W. Blanchard Jerrold.

How to See the British Museum in Four Visits online

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The marsupial animals are placed by some zoologists in the lowest
class of mammalia. They include carnivorous, herbivorous, and
insectivorous families, and their head-quarters appear to be
Australia. In the first two cases (44, 45) which the visitor will
examine, are the varieties of Australian phalangers; and here also are
the New Holland bears, the Australian wombat, the flying squirrel of
Norfolk Island, the flying phalangers; and in the right corner of the
case are grouped those notable animals to which public curiosity has
of late years been so keenly directed - the kangaroos. In the next five
cases (46-51) the visitor will find more varieties of these strange,
awkward-looking creatures. Here amid the kangaroos of Australia are
the long-nosed, rock, and jerboa kangaroos, the New Guinea
tree-kangaroo, and below, the Australian koala. The two next cases
(52, 53) contain the varieties of Australian opossums, and below are
the opossums of America.

These close the attractions of the wall-cases, and the visitor should
now glance round the saloon at the specimens of the varieties of


which are arranged along the tops of the wall-cases. These include the
leonine seal of the Southern Ocean, the Cape porpoise and dolphin, and
the long-beaked dolphin of the Ganges. Having noticed these specimens,
the visitor should proceed to examine the extensive collection of


which are arranged upon the central tables of the saloon. To explain
the presence of coral in the midst of a zoological collection it is
necessary to remind the visitor that this beautiful substance, which
is chiefly a deposit of carbonate of lime, is also the fossil remains
of that animal known to zoologists as the polypus. These polypi put
forth buds, which remain attached to the parental polypus, and
generate other buds; and in this way countless polypi, linked
together, yet maintaining a separate and distinct existence, spread
themselves over miles and miles of submarine rocks, in endless
varieties of shape, and leave their remains to be dredged by the hardy
fisherman, for the adornment of beauty. These beautiful polypi
skeletons cluster in curious formations, as the visitor will perceive
on examining the fine collection of corals before him.[1] Among the
remarkable coral formations to which the general visitor's attention
may be directed, are the sea-mushroom, the remains of a single polypus
of great size; the brainstone, which presents a circular mass of long
winding cells, and altogether has the appearance of the masses and
veins of the brain; the sea-pen, and the sea-fan. In the cases, ranged
together in the saloon, the visitor who feels interested in the
infinite varieties of coral formation, will find specimens that-will
give him a full idea of the architectural abilities of the active
zoophytes that carry on their operations upon the rocks that lie not
far below the surface of the ocean. From the coral tables, the
visitor's way lies out of the Mammalia Saloon to the north, into a
gallery of which all Englishmen who understand the value of a perfect
museum, are justly proud.


of the British Museum runs the entire length of the building. It is
divided into five compartments, and its space is devoted to the
display of Birds, Shells, and a few Paintings. The birds exhibited in
this gallery fill no less than one hundred and sixty-six wall-cases;
and the shells which are distributed throughout the central space
occupy fifty large tables: the lesser tables which are placed here and
there near the birds, being devoted to the display of birds' eggs. The
pictures are hung above the wall-cases. This general glance at the
arrangement of the gallery, will prevent the visitor from falling into
the error of distracting his attention from one order of zoological
development to another at frequent intervals. Already he has examined
the various species of animal life which rank in the highest
class - the mammalia. Before him now, are ranged vast numbers of the
second class of animal life; and he will do well to pay these some
attention, and to get definite impressions regarding them, before he
turns to the other attractions which the museum offers. Before
proceeding to examine the first order of birds which are in the first
eastern room, the visitor should glance at the historical portraits
suspended above the cases. Among them he will find a Mary Queen of
Scots, by Cornelius Jansen; a Cromwell, presented by the Protector to
Colonel Rich of the parliamentary forces, by whose great-grandson it
was bequeathed to the trustees of the museum; William Duke of
Cumberland by Morier; Zucchero's Queen Elizabeth; Sir Peter Lely's
Charles the Second; and the Queen of George the Second by Jarvis.
Having sufficiently examined these works, the visitor should at once
begin his inspection of the Raptores or


