Author Archives: Jo Elcoat

“A theoretical knowledge will be more than sufficient to get you through your examination, which, after all, is what school is all about”*

The museum holds a wonderful biblical herbarium (c.1897) made by Southall Brothers and Barclay of Birmingham (inventors of the disposable sanitary towel). This large wooden box contains scores of dried specimens of plants mentioned in the Bible, including a crown of thorns. The herbarium is a relatively valuable object, recent auction prices have reached over £2000, but it has possibly been viewed as a curiosity rather a serious pedagogical tool.  But Southall’s herbarium links two important educational settings for such plant collections.

Southall Brothers were established manufacturers of Materia Medica – collections of specimens for use in teaching medicine and pharmacy.  W. Handsel Griffiths’ Materia Medica and Pharmacy for the use of Medical and Pharmaceutical Students (1879) recommended Southall’s collections as being both the most complete and sold at a price “within the reach of all students”. It is possible that Southall Brothers and Barclay were ‘recycling’ or using up odds of materials from their Materia Medica in their biblical herbarium.

The primary audience for Southall’s biblical herbariums was probably Sunday Schools, of which hundreds existed in the nineteenth-century. Bible based studies were a well-established method of instructing children in contemporary knowledge, including scientific subjects, in a safe religious and moral context. My work on Sunday School libraries 1800-1860 found that nearly 10% of holdings were in scientific subjects, and of these natural history made up over half of titles. And while we may consider studies of bible lands, bible history and bible plants to be somewhat conservative approaches to instruction in geography, ancient history and botany they did not necessarily exclude more challenging theories. George Henslow’s Plants of the Bible (1895), a cheap Religious Tract Society publication, brought theories of evolution to bear on bible plants (Lightman Victorian Popularisers of Science, 2007) and biblical herbariums were intended for use in conjunction with complementary textbooks such as Henslow’s volume.

This use of an herbarium alongside a textbook in classrooms also reflects backwards on my current work in eighteenth-century schoolbooks in natural philosophy and natural history; highlighting how combined use of objects and books in scientific instruction has a long and enduring history in English schools.  The herbarium helps us to understand classroom practice in the sciences as a balance between textual facilitation of learning and object (or experiment) based instruction; a balance that has tilted one way or another at different periods, in different places, for different classes and according to gender. The date of Southall’s herbarium for example suggests that it may be fruitful to consider its use in Sunday Schools alongside Sally Gregory Kohlstedt’s discussion of the rise of an object-based approach to science teaching in public schools in the USA in the late 19th century (Teaching Children Science: Hand-On Nature Study in North America, 1890-1930, 2010). In some periods at least a ‘theoretical’ knowledge was not considered sufficient and children were encouraged to learn through object and experiment based pedagogy.

*JK Rowling

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Edward Gerrard & Sons – more to models than just Ziegler

While  Ziegler and his wax models of the 19th century seem to have attracted most scholarly interest and are certainly better represented in museums, there were rival companies and technologies. Edward Gerrard & Sons was a very successful firm which created models for zoological study for over one hundred years.

The firm’s founder, Edward Gerrard (1810-1910, DNB),  was employed from 1836 by the Zoological Society of London as assistant to George Robert Waterhouse, curator of the society’s museum and in 1841 joined the zoological department of the British Museum as an attendant, working closely with curator John Edward Gray thereafter. The Catalogue of the Bones of Mammalia in the British Museum (1862) was compiled by Gerrard under his own system of arrangement, and Gray put Gerrard’s name on the title page, but was overruled by Richard Owen and the museum’s trustees, who ordered that the name be erased.  He was employed by the British Museum as an attendant for fifty-five years, until his retirement in 1896.

Around 1850 Gerrard set up the family taxidermy and osteology business for which he became best known. The Gerrard workshops soon became famous as a place where hunters, travellers, naturalists and later film set designers met and exchanged or sold specimens. The nearness of London zoo ensured a regular supply of dead animals, and during the heyday of British taxidermy, from about 1880 until 1914, Gerrard’s business thrived in competition with dozens of other firms. His sons entered the taxidermy and modelling business with him and continued the firm until 1967. There is a published history of the firm (P.A. Morris, Edward Gerrard and Sons: A Taxidermy Memoir, 2004) and great photographs of their work can be seen at Taxidermy for Cash.

While the firm’s speciality was preparing and articulating skeletons, used for teaching comparative anatomy and dentistry, it also made zoological models, such as the “brain series”, anatomy specimens and embryo models. While museums around the world have taxidermy specimens made by the company very few of the zoological models appear to have survived, or at least to have been catalogued online.  Our models date from between 1900-1935 (based on the address shown on label) and are part of the “brain series”.  A poster advertising the whole series is held by D’Arcy Thompson Zoology Museum,University of Dundee.  We hold 8 models which suggests we are missing 4 from the complete series;  Dundee holds 7 models  but unfortunately we do not make a complete set between us! They appear to be made of casting plaster, painted in green and cream. Whilst one of our models is chipped they seem to be very durable and are more robust and would stand up to repeated handling better than the older wax models.

Research into the history of embryology and its pedagogy has found that as the science became more experimental and less descriptive the need for accurate model-making declined.  After World War I, Friedrich Ziegler found himself with increasingly fewer commissions and when he died in 1936 the Ziegler studio closed.  However in the case of Gerrards and Sons it is interesting that after the Second World War the biological models section was the most profitable side of the business and was sold in 1960s to a large educational supply company. The later date of the models themselves and this sale suggests use of models in teaching continued well into the 20th century.

The next step is to try and find out more about the use of the models in teaching. While Dundee holds lots of correspondence between Sir D’Arcy Wentworth Thompson, the first Professor of Biology at Dundee, and Edward Gerrard from the 1880s and 1890s it is all about the taxidermy specimens. It would be great if Leeds University Archive could tell us more.