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Library & Archives

32 Posts tagged with the behind_the_scenes_in_the_library tag

Claudia Cardillo has been volunteering in the Library for one day a week since February 2011. During the rest of the week she works as a member of the  Museum's Visitor Services team and she has worked here for the past two years.


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Claudia is working on the Hodgson collection, which consists of about 1,400 pieces of art. She is unlocking the collection by examining each of the individual items and recording all the information about the specimen (if given). She also notes down any issues with its condition (tears, etc.) and any other useful information, such as the artistic techniques used.


"I have a degree in the History of Art, from the University of Naples, Italy, where I am originally from. I love art, and the collection that I am working on is wonderful! I wanted to develop my cataloguing and research skills, as I thought these would be particularly good skills for the future. The Hodgson collection is amazing, and I am really enjoying working in the Library."


Who was Brian Houghton Hodgson (c.1800-1894)


Born in Cheshire in about 1800, Brian Houghton Hodgson studied at the East India Company’s Haileybury College from 1816 –17, before sailing to Calcutta to take up an administrative position with the Company. Unfortunately he suffered from ill-health, and was transferred to Kumaon in the foothills of the western Himalayas to recover. In 1820, he was promoted to the position of Assistant Resident to the Court of Nepal, but finding little to do in Kathmandu, he returned to the bustle of Calcutta. There he was again taken ill, and moved back to Kathmandu, becoming acting Resident and finally Resident of Nepal in 1829 and 1833 respectively. After 23 years of service in Nepal, Hodgson resigned in 1843. Following a short sojourn in England, he returned to India in 1844 and lived in Darjeeling, a town close to the Nepalese border, until 1858 when he returned to England.


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Brian Houghton Hodgson

(NHM image reference 037022)


Hodgson’s role as Resident of Nepal was not a demanding one, and so he had plenty of time and the financial resources to undertake a thorough study of the natural history of Nepal. He became fascinated with the culture of Nepal, Himalayan Buddhism, architecture, ethnography and linguistics. He is also considered responsible for the introduction of the Gurkhas into the British Indian Army.


Hodgson had a special interest in the birds and mammals of Nepal and the surrounding Himalayan region. He discovered many new species and wrote more than 140 scientific papers. Hodgson’s zoological papers are particularly interesting as he described the animals’ habits and habitat in great detail. As he was unable to travel freely around Nepal, he relied heavily on the knowledge of local people to provide him with these observations. He also kept a number of wild animals in captivity. Hodgson made vast collections of specimens; over 10,500 specimens were donated to the British Museum.



   Ketupa flavipes (tawny fish owl)

(NHM image reference 037033)

What is the Hodgson Drawings Collection?


Hodgson commissioned thousands of drawings of birds and mammals from Nepalese artists. These artists were trained by Hodgson to paint in the style required for scientific illustration. The drawings accurately depict the natural colours and external anatomy required for scientific identification. Hodgson frequently dissected his specimens to show the skeletal and other anatomical features, and encouraged artists to sketch these extra details on the drawings. He would also frequently add his own detailed comments on the side. Unusually, the names of some of Hodgson’s Nepalese artists are known. Rajman Singh was a Nepalese draughtsman who worked for Hodgson for many years. Some of his drawings were published in articles written by Hodgson in the Calcutta Journal of Natural History and Asiatic Researches. There is one signed bird painting by him in the collection. Another artist who worked for Hodgson was Tursmoney Chitterkar of Nepal, but currently nothing is known about his life.


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          Leiothrix argentauris (silver-eared mesia)

(NHM image reference 037039)


Hodgson intended to publish a lavish book on the mammals and birds of Nepal, illustrated with hand-coloured plates. As part of this project he arranged for his collection of drawings to be duplicated, to produce a set suitable for reproduction. Despite Hodgson’s strenuous efforts, the book was never published. A deeply disappointed man, Hodgson disposed of his drawings and specimens to several institutions in England, including the British Museum. In recognition of the size and importance of Hodgson’s collections, the Keeper of Zoology at the British Museum, J. E. Gray, published catalogues of Hodgson’s collections in 1846 and 1863. The British Museum was also the recipient of over 1,400 paintings of birds, mammals, reptiles and fish. These were later transferred to the Natural History Museum.


Petaurista magnificus (Hodgson's giant flying squirrel)

(NHM image reference: 025019)

References and further reading

Cocker, M. & Inskipp, C. (1988) A Himalayan ornithologist: the life and work of Brian Houghton Hodgson. Oxford University Press: Oxford. 89pp.


Hunter, W.W. (1896) Life of Brian Houghton Hodgson. John Murray: London. 390pp.


Gray, J.E. (1846) Catalogue of the specimens and drawings of Mammalia and birds of Nepal and Thibet presented by B.H. Hodgson Esq. to the British Museum. British Museum: London. 156pp.


Gray, J.E. (1863) Catalogue of the specimens and drawings of Mammalia and birds of Nepal and Tibet presented by B.H. Hodgson Esq. to the British Museum. 2nd ed. London. 90pp.


Waterhouse, D. (2004) The origins of Himalayan studies: Brian Houghton Hodgson in Nepal and Darjeeling. RoutledgeCurzon: London.


These books can be found on the Library catalogue.



Want to learn more about volunteering at the Natural History Museum, London?


We’re evolving….please bear with us!