These include some splendid ornithological specimens. They are divided
into two families: those who pursue their depredations by day; and
those which wait till night cloaks their proceedings. It is almost
possible to read the special instincts of the two families in their
formation, and expression. The daring expressed in the fierce glances
of the eagles and falcons, bespeaks the fearless spoliator, in broad
daylight and in the face of an enemy; whereas the large vacant eyes of
the owls, have a cruel, coward look, that stamps the midnight

In the first case the visitor will notice the strongbearded vulture of
the Alpine and Himalayan mountains. The next six cases (2-7) are
filled with the varieties of the Vulture, including the American,
carrion, black, and king vultures; the South African sociable vulture;
the angola vulture from Congo; and, towering above all, the great
condor of the Andes, with his immense breadth of wing. The vultures,
with their fierce and cruel aspect, are, nevertheless, cowardly birds,
and feed rather upon dead bodies than venture to kill for themselves.

Next in order, after the vultures, the visitor will find the Eagle
branch of the falcon family distributed in ten cases (8-17). This
family includes some handsome birds. Foremost amongst these the
visitor will remark the athletic golden eagle of Europe, a frequenter
of Great Britain. This bird preys upon hares and rabbits, and has been
known to plant its claws in a young lamb with success. In this
vicinity are also the Indian Pondicherry eagle, sacred to the
Brahmins; the Egyptian booted eagle; the Brazilian eagle; the South
American harpy eagle; the European Jean le Blanc eagle; the marine
eagle of the Indian Archipelago; the South American crested goshawk;
the varieties of the osprey; and the short-tailed falcon from the Cape
of Good Hope. Next after the eagles, are ranged the Kites and Buzzards
(18-24). These include the South American caracaras; the European
rough-legged falcon; the European kite; the Indian colny falcon;
varieties of the honey buzzard; and the North American spotted-tailed
hobby. The true falcons follow next in order of succession (24-26).
The courage of these birds is familiar to all who have read of the
hunting days of old. In the cases before the visitor, are grouped the
European hobby and kestrel, and the peregrine and jet falcons. Many
visitors from the country will be familiar with some of the
sparrow-hawks in the next case (27). They may be often seen sweeping
swiftly along near the earth, intent upon their prey. The last cases
of diurnal birds of prey (28-30) contain the Harriers. These are birds
of prey that meet their victims on the ground, and frequent bog-lands.
The specimens here presented, include the secretary of the Cape of
Good Hope; the chanting falcon from the same region; the ash-coloured
falcon, hen-harrier, and Madagascar falcon.

And now, proceeding on his easterly way, the visitor approaches the
Birds that Prey by Night. They are solemnly assembled in five cases.
Their reputed wisdom has its parallel in the human family: we also
have our owls, with their large eyes and solemn demeanour, who cheat
people into the idea that there must be something in all that
solemnity and gravity of expression. Poets of the dismal school,
however, owe a great debt of gratitude to these mysterious and
unsociable birds. The visitor will at once call to mind the usual
sequel of poems that open with the hooting of the owl, or with the
intimation that it is the hour when the wise bird opens his eyes with
some effect. Let us glance at the varieties of the dismal family
before which we have brought the visitor. Here are the snowy owl of
North America and the hawk owls. In the cases (32, 33) are grouped the
eagle owls, including the great-eared owls, and the North American
Virginian eared owl. The next two cases contain the howlets, including
the Tengmalm's owl of the north of Europe; the Javan bay owl, and the
barn white owls of various countries. These birds close the collection
of birds of prey; and the visitor, refraining from the temptation to
inspect the central tables, for the present, should advance into the
room, the wall-cases of which are filled with


