The Linnean Society en-GB Tue, 12 Feb 2019 10:00:00 +0000 Wed, 06 Feb 2019 11:17:23 +0000 12th February 2019: Meet the Team – Education Outreach Assistant Tue, 12 Feb 2019 10:00:00 +0000

This week we chat to Zia Forrai (they, them) our Educational Outreach Assistant.


What are the key parts to your role?

Going into schools and encouraging young people to make creative work exploring biological ideas.

What do you like most about your job?

I love being able to inspire people who might not ordinarily think science is for them. I also love that I have the opportunity to learn fascinating things while I work.

How did you end up in this job?

Since my Master’s, I’ve been focused on the philosophies of science, biology, technology, and consciousness, and these have played largely in my creative work. I am also dedicated to teaching and education, and spent my 2 years prior to starting at the Linnean Society working in public engagement at a medical museum that explores the influences and intersections in science of art, religion, politics, culture, and philosophy.

What is your favourite species of animal or plant?

It switches up often. Currently, it’s a toss-up between: Elysia chloratica, a seaslug capable of photosynthesis through endosymbiosis, utilising the chloroplasts of algae, or the Hawaiian Bobtail Squid. I’m keen on cephalopods for a variety of reasons, but this one is a recent fav. As part of its life-cycle, it gets infected with a bioluminescent bacterium that helps it hunt at night (which looks pretty brilliant too).

Images printing

What is the most interesting item to you in the Linnean Society collections?

Coat of Arms

The shield of the Society emblem has me under its sway. On the shield itself, the Black at the base represents the Kingdom of Minerals, on the top, the Red represents the Kingdom of Animals, and the Green the Kingdom of Plants.

The Egg (ovum) represents the origin of life (/existence).

What do you like to do in your spare time?

Find somewhere soft, warm, and occluded, so I can sleep through the winter, with minimised fear of predation.

29th January 2019: Meet the Team – Archivist Tue, 29 Jan 2019 10:00:00 +0000

This week we get to know our Archivist, Vida Milovanovic


What are the key parts to your role?

As the Society’s Archivist I look after the manuscript collections. This involves:

  • Managing collections-acquisition, arrangement, and storage of material
  • Cataloguing archival material
  • Handling enquiries about our collections
  • Facilitating research visits and supervising readers
  • Promoting the collections
  • Giving tours to visitor groups

What do you like most about your job?

The collections here at the Linnean Society are the highlight and being able to work with them on a daily basis is fascinating. I’ve learned so much about natural history since starting here.

How did you end up in this job?

I discovered archives through a local history assignment during my undergraduate History degree and really enjoyed working with primary source material. Following the completion of my undergraduate degree, I studied for an MA in Archives and Records Management and have worked in archives ever since. I applied for a job at the Society because I have an interest in natural history and the opportunity of such a varied role appealed to me.

What is your favourite species of animal or plant?

Turritopsis dohrnii
Turritopsis dohrnii © Shutterstock

I love the unique and fascinating kingdom of fungi. I really enjoy going out in woods to look for fruiting bodies.

I also find Turritopsis dohrni, the biologically immortal jellyfish, pretty impressive!

What is the most interesting item to you in the Linnean Society collections?

I really like the breadth of the botanical and zoological art held in the Linnean Society and I struggle to pick one favourite but, “Coloured drawings of some English fungi” (MS/29a) by Emilia Noel (1868-1950) stand out for me.

Emilia Noel fungi
Coloured drawings of some English fungi by Emilia Noel

The original sketched on the Amazon by Alfred Russell Wallace (1823-1913) (MS/140b) are a very close second – he was a fantastic draughtsman!

What do you do in your spare time?

I enjoy photography, reading, and visiting museums & galleries, in my spare time. I’m also very passionate about good food and travel.

15th January 2019: Meet the Team – Events and Communications Tue, 15 Jan 2019 10:00:00 +0000

For the next couple of months we will be releasing profiles on Linnean Society staff members. Get to know us a bit more and find out what we do at the Society. First up is our Events and Communications Manager Leanne Melbourne.

Leanne Melbourne

What are the key parts to your role?

  • Organising logistics for upcoming events
  • Finding new speakers for our events programme
  • Planning new events and different ways for the Society to engage with the wider public
  • Using social media to promote our events and collections
  • On event days, setting up and running events.

What do you like most about your job?

My favourite part is listening to all the fascinating research about natural history and having a part to play in getting the public to hear it too.

How did you end up in this job?

I did a PhD on the effect of climate change on coralline algae at the University of Bristol. Within the PhD there were many different outreach activities and communication opportunities to get involved with. I thoroughly enjoyed taking part in these activities, which led to my passion for science communication. Once I finished the PhD I decided to apply for science communication roles and ended up here at the Society.

What is your favourite species of animal or plant?

Well obviously I do love coralline algae and seaweeds in general but other wise Glaucus atlanticus are pretty cool. They are a type of carnivorous sea slug (nudibranch) that eats things like the Portuguese man o’ war. The really cool part is that they store the poison from these animals in their extremities to use as a defence mechanism against predators.

Glaucus Atlanticus
Glaucus atlanticus © Sylke Rohrlach

What is the most interesting item to you in the Linnean Society collections?

Through my studies i have become fascinated by seaweeds. The Society has this book by John Stackhouse, Nereis Britannica (1795-1801), that has some stunning illustrations of Fuci from around the UK. Our copy has a lot of water damage though.

Stackhouse plate
John Stackhouse, Nereis Britannica

What do you like to do in your spare time?

I like playing netball, which I mainly do in the week. On the weekend I like to go to museums, exhibitions and galleries. Try and get ideas for our own events.

1st January 2019: ​Seven Temptations! Linnaeus and Love in the New Year Tue, 01 Jan 2019 10:00:00 +0000 small printed almanac as a diary
Almanach På Åhretefter Iesu Christi nåderika Födelse 1735

Happy New Year! Whilst many of us spend the first few days of a new year trying to heave ourselves off the sofa, in 1735 Carl Linnaeus used this time to conduct an efficient courtship of his wife-to-be. He recorded the events in the small almanac that he used as a diary.

This velvet-covered volume, entitled Almanach På Åhretefter Iesu Christi nåderika Födelse 1735 (‘Almanac for the year of Jesus Christ’s gracious birth 1735’), is kept in the Linnaean Manuscripts collection. On the blank interleaved pages of the almanac, Linnaeus recorded the days’ events. This is one of the few genuine autobiographies we have from Linnaeus – all the others he carefully crafted and reworked with a view to publishing them. The 1735 almanac, by contrast, is delightfully unaffected and candid.

In the early days of the year, 27-year-old Linnaeus faithfully recorded the courting and wooing of his future wife, Sara Elisabeth (Sara Lisa) Moraea, the eighteen-year-old daughter of Falun’s town physician, Dr Johan Moraeus. The little diary gives a tantalising insight into a more personal side of Linnaeus – sadly we will probably never know what the ‘seven temptations’ he experienced on 27 January were.

Linnaeus in Lapland costume
Linnaeus in his Lapland Costume

As described by Wilfrid Blunt, on 2 January he waited on her, dressed to kill in his famous Lapland costume, and the following day he took advantage of the absence of her parents to call again. Other visits followed, besides meetings at the houses of mutual friends. On 16 January, he spent the whole day with her, proposed and was accepted.”*

[*Blunt, W., The Compleat Naturalist. A Life of Linnaeus (London, 2001), p. 80.]

