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The Grove Home Museum

Return To Eliza Brightwen

 

During her time at The Grove, probably after the death of her husband, Eliza Brightwen converted the billiard room into her home museum. Two chapters of her book `More about Wild Nature,' first published in 1892, are dedicated to `home museums'.

Extracts from HOME MUSEUMS No.1.

Genuine students and lovers of nature - indeed, any of us who find it a duty as well as a pleasure to learn as much as possible of the mystery and beauty of the Divine Wisdom revealed to us therein - will never be satisfied with a mere book of knowledge of the wonderful world in which we have been placed. The dweller in the country lives all day in a vast storehouse, in which the Creator shows us His works, which we roughly divide into animal, vegetable, and mineral kingdoms, each in its natural relation to the others, each helping in the formation and support of the others. There is never any possibility that a dried and stuffed and ticketed collection, no matter how extensive, can give us teaching like this. But too often those who have most opportunities of wandering in the vast divinely-constructed museum of nature heed it the least. It has given me the greatest pleasure to see, in the many thousands of Londoners I have welcomed here, a keen appreciation of the `common things' of the country. The woods, the gardens, the lake, give my visitors innumerable objects for wonder and admiration, just as new to them as the interesting pets from foreign lands, and the collection of curiosities from all parts of the world, which, by help of kind friends and correspondents, I have been gathering together for many a year.

For those who cannot study nature `at home' in the country, there are now extensive and well arranged collections accessible to all. The grand Natural History Museum at South Kensington, the splendid Museums of Botany at Kew, and the great collection of minerals in the school of Mines in Jermyn Street - these, or any of these, will give opportunities for months of study, with increased pleasure and knowledge every day. But however much we may use our opportunities of study, either in the fields, woods, or in the great national collections, most nature students will like to have some private collection of their own, to which they may turn in leisure moments, or which they may rearrange on a rainy afternoon. Almost every article in such a collection will have for them some private association - the mode in which they acquired it, the locality in which it was found, the friends, perhaps now no longer here, who shared their delight in securing the prize.

I can speak from practical experience of the great pleasure of possessing a home museum, and, believing that others may welcome a little information on the subject, I will try and give some simple suggestions which may enable those who are anxious to do so, to make collections of their own; it is easier and more inexpensive matter than might be supposed, and I can truly say it affords a life-long source of interest.

My little museum had, like many other things, a very small beginning. As there was plenty of space on the walls of the billiard-room, I had a case made to contain specimens of nuts and seeds which had been stored up in various cupboards and boxes about the house. These objects, neatly arranged and named, were hung up in a wall case, and formed the nucleus of the future collection.

As I have taken an interest from my earliest years in all kinds of foreign seeds, such as those of palm-trees, tropical plants, fruits, &c., friends were often kind enough to give me any they had obtained in their travels abroad. Some I met with in various shops; and thus in time I had sufficient to fill one side of a wall-case, measuring four feet by two feet, with a glass front. In the opposite side of the case I thought it would be interesting to arrange specimens of many drugs used in making ordinary medicines. I therefore obtained from chemists such articles as castor-oil seeds, a piece of Turkey rhubarb, specimens of different barks from which quinine and other tonics are made, colocynth gourd, aloes, manna, and a great number of gums and other substances which are required in the healing art, not forgetting a few blister beetles and cochineal insects.

The case was lined with white paper, and divided into columns by thin slips of beading, nailed down with small brads. These columns were agin divided horizontally by beading, thus leaving little spaces three inches by two, in each of which a specimen was placed, with its name and special use affixed. It was a great interest to me to read about all these medical drugs, to learn where they were obtained, and how prepared and used, and many a happy hour has been spent in explaining about them to the hundreds of poor people who come from dreary homes in London to spent long summer days in my place. My own visitors, too, often plead for a chat in the museum when kept indoors by wet weather.

The next case contains a little of everything, and is intended to show how teachers in schools may be greatly assisted by having specimens of whatever they are speaking upon to show the children, and be thus helped to retain their attention. I have made several of these `object lesson cases' for national schools, and always find them most gratefully received.