We’ve just revamped our Volunteering and Internship web pages and changed to a new e-recruitment system. Please click here to find out more about our volunteer offer and how to go about searching and applying for current vacancies:




New and existing users

Currently our vacancy e-alerts are unavailable due to the e-recruitment system change over; please bear with us and this will be sorted as soon as possible in the forthcoming weeks.

Equally if you have already signed up for our e-alerts with us then you will need to sign up again when the new alerts are available. We will let you know via the web pages as soon as this happens.


To monitor current job, volunteer and internship vacancies please search as normal using the drop down menus as part of the Vacancy Search.



We will next recruit for interns in the summer (July) for internships to be carried out in autumn and winter. We offer internships in four areas: Marketing, Press Office, Fundraising and Interpretation & Design.


An 11 month project has started to unlock an incredible artwork collection originally commissioned by Thomas Hardwicke. Each piece within the collection will be listed, described, measured and a reference image taken. The images are of interest as much for their subject matter as for the art techniques used, including the use of gum arabic on some of the more polished drawings. Many of the species are unidentifed, or the original name has changed since the piece was produced. It is hoped that future research will be facilitated by unlocking this collection in this way; for example, identifying all the species depicted, and looking at whether the collection includes species which have since become extinct. It is hoped that future funding can be obtained to enable the collection to be digitised.


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                                                 Using a lightbox to see watermarks                       Measuring each piece   




Who was Thomas Hardwicke?



Thomas Hardwicke (1755-1835) was born in England circa 1755. At the age of 22, he joined the Honourable East India Company. Hardwicke rose through the army ranks to become Major-General in 1819, retiring from the army in 1823 and then returning to England.


Hardwicke had a distinguished career in India, during which time he was engaged in military action and travelled extensively over the subcontinent. Early in his career he formed a special curiosity about the Indian wildlife. He started a collection of zoological specimens and amassed a large collection of paintings of animals, insects and birds. By the time Hardwicke left India, he possessed the largest collection of drawings of Indian animals ever formed by a single individual. The subjects covered nearly every group of the animal kingdom.


Hardwicke’s enthusiasm in India was matched by the leading naturalists in England, with whom he corresponded. He also communicated with Sir Joseph Banks, President of the Royal Society, and other scientific luminaries. Hardwicke was elected Fellow of the Royal Society in 1813. Although Hardwicke did not publish many zoological papers himself it was the opportunities that he provided for others that are significant.


Once back in England, Hardwicke collaborated with J. E. Gray, who would shortly afterwards become the Keeper of Zoology at the British Museum. The result was a major folio work, Illustrations of Indian Zoology (1830-35). Gray took the lead, and was responsible for most of the scientific work which was based on Hardwicke’s drawings. Hardwicke provided the finance for the expensive book which had 202 large, hand-coloured plates, but he died before any text was issued.


What does the collection consist of?


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                                       Philippine/Sunda/Malayan flying lemur or gliding lemur?                     Helmeted hornbill?                      

                                               (Cynocephalus volans or  Galeopterus variegatus)                                 (Rhinoplax vigil?)



The Hardwicke collection of drawings has a fascinating history. Part of the collection consists of drawings produced by local artists working in India. In his senior military position, Hardwicke was able to employ artists to produce work that met his specific requirements. Much of what was illustrated was based on dead specimens brought to Hardwicke by collectors from far away. There is plenty of evidence that they also drew living animals. For example the drawing of the chameleon was made from a specimen found in a garden and was observed to change its colour to match its background. Other animals were kept in menageries. The drawing of the tapir, a native of South East Asia and South America was possibly made from a specimen in a zoo. Alternatively it may have been exchanged with another collector or copied from another drawing. In this period natural history enthusiasts would often exchange drawings of animals and plants from other parts of the world to complement their collections. The Hardwicke collection is typical of this practice and therefore includes some surprising images such as an Australian koala and birds from China!


The painting of the Fishing Cat, (Felis viverrina) see below, has the John Russell Reeves crest stamped in the lower right hand corner – a clear indication that it was once in the possession of this famous collector of illustrations of Chinese wildlife.



                                                                                           Fishing Cat (Felis viverrina)


The names of the Indian artists employed by Hardwicke are unknown but undoubtedly most were well trained local artists. They adapted their styles and techniques to the European demands for accuracy in natural history illustration to produce a collection of stunning watercolours. A small proportion of the artwork, including the drawing of the chameleon, is signed 'JH' or 'J Hayes'. Nothing is known about Hayes, possibly he was a European working in India. He had a talent for drawing which Hardwicke undoubtedly appreciated.



                                        Red giant flying squirrel (Petaurista petaurista)                   Asian or Malayan tapir (Tapirus indicus)


Hardwicke bequeathed his zoological specimens and drawings to the British Museum in 1835. His magnificent collection of natural history drawings and paintings were later divided between the British Museum and the Natural History Museum. The Natural History Museum library holds approximately 4,500 zoological drawings and also houses an oil-painting portrait of Hardwicke by the artist John Lucas (1807-1844).


Some of the drawings from this collection were used on posters for the Natural History Museum in the 1970s.


In 2013 there will be an exhibition of some of the Hardwicke Collection in the Images of Nature art gallery here at the Natural History Museum. The theme for that year is India. To learn more about this gallery and this year's theme visit our website




                                                         Blood pheasant (Ithaginis cruentus)                          Purple heron  (Ardea purpurea)


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