‘Marvellous Molluscs’ – Increasing Accessibility, Improving Storage & Unlocking Research Potential At The University Of Aberdeen

Written by Hannah Clarke, Assistant Curator (Collections Access), University of Aberdeen.

In April 2021, The University of Aberdeen’s Zoology Museum, with support from NatSCA’s Bill Pettit Memorial Award, undertook a year-long project to rehouse and improve the accessibility of the University’s mollusc collection.

The collection comprises approximately 2550, mostly British specimens, collected from the 1840s to the 1970s. The specimens were gifted to the museum by former students, academic staff, and amateur shell collectors, they also include several specimens from as far afield as the Pacific, Africa, China, Madagascar, America, and Canada.

The molluscs form part of the University’s extensive Zoology Collections, which are recognised as being of National Significance. As such, we are constantly striving to improve access to these collections, and the ‘Marvellous Molluscs’ Project aimed to do just that.

Assistant Curator, Hannah Clarke, identifying storage issues in specimen cupboards.

Having identified the collections both in storage and on display, a project plan was created that would tackle not only the rehousing, but also the documentation of the specimens on the museum database. The majority of specimens were poorly stored several layers deep in drawers, had outdated taxonomy, and lacked any database records or collections data.

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Thomas Bateman’s Ichthyosaurs

Written by Alistair McLean, Curator of Natural Science,  Sheffield Museums Trust.

2021 was the bicentenary of the birth of the Derbyshire antiquarian, Thomas Bateman (1821-1861). To commemorate the event, Sheffield Museums Trust developed an exhibition focusing on the Bateman collection, much of which is preserved in Sheffield. 

Figure 1. Thomas Bateman & Son

The collections of Thomas and his father William Bateman (1787-1835), are perhaps best known in archaeological circles. The pair were prominent barrow diggers, and spent much of their relatively short lives excavating burial mounds in the Peak District of Derbyshire and surrounding counties. The specimens they acquired were displayed in the family museum at Lomberdale Hall, Middleton-by-Youlgreave in Derbyshire.

The collection consisted of archaeology, world cultures and natural history (predominantly taxidermy, birds’ eggs, insects, mineralogy and palaeontology). A large part of it was initially loaned to and later sold to Sheffield Public Museum (now Weston Park Museum) in 1876 and 1893 respectively.

The importance of the Bateman family’s contribution to the study of natural science has historically been overshadowed by their notoriety as archaeologists. But their efficacy as general collectors plus the relative abundance of surviving contextual information, puts them into the top tier of contributors to Sheffield’s natural science collection.

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The SS Great Britain’s ‘Final Passenger’

Written by Nick Booth, Head of Collections, SS Great Britain Trust.

Drakon Heritage and Conservation can be contacted via their website – https://drakonheritage.co.uk/.

This blog explores conservation work and public engagement activities focused on a natural history specimen found in an unlikely museum setting, made possible thanks to the Bill Pettit Memorial Award 2020.

Brunel’s SS Great Britain is a museum and visitor attraction on the harbour side in Bristol. The site centres around the Steamship Great Britain, which sits within the drydock she was originally built in and launched from on the 19th July 1843. The famous Victorian Engineer, Isambard Kingdom Brunel, acted as her Chief Engineer. She returned to the same drydock on the 19th July, 1970 – a gap of 127 years during when she steamed or sailed to every continent in the world, excluding the Antarctic, and circumnavigated the globe 32 times. The site also includes two museums – the Dockyard Museum, which tells the story of the SS Great Britain from construction to her return to Bristol, and the Being Brunel Museum, which explored the life and works of IK Brunel. The Trusts Collections were Designated in 2014.

In March 2020 the SS Great Britain Trust applied for funding as part of the Bill Pettit Memorial Award.

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A Very Important Beaver

Written by Holly Morgenroth, Collections Officer / Natural Sciences Curator, RAMM.

A New Acquisition for RAMM

This blog post tells the story of a new and very important acquisition for the Royal Albert Memorial Museum & Art Gallery (RAMM) in Exeter. I grew up in a small Devon village called Otterton and spent many happy hours wandering the banks of the River Otter observing the rich wildlife it had to offer. So when in 2013 news broke that a family of beavers (a species extinct in the wild in Britain for over 400 years) had made the river their home I watched with great interest.

Their arrival divided opinions. The Government planned to remove them from the river. But the beavers captured the hearts of the public and Devon Wildlife Trust (DWT) saw a unique opportunity for research. The beavers became part of a five year scientific trial run by DWT to assess their impact on local geography, ecology and people. The results of the trial were overwhelmingly positive.

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Loot For Coots/Dough For Crows/Brass For Bass/Dosh For Moss etc.: Fundraising For Natural Science Collections

Written by Clare Brown, Curator of Natural Science, Leeds Museums and Galleries.

Money, it doesn’t need an introduction or any commentary on how hard it is to do anything without it. However, I will say that trying to get hold of it for natural science collections is not impossible and definitely worth pursuing. At Leeds, despite not having a fundraiser on staff, we’ve had quite a few >£100,000 natural science collection grant applications succeed (and fail) over the past few years and I would encourage everyone to put ‘try and get some grant money’ into their work plan.

© Leeds Museums and Galleries

Where To Go For Money

Looking for who will fund you is half the battle. There are paid-for databases out there (Grantfinder, Grants Online, Funds Online etc.) and free ones (Get Grants, Government Funding Database etc.). I’m not endorsing any of these but they can be helpful if you want an idea of who might fund your project. Be wary of eligibility though, as part of a local authority, Leeds Museums and Galleries are not allowed to apply for loads of grants. Sob.

In the summer of 2019, Sarah Briggs of the UK Museums Association spoke at NatSCA’s conference in Dublin about the lack of applications the Esmee Fairbairn Collections Fund receives from natural science collections. She would like to see more and the board seem keen on projects that look to help the environment.

Well known funders of natural science collections would be: National Lottery Heritage Fund, Esmee Fairbairn Foundation, Esmee Fairbairn Collections Fund (administered by the Museums Association), The Wolfson Foundation, The John Ellerman Foundation, Garfield Weston Foundation but there are plenty more.

The John Ellerman Foundation has a good background story. Ellerman was the son of the richest person in England at the beginning of the 20th century. He could have gone into business but instead decided to concentrate on collecting rodents.

Your local area charities/friends group/learned society might well offer a grant scheme and so it’s worth asking around and making local connections.

Last, but not least, NatSCA offer yearly grants to natural science collections through the Bill Pettit Memorial Fund scheme. You can apply for anything – not just conservation or collections management work.

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