I may create a smile when I speak of my `skullery' as being the next object of interest we come to in the museum; but what else can I call a collection of more than a hundred skulls? They are mostly of birds, ranging from the eagle to the wren, and from the swan to the stormy petrel.

When one speaks of the study of anatomy, the word seems to suggest something that can only belong to medical student life - something quite beyond the reach of young people, and possibly not desirable even if it could be attained. I think there is, however, a word to be said for the intelligent study of bone-structure, which, from my early childhood, has always possessed a singular fascination for me. The skull of a bird neatly prepared, white as ivory, perfect and beautiful in its adaptation to the conditions of the birds life; a portion of the spine of a fish, cleaned and dried before the fire, showing the many joints which make it flexible, the hollow for the spinal marrow, and the bones to protect it from injury; the foot of a mole, with its intricate structure; these and endless other quite simple preparations would afford young people hours of delightful study. The bones, once prepared, can be labelled with English and Latin names, and kept in the home museum ready to be shown to young friends, or made the foundation of elementary lectures to country lads and parties of poor people. It has sometimes been my pleasant occupation during long winter evenings to meet about twenty or thirty boys at our village-room, and, taking my collection of prepared animal and bird skulls, I try to explain in very simple language the various interesting things that can be learnt from them. The boys give very close attention, and look with eagerness at each little bone as I hold it up and talk about it, that I long to give them each a specimen to take home as a reward for their goodness in sitting quietly as long as I am able to stay to talk to them.

The only articles required for preparing skeletons are there: a small saucepan, a penknife, a carpet-pin, and a nail-brush. Suppose we ask for the head of a duck from the larder, either with feathers on or without will not matter. We place it in the saucepan filled with hot water, and let it boil gently for twenty minutes. By that time it should be possible to take off all the flesh, and by rinsing the head and carefully using the brush, at length we obtain a clean skull, which will only need to be dried before the fire or in the sun until whitened, and then it will be ready for the museum shelves.

The study of bone structure tends to cultivate many useful qualities. Neat handedness is very essential, for one clumsy touch may simply mar hour's careful work.

Patience will also be developed, as I can testify! I once placed some small sculls in a pan of water in the garden in order that they might skeletonise by soaking. They were nearly ready to be washed and cleaned when a family of enterprising ducks found out the pan and reduced my sculls to a delicate mince. Occasionally I have over-boiled some rare head and then I knew that having spoiled this one I might have to wait for months or years before I could obtain another.

All these disappointments are teachings, and a true naturalist is never discouraged. `Everything comes to him who knows how to wait' is an extremely true saying. I know hardly any better corrective for the natural impatience of youth than the steady plodding work involved in carrying out any of the branches of study I am endeavouring in this simple book to bring to the notice of young people.

If their elders will take kindly interest in the first crude attempts children make to follow my directions, by showing sympathy and providing the few requisites enumerated, they will be rewarded by the knowledge that their young people are being led into new sources of happiness and are laying the foundation of healthy tastes which may stand them in good stead all through their future life.

Extracts from HOME MUSEUMS No.2.