At first Sara Lisa’s parents were not pleased with the idea of her marrying a medical man, hoping that she would make a better match. Eventually, however, they agreed, stipulating that the marriage should not take place for three years, and that Linnaeus should still undertake his planned journey to the Continent.

Linnaeus left Falun on 20 February 1735, and journeyed south, before sailing for the Continent in April, where he spent the next three years. He came back to Sweden in June 1738, and became formally engaged to Sara Lisa. They were married a year later, in June 1739.

Here are the entries from Linnaeus’ diary concerning his courtship, translated from Swedish by Nathaniel Wallich in 1848:


O! Ens entium miserere mei! (O! God have pity on me!)

1. Christmas dinner with alderman Dan. Moraeus.

2. called on Sara Lisa in a Lapland dress.

3. the same, absentibus parentibus (in the absence of parents).

10. called on S. L. M. and had a little fun.

13. called on S. L. M., and at Kougagården, and on my assessor Moraeus.

15. Christmas party at the provost’s at Fahlun with S. L. M.

16. dinner at secretary Neuman’s.

N.B. a day of immortal commemoration, of final settling with S. L. M.

19. Lars Petter dined at a party at engineer Trygg’s. Betted two tankards of rhenish wine that there will be a christening in 4 years.

20. wrote to J. Moraeus, S. S. about S. L. M. Explicitly solicited (her hand).

21. wrote to S. L. M.

22. called on [S. L. M.] gave annulum (a ring).

23. reciprocation by mother-in-law.

27. received from J. Mor response concerning 3 [years] secundum abitum (second departure). Seven temptations!

29. called on S. L. M. concluded Floram Dalekarlicam (Flora of the Dalecarlia province).


8. in the evening (with) S. L. M.

9. in the afternoon at a frolic at Morbygden.

10. in the evening (with) S. L. M.

11. with S. L. M. until X o’clock in the evening.

18. took leave of father-in-law.

19. took leave of S. L. M., who wrote the oath.

By Dorothy Fouracre, Librarian (adapted from an earlier blog post by Isabelle Charmantier, Head of Collections)

19th December 2018: “As Obsolete as some Better Things”: Mistletoe in our Collections Wed, 19 Dec 2018 10:00:00 +0000 Type Specimen
Type Specimen of Viscum album

Mistletoe has held symbolic significance since ancient times, and has come to be synonymous with Christmas. Thus this time of year provides the perfect excuse to nose through our library, archive and specimens, and use this Christmassy species to illuminate our collections and some of the people connected with them.

Although the name now applies to hundreds of species with similar features, ‘mistletoe’ originally referred to Viscum album, the only mistletoe native to Britain and much of Europe. It is one of the many species named by Linnaeus, and our collections hold the type for it – the physical specimen to which a scientific name is formally attached. Its older, Latin name, viscus, is where the modern word ‘viscous’ is derived from, as the plant’s sticky berries were used to make birdlime, to trap small birds.

Ortus Sanitatis
A page from the oldest book in our collections 'Ortus Sanitatis'

The oldest book in our collections, Ortus Sanitatis (‘Garden of Health’, 1491), was owned by Linnaeus, and features an entry on mistletoe. This work was the first printed encyclopedia of natural history, and describes hundreds of species of plants and animals, along with their medicinal usage. It compares mistletoe to Thapsia, or the deadly carrot, found in southwestern Europe. Uses it gives for mistletoe include heating the body, softening boils, and, when combined with pine resin, treating abscesses. Ortus Sanitatis has many fantastic woodcut illustrations, although there is some ‘botanical retrogression’, evident too in the image of mistletoe. This indicates that the engraver wasn’t familiar with some of the plants he was copying from previous cuts.

Griffith 2
One of William Griffith's papers on mistletoe

Mistletoe is a hemiparasitic plant, and cannot complete its lifecycle without a host species. Its roots penetrate the bark of its host tree to draw out water and nutrients, whilst its leaves continue to photosynthesise. This type of parasitism has evolved separately at least 12 times in flowering plants. William Griffith, a doctor, botanist and Fellow of the Society, wrote papers on the development of the ova of mistletoe and Loranthus (another plant in the mistletoe family), and their parasitism. We still hold his original drawings illustrating the papers, which were published in 1838. Griffith travelled widely through India, and died there aged only 35.

Griffith 1
One of William Griffith's papers on mistletoe

There are many more depictions of mistletoe throughout our collections. Hermann Adolph Köhler’s crisp, colour-printed plate shows the plant’s parts, and he remarks that by then, in 1887, it was rarely used medicinally any more (Köhler’s Medizinal-Pflanzen). The final image here is from James Sowerby’s major work English Botany, which was published in 267 monthly parts between 1791 and 1814. The founder of the Linnean Society, Sir James Edward Smith, wrote the commentary to Sowerby’s beautiful hand-coloured plates. He references the use of mistletoe in Christmas decorations, and says, rather cryptically, “In polite life it is as obsolete as some better things, and left to the kitchen”.

By Dorothy Fouracre, Librarian

Köhler’s Medizinal-Pflanzen
Köhler’s Medizinal-Pflanzen
James Sowerby English Botany
James Sowerby’s English Botany
3rd December 2018: Explore your Archives Week Mon, 03 Dec 2018 12:39:00 +0000 archive explored

Explore Your Archive is a nationwide, sector-owned, outreach campaign that hopes to engage members of the public with the world of archives. The campaign began in 2013 and is jointly directed by The National Archives and the ARA (Archives and Records Association). Explore Your Archive is a year-round endeavour and this year, the launch week began on 17th November and ran through to 25th November.

During launch week, a set of daily hashtag themes for social media are provided by the campaign. In the seven years of the campaign, Twitter proved to be the most effective platform for achieving a wide and diverse audience. The Linnean Society took part via Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. Material was selected that was both a visually stimulating example of each day theme and representative of the historically diverse activities of the Society.

This year the hashtags were the following:

#musicarchives #religiousarchives #archiveanniversaries #hairyarchives #maritimearchives #diversityarchives #archiveanimals #sportingarchives #internationalarchives

Here is a selection of some of the most popular items we featured in the campaign:

Day 1
day 2
day 3

day 5
day 4
day 6

day 7
day 8
day 9

By Vida Milovanovic, Archivist

23rd November 2018: Thomas Pennant – naturalist, traveller and letter-writer Fri, 23 Nov 2018 10:39:48 +0000 Thomas Pennant
Thomas Pennant

Last week the Linnean Society hosted a conference marking the end of ‘Curious Travellers’. This four-year research project looked at how the pioneering travel writings of Thomas Pennant (1726-1798) inspired a new public interest in the ‘peripheries’ of Britain.

Although his name is not so well known today, in his time Pennant was an acclaimed naturalist, antiquarian and writer. Charles Darwin owned a copy of Pennant’s History of Quadrupeds and had it sent to him in South America during his Beagle voyage.

