Friday, August 23, 2013

Edward Donovan and
The London Museum and Institute of Natural History

from La Belle Assemblee April 1807
The London Museum and Institute of Natural History was a privately-owned museum, reported to house nearly thirty thousand articles, all from the natural world of the British Isles.
from La Belle Assemblee July 1807
It existed for only ten years. It was a scientifically based exhibition and its cases of specimens used the Linnean system of classification developed only some sixty years earlier. A catalogue was published for the museum and its first page expands on the above advertisements .
The founder of this museum was Edward Donovan: avid collector, amateur zoologist, talented artist, and successful author. He was born in 1768 in Ireland, removed to London at an early age and left it only occasionally for short excursions around England and Wales.

from The Natural History
of British Shells
He was a prolific writer and illustrator, publishing at least ten fully illustrated volumes of work, which were very successful. He also contributed artwork to many of the natural history journals and cyclopediae current at the time.
His most popular works were on the insects of China, India, and Australia.

He did some local collecting of flora and fauna himself, but some of his British items and all of his world specimens were purchased from explorers and dealers. It was an expensive business, and he may not have been a very astute businessman.

from The Scots Magazine 1817
By 1817 his financial affairs were troubled, and he had to close his Museum.

The Institute of Natural History had promoted his books heavily, and its loss must have been a great disappointment to him. The fulfillment of a dream and its destruction, within ten years...

Edward Donovan died February 1, 1837. His financial holdings had never recovered and his large family was left destitute at his death. We know little about his personal life other than this. He left a legacy of art and scholarship, but at what personal cost?

'Til next time,



Anonymous said...

Wow that was really interesting. I liked the way you incorporated the original newspaper clippings into the text. I thoroughly enjoyed it. Thanks! :D

Lesley-Anne McLeod said...

Thank you so much for visiting! I'm glad you enjoyed reading about Edward Donovan. I enjoy original Regency journals and papers so much I'm happy to share them with my blog-friends.