Amphibia and Men Who Collect

DIDYOUKNOW Author's Blog
…that The Natural History Museum in London has its roots in the private collection of Sir Hans Sloane, the famous naturalist upon whose property the Chelsea Physic Garden was founded. In the era of the gentleman scientists, the collection of material could be a mania.
  • He donated his private collection of 71,000 items to the British Museum.
  • The Natural History department of the British Museum opened in 1756
  • Great figure of the Enlightenment he may have been, but by 1806 when Dr. George Shaw took over as Keeper of Natural History most of that early collection was in terrible condition. Shaw gave some to the College of Surgeons and had much of it burned.
  • Conservation of specimens actually became a notorious problem. By 1835 there were so many problems the public was not encouraged to visit the natural history department.
  • A generation later natural history got its own building which opened in 1881 as British Museum (Natural History). It is now simply, Natural History Museum.
  • Shaw himself, however, was a well regarded zoologist, discoverer of numerous species and subspecies, and the first person to perform a scientific examination of a platypus.

Personally, I’ve always shuddered a bit over conserved specimens in natural history museums. I believe Shaw’s lasting contribution was his writing, including General Zoology, or Systematic Natural History (16 vol.) (1809–1826) It has some rather marvelous plates—much pleasanter than specimens in alcohol! I was pleased to find what I was looking for in Volume Three, Amphibia. Frogs are always useful when writing about young boys.

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Caroline Warfield, Author

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