Letter to Linnaeus
Pennant's Letter to Linnaeus

Pennant corresponded with a wide international network of leading scientific figures, including Carl Linnaeus, on whose collections our Society is founded. This correspondence survives in our archives today and reveals not only Pennant’s passion and curiosity for the natural world, but also an energetic personality not averse to a little gossip. He often flatters Linnaeus and, in 1771, surely aware of the growing rift between him and his former student, Daniel Solander, Pennant alludes to Solander’s failure to send Linnaeus promised specimens:

‘a liberal and communicative disposition is the highest honour to a man of science’.

A year later, Pennant laments that

‘Joseph Banks has conceived a jealousy of every old friend he had; and is quite averse to encourage merit in others; so I suppose Solander has followed his example’.

Another letter sent to Linnaeus from Pennant

After Linnaeus’ death, Pennant began writing to James Edward Smith, who had bought Linnaeus’ collections and founded the Linnean Society. In these letters, Pennant’s tone is respectful but also shorter, very much that of an older man talking to his junior. He declines to become an elected member of the Society three times, citing his advanced years, and later resigns the Honorary Membership he has been given, furious that he feels the Society has admonished him for profiting from his publications.

Pennant corresponded with Smith right up until his death, and even throughout the clashes mentioned above remained curious and engaged with questions about the natural world.

A quote from a 1793 letter to Smith captures both Pennant’s devotion to science and spry attitude perfectly:

‘Men of science never need apologize for the revival of trouble respecting information, nor do any delay it, unless the little fat curator of the British Museum.’

A display of some of Pennant’s beautifully illustrated publications and correspondence is currently in our Library – come and take a look!

By Dorothy Fouracre, Librarian

31st October 2018: Hidden Treasures: In Search of John Tyley Wed, 31 Oct 2018 09:06:00 +0000

Earlier in the month we did a blog post about John Edmonstone, the former slave who taught Charles Darwin taxidermy. If it wasn’t for Darwin talking about this man in his autobiography and his letters to his sister, would his monumental influence have gone unrecognised? It makes you wonder about the many contributions black people have made to the science of natural history that are as of yet unknown. In many cases we find out about these contributions through little things like passing comments in letters, or, as in the case of this blog post, a simple signature on a botanical painting.

St Vincent Laurus Persea
Avocado (Laurus persea)
Calycarpa scandens
Calycarpa scandens

Within our collections we hold some beautiful watercolour illustrations from Alexander Anderson’s Hortus Sti. Vincentii Tabulae. In need of repair, these items can be adopted through our AdoptLinn campaign, which will enable us to fund the conservation process. Alexander Anderson (1748–1811) was a Scottish surgeon and botanist who was appointed superintendent of the Botanic Garden on the Caribbean island of St Vincent from 1785 until his death. The Hortus Sti. Vincentii Tabulae shows 148 beautiful watercolour depictions of plants from the Botanic Garden (one of the oldest in the Western hemisphere), as well as a plan of the garden itself.

John Tyley Signature

Around ten of the stunning drawings are signed by a ‘John Tyley’. Who is John Tyley, what is his background and what became of his life? We do know that John Tyley was an associate/protégé of Alexander Anderson1 and in Alexander Anderson’s Geography and History of St. Vincent, West Indies (1983) it states that Alexander Anderson

"praised the work of his artist, a young mulatto from Antigua, and sought to find a position with opportunity for him in England".2

Is this young mulatto from Antigua the very same John Tyley? According to Alexander Anderson’s nephew, also called Alexander, it is. In his diary he writes about visiting his uncle in St Vincent and the drawings of a young mulatto, [John] Tyley, who was living with his uncle, while also working as his draftsman.3

St Vincent Botanic Garden
Drawing of St Vincent Botanic Garden

Currently this is all we know about John Tyley. But is this where our story ends? I would like to keep searching to find out more about his life. I have contacted the St Vincent Botanical Garden to see if they have any more information about this gifted botanical draughtsman, but I was also wondering if you could help. Do you know anything more about John Tyley? Or are you interested in getting involved in the research process?

There are many unsung heroes and hidden treasures within the study of natural history that need to be placed in the spotlight—let’s start with John Tyley.

By Leanne Melbourne, Events and Communications Manager


1) The St. Vincent Botanic Garden – The Early Years, 1997/1998, Richard A. Howard, Arnoldia, Vol 57, pg. 12-21

2) Alexander Anderson’s Geography and History of St. Vincent, West Indies; edited and transcribed by Richard a. & Elizabeth S. Howard

3) Alexander Anderson’s Life and Engravings before 1800^ with a Checklist of Publications Drawn from His Diary; Jane R. Pomeroy

24th October 2018: Looking to the Future Wed, 24 Oct 2018 07:21:00 +0000

For Black History Month, we have looked at past contributions of black people to natural history, through John Edmonstone and George Washington Carver. Through Maha Kordofani, we have listened to black scientists on what it is like to be in the field today. This week we look to the future and speak to PhD student, Oluwaseun Samuel Somoye, from Cardiff University about his PhD and his advice for future PhD students.

Olu Somoye

Your PhD research title is “The Role of Endemic infection in Disease Emergence”, can you tell us what it is about?

My PhD, based in the School of Biosciences at Cardiff University, explores the role of multiple infections in disease emergence. My research focusses on how direct or indirect interactions between parasites results in increased or reduced transmission of infectious diseases.

What does a typical day look like for you?

No day is ever the same, however, a typical day ranges from preparation, and execution of experiments in the laboratory, journal search, data analysis, writing reports or communicating research at group meetings. During term time, I supervise thesis students in the laboratory. A great way to perfect multi-tasking and project management skills.

What do you love most about research?

I enjoy learning from previous research studies. For example creating new hypotheses that can be tested systematically to improve on past studies and/or adapting experimental designs that help alleviate the spread of diseases. Research is in a constant state of flux, where a hypothesis is proposed, tested, accepted or rejected by scientific data.

Can you tell us about your career journey up until now?

I started my journey at Olabisi Onabanjo University, Nigeria in 2005, where I developed a keen interest in Parasitology after undertaking the 2nd-year module in this field. I then went on to complete a Master’s degree in Parasitology and Bioinformatics at the University of Lagos, Nigeria in 2012, before starting my Cardiff based PhD in 2015. I count myself lucky to have secured funding (including the Morgan E. Williams Helminthology Scholarship) for my PhD study.

You told us about your interest in parasitology developing during your undergraduates, but what made you decide to undertake research?

After completing my Masters in 2012, I worked with the Lagos state health service commission as a laboratory scientist. Here, I observed co-infection (i.e. having multiple parasites, especially problematic for people living in developing countries) was the norm in the majority of samples sent to our laboratory for diagnosis. This spurred my research interest further into how the presence of one pathogen can impact the disease progression or outcome of a secondary pathogen.

What do you see yourself doing after your PhD?

I intend to go back into public health, where I can put my infection biology expertise into addressing broad issues that can potentially compromise individual and population health including the control of infectious diseases.

If you had to pick one, who would be your favourite scientist?

That’s a hard one, there are quite a few but I would say, African- American, Vanessa Ezenwa, who is an evolutionary ecologist interested in the links between biodiversity loss and infectious diseases and the processes that drive the ecology and evolution of infectious diseases.

Finally, what advice would you give to someone just starting their PhD?

The journey to a PhD can be likened to a roller coaster, surround yourself with as much support as you can get. Stay determined, critical, humble, patient and never be afraid to fail, it’s all a learning process.

