A Zoological Gallery at Brighton Museum

Bird Room before its removal to the new Zoological Gallery in 1904

The Booth Museum  in  Brighton has been in existence since 1874 when it was simply the Booth Museum of Birds. 100 years later, during the 1970s, it became the Booth Museum of Natural History when the science collections from Brighton Museum & Art Gallery were moved there.

Originally, zoological specimens were displayed in the side galleries on the first floor of Brighton Museum & Art Gallery but between 1903 and 1904 a new gallery (now the Costume Gallery) was built over the present entrance to the Museum. In February 1904 the new Natural History gallery was opened by the Mayor of Brighton, Emile Marx.

First floor plan of the Museum, 1905
First floor plan of the Museum, 1905

The work of reorganising the collection was carried out by Edward Alloway Pankhurst. He had been a secretary to John Ruskin in his youth and was also a close acquaintance of the Brighton collector Henry Willett. Pankhurst was instrumental in encouraging Willett to donate his pottery collection to the Brighton Museum & Art Gallery.

The zoological collection included such items as the skeleton of a Dodo, a species of porcupine globe fish which resembled:

‘a cross between a herring and an air balloon’

and a specimen whose name was the:

‘terror of spelling bee days – the ornithorhynchus, a creature apparently compounded of several animals, like the fearsome things in Mr. Well’s gruesome story The Island of Dr. Moreau’.

The new zoological section included an adjacent gallery for insects which housed specimens of spiders, beetles and butterflies and a gallery for ‘bones’ containing such objects as the skull of an elephant and a rhinoceros.

In his speech, the Mayor stressed that a museum ‘should illustrate the locality in which it was located’ and praised the collections of locally found flints and fossils as well as paying a special tribute to the sub-curator Herbert Toms.

Pankhurst responded to the Mayor by saying that they were keen to find other animals for the collection. He said that if ‘friends in India had a stray lion or tiger, they might send them along’.

Paul Jordan, Senior History Centre Officer