tring correspondence collection, the papers and letters which came from Lord Walter Rothschild’s (1868-1937) Zoological Museum at Tring (now the Natural History Museum at Tring). I am not a scientist but a historian and am looking to find out more about Rothschild’s zoological enterprise and scientific work. The Museum Archive is a critical source of information for my research.

Photograph of a paper unfolded in its middle with several lines of cursive handwriting on each side of the fold.

7 April 1900 correspondence between Lord Walter Rothschild and Ernst Hartert

In recent weeks I’ve come across some fantastic items including original watercolour drawings completed by Clara Hartert the wife of Tring curator, ornithologist and zoologist, Ernst Hartert (1859 – 1933), while on an expedition with her husband; a letter which contained feathers originally sent in 1894; and cheque stubs which reveal the colossal sums of money that changed hands as natural history specimens were traded. However it is the letters which relate to specimens held in the Museum collections, which add a whole new dimension to the work I’m doing. Recently I came across two letters which referred to a ‘Sea Elephant’ and one which can still be seen in Gallery 5 at the Natural History Museum at Tring.

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The Museum ‘homemade’ mobile field laboratory – Explore Your Archive Week | Library and Archives

Scientific expeditions have been regularly undertaken by the Museum since it opened its doors in 1881. These are often abroad and need to be planned well in advance, with supplies and equipment ordered and prepared, often on the Museum site. On many occasions staff can find themselves having to be creative and imaginative, especially when the terrain about to be experienced is likely to be extreme and the facilities limited.

Colour archival photograph showing a white truck in the mid-distance, parked in sparsely vegetated bushland next to a watering hole, with sand dunes rising from the horizon in the background

Museum field work in Namibia during the 1970s needed some special #AutoArchives facilities…

In the 1970s a group of Museum entomologists did just that, having acquired an ex-army lorry they were to transform it into a mobile field laboratory suitable for all their scientific research needs during a five month expedition through southern Africa. And thus, our Explore Your Archives Week stories continue…

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The Chrysler that drove across Africa in search of birds – Explore Your Archive Week | Library and Archives

An event such as Explore Your Archive Week (#ExploreArchives on Twitter) provides a great opportunity to challenge us to look at our collections in different ways. Today’s theme of transportation and automobiles (#AutoArchives) is a perfect example. As a natural history library and archive, we wouldn’t be an obviously rich source for material on this subject, but it is exactly for this reason that real gems can emerge.

Black and white archival photograph showing a man sitting at a portable table in the foreground, a vehicle to his right and another man seated beside it to the rear.

Lynes (foreground) and Vincent, at breakfast in their mobile camp

When I approached our volunteers Effie and Judith, who work with our ornithology manuscript collections at the Natural History Museum at Tring, they knew exactly where to look!

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Behind the scenes with our Modern Collections Team | Library and Archives

The Library holds a vast collection of literature covering all branches of the natural sciences. We collect this material to support the ground breaking science carried out in the Museum. To ensure we continue to support this research, we are constantly adding to our collections.

Photo of a member of the Library staff on a movable ladders placing a book into one of the shelving racks in the Library

Those collections don’t shelve themselves…

Over the past year, the Library purchased over one thousand books and subscribed and maintained access to hundreds of serials (journals, magazines and other items published in successive parts) both print and electronic. In addition to purchasing titles, we received hundreds more books and serials as gifts from other institutions and in exchange for our own material. New and existing collections need to be processed, cared for and maintained… and that’s where the Library’s Modern Collections team comes in.

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