Interviewed by Leanne Melbourne, Events and Communications Manager

15th October 2018: The Father of the Peanut Industry Mon, 15 Oct 2018 08:58:00 +0000

This week during Black History Month we take a look at an American hero, a former slave who, through his extensive botanical knowledge, revolutionised the farming industry in America.

From traumatic upbringings…

George Washington Carver was an American chemist and inventor. He is most famously known for actively promoting alternating crop techniques to prevent soil depletion. George was born into slavery in Diamond Grove, Missouri. The exact date is unknown, but has been estimated as being c. 1864. At a few months old George, his sister and mother were kidnapped. Moses Carver, George’s slave owner, paid his neighbour to find them but only George was found. George’s older brother James was then the only biological family he had, as his father had died in an accident before George was born.

George Washington Carver

After the abolition of slavery, Moses and his wife Susan raised George and James as their own, teaching them both to read and write. As none of the schools in the area allowed blacks to attend, George Carver left home, at age 11, to attend school in Neosho. He eventually moved to Kansas to continue his schooling and earned his diploma from Minneapolis High School.

Moving on to higher education was difficult; George applied to several colleges and was only accepted by Highland University, who retracted their offer once they knew he was black. During this time he homesteaded a claim, where he conducted biological experiments and compiled his geological collection.

George was interested in both arts and science. While studying art and music at Simpson College (a Methodist school that allowed blacks to attend), his talent for drawing plants and his interest in botany prompted his teacher, Etta Bud, to suggest that he enrol in a botany program at Iowa State Agricultural College—now Iowa State University. George Carver was the first black student to attend this college in 1891, in which he excelled at his studies. After finishing his bachelor’s degree he was persuaded by his professors to stay and attain his master’s.

…to saving the lives of the poor and having friends in high places…

After graduating in 1896, George was approached by Booker T. Washington to run the agricultural department at Tuskegee institute (now Tuskegee University). The Institution was set up by Booker T. Washington to focus on training African Americans in agricultural pursuits.

Tuskegee Institute
George Washington Carver with fellow Tuskegee Institute faculty (c. 1902). Photograph taken by Frances Benjamin Johnston.

Under George’s leadership the agricultural department achieved national acclaim. George developed techniques in crop rotation by planting legumes (peanuts and soya beans, etc.) and sweet potatoes after the cotton season to replenish the soils with vital nutrients (e.g. nitrogen). He brought these techniques to farmers in a mobile classroom known as the ‘Jessup Wagon’. This helped to improve the economy in the South and, by extension, the lives of poor farmers from backgrounds similar to his own.

George Carver spent the rest of his life teaching at Tuskegee Institute. During this time he gained international political and professional fame; admired by President Theodore P. Roosevelt, trusted by Mahatma Ghandi and awarded by the British Royal Society of Arts—he was the first American ever to be made a member.

…and becoming the Father of the Peanut Industry

From oppressive and crippling surroundings, George Washington Carver lifted his searching, creative mind to the ordinary peanut, and found therein extraordinary possibilities for goods and products unthinkable by minds of the past, and left for succeeding generations an inspiring example of how an individual could rise above the paralyzing conditions of circumstance.

Martin Luther King Jr about George Washington Carver

Famous for his extensive knowledge on the uses of the peanut, George Carver was invited to speak at the 1920 convention of the United Peanut Association of America on ‘The possibilities of the Peanut’. His talk covered about 145 different products; George developed a host of new food products, medicines as well as cosmetics such as hand lotions, face creams, and powder. Altogether, he discovered more than 300 food, industrial, and commercial products from this humble legume. However, contrary to popular belief, George Carver did not invent peanut butter.

In 1921 he appeared before the House Ways and Means Committee as an expert witness on behalf of the peanut industry, which was seeking tariff protection. George's testimony did not begin well, but he eventually captivated committee members in such a way that by the end he received a standing ovation. More importantly, he convinced the committee that peanuts should be protected, helping to secure them a high protective tariff.

My life has been of some service to my fellow man

Well, someday I will have to leave this world. And when that day comes, I want to feel that my life has been of some service to my fellow man.

George Washington Carver

With all this fame and notoriety George Carver still lived a very frugal life. He used his life savings ($60,000) to fund the George Washington Carver Museum and cultural centre in Austin, Texas, and the George Washington Carver Foundation which was set up to continue agricultural research at the Tuskegee Institute.

George Washington Carver died from a fall in his home on the 5th January 1943, at around 79 years of age. Franklin D. Roosevelt, after Carver’s death, signed legislation to receive his own monument, a first for an African American and a non-president. He was also posthumously inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame. Looking at all of his accolades, I think it is safe to say that George Washington Carver’s life was seen as a true service to his fellow man.

George Carver as a boy national monument
The Boy Carver statue along the one-mile, self-guiding trail loop at the George Washington Carver National Monument

By Leanne Melbourne, Events and Communications Manager

9th October 2018: Celebrating our Fellows: Maha Kordofani FLS Tue, 09 Oct 2018 07:26:00 +0000

This week for Black History Month we are celebrating one of our Fellows of colour, Professor Maha Ahmed Kordofani. Earlier in the month we had a chat with Maha about all things Natural History, why she loves the subject, how she got into it and her advice to younger natural historians.

Maha Kordafani

So Maha, what is your current job title and what do you do in this role?

I am a Professor of Botany (2012 – present), Staff Member and Curator of the Botany Herbarium. I work in the Department of Botany, Faculty of Science, University of Khartoum in Sudan. My research focuses on the Flora of Sudan, within that role I collect and identify plants. My role as a Professor involves teaching plant taxonomy and supervising postgraduate students.

What do you love most about your job?

I love identifying and classifying plants, especially medicinal plants. I cherish the knowledge that I have gained whilst studying such plants. The diversity of species in a country as big as Sudan provides an incredible medium for advancing my work. There are also common folk medical practices incorporating plants that remain ever so robust and popular despite the modernisation and westernisation of medicine. I have found that many of the plants I study are widely applicable to today’s medical and therapeutic work. They relate to many medical and pharmacological practices with an emphasis on the fields of alternative and holistic medicine. Africa has a mighty wealth of plants that have the ability to prevent and cure many medical conditions which I find extremely fascinating and hence never tire from my work.

Can you tell us a bit about your career journey?

I started from humble beginnings in the City of Wad-Medani. It was the agricultural capital of Sudan. It was a struggle for me as I was one of the few women in my field. I am grateful to be where I am today. Not only have I become a Professor of Botany, I am now in a leading position which allows me to help and support students throughout Africa, the UK and the rest of the world.

I completed my Bachelors degree at the University of Khartoum within the Faculty of Science. I then went on to complete a Masters in Experimental Taxonomy at the University of Khartoum, and from there a PhD in Plant Taxonomy at Birkbeck College, London.

I am proud of my journey and it gives me the utmost satisfaction to pass the knowledge on. Women of African origin are still low in numbers in our profession, their wages remain relatively low and I continuously strive to empower them.

Maha's books

What made you want to get into your profession?

