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Cherry Kearton (1871-1940) and his brother Richard (1862-1928), pioneered the use of wildlife photography. The brother’s grew-up in the Yorkshire Dales, and developed a great interest in the wildlife that surrounded them. They experimented with photography and devised many ingenious ways to camouflage themselves to get very close to animals in their natural habitat. Despite the need to use explosive magnesium flash powder and unwieldy equipment, their shots were amazingly natural and they went on to produce a large number of wildlife books together, illustrated by Cherry’s photographs.

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Glass plate negative from the collection


At a time when hunting was fashionable and nature conservation was in its infancy, the brothers recognised the need to respect wildlife and to capture it through photography rather than by hunting down trophies. In ‘Wild Nature’s Ways’ (1904) the brother’s make a plea that collectors take no more than one bird egg of any species; “remember that to help in the least degree to accomplish the extinction of anything beautiful and interesting is a crime against future generations…”(p.210).


Cherry was responsible for some of the first motion pictures of animals in the wild.  He travelled extensively in Africa, North America, India and Australia, becoming a prolific film maker. This resulted in a large collection of photographs, negatives and film, some of which were presented to the NHM Library by the Kearton family in 1990.


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                           Examples of some of the material from the collection, including a metal travelling box.


As illustrated here, the collection is in a very fragile state and not suitable to handle, but the library hopes one day to gain funding for its preservation and full curation. Until then, it is not available to the public, but the BBC reproduced some of the original cine film (c.1915-1920) for ‘Nation on Film’ in 2006, and this is available to view on DVD in the Library. The NHM Library also holds many of Richard and Cherry's books, which may be viewed by appointment. These include;


• With Nature and a Camera : Being the adventures and observations of a field naturalist and an animal photographer, illustrated from photographs by C. Kearton. (1897).


• Our rarer British breeding birds : Their nests, eggs, and summer haunts. (1900).


• Wild Nature's Ways : With 200 illustrations from photographs taken direct from nature. (1904).


• Wild life at home : how to study and photograph it (1907).


• Wild life across the world (1913)


• A naturalist's pilgrimage, by Richard Kearton (an autobiography) (1926)

• Cherry Kearton's travels, by Cherry Kearton ; illustrated from photographs taken by the author (1942)


Please see our catalogue for more details;


If you wish to visit the Library, please contact us to make an appointment 020 7942 5460 or