The perching birds are subdivided into five families: the Wide-gaping;
the Slender-Beaked; the Toothed-Beaked; the Cone-Beaked; and the
Climbers, or Scansores. The family of wide-gaping birds, is that
ranged first in order, occupying cases 36 to 42. The visitor will
first remark the goatsuckers with their wide bills and large eyes,
adapted to catch the insects on which they feed. The varieties here
collected, include the great goatsucker; the goatsuckers of Europe,
New Holland, North America, and Africa; and the wedge-tailed
goatsucker. The next case (38) contains specimens of the varieties of
Swallows and Swifts, including those of North America; the esculent
swallow of the Indian Archipelago; and the sandmartin of Europe. In
the two following cases (39, 40) are grouped the varieties of the tody
and broadbills, from the West Indies, and Brazil; and the curncuis
from the southern parts of Asia and America. The visitor next arrives
before two cases (41, 42) of birds of brilliant plumage, suggestive of
the regions where the humming birds float in the air "like winged
flowers." The kingfisher at times startles the English pedestrian when
he is sauntering near a high-banked brook; - its gaudy plumage
contrasts so forcibly with the sober tints of our English song birds,
that he is at first inclined to take the gay fellow for a truant cage
bird. But the fisher is quite at home, and is probably diving for his
fish dinner. The kingfishers grouped in the two cases before which the
visitor now stands, include specimens of the Australian brown
kingfisher; the green and great jacamars of South America; the
European bee eater; the Javan night bird; and the Ternate kingfisher
from the Philippine Islands. Having feasted his eyes upon the gaudy
colours of these feathered fishermen, the visitor will find in the
next case (43) the first specimens of the slender-beaked perching
birds. These slender beaks are divided into sub-families of Sun Birds;
Humming Birds; Honey Eaters; and the Creepers, &c. The sun birds live
upon the pollen of flowers. The specimens here grouped together,
include the numerous species of African and South American sun birds;
the paradise birds of Molucca; the promerops of New Guinea and Africa;
the Sandwich Islands honey eater; and the Australian rifle bird. Next
in order are grouped the famous American humming birds (44). These
brilliant little creatures, not larger than moths, are famed for their
beauty all over the world. The delicacy of their structure, the
splendour of the colours in which they are habited, their poetical
diet, and the impossibility of keeping them alive in a confined state,
are the attributes of delicacy and beauty which have made them objects
of interest to all persons who have any insight to the mysterious
graces of animal organisation. So brilliant is the plumage of some of
the varieties, that they have been named after gems: thus, in the case
before which the visitor has arrived, he will find the garnet-throated
humming bird, and the topaz humming bird. Next to these brilliant
creatures of the south, in case 45 are the curious Australian honey
eaters, with their feathered tongues, made to brush the sweet essences
from flowers: and the two following cases contain the remaining
varieties of the slender-beaked family. Here are the Creepers of
Europe; the Nuthatches of North America and Europe; varieties of the
Wren; and the Warblers of Guiana and Patagonia. The visitor next
approaches the varieties of the family known as the tooth-beaked
perching birds. To this family our choicest songsters belong. They
fill five cases (48-52). The visitor will observe in the first of the
four cases, the tailor birds, remarkable for the fantastic domes they
form to their nests; the Australian superb warbler; and the Dartford
warbler of Europe. The common song birds of Europe are grouped here,
including blackcaps, wrens, the active little titmice, together with
the North American wood warblers. Next to these are cases (53-55) of
Thrushes, including the tropical ant thrushes; the Javan mountain
warbler; the Brazilian king thrush; the rock thrushes: the imitative
Australian thrush; the blackbird; the North American mimic thrush; the
Chinese and South American thrushes, celebrated for their babbling;
the yellow orioles, of Europe and the east; and here also are the
short-legged thrushes of the tropics.

The two next cases (56, 57) contain the Flycatchers, which catch
insects on the wing. The varieties to be seen here include the South
American pikas and shrikes, with their gay plumage. These
shrikes[2] - better known as butcher-birds - are so called from the
cruelty with which they treat their prey. In the second case of
flycatchers are grouped the true flycatchers, which are mostly from
the old world; those from America being the solitary flycatcher, the
black-headed flycatcher, the king and broad-billed tody, and the
white-eared thrush. In the two next cases (58, 59) are the families of
the Chatterers, with their resplendent plumage. In the first case, are
groups of the Asiatic and American thick-heads, and the gorgeous
little Manakins of South America and Australia. They are called after
their colours, as the speckled manakin, the white-capped South
American manakin, the purple-breasted, variegated, purple-throated,
and rock manakins. Next to the manakins, are the Indian, African, and
American caterpillar eaters; the Malabar and African shrikes; and in
the two last cases of the tooth-beaked group, are placed the true
butcher-birds and bush shrikes.