I have always had a love for plants. This interest in plants seemed to relentlessly grow throughout my childhood, with every year that passed, making my interest deeper and more pronounced. My father was an Agricultural Researcher (Agronomist). He loved his work. I watched him as I was growing up and was inspired by his resilience and love for Botany. As a woman at the time, I was not expected to do much in terms of academic development. However I found plants fascinating and wanted to learn more about them. My father encouraged me to pursue this career and provided the necessary environment for me to flourish and succeed. He understood the challenges a young African woman would face and prepared me very well for my career in Botany. With determination, resilience and strength I managed to fulfil my dream of becoming a Botanist.

Who is your favourite natural historian?

I would have to say Carl Linnaeus. Linnaeus is famous for his work in Taxonomy, the science of identifying, naming and classifying organisms (plants, animals, bacteria, fungi, etc.). His history inspires me greatly as I am one of 7 siblings and my father worked with plants as an Agriculturist. Carl Linnaeus was a hard working man with a very interesting life.


What does it mean to you to be a fellow of the Linnean Society?

Being a fellow of the Linnean Society of London is truly special. It is an absolute honour to be a member of such a wonderful scientific community. It is a place where great minds meet and great ideas are born. It is very empowering for me as a woman of African origin to be a member of the Linnean Society. It makes me feel that my efforts have not gone to waste and that I belong to a beautiful group of people who are interested in the same things I am interested in. People who work with plants to deliver the same message I do. Naturally, as Carl Linnaeus is a favourite of mine, it adds a superior note to the order of my pride in being a member of the Linnean Society of London. I am immensely grateful.

Finally, what advice would you give to someone just starting their career in natural history?

Patience is a virtue. Anything worth achieving is going to be hard and without pain we do not grow. Be determined but not overzealous. Be strong but not rigid. Be focused but not tunnel visioned. Be self critical but do not be self doubting. Be analytical but do not be prejudiced. Be free in your pursuit of knowledge and give knowledge freely. Your path is not as much about titles and achievements as it is about the betterment of yourself and of humanity, therefore, be kind to yourself and to others.

Interviewed by Leanne Melbourne, Events and Communications Manager

2nd October 2018: The Man who taught Charles Darwin Taxidermy Tue, 02 Oct 2018 07:09:00 +0000

By the way, a negro lived in Edinburgh, who had travelled with Waterton, and gained his livelihood by stuffing birds, which he did excellently: he gave me lessons for payment, and I used often to sit with him, for he was a very pleasant and intelligent man.

Charles Darwin

This October, for Black History Month, we are exploring the contributions to natural history that have been made by people of African/ Caribbean origin. A famous example involves one of the greatest natural historians of our time, Charles Darwin.

In the above quote, Darwin writes of his taxidermy lessons under the tutelage of a freed slave. According to R.B. Freeman in ‘Darwin’s negro bird-stuffer’ from the Royal Society Journal of the History of Science (1978) this gentleman was John Edmonstone, originally a slave of Charles Edmonstone from Warrows Place, Mibiri Creek in British Guyana.

John Edmonstone was taught the art of taxidermy by Charles Waterton, a 19th century naturalist. Waterton speaks of Edmonstone in his book Wanderings of South America (1825), albeit with less affection than Darwin:

Demerara River
Mbiri Creek, Demerara River. Mr Edmonstone's Wood Cutting Establishment. Thomas Staunton St Clairs, A residence in West Indes and Americas (London, 1834) Vol 2

"It was upon this hill in former days that I first tried to teach John, the black slave of my friend Mr. Edmonstone, the proper way to do birds. But John had poor abilities, and it required much time and patience to drive any thing into him. Some years after this his master took him to Scotland, where, becoming free, John left him, and got employed in the Glasgow, and then the Edinburgh Museum. ”

Edmonstone moved to Edinburgh in 1823, after six years in Glasgow, finding employment teaching the university students how to preserve animals. He lived at 37 Lothian Street until 1825 (close to both the University and where Darwin and his brother Erasmus lodged at the time), and was later recorded as living at 6 South St David’s Street (between 1832 and 1833).

Whilst little is known about him, we do know Edmonstone was teaching and influencing one of the greatest minds of the 19th century. From a letter to his sister, Susan Elizabeth, we learn that Darwin first met Edmonstone in 1826, at the impressionable age of 17.

“I am going to learn to stuff birds, from a blackamoor I believe an old servant of Dr. Duncan: it has the recommendation of cheapness, if it has nothing else, as he only charges one guinea, for an hour every day for two months.”

The Voyage of HMS Beagle 1890
The Voyage of HMS Beagle 1890
Darwin's Galapagos Finches
Darwin's Galapagos Finches

In total, Darwin spent 40 hours training with Edmonstone, not just learning this necessary skill but also hearing of the flora and fauna in distant South America. Only five years later in 1831, Darwin undertook his historic voyage on board the HMS Beagle, on which he first began to form his theory on natural selection. Darwin would have taken with him his newly acquired taxidermy skills as well as his enlightening conversations with Edmonstone. The Galápagos finches, used to support his theory on the transmutation of species, were preserved using the techniques that Edmonstone had taught him.

If not for an aside in Darwin’s autobiography, would we have ever known about the monumental contribution of John Edmonstone, a former slave from Guyana? It makes you wonder how many more significant yet undiscovered contributions people of colour have made to the study of natural history.

John Edmonstone
John Edmonstone and a Young Charles Darwin © State Darwin Museum

By Leanne Melbourne, Events and Communications Manager

19th September 2018: Reverend William Kirby, the Father of Modern Entomology Wed, 19 Sep 2018 13:44:00 +0000 William Kirby

On this day in 1759 Reverend William Kirby FRS FLS, an early member of the Linnean Society and leading entomologist, was born in the English county of Suffolk. Kirby studied in Ipswich and then went on to Caius College, Cambridge. He completed his B.A. degree in 1781 and in 1782 he started his studies to become a Reverend at Barham and Coddenham, near Ipswich. During his time at Barham he directed his attention to botany. As stated by his friend and fellow entomologist Mr William Spence (published in the Proceedings of the Linnean Society)

"His first taste for natural history was excited by his mother having been accustomed to lend him, when a child, occasionally as a treat, some of the foreign shells in her cabinet to look at and admire."

Psyllobora vigintiduopunctata © Olei

He then turned his attention to entomology after coming across a yellow 22-spotted ladybird (Psyllobora vigintiduopunctata) on his windowsill. According to Spence Kirby's whole ‘entomological career probably depended on his having been struck by this insect’.

Certificate of Recommendation
Reverend William Kirby's certificate of recommendation

In 1791 Kirby became an Associate Member of the Linnean Society, and by 1796 was an elected Fellow. During his life he published many books on insects including his first major work, Monographia Apum Angliae (Monograph on the Bees of England) in 1802 and the Introduction to Entomology, which was the first popular entomological work in English (1815–26).

Interestingly, in 1816 Kirby was involved in some controversy where he became an unexpected rival to our founding president and botanist Sir James Edward Smith (1759–1828) by running against Smith for the Botanical Professorship at Cambridge. In a letter from Smith to the famed entomologist Alexander Macleay (1767–1848). Smith wrote that:

"I do not accuse him of hypocrisy, only thus so far I say the character of a priest in the bad sense is essentially composed of hypocrisy and bigotry"

This rivalry, however, does not detract from the fact that Reverend William Kirby was a widely respected entomologist. During his lifetime he became an honorary life president of the Entomological Society of London (which he helped found), President of the Ipswich Museum and a Fellow of the Royal, Zoological and Geological Societies. In his lifetime he had significantly contributed to the study of natural history through is entomological research and because of that he is remembered as the Father of Modern Entomology.

