Ref NoTM
Alt Ref NoTM
TitleTring Museum Correspondence
DescriptionThe papers of the Tring Zoological Museum, Lionel Walter, 2nd Baron Rothschild (1868-1937) and his curators Dr Ernst Johann Otto Hartert (1859-1933) and Dr Karl Jordan (1875-1972). The papers are comprised mainly of correspondence to the Museum (c.1885-1953), with a small amount of file copy reply letters and four letter-books. Other material includes maps, photographs, news articles and other papers.

The archives of the Tring Zoological Museum have suffered several incidents of being destroyed, some of the details of these incidents is not clear or not known, and only this collection remains. There was accidental desctruction of records in 1908 (details unknown); a bonfire of records duringWWII (reasons unknown); and as per Walter's instructions on his death. Account ledgers which detailed all specimen purchases were stolen from a locked cupboard (date unkown). The largest destruction of Tring archives took place when the insect building was marked for demolition to make room for the new ornithology building c1969. The archives were stored in the basement of the insect building. An order was made to clear the insect building. Orders were given for the re-housing of books and specimens, but not documents. According to Tring staff testimony, orders were given for the remaining contents of the basement (i.e. the archives) to be burnt. Tring staff are known to have protested the archives destruction, but the papers were taken away to a bonfire. It is unclear who gave the order for the archives to be burnt, though Miriam Rothschild and Tring staff accounts say it was made by W L Rombach, Assistant Secretary of the British Museum (Natural History). Rombach did have special responsibilities for Tring, and visited the site frequently.

The items in this collection survived as the correspondence had been borrowed by Miriam Rothschild, and were returned to Tring after the bonfire. Apparently one box fell off a truck on the way to the bonfire, was saved and returned to Miriam, who then returned it to Tring. And ledgers were found in a cupboard in a ladies washroom. It is thought that other items have been found by Tring staff and made their way in to the collection after the 1969 bonfire and before the collection was deposited with Museum Archives in 1984.

TM/1: Tring Museum: in-letters (1890-1908)
TM/2: Tring Museum: In-letters and copy-out letters (1909-1955)
TM/3: Various

Material dated 1903-1920 has been recatalogued into the TR1 fonds. Please search by correspondent name to find relevant material
Related MaterialDF TRI/3000
Held_ByNHM Archives
Extent32.5 linear metres, approx. 50,000 letters
AdminHistoryThe Museum at Tring was built in 1889 for Lionel Walter Rothschild, 2nd Baron Rothschild (1868-1937) by his father Nathan Mayer Rothschild, 1st Baron Rothschild, Baron de Rothschild (1840-1915) on his Tring Park estate to house Walter's collection of natural history specimens. The museum opened its doors to the public from 1892, and Walter Rothschild employed two curators, ornithologist Ernst Hartert (1859-1933) and entomologist Karl Jordan (1875-1972). Both Jordan and Hartert assisted Walter with studying and maintaining his collection for almost 40 years. They described over 5,000 new species and published the periodical Novitates Zoologicae from 1894 to 1939. Walter's museum became one of the largest single collections of zoological specimens accumulated by one man. It housed 200,000 birds' eggs, 300,000 bird skins, thousands of mammals, hundreds of reptiles and over 2 million butterflies and moths. The bird skins were sold to the American Museum of Natural History in 1931, but the rest of the specimens, papers and photographs were bequeathed to the British Museum (Natural History) on Walter's death.

Tring Museum originated as the private museum of the wealthy aristocrat and banker, Lionel Walter Rothschild (1868-1937), 2nd Baron Rothschild of Tring, in Hertfordshire. Walter began collecting natural history specimens at the age of seven, and converted a garden shed into his first museum a few years later. He visited the natural history galleries at the British Museum as a boy, and started a thirty-year correspondence with Albert Gunther, the Keeper of Zoology. Rothschild studied at Bonn University and at Magdalene College, Cambridge, where he came under the influence of the Professor of Zoology, Alfred Newton.

As a 21st 'coming of age' birthday present his father built him a splendid museum on the edge of Tring Park for Walter's ever-growing zoological collections and library. Alfred Minall acted as caretaker and taxidermist, and the museum was opened to the public for the first time in 1892.

Rothschild made use of a great number of professional collectors to build up his museum, including A F R Wollaston in North Africa, William Doherty in what is now Malaysia and Indonesia, and A S Meek in New Guinea. He also undertook one major expedition himself, spending nearly six months collecting in Algeria in 1908. He kept live animals in Tring Park, including emus, kangaroos, zebra and giant tortoises. Rothschild appointed two German curators in 1892 and 1893: Ernst Hartert (1859-1933) as ornithologist and Karl Jordan (1861-1959) as entomologist. Hartert retired as Director of the Museum in 1930, and was succeeded by Jordan until his own retirement in 1938. By 1908, when Rothschild retired from banking, the museum had an establishment of eight, including Arthur Goodson who assisted Hartert, and Fred Young who had succeeded Minall as taxidermist. The museum also published its own journal, Novitates Zoologicae, which eventually ran to 42 quarto volumes rich in hand-coloured lithographs. Rothschild added two wings to the museum to house the collections of birds and insects in 1910 and 1912.

For forty years Rothschild, Hartert and Jordan collected, classified and published their research, resulting in possibly the largest collection of zoological specimens ever collected by one man (and his team). The collection at various points in time included 200,00 birds' eggs, 300,000 bird skins and 2.25 million butterflies and moths. Between them they published over 1,200 books and papers and described approximately 5,000 new species.

In spite of his family's great wealth, Rothschild was often short of money. He sold most of his beetles to raise funds for the Museum, and in 1931 a crisis forced him to sell his collection of birds to the American Museum of Natural History. The remainder of his museum remained intact until his death in 1937, when it was bequeathed in its entirety to the Trustees of the British Museum on the condition it should remain a place of study for systematic zoology. This, the largest bequest ever received by The Natural History Museum, consisted of 3,000 mounted mammals, reptiles and amphibians, 2,000 mounted birds and about 4,000 skins, a vast collection of butterflies and other insects, a library of 30,000 volumes, the buildings and the land on which they stood. As it was the largest single gift ever offered to the Museum its acceptance required specific legislation in the form of the British Museum Act 1938, which allowed the Trustees to accept the bequest.

A succession of Natural History Museum staff acted as Officer-in-charge of Tring including T C S Morrison-Scott (1938-1939), J R Norman (1939-1944), J E Dandy and Dorothea Bate (1948-1950). Collections were evacuated to Tring from South Kensington during the war, but it wasn't until the end of the 1960s that major changes took place. The display galleries were modernised in 1969-1971, though they still retain a Victorian flavour, and the Bird Section moved into a new building on the site in 1971, providing space in South Kensington for Rothschild's insects to join the other entomological collections there. The Zoological Museum, Tring, now comprises a public display of stuffed animals with associated educational programmes, the Rothschild Library, and the staff and collections of the Bird Section.

Further material, dating from when the Natural History Museum took over the administration of the Museum, can be found within DF TRI/3000-

Rothschild, M, 1983. Dear Lord Rothschild. Birds, butterflies and history. Pp 398. Balaban, Philadelphia.

Show related Persons records.

PX2123Hartert; Ernst Johann Otto (1859-1933); Tring Museum curator. Ornithologist and zoologist1859-1933
PX2048Minall; Alfred (1850-1911); First curator of the Tring Museum1850-1911
PX4335Meek; Albert S (fl 1898-1908)fl 1898-1908
PX53Rothschild; Lionel Walter (1868-1937); 2nd Baron Rothschild of Tring; Ornithologist and Collector1868-1937
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