Tag Archives: British Museum (Natural History)

Flying home: a volume of watercolours and its rather special 4,500 mile journey | Library and Archives

The scope of the Library collections at the Museum is truly international with many items already having travelled a significant distance to reach us. From the artworks of Cook’s Endeavour voyage, through to the Chinese illustrations of plants collected by John Reeves and the sixteen beautifully illustrated sketchbooks of Olivia Tonge detailing her travels in India, many of the items in our collections have undertaken and survived incredible journeys of their own just getting here.

Colour photo taken from above showing a bound manuscript volume sitting in a see through perspex book cradle. The book is sitting diagonally from bottom left to top right. The bottom left hand corner of the left face is out of the photo. Although not readable, it is clear that there is handwritten notes on the left hand page, at intervals from top to bottom. On the right hand page, in landscape, is a coloured watercolour of two small birds facing each other, sitting on a branch with leaves, only the outline is drawn in black. The bird on the left is crouched, has a light green breast, head, dark back and right wing. The left wing is not visible. The bird on the right hand side has an orange breast, dark head, back, left wing and tail. The right wing is not visible. There is a short piece of unreadable text directly underneath the image and another small drawing to the bottom right, but it is not clear what it is. To the right and underneath the perspex support, sitting on the flat cream surface, is an electronic temperature / humidity recorder. It is a small grey plastic box, with a digital display and short stubby aerial. To the left of it is come sort of small grey bowl.

Hodgson’s Birds of Nepal (Appendix 1-187) volume showing watercolour illustrations and accompanying manuscript notes

This is true of a special collection of bound volumes of watercolour illustrations of Nepalese animals that were presented to the Museum by their creator, Brian Houghton Hodgson (1800-1894) the naturalist, ethnologist and founder of the discipline of Himalaya Studies. This blog tells of a very special journey that one of the volumes recently made back to its place of origin. Continue reading

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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Michael Rogers Oldfield Thomas – a resolved ending to a suicide mystery for #ExploreArchives | Library and Archives

Many of the scientific staff who have worked at the Museum over time, have made significant contributions to the world of science and their professional lives has been well documented. For one such individual is was the end of his life, that up until recently, was shrouded in some mystery.

If you research Oldfield Thomas’s time working at the British Museum (Natural History) as we were formerly known, you can see that he was a prolific writer, and his generosity to the Museum is shown by the items he donated during his life and upon his death.

Photo of the Oldfield Thomas portrait

In his will, Oldfield Thomas asked that this portrait remain with the Mammals section if it was moved from his office after his death

Near the front entrance to the Museum is a small staff lift which has a plaque stating that it was installed using monies from Oldfield Thomas (OT), who served the Museum for 48 years. To many who study mammals he is still a hero but, after his death, he was surrounded in mystery and senior management staff at the time appear to have closed ranks to disclose nothing.

Whispers passed to those who enquire about OT, mention him committing suicide in his office, and that it took months for people to even be granted permission to enter his room. This is what got me interested in determining the truth to OT’s death.

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