It will be evident how extensively and successfully [William Kirby] cultivated natural science, and how deeply it is indebted to him.

​​William Spence speaking of Reverend William Kirby in the Proceedings of the Linnean Society​
William Kirby

By Leanne Melbourne, Events and Communications Manager

24th August 2018: The Museum of Lost Species debuts at Green Man Fri, 24 Aug 2018 08:00:00 +0000

Linnean Learning recently took a trip out to the Green Man Festival in Wales to exhibit The Museum of Lost Species for the first time. The Learning team have spent weeks developing ‘the Museum’ and were eager to share it with the festival-goers at Green Man.


The main exhibit was a fictional Museum that is home to all extinct species. The Museum currently is experiencing a period of profound growth – scientists predict we are seeing extinction at around 1000 times the natural rate. The Museum was posed as an evil organisation that is quite happy to see more species becoming extinct with the creepy curators inside offering advice on how people could increase biodiversity loss.


Outside the Museum, you may have spotted some campaigners that wanted the Museum to be as small as possible. They were campaigning to Close the Museum. They asked visitors to write down their thoughts on how the Museum made them feel, and what they will do to prevent further biodiversity loss.

Museum made you feel

The team wanted to create an out-of-the-ordinary exhibit that highlights how we, as humans, have the power to cause detrimental effects to our planet and the millions of species that live within it. However the team also wanted to highlight positive ways that we can protect the Earth's vibrant biodiversity. Through our creepy curators and opposing team of campaigners, the exhibit allowed visitors to explore their own role in biodiversity loss and think about what they can do in the future.

close the museum

By the end of the festival, the campaigners and the festival-goers managed to close the Museum, but we are sure the Museum will re-open again soon…

You can head over to our web page ( to find out more about the Museum and learn about how we can all act to stem the flow of biodiversity loss.

Joe Burton, Education and Public Engagement Manager

14th August 2018: Linnean Society Field trip to the Isle of Cumbrae Tue, 14 Aug 2018 16:44:46 +0000 setting moth traps
The team setting up moth traps for the evening

This year, for our field trip, the Linnean Society went to Scotland’s most accessible island, the Isle of Cumbrae. We haven’t done a field trip in a few years and decided to bring them back in a revamped format in conjunction with the Field Studies Council. They weren’t wrong about it being Scotland’s most accessible island. It was a long journey from London, two trains, a ferry and bus ride, but an easy one. Once you got to Largs, which was a straight train from Glasgow, the ferry left every 15 minutes and on the other side the bus arrived the same time as the ferry and dropped you right outside the field centre.

Once we arrived we were put straight to work. The first evening session consisted of setting traps, humane ones of course. We set moth traps, mammal traps and a camera trap to hopefully capture the night time activities of otters. According to Jack, our tutor for the weekend, the mammal traps saw the same creatures coming back. It was a bit like a night’s stay in a luxury hotel for them, as there was
shelter and enough food and water for the night.

Dolphin spotting
Dolphin watching

We ended Friday evening bird and dolphin watching. We saw Gannets in a feeding frenzy, it was truly amazing watching these birds dive from great heights. Gannets can dive from 30 m high, achieving speeds of up to 100 km/hour, enabling them to catch fish much deeper than other airborne birds. They are one of the few birds to dive with their eyes open. We also spotted the lone resident dolphin named either ‘Colin’ or ‘Kylie’ depending on who you ask. They don’t know much about this dolphin, but what is very interesting is that this dolphin is only ever seen alone, even though dolphins are extremely social creatures.

After a bit of dolphin spotting, it was time to call it a night. A few of us were lucky to have sea views from our bedrooms so I know some tried to see if they could spot Kylie again from their rooms.

Saturday morning saw us revisit our traps. Our camera trap wasn’t so successful. We did catch some creatures on camera but not the otters we were expecting. Instead our bait attracted a couple of shore rats. Our other traps, however, were more successful. We caught a range of moths, including two lovely and quite lively large yellow underwings and our mammal traps caught three field mice. After safely returning them we got onto our next task which was plankton sampling. I think we were all surprised by how much we enjoyed this session. It was really fun getting the microscopes out and trying to identify all the plankton we saw. The colours and shapes made it all quite mesmerising.

A few creatures found in our traps and plankton under a microscope

Kames Bay, Millport
The view from Kames Bay. On the left is Wee Cumbrae and in the distance is the Isle of Arran

After lunch we got to spend the afternoon on the rocky shore. We learnt about quadrat sampling and the different types of animals and seaweeds we find along the rocky shore. From the lichens that dominate the splash zone right down to the lower shore where all the sea urchins, crabs, starfish and brittle stars live. After sampling we took a drive around the island and had a few stops to look at the immense views. The circumference of the Island is only 10 miles long and so it as become a bit of a cycling destination for tourists. Saturday ended with a talk on the natural history of Cumbrae and the other islands that make up the Clyde Islands.

Fun Fact: Curling stones are made from a certain type of granite that is only found on Ailsa Craig, an island south of Cumbrae.

Well the day didn’t really end there. After Jack finished his talk and left. We all stayed behind to look at more plankton. I did say we really enjoyed that session.

On the Sunday we had our final activity which was analysing the sandy shore. This time we learnt about transects and dug up a lot of worms, and I mean a lot of worms! We saw way too many lugworms and ragworms. Although, the ragworms were gorgeous to look at, they have these beautiful colours and they undulate, which is pretty captivating to look at. It’s easy to forget they are carnivorous and like to bite, so don’t hold onto them for too long. Up until this point we have been very lucky with the weather. It had been extremely sunny and surprisingly warm, not what we would expect from Scotland. We couldn’t leave Scotland without experiencing some proper Scottish weather and Sunday did not disappoint. As soon as we finished the morning activity the heavens opened and we had to rush back to the centre. Back at the centre we had a bit of time to head around the museum and aquarium before making our journeys back home.

Sandy shore sampling
The team on the last day sampling at Kames Bay

Overall, it was an extremely enjoyable weekend, where we learnt a lot about the ecology and the natural history of the island. The Field Studies Council were amazing, friendly hosts and Jack was extremely knowledgeable about Cumbrae and the local ecology. If you are looking for a lovely, easily accessible island with stunning views and a relaxed atmosphere the Isle of Cumbrae should be your next destination.

Leanne Melbourne, Events and Communications Manager

6th July 2018: My week at the Linnean Society Fri, 06 Jul 2018 14:34:00 +0000 Helios statue
© Tony Hisgett CC BY 4.0

This week it has been my delight to have had the opportunity to complete my work experience at the Linnean Society. Travelling to Burlington House takes me about an hour, as I take the train and then a short walk from Charing Cross. On my walk, I am lucky enough to see some interesting statues, including the dynamic Horses of Helios sculpture at Piccadilly Circus.


On the morning of my first day the Executive Secretary, Elizabeth Rollinson, kindly gave me an introduction to the Society. Through a tour around the building, I learned all about the Society's history. The meeting room was particularly intriguing to me, as it contained the famous Collier painting of Charles Darwin. The following day I was lucky enough to arrange a display that included a letter from Darwin that refers to that same painting. It was also very exciting for me to visit the Cloudsley-Thompson room, as Professor John Cloudsley-Thompson has greatly inspired my interest in zoology.

