Reader’s wildlife (museum) photos

May 2, 2018 • 8:15 am

Today we have a change of pace: reader Robert Seidel sent some photos from London’s Natural History Museum, a wonderful Victorian museum that I’ve visited twice. Robert’s descriptions are indented:

I thought you might enjoy these photos I recently took at London’s Museum of Natural History. It’s a fantastic place, build on request of chief curator Richard Owen to house the natural history collection of the British Museum. Owen is perhaps best known today for his fervent opposition to Darwin’s theory of evolution (the only one of his enemies who annoyed him, as old Charles stated, and he was not an easy man to annoy) and his comically wrong reconstructions of dinosaurs. But this magnificent building shows a much different side of him: A man deeply in awe of nature, who wanted to share that awe with everybody. Though he would probably have framed it in a religious way, it is a monument to the spiritual aspects of science, and for wanting to share that feeling with the public he must have been quite a visionary.

Anyway, I’m blathering. The photos:

Skeleton of a blue whale (Balaenoptera musculus) suspended from the ceiling of the entrance hall. That hall is huge, and intentionally made to look like a cathedral.

A lovely bit of interior decoration. The whole place is covered in these, also an idea of Owen. I think he even provided the templates.

The London Archaeopteryx. One of the most significant fossils ever discovered, and perhaps the one most fraught with history. The first transitional form to be recognized, it was purchased by Owen so that he could properly describe it and put an end to the “missing link” nonsense. Unfortunately for him, Thomas Huxley also got in on the game. . .

Thomas Huxley. The sculptor really went with the “Darwin’s Bulldog” theme here. His statue and that of Owen are facing each other, and it seems like he’s about to lurch at poor Owen.

The clenched fist of Thomas Huxley:

Owen himself, managing to look both genial and a bit shifty, in a Cardinal Richelieu way:

Old Charles, being his unassuming self. One can only speculate what Owen would have thought about the presence of this statue in his museum.

Watercolour drawing of the  kakapo [Strigops habroptila] by John Gerrard Keulemans (1842-1912).

As lagniappe, we have an astronomy photo from reader Tim Anderson in Australia:
This is a narrowband image of the Running Chicken Nebula (IC2944) comprising fifteen 300-second exposures in each of the Ha, O3 and S2 wavelength bands using 7nm filters. The image was processed by applying the “Hubble colour palette” (Ha green, O3 blue, S2 red)

15 thoughts on “Reader’s wildlife (museum) photos

  1. The Natural History Museum is my favourite London building. Designed by a then little known architect, Alfred Waterhouse, this terracotta cathedral to the natural world is a brilliant example of Romanesque architecture. The 25.2 metre long blue whale now on display in the entrance hall is called Hope, a symbol of humanity’s power to shape a sustainable future.

  2. Owen was the greatest Biologist of his time when he was a younger man, but took umbrage to some of his ideas being questioned, he was irascible in his old age “aren’t we all”. That watercolour is stunning but nowadays with the Camera being ubiquitous they become superfluous, which is a damn shame, my missus reminds me of when on Honeymoon many years ago i dragged her around all those Museums, with the exception of the British Museum, we ran out of time to visit.

    1. A great biologist, but also a genuine Bond villain. He had a rival who dared oppose him (Gideon Mantel) hounded half to death and–when he did finally die, used his influence to have his corpse rendered down. The man’s mangled spine was then hung over his desk (as a warning to others, presumably(

  3. Last year I went looking for the Geological Museum which (as I recalled from a few decades ago) was between the Science Museum and the NHM. And it had *disappeared*. Science Museum on right, NHM on left, and nothing in between. Eventually I asked the doorman at the NHM entrance and he pointed out the words “Geological Museum” carved above the doorway. The NHM has swallowed up the Geological.

    But not, happily, digested it. Much of the interior contents is entirely geological in nature, including a remarkable and beautiful display of rocks and minerals.


  4. I spent many happy hours at the Natural History Museum during my postdoc years in London. How lovely and cheering to see photos of it this morning!

    1. Thanks a lot! I’m afraid our host has been quite indulgent and left me with none to share. If Ceiling Cat will though, there might be a follow-up on the Oxford Natural History Museum.

  5. I have a grudge against Owen because of his appropriation of Trichinella discovery, ignoring his student Paget’s contribution. However, these photos make me look at him with kinder eyes.

  6. The green parrot pictured is native to New Zealand. It is flightless and is at present struggling to survive, though efforts of the Department of Conservation are proving effective in keeping this wonderful bird with us. It is very susceptible to the predation of small mammalian predators such as stoats and ferrets.

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