I have been volunteering at the Booth Museum since October 2016.
So far I have been cataloguing bird skins, which means cataloguing on to the database many of the birds that have been preserved and archived in the Museum. It has been a very helpful way of increasing my knowledge on birds and enabled me to see what some birds actually look like close up – birds being notoriously hard to get close to! It has also been interesting to see when the birds were collected and where. Many specimens have been preserved in pretty good condition since the end of the 1890s. Some birds were given as a gift to the museum from other parts of the world, namely Japan, Holland and Norway. You can see photos and find further information on these birds on the Museum website.
I have also tried my hand at photographing the birds and the training on object handling that we had really helped with manoeuvring the birds in to position.
But it’s not just the tasks you are given which is so interesting about working at the Booth it is the things that happen around you. On my first day volunteering just by chance someone returned a piece of meteor which they had borrowed from the museum. The meteor was found in Argentina sometime in the early 1500s – around the time of Henry VIII reign! What’s more it was really heavy. I don’t think I have ever thought about how much a meteor would weigh! But the fact that I was holding a piece of meteor found in the early 1500s to me was slightly mind blowing!
Last week I came to do my weekly volunteering session at the Booth museum and the writer in residence Mick Jackson (who had worked here the year before researching the Booth) showed us several books he had found which were handmade, written and illustrated by a Collectors wife in 1930. The books were works of art not only in their description of a bike ride through the Sussex Downs in 1930s rural Britain but also in their illustration, through hand painted drawings, of the wildlife she saw on her journey. A particular highlight being an inventory of the birds she saw every morning on waking and her absolute delight in encountering a moorhen that was nesting on the ground nearby. I was also fascinated by the menu she had included of what they ate and drank throughout their tour. Ryvita being a particular favourite snack (I didn’t realise Ryvita existed then!) It was an incredible example of someone’s personal and beautiful account of the natural world around them which has since become part of our natural history.
As I sit writing this I am sitting opposite a tortoise shell and skull of the tortoise head which is still all intact. Never having seen this before I look at the tortoise skull and observe the back bone goes from the base of the skull down to the shell where the vertebrae fuse to the shell almost immediately underneath the topside of the shell. As a child I had often wondered whether tortoises could separate from their shell I now know for certain they cannot! Something I may tell my son later on today.
My tasks next week are to work with the paper butterflies. I will be learning how to photograph, catalogue, preserve and display them. Every week I look forward to coming and when I arrive my supervisor, Grace, who is very knowledgeable and friendly, fills me in on the tasks for the day. Now I’m just going to take a look at the tarantula sitting behind me…!
Catherine, Booth Museum Volunteer