It may interest my readers if I give a short description of the picture of my museum and the articles shown in it. The little animal on the left was a charming Indian gazelle I obtained from Jamrach in the autumn of 1890. It was a tame and delightful pet, and seemed well and happy for a few months. As winter came on it was sheltered in the conservatory, warmly clothed, and well cared for, but the exceptional cold of that winter brought a long disease, and to my regret it died. The Egyptian lizard, Rameses, is in the glass case on the table, behind the gazelle, and by it, is the beautiful bronze wing of an Egyptian goose, mounted as a screen. The flamingo standing by the door came from the banks of the Nile. The swan was for many years a tenant of my lake, but some cruel poacher shot the poor bird, and left it lying on the bank half dead. An albatross head, given me by a grateful Cornish women hangs in the recess, and on the wall above are a grand pair of ox-horns from Calcutta. In the shelves at the end of the room are geological specimens, and an interesting collection of foreign seeds and grains, of which I have spoken, as coming to me from Kew. Impey, the bat, hangs, over my `skullery,' and beyond the limits of the picture on that side of the room are the object-lesson case, and that containing medical specimens, seeds of palms and nuts. The carved gourd was went from Sierra Leone, and next to it, the head, with its formidable jaws and rows of teeth, is that of a gavial, a kind of alligator found in the Ganges. The model of a church was made, and given to me by a Stanmore villager. Under a glass shade is a very perfect specimen of a wasp's nest, which was taken from a house in our village, and kindly sent to my museum. The square case at the far end of the billiard-table contains some interesting worked flints, celts, and curios from India, these with a ram's head, a pair of African sandals and Turkish slippers, a lizard, a Palestine sickle, and Bethlehem women's striped dress, comprise the chief objects visible upon the table, and are most of them gifts from kind friends, of whom they are very pleasant mementos. 

A VISIT TO JAMRACH

Extracted from Eliza Brightwen's book `Wild Nature Won by Kindness'

There is an old and true saying "Everything comes to him who waits." I thought of this saying while on my way to visit the well-known place near the London Docks where Mr.Jamrach is supposed to keep almost every rare animal, bird, and reptile, ready to supply the wants of all customers at a moment's notice. For many long years I had wished to pay him a visit, but ill-health and other causes had proved a hindrance and I could hardly believe my wish was going to be realized when I found myself on the way to his menagerie. After driving through a labyrinth of narrow, dirty streets, we were at last obliged to get out and walk till we came to the shop, and then we did indeed find ourselves in the midst of `animated nature.' We had landed amongst the cockatoos, macaws, and parrots, and they greeted our arrival with such a chorus of shrieks, screams, and hideous cries that my first desire was to rush away anywhere out of the reach of such ear-piercing sounds. One had to bear it, however, if the curious creatures in the various cages were to be examined, and after a time the uproar grew less, and I could hear a word or two from Mr.Jamrach, who called my attention to some armadillos, huge armour-plated animals, very curious, but somehow not attractive as pets; one could not fondle a thing composed of metal plates, shaped like a pig, with a tendency to roll itself up into a ball on the slightest provocation, and even Mr.Jamrach's argument that if I got tired of it as a pet I could have it cooked, as they were excellent eating, failed to lead me to a purchase. There was a fine, healthy toucan, with his marvellous bill, looking sadly out of place in a small cage in such a dingy place. Did he ever think of his tropical forest home, I wondered, and wish himself in happier surroundings? A long wooden box with wire front contained rows of Grass Parakeets: many hundreds must have been on those perches, one behind the other, poor patient birdies, sitting in solemn silence, never moving an inch, for they were wedged in as closely as they could sit and how they could eat and live seemed a mystery. As I was in quest of some small rodents I was asked to follow Mr.Jamrach to another place where the animals were kept. We came to a back yard with dens and cages containing all kinds of tenants, from fierce hyenas and wolves to tame deer, monkeys, cats, and dogs. A chorus of yelps and barks and growls sounded a little uninviting, and a caution from Jamrach, to mind the camel did not seize my young friend's hat, made us aware of a stately form gazing down upon us from a recess we had not before noticed. Every nook and corner seemed occupied, and in order to see a kangaroo rat I was invited up a rickety ladder into a loft where a Japanese cat, a large monkey, and sundry other creatures lived. I did not take to the kangaroo rat, he was too large and formidable to be pleasant, and was by no means tame, but to be pulled out of the cage by his long tail was, I confess, enough to scare the mildest quadruped. At length I was shown some Peruvian guinea-pigs. Wonderful little creatures! With hair three or four inches long, white, yellow and black, set on anyhow, sticking out in odd tufts, one side of their heads white and the other black, their eyes just like boot buttons, they were captivating; and a pair had to be chosen forthwith, and packed in a basket with a tortoise and a huge Egyptian lizard, and with these spoils I was not sorry to leave this place of varied noises and smells.