The next group of perching birds are the cone-beaked. This group
includes the large family of the Crows to which the birds of paradise
of New Guinea are allied; that of the Finches, with their relations
from every clime; and the Hornbills, remarkable for the size and
strength of their bills. The first two cases (62, 63) devoted to this
group, contain the varieties of the Crow family. Here the visitor
should notice the finely-marked jays from various parts of the world;
the noisy and piping rollers of Australia and New Guinea; the crows,
rooks, and jackdaws from various parts of Europe; the New Zealand
wattle bird; the African changeable crow; and the rufous crow of
India. The next case (64) is bright with the gleaming plumage of the
New Guinea crows, or birds of paradise; and here, too, are the curious
grakles - the foetid and the bare-necked from South America; and the
Alpine and red-legged crows, or choughs, of elevated lands. Next in
succession is a case (65) in which are grouped the shining thrushes of
Australia, Asia, and Africa, which include the ingenious and tasteful
satin bower birds, that form decorated bowers of twigs and shells to
sport in; and here amid the grakles of the Indian Archipelago will be
found those curious birds, that gather their sustenance from insect
larvas which secrete in the coarse skin of the rhinoceros: these birds
are known under the name of African beef-eaters. The Starlings, which
are also of the crow family, are grouped in the case (66) next to that
in which the visitor found the beef-eaters and shining thrushes. They
resemble the beef-eaters closely in their mode of life, like them
deriving their food from the insect life that congregates upon various
kinds of cattle. Starlings are found in all the quarters of the globe,
and present many varieties, as the observer of the case under notice
will see. Here are the rose-coloured thrushes of Europe; the grakles
of Malabar, India, South Africa, and South America; and the stares of
America and Europe. The next case contains the varieties of the
American Icteric Orioles, which lay their eggs in the nests of other
birds, like the cuckoo. Among the varieties, the visitor should notice
the red-winged, crested, and banana orioles. The African and Indian
Weavers, so called from the peculiar construction of their nests,
occupy the case (68) next to that filled by the orioles. Here are also
the African, European, and American grosbeaks, so christened from that
strength of bill which enables them to demolish hard fruits. Among
these are the African widow birds; the Galapagos ground sparrows. The
beauty of the Tanagers of North and South America is well known. In
order of succession they here follow the grosbeaks (68, 69), and
present a brilliant group, including the golden tanager, the
red-breasted, the summer, and the bishop. And then the Finches, in all
their varieties of colour and size, occupy two cases (69, 70). Here,
among the more sober and unassuming of the numerous family, the
visitor will notice the common sparrow that chirps cheerfully through
the smoke of London alleys; the brown linnet with its lively notes;
the gayer goldfinches, greenfinches, chaffinches, the North American
songfinch, and the many varieties of the buntings, including the
epicure's ortolans that are found in various parts of the world. Next
in order to the finches, the Larks are grouped in a single case (71)
with other varieties of the great finch family. These birds sing as
they soar into the air; and on cloudless days, how often do the happy
notes of the skylark come down to the wanderer upon earth, with a
cheerful influence: -

"... The lark that sings in heaven
Builds its nest upon the ground."

Here, with the larks, are several curious birds, including the
crossbeaks of Europe, the grosbeak of the South Sea Islands, the plant
cutters of South America, and the colies of India and the Cape, that
sleep in companies each suspended by one foot. The two last cases of
the cone-beaked perching birds, are devoted to those birds known
collectively as Hornbills, from the size and formation of their bills.
These remarkable birds are said to be another off-shoot of "the great
corvine nest;" and the author of "The Vestiges of Creation" regards
the hollow protuberance upon the upper mandible (which is the
distinguishing feature of the family), as "a sounding-board to
increase the vociferation which these birds delight to utter." The
remarkable varieties in the cases, are the helmet hornbill of India,
and the African rhinoceros hornbill. These birds prey upon small birds
and reptiles, which they toss into the air and then swallow whole.

The Scansores, or Climbers, form the last section of the perching
birds. This is an interesting group, since it includes all the
varieties of the parrot, cockatoo, and macaw species; the woodpeckers,
the toucans, and the cuckoos.

The visitor will arrive first before the three cases (74-76) devoted
to the Parrots, Cockatoos, and Macaws. The gaudy colours which they
display, and their well-known habits and powers, always ensure them a
large circle of spectators. Here the visitor should notice the
red-crowned parrot, and ground parrot of Australia; the South American
yellow-headed, and hawk-headed parrots; the horned parrot from New
Caledonia and the racket-tailed parrot of the Philippines. Among the
Macaws are the hyacinthine macaw of South America, and the blue and
yellow varieties. Among the Cockatoos, the visitor should notice the
great white cockatoo from the Indian Archipelago; and here also are
the Alexandrine parroquet and the Papuan lory. The Toucans, which
inhabit the deep recesses of tropical American forests, here occupy
the next case (77). They are recognised as a branch of the great
corvine family. Their enormous beaks are peculiarly adapted for
searching in quest of eggs about the crevices of trees. The varieties
here, include the Janeiro toucan, and the yellow-breasted toucan. The
three next cases contain the many varieties of the Woodpecker.
Woodpeckers are represented by naturalists as crows with a structure
adapted to "an insect-eating life amidst growing timber." They are to
be found in all quarters of the globe, searching out, with their long
beaks, the minute life that gathers in the interstices of trees. The
first case of the series, contains the South American and African
barbets, and the groove-billed barbican; the minute woodpecker, the
North American three-toed and white-billed woodpecker, and the spotted
woodpecker common in Europe. In the second case are the larger
varieties of the woodpecker, including the well-known great black
woodpecker of Europe; the North American red-headed woodpecker, and
the South American yellow-crested variety; the Carolina woodpecker;
and the Cayenne woodpecker. The third case contains the African and
American ground woodpeckers; and the Wrynecks of Africa, Europe, and
India. The chief food of the wrynecks consists of ants, which they
pick up with their delicately tapered tongues.

The three last cases devoted to perching birds, are occupied by the
varieties of the Cuckoo family. In this country, the notes of the
cuckoo are hailed as the announcement of the dawning summer; and the
solitary and peculiar habits of the bird, but particularly its custom
of placing its eggs in the nests of larks, finches, sparrows, &c., and
so getting alien birds to bring up its young, have always made it an
object of particular curiosity to people generally. This latter custom
has been explained, by a high authority, thus: - "The fact is, that the
cuckoo is obliged by its constitutional character to stay an unusually
short time in the northern regions where it produces its young. In our
country its normal stay is only from the middle of April to the
beginning of July. Belated in its approach to the nursing regions, it
is obliged to make use of the nests of other birds, which it finds
ready built. What is worthy of notice, it employs the nests of its own
nearest relations, the larks, pipits, finches, sparrows, &c. - an
arrangement we may suppose to be connected in some way with the early
history of the whole group of species - a family or clan sacrifice, as
it were, for the benefit of a less fortunate member."[3] In the first
case of cuckoos, are the African honey cuckoos, and the South American
rain cuckoos. The birds of the former of these varieties are noted for
guiding depredators to the wild honeycombs; and the latter live upon
insects, snakes, and fruits. Here too are the Coucals of Africa, Java,
South America, and Australia, including the Australian giant coucal,
the Asiatic, South American, and West Indian anis; and the two cuckoos
of the tropics, including the gilded cuckoo, the greatspotted cuckoo,
and white-crested cuckoo from Africa, and the common European cuckoo.
Before leaving the region devoted to perching birds, the visitor
should glance at a few of the pictures which are suspended above the
cases in this compartment. They include, amongst various portraits of
British Museum donors, three of Sir Hans Sloane, one by Murray; Robert
Earl of Oxford, by Sir Godfrey Kneller; and Edward Earl of Oxford, by

The visitor's way now lies to the north, into the third, or central
compartment of the gallery, the wall cases of which contain the
gallinaceous, or


This order is divided into four distinct families - the Pigeons, the
Curassows, the Pheasants, and the Grouse and Partridge tribe. Of these
families the museum contains a fine and complete collection. The
beauty of the pheasant family - its varieties ranging from the gaudy
splendour of the peacock to the more modest beauty of the common
hen - are here fully represented.

In the first case (84) of Scraping Birds, are grouped the Asiatic,
African, and Australian tree pigeons, which inhabit the woods, and

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Online LibraryW. Blanchard JerroldHow to See the British Museum in Four Visits → online text (page 2 of 17)