Being present at the weekly staff meeting on my first day, known as “scrummage”, gave me an idea of what life is like in an office, which was especially useful to me as I have not had previous exposure to working in an office environment beforehand.

The highlight of my first day was when I had the opportunity to join Isabelle, Deputy Collections Manager, in the Collections vault. I was lucky enough to see some beautiful collections, including fish specimens and even some type specimens of butterflies. These are currently being displayed in the Discovery room. The visit to the Collections vault made me aware of the great importance of keeping fragile collections under specific conditions to help preserve them for future generations.

Butterfly Specimen (Papillo achilles) from the Linnaean collections

Towards the end of the day I had the opportunity to observe discussions regarding budget reconciliation for the Discovery Room Project, as well as discussions about adding book cases in the basement. This has helped me to learn about the issues that have to be tackled, and the variety of tasks involved, as a part of being an Executive Secretary.

I started off my second day at the Linnean Society by thinking of and noting down questions and ideas related to the topic areas of the A-level biology course that I am studying at school. I had to think about why I find these questions interesting as these ideas or ones similar may be incorporated into future podcasts aimed at listeners who are of a similar age to me. This was an enjoyable activity as it allowed me to express my creativity through asking myself a range of questions, developing new ideas about what I am learning at school, and forcing me to think beyond what I am simply taught in my day-to-day school lessons.

Emilia Noel
Image taken from one of Emilia Noel's sketchbooks

I spent the rest of the day, as well as the majority of the following day, helping with collections in the library, which was definitely one of my favourite parts of my work experience. This involved choosing pages of books to be used as displays in the Discovery room. I chose a vibrant illustration by botanical artist Emelia Noel. Helping to set up the displays in the discovery room helped me to learn about the challenges involved in making a visually pleasing display that is well- structured and informative, yet clear and easy to read.

During my work experience I also got involved in various activities, such as using excel to create tables that contain financial information. This was extremely useful in developing my skills and confidence in general office tasks that I will need in my future career.

Throughout my week of work experience I have also been lucky enough to talk to different members of staff, who informed me about their jobs at the Linnean Society, which range from conservation to digitalisation. This has given me a great insight into the way the Linnean Society operates, and the different day-to-day tasks and duties involved at the society.

It’s been a truly great experience.

Alicia Green, Work experience student

Alicia in the Discovery Room
1st July 2018: 160th anniversary of the presentation of "On the tendency of Species to form Varieties" Sun, 01 Jul 2018 09:00:00 +0000

Today marks the 160th anniversary of the presentation of papers by Charles Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace outlining the theory of evolution by natural selection at a meeting at the Linnean Society in 1858.

Unfortunately, neither of the two were present. Darwin was unwell and still grieving following the death of his son and Wallace was away in the Moluccas in Indonesia.

Portrait of Darwin (1809-1882) commissioned by the Society in 1883 which can be found in the Society’s Meeting Room. The painter, John Collier, was selected by Darwin. Darwin was formally admitted as a Fellow of the Linnean Society on 2 May 1854.
Portrait of Alfred Russel Wallace (1823-1913). Alfred Russel Wallace was formally admitted a Fellow of the Linnean Society on 15 Feb 1872.

On 18 June 1858 Darwin had received a letter from Wallace containing an essay entitled “On the tendency of species to depart indefinitely from the Original type” which formulated the same hypothesis that Darwin had worked on for the last twenty years but had never published. Darwin sent this to Scottish Geologist Sir Charles Lyell as requested by Wallace and also informed his close friend and botanist/explorer Joseph Dalton Hooker of what had happened. 

Lyell and Hooker were familiar with Darwin’s views by this point and Hooker had read his original manuscript. It was thanks to these two that Darwin was persuaded not to publish Wallace’s essay without publishing his own long-withheld manuscript. Darwin left the matter in the hand of Lyell and Hooker who presented the papers just in time for an extra meeting held at the Society.

The two wrote a joint letter to the Secretary, J. J Bennet, which arrived only the day before the meeting. It contained:

  1. Extracts from the first part of a MS. work on Species by Darwin that also included extracts from the second chapter headed “On the Variation of Organic Being in a State of Nature; on the Natural Means of Selection; on the Comparison of Domestic Races and true Species” of which both Hooker and Lyell intended to read at the Society.
  2. Abstract from a letter from Darwin to Prof. Asa Gray, Boston, U .S. dated September 5th 1857 highlighting his unaltered views.
  3. “On the Tendency of Varieties to depart indefinitely from the Original Type” by Alfred Russel Wallace.
Linnean Society
“On the tendency of Species to form Varieties” paper by Wallace and Darwin originally published in the Journal of the Linnean Society of London, Zoology. Read on 1st July 1858 at the Society. This is currently on display in the Library of the Linnean Society.

As it was customary to not receive the agenda in advance, these papers that were read by the Secretary J. J Bennet were a complete surprise to everyone attending. In a letter written from Hooker to Charles Darwin’s son, Francis Darwin, 28 years after the meeting, he describes how the room was awestruck and completely silent. There was a lack of discussion about the papers which he put down to the subject being too novel and ominous.

Thomas Bell, the president of the Society at the time, had no inkling that this was the start of a paradigm shift. In his Presidential address in May 1859 reviewing the previous year he said 

The year which has passed… has not, indeed, been marked by any of those striking discoveries which at once revolutionise, so to speak, the department of science on which they bear.

It was only when Darwin published his Origins of Species by means of natural selection, a year later that the significance of this momentous occasion became evident. 

Eleanor Marshall, Intern

15th June 2018: The Linnean Society Loose Letters Collection: The Weird and the Wonderful Fri, 15 Jun 2018 09:08:00 +0000

Since October, I have been cataloguing the loose letters collection, which mostly ranges in date from 1800 to 1990. The majority deal with membership concerns such as membership applications, paying fees, attending meetings, and receiving copies of publications. 

Members and non-members often sent in descriptions or photographs of plants and animals asking for help in identification. Requests were usually straightforward, but sometimes they could be a little more unusual. A. Thomson, in 1901, wrote rather desperately from the Zoological Society asking if the Linnean Society could give the name and address of any gentleman who might be able to supply trained hawks for the Sultan of Morocco. Presumably the Linnean Society was of some help, as someone has written down an address on the letter. In 1993, Luis Villar Corzo wrote to the Society to advertise his stock of live alpacas (400 females and 40 males). Given the lack of space in the Society, they seem to have declined his offer.

Loch Ness Gold

Edwin Gold became rather excited in 1954 by reports of the Loch Ness monster, believing it to be similar to the legendary Polynesian sea-monster, the Taniwha. He described in great detail his reasons for believing in its existence and was puzzled by ‘the indifference shown by scientists to the affair.’

