Unusual ways of collecting

21 Nov

For my paper at the Norwich conference I did some research into Maurice’s methods of collecting. I concluded in general that his collecting was very organised, usually pre-planned to collect certain specimens in certain ways. As you might expect from his background and personality he liked to be in control of the collecting situation, and even though he was excited to encounter certain animals or objects, he reigned in his emotions and recorded factual and scientific observations accounts in his diaries.

So when I find a spontaneous account of collecting according to chance, luck or whim it always stands out. For example, on my travels with Maurice today in the Sudan in 1927 (far away from my drear location at the MMU library) Maurice had just been asked by local people to shoot a hippo that was a threat to their village. Maurice happily obliges and shoots the hippo, but it unfortunately sinks into the water and he can’t recover it. He tells the local policeman that if he can get it out he must send the head onto him at the next stopping point for the safari.

Here are a few more examples that make me suppress my giggles in the library:

– In British Columbia in November 1901 Maurice writes: ‘a porcupine came along to within a few yards of us, when we hit over the head with a stick and took the hindquarters home for supper. Had boiled porcupine for dinner- excellent’.

– In January 1927 a steinbuck antelope becomes road kill under the wheels of Maurice’s car and he happily patches it up to become part of his collection.

– In January 1926 a mongoose approaches close to Maurice and stands on its hindlegs to get a better look at him. Maurice didn’t know what animal it was and describes it as a ‘ferrety little thing’. Through curiosity, he shoots it.

– When animals approach Maurice I always root on their side and hope they escape. A lot of the time Maurice is content to wonder and let the animal pass, before plotting to return to find it again another day. So in October 1921 Maurice writes: ‘as we were going along the trail this morning, and just going to step past an ant-bear hole, suddenly there was the most terrific rumbling and 3 pig dashed out. Most alarming!’ There was a similar incident in January 1927 when he heard ‘a queer rumbling grunting noise, and suddenly a huge forest-hog galloped, or to be exact trotted, across the ride within 20 yards of us. Had a splendid view of it’. Those lucky pigs lived to trot another day.

– However, some animals encountered spontaneously are too big a prize to pass up. In January 1925 Maurice comes across some Elgon bats and shoots some for the British Museum, suspecting that they will not already have a specimen.

In other news, today I attended a Natural Science Collections training day at Manchester Museum. We were given talks and practical demonstrations from the curator of birds, entomology, geology and botany. I was already a bit familiar with the staff, stores, and collections at Manchester Museum from studying for my Museum Studies MA and from volunteering there in the past, and it was great to hear the curators talk so passionately and knowledgeably about their collections. I learned how to stuff a bird (not sure if I want to have a go or not!) and better ways of labeling and storing natural history collections that I can hopefully put into practice at Tatton.

As Manchester is a university museum, I was struck with the extent to which their collections are used for research, and how the different departments still actively collect and contribute to research. In contrast, the uniqueness of Maurice’s collection makes it very difficult for the collection to be opened up for scientific analysis or public engagement as the objects can’t be replaced if damaged. Their historical significance really outweighs their potential scientific uses. But in the future I would also love to see the collection being used more for research, and hopefully my PhD will help raise awareness of it to other would-be researchers and raise it’s profile as an amazing resource.

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