Caroline Catchpole: Archivist Wallace Collection
How long have you worked at the NHM?
What were you doing before you came here?
I began my archive career at Kew Gardens where I worked for two years, the second year part time whilst I studied for my archival qualification at UCL. I then worked in the archives at Kings College London before coming here.
What does your average day look like?
I think one of the reasons I became an Archivist is that no two days are the same which keeps you on your toes! As Archivist for the Wallace Correspondence Project, one thing I can be sure of is that my day will include thinking about and talking about Wallace! My job includes cataloguing Wallace letters into our project’s database, answering enquiries about the project and Wallace. I research the letters and select which ones to tweet about on the NHM L&A Twitter page (@nhm_library )and also which ones to write about for my ‘Letter of the Month’ blog. (Wallace100 blog)
Our database of letters includes letters to and from Wallace from repositories around the world, so I’m responsible for talking to these repositories and arranging for their Wallace letters to be scanned and sent to me. I also manage a successful volunteering programme whereby volunteers assist the project by transcribing the letters. I then link the transcriptions to our database so people who use Wallace Letters Online are met most of the time (2,600 out of 4,700 letters are transcribed) with a user-friendly transcription instead of trying to decipher Victorian scrawl.
I also get to give talks to the public about Wallace and his archive we have here at the museum which is one of my favourite things to do.
If you had to pick one favourite from the L&A collections what would it be?
A letter that Wallace wrote to Richard Spruce in September 1852 because the story contained in it is so dramatic and life-changing. Wallace left the Amazon in July 1852, but he was shipwrecked when the boat that was taking him back to England caught fire and sank not long into the voyage. He only had time to save a few personal possessions before abandoning ship. The survivors were rescued 10 days later and it was aboard this rescue boat that Wallace composed his 8 page letter to Spruce. In it he details the sinking and the loss of two years’ worth of Amazonian specimens. You can really feel the desolation at having lost his collections – he wrote that his collections would have been the finest in Europe had they survived. Towards the end of the letter you can feel his utter joy at arriving back in the UK after the nightmare voyage home. This letter always makes me wonder as well would his life have taken a different course if he hadn’t lost his collections and diaries and notes from the Amazon?
Do you have a favourite place or object on display in the Museum?
My favourite public place in the museum is the balcony where the Huxley and Owen statues are and looking back at Central Hall over Dippy, to the Darwin Statue and Wallace portrait. I still get awestruck every time I’m up there. My favourite objects on display are the Blaschka glass models in the Treasures gallery; they are so beautiful and unique. I think it speaks volumes that with all the technology we have today, no-one has been able to reproduce them since they were first made in the nineteenth century.
If you had to spend the rest of your life as an animal, what would it be and why?
A bumblebee. They do such a vital job for our eco-system and are having a bit of a hard time of it at the moment. So at least if I became one, it’d boost the numbers slightly.