Unicorn Hardwicke

 Thomas Hardwicke (1821) went even further with his belief in the unicorn. Having proudly described his specimens (including a bear skin, Nepalese wild sheep horns and musk deer), he then referred to his friend [Nathaniel] Wallich, who 

has some hopes also of getting the animal we call an Unicorn – I have little doubt of its existence – and alive or dead it will be a great acquisition to Natural History

Despite several subsequent letters detailing more specimens, the promised unicorn was never mentioned again.

ration letter

The domestic affairs of the Linnean Society occasionally came under scrutiny. In the bleakness of post-war rationing, the Society continued providing tea, with occasional help, as a letter from Monie Watt (1948) shows. She posted a parcel of tea, dried milk, and ‘old fashioned Basin cloths’ as a contribution to the Society. In 1956, M. Muriel Whiting had other thoughts about the tea provided. For reasons of economy she suggested replacing the swiss roll provided (‘very sticky’) with plain fruit cake, and replacing the rich fruit cake with bread and butter (which she believed many Fellows would prefer). 

Occasionally more serious matters occurred. An imposter was seen in the Library in 1844. Luckily, S. Symons appeared to know the identity of the man, John Berrington, described as ‘a person wearing a clerical coat.’ Symons had more information: ‘he was guilty of some very unclerical acts’ and was ‘a most accomplished swindler’ who has spent time in prison. 

Other members gave accounts of their exploits and the stories behind their specimens. 

Markwick letter

William Markwick’s letter in 1795 provides one of the saddest stories of specimen collecting. 

You may remember that in the year 1789 I sent you a specimen of the Scaup Duck anas marila together with the Tippet Grebe [Podiceps cristatus], but your Servants thinking them Delicacies for the Table dressed them for your Dinner, before you could examine them as a Naturalist.

Luckily he sent some more specimens (obtained by sending his servant to ‘shoot what Birds he could’) which hopefully reached his correspondent without incident.

Some letters appear to have very little relevance to the Society. A letter from 1782 from Lewis Rosey was a touching plea to his uncle to reply to his letters. How the letter came to be at the Society is unclear; his uncle was in Lausanne, while Lewis himself was an apprentice to a watch maker near Soho Square. He wrote with a wish that they would spend some time together in the future, and that ‘we must not think of that the time being at to great a distance of and a great many things may happen between this and then.’ 

This fascinating collection demonstrates the variety of the Linnean correspondence over the years and makes rewarding reading. The letters have now been catalogued and will soon be available on the CALM archive catalogue.

Anne Courtney, Volunteer

dear uncle
30th May 2018: Medal winners 2018 Wed, 30 May 2018 09:19:00 +0000 Anniversary meeting medal winners
Bottom Left to Bottom Right: Juliet Williamson, Kamaljit Bawa, Edwige Moyroud, Thais Vasconcelos, Marcella Corcoran; Top Left to Top Right: Daniel Hutson, Sophien Kamoun, Alexander Hetherington FLS, Dan Danahar, Josephine Pemberton, Jeremy Holloway FLS, Niki Simpson FLS, Paul Brakefield PPLS, Sandy Knapp PLS, Andy Chick FLS © The Linnean Society of London

At our Anniversary Meeting on Thursday 24th May 2018, Professor Paul Brakefield—President of the Linnean Society of London— presented our Medals and Prizes to celebrate the achievements of academics across the natural sciences. Below is a list of the medal and award winners.

Kamaljit Bawa received the Linnean Medal (Botany) to a biologist for service to science.

Kamaljit Bawa

Jeremey Holloway FLS received the Linnean Medal (Botany) to a biologist for service to science.

Jeremy Holloway

Sophien Kamoun received the Linnean Medal (Botany) to a biologist for service to science.

Sophien Kamoun

Josephine Pemberton received the Darwin-Wallace Medal to persons who have made major advances in evolutionary biology.

Josephine Pemberton

Edwige Moyroud received the Bicentenary Medal to a biologist under the age of 40 years in recognition of excellent work.

Edwige Moyroud

Andrew Chick FLS received the Trail-Crisp Medal in recognition of an outstanding contribution to biological microscopy that has been published in the UK.

Andrew Chick

Alexander Hetherington FLS received the Irene Manton Prize to a PhD student for the best botany thesis in an academic year.

Alexander Hetherington FLS

Thais Nogales da Costa Vasconcelos was awarded the John C Marsden Medal for the best doctoral thesis in biology.

Thais Vasconcelos

Dan Danahar received the H H Bloomer Award awarded to an amateur naturalist for an important contribution to biological knowledge.

Dan Danahar

Marcella Corcoran received the John Spedan Lewis Medal awarded to an individual who is making a significant and innovative contribution to conservation.

Marcella Corcoran

Niki Simpson received the Jill Smythies Award to a botanical artist for outstanding illustrations.

Niki Simpson

Juliet Williamson received the Jill Smythies Award to a botanical artist for outstanding illustrations.

Juliet Williamson

The Linnean Society seeks to encourage excellence in the natural sciences by awarding a series of medals and prizes to scientists and artists for outstanding work in their fields. Nominations for 2019 are now open and will close on 30th November 2018.

18th May 2018: Lady Pleasance Smith: a typical Victorian lady? Fri, 18 May 2018 16:00:00 +0000

This year, the Linnean Society collaborated with the History department of King's College London, and hosted two Masters students to undertake a 100-hour internship in the Library. The two students, Kristen Wellborn and Taylor Harwood, catalogued different sections of Lady Pleasance Smith's correspondence: while Kristen catalogued Lady Pleasance's general correspondence (over 350 letters from around 100 different correspondents), Taylor focused on the 200-odd letters sent to Lady Pleasance by the Reverend Charles L. Smith (no relation). The two students then collaborated to produce a Linnean Learning podcast, available to listen to on the Linnean Society's website or via SoundCloud. The students were able to present their research and share their experience of working at the Linnean Society at a showcase in Kings College on 11 May. 

Kings College Showcase

We were hugely impressed with Kristen's and Taylor's enthusiasm, scholarship and output. The collaboration between the students and between Kings College and the Linnean Society has been immensely enjoyable and fruitful, and we hope to continue to be involved in more internships next year.

Isabelle Charmantier, Deputy Librarian

Pleasance Podcast
Lady Pleasance Smith

Lady Pleasance Smith had a sharp intellect and a wide-ranging network of family, friends and acquaintances throughout her long life. She was known for her generosity and philanthropic work. Pleasance outlived her husband James Edward Smith, founder of the Linnean Society of London, by nearly five decades, and from the time of his death in 1828 until her death in 1877 at age 103, Pleasance wrote and received a high volume of letters, many of which reveal her avid interest in the arts, humanities, sciences and the natural world.

 As she was not a Fellow of the Society nor a botanist, it would be natural to think that with the passing of her husband her connection to the Linnean Society would have ended, but the high volume of letters that she received indicates the complete opposite. Up to the 1860s, Pleasance remained friends with the Presidents of the Society and donated books, specimens and even some of her husband’s letters to the Society. Being the wife of James Edward Smith afforded Pleasance the opportunity to broaden her horizons intellectually and break the mould of the commonly portrayed narrative of a domestic Victorian lady.

Pleasance correspondence

Writing letters was a vital part of everyday life in Victorian times. It was the best way to quickly pass on important news and conversation. Although the letters penned by her are missing, by reading through this collection consisting of over 550 surviving letters from almost 100 different correspondents, we are able to take a glimpse into the past and piece together a picture of who Lady Pleasance Smith was.

Taylor Harwood and Kristen Wellborn