Thursday, 15 September 2011

In the Grant Museum

One of my daughters gave a talk last night in the Grant Museum of Zoology, so I went along to be a proud mum.     In the picture above, taken about half an hour before the start, people had already begun to arrive and were starting to bag themselves seats and look at some of the collection, which is housed in huge Victorian-looking wooden cabinets. 

The museum is the last university museum of comparative anatomy remaining in London, and its 68,000 specimens include many from other, now closed, collections. It's still used for teaching, and it is a fascinating place, so long as you're not spooked out by displays on anatomy and physiology. Nearly all the audience yesterday were medics, so of course they were totally unfazed by the somewhat grisly things - bones and pickled specimens - which surrounded us.

I was particularly interested in the museum's specimens from extinct animals. One of the star exhibits is their very rare skeleton of the quagga, hunted to extinction in the 1880s.

The quagga looked a bit like a zebra - see above.

There were dodo bones and a skeleton and Huxley's dissection of a thylacine. The last known specimen of this Tasmanian animal was filmed in 1933 - see it here (makes me mad to see it kept in a cage, actually).  

I absolutely love the astonishing glass sea creatures that were created by Leopola Blaschka (1822-1895) and his son Rudolf (1857-1929).

The secrets of how they made their glass wildlife specimens died with the Blaschkas, but the National Museum of Wales has a collection of over 200 sea creatures, and Harvard's collection of over 3000 Blaschka glass flowers is definitely something I want to see some day.

The museum has fairly recently moved into a spacious and very interesting hall in the UCL Rockefeller Building in the heart of London's Bloomsbury. The hall used to be a library, and even without the specimens it would be full of atmosphere and personality. It reminds me a little of Oxford's Pitt-Rivers Museum of anthropology, with its crowded cabinets and hand written labels.

There's a touch of humour in the exhibits. We all agreed that these members of the audience, in the gallery above,  were extremely well behaved. .  


  1. Quaggas, dodos and thylacines have a very special place in my heart! So many of our animals in South Africa are endangered, including the white rhino and wild dog, and we were taught all about the less fortunate species in school.

    Those Blaschka creatures are lovely!

    You must have been very proud of your daughter!

  2. i can get the humor sense and i love it : )

  3. I learned several things today!! Was sad, intrigued, and got a giggle. Thanks! And congrats to your daughter. :)

  4. I had never heard of the quagga. Never. How illuminating this is for me. I love all kinds of museums, but this sounds very intriguing. Those glass sea creatures are especially wonderful.

    A proud mum, indeed. I would have been, too.

    Love the group in the upper gallery.

    I keep forgetting to tell you, I love your header photo.

  5. I too learned several things but I was so sad about the extinct Quagga, what a beautiful animal.

    What a proud Mum indeed. Fabulous.

    cheer, parsnip

  6. I would be a proud mom too.:)

    I must say, those members of audience up above, sure looks like a fun bunch. :p

  7. Is the museum open to the public? (Sorry, am a bit short of time right now and have not checked the link) If yes, next time I am in London, I really must pay it a visit.

  8. These are fascinating Victorian curiosities! (I love the library of beautifully bound books resting behind the skeletons!) Victorian society is so interesting, and I am still thinking about what you mentioned in your Carroll book about their fascination for spirits and seances. (I will be referencing your point in a post I'm preparing for the next day or two.)

    Congratulations to your daughter (and to the mum)!

  9. I like those skeletons. And I like old museums generally, especially if they steer clear of all the audio visual gimmicks. My favourite is the fabulously eccentric Rothschild Museum at Tring - my boys still talk about the time we went.

  10. Hello Jenny, I just realised how many posts of yours I'd missed when I started to read! I'm bookmarking the links you give, especially for the Grant Museum. I'm fascinated by the quagga, and those glass sea creatures are beautiful. I like the Museum's sense of humour too with the audience in the gallery - they'd be a quiet lot :D)

    How marvellous for you to be there to see your daughter give a talk. Does she specialise in a particular type of research or subject?


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