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Library & Archives

October 13, 2011
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NaturalHistoryMuseum_035572_IA.jpg

 

 

 

There are numerous items in the Library & Archives collection that make me wish I could go back in time, and this great piece of printed ephemera is definitely one of them.

 

This is the front page of a letter written in 1899 to the Hon. Lionel Walter Rothschild (later Lord Rothschild) by Charles Harte, Impressario to Mademoiselle Paula.

 

It is a wonderful piece of advertising and enterainment history, and you can not help but become curious as to who Mdlle Paula was!

 

The letter is addressed from the Royal Aquarium, Westminster. This was built in 1876, located opposite Westminster Abbey, but demolished in the early 1900s to make way for the Methodist's Central Hall. As well as a theatre, art gallery, reading and smoking rooms, the building included a main hall featuring; palm trees, sculptures, tanks of curious sea creatures and an orchestra.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                                                 TM1/151/25
                         (Image reference number 035572)

 

Looking through newspapers of the time, Paula performed at a number of locations around the British Isles 1890-1899, but the longer stints were spent on the bill at the Royal Aquarium.

 

Her performance is put in context when you look at the other acts listed on the bill alongside her during October 1890: Roches pack of fourteen wolves, the smallest monkey parachutist in the world, Professor Maxey the needle eater, Sol Stone the Great American calculator, and the Brothers Dunbar and their astonishing aerial act.

 

In the Pall Mall Gazette, on 29th January 1891, the following appeared advertising Paula's next show: '....with her fierce alligators, who was bitten last Saturday, hopes to reappear to-morrow [sic]'. Clearly a shrewd marketing ploy by her manager!

 

Later in January 1899, in 'The Standard' she is promoted as 'Paula Queen reptile conqueror of the world, subduing snakes, crocodiles and alligators'.                   

 

In the letter held in the Archives collection here at the Natural History Museum, Charles Harte, 'Impresario acting for Mdlle Paula, the famous reptile conqueror’ offers a living fifteen foot rare snake. He wishes to dispose of this ‘serpent’ in order to make more room for his Indian pythons, ‘more suitable for handling in Mdlle Paula’s performance’ and wonders whether Rothschild would like to add it to his collection.

 

It is amazing how one short letter can lead to such an interesting part of history.

 

For more information the Library & Archives collections and how to visit us, please go to Library & Archives.

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Preparations are now well underway for the new Australian theme for the Images of Nature Gallery to open in February 2012.
The original artwork from the Museum Library’s collection that will feature in the gallery was created by those who travelled on board the First Fleet’s ships that sailed to Australia in May 1787, amongst them were seamen and convicts.
These fascinating drawings represent some of the first recorded images of the then unexplored continent.
Seeing the strange new landscapes, peoples, plants and animals through their eyes is a fascinating experience.
To celebrate the new year for the Gallery and the change of the theme, Australian artist Daniel Boyd has created a unique piece that will commemorate the event and the display of such a rare collection of historical artwork:
Sept 024.jpg
Daniel Boyd (left) and staff from the Gasworks Art Gallery, preparing Daniel's art installation to be taken to the Natural History Museum last week
Daniel is a well known young artist, his work raises questions about established notions of the history of Australia and celebrates with gentle irony the expeditions of scientist, sailors and colonizers who opened up the knowledge of the new land to the Europe of the Enlightenment period.
The watercolours in the Gallery rotate every 3 moths within the year, to protect the vibrant and amazing pigments and to give the public an opportunity to see more of our wonderful artwork collections.
2011 was the year of  China, the East India Company and the John Reeves's collection of stunning Zoological and Botanical Chinese watercolours, you still have a chance to catch them until January 2012.