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How to See the British Museum in Four Visits online

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live on berries and various kinds of seeds. The collection includes
the Javan black-capped pigeon, and the parrot and aromatic pigeons of
India. The two next cases (85, 86) are filled with the true pigeons
and turtles of various parts of the world, in all their varieties - the
Indian nutmeg pigeon, and the Australian antarctic pigeon. The next
case is devoted to the common European turtle and the North American
migratory pigeon. The next case is filled with the varieties of the
ground Dove, among which the visitor should notice the ground turtle,
the West Indian partridge pigeon, the great crowned pigeon of the
Indian Isles, and the bronze-winged pigeon of Australia. Leaving the
pigeons behind, the visitor's attention is next called to the two
cases of Curassows (89, 90), the poultry peculiar to South America.
They feed on fruit, worms, and insects; and live in small flocks. The
curassows are followed by the varieties of the pheasant tribe, grouped
in thirteen cases (91-103). The three first cases are given up to the
splendid East Indian Pheasants known to Europeans generally, as
peacocks. They were brought to the west and valued for the beauty of
their plumage many centuries before the Christian era, and no doubt
helped to inflame the imagination of the Mediterranean merchants who
dreamt of the untold wealth of the Indies. The specimens of these
birds here preserved, are fine samples of the species. They include
the iris and crested peacocks, the Japan peacock, the Thibet
crossoptilon, and the Argus pheasant. The two following cases (94, 95)
of the pheasant family contain the varieties of true Asiatic
pheasants; but the visitor's attention will be immediately riveted
upon the specimens of the splendid Chinese pheasant known as Reeves'
Chinese pheasant. The plumage of this pheasant is very beautiful, the
feathers of the tail measuring sometimes between five and six feet in
length. The three following cases (96-98) are filled with varieties of
the pheasant from Indian climes. In the first case are the pheasants
from the Himalayan Mountains, and the pencilled variety from China. In
the third case the visitor should notice the handsome fire-backed
pheasant of Sumatra, the superb pheasant, Sonnerat's wild cock, and
the cock of Java. The two following cases (99, 100) contain the
remainder of the pheasant varieties. Amongst these the visitor will
find, the horned and black-headed pheasants of India, the American
turkey, the pintados of Africa and Guinea, and the pheasants from the
north of Asia that live upon bulbous roots, known as the Impeyan
pheasants. The immediate successors of the pheasants, in point of
order, are the Partridges, of which the collection contains three
cases (101-103). These birds inhabit both hemispheres, and specimens
of the different varieties are grouped in the cases. In the first case
the visitor should notice the Currie partridge, from Nepal, the Cape
and bare-necked partridges of Africa, and the sanguine pheasant; in
the second case, the common European partridge and quail, the red
European partridge, the Indian olive partridge, and the Andalusian
quail; in the third and last partridge case, Californian and crested
quails, and the Indian crowned partridge. Next in order are the
Grouse, grouped in two cases (104, 105). In the first of these cases
the visitor will notice the wood grouse of Scotland, and the ruffed
and other grouse of America; in the second case, the sand-grouse of
the scorching deserts. The last case of the scraping birds is occupied
by the Sheathbills, which, as the visitor will perceive, closely
resemble grouse. They are from South America; the tinamous, from the
warmer parts of the Continent; and the megapodius, of Australia and
the Asiatic islands.

It now remains for the visitor to notice a few of the paintings
suspended in this compartment, above the wall cases. These paintings
include a copy of Klingstad's portrait of Peter I. of Russia, three
historical portraits, presented to the museum by the Rev. A. Planta,
and a hunting scene by Geo. B. Weenix.

The visitor should now advance into the fourth compartment of the
gallery, the wall-cases of which are devoted to the specimens of


Most interesting families of birds are included in this order. First,
there are the Ostriches, which are the envy of all people cursed with
weak digestive powers; then there is the Dodo, with its mysterious and
half-told history; also the Bustards, the Coursers, the Plovers, the
Cranes, the Storks, the Sandpipers, the Snipes, &c. These varieties of
wading birds are carefully classed, and represented in the compartment
of the gallery to which the visitor has now worked his way. First in
the order of arrangement stand the ostriches, occupying the cases
(107, 109). Some naturalists refuse to class ostriches with the order
of wading birds, and elevate them to the dignity of a distinct order,
Cursores, or runners; but in the museum, as the visitor will perceive,
they are at the head of the wading order. Unscientific people know
more about the ostrich than about most other birds of foreign climes.
Few people have not heard that the egg of the ostrich weighs three
pounds - that the sun is the bird's Cantelo - that he has only two toes
to each foot - that he sometimes exceeds six feet in height - and that
it would not be an act of madness to back a stout specimen, for speed,
against an average horse. The digestion of the ostrich has been
considerably strengthened in the minds of unscientific persons by
imaginative travellers; the fact being that these birds live upon
vegetable food, occasionally swallowing stones, or a bit of iron, in
aid of that digestion which has been so misrepresented. In the cases
before the visitor are the African ostrich, and his relations, the
Australian cassowary, and the American emu - all characterised by the
absence of a hind toe. Having noticed these fine birds, the visitor
will be anxious to learn something of the mysterious case (108), which
contains a foot, the cast of a skull, and a painting. Here he sees all
that has yet been traced of the extinct dodo, a bird which is believed
to have existed in vast numbers up to a recent period, chiefly on the
Bourbon and Mauritius islands. The painting is said to be an authentic
Dutch performance, taken from the living bird at the time when the
Cape of Good Hope was doubled by adventurous men heated with
exaggerated notions of the exhaustless wealth of the Indies. Its
precise position among birds has not been finally assigned. It appears
to have been incapable of flight, to have had a vulture's head, and
the foot of a common fowl. It is conjectured that the race was
extinguished by the rapacity of the first settlers in the Mauritius,
who, finding the dodo excellent eating and an easy prey, demolished
every specimen of the species. Near these wrecks of the dodo, and in
the same case, is the New Zealand wingless bird, now almost extinct,
but to scientific men an interesting link between the bird and the
mammalia. The Bustards occupy the two next cases (110, 111) to which
the visitor should direct his attention. Here are the two bustards of
the eastern hemisphere, the great European bustard, the African ruffed
and white-eared bustards, and the Arabian bustard. The next case (112)
contains the varieties of wading birds called, from their power of
running, Coursers. These are chiefly found in Africa; but the
varieties in the case include, in addition to the North African
cream-coloured courser, and the double-collared courser, the
thick-kneed European bustard. The Plovers are arranged next in order
to the coursers. The varieties included in the case (113) are from
Africa, North America, and Europe. Here are, amongst others, the
beautiful golden-ringed and dotterel plovers of Europe, and the
American noisy plover. In the case which next claims attention (114)
are the turnstones, that turn stones on the sea-shore in search of
food; the oyster catchers, that wrench shell fish from their shells;
and the South American gold-breasted and other trumpeters. The Cranes,
of which there is an extensive collection, now claim the visitor's
attention. They are from all parts of the world, and love the borders
of rivers and lakes, where they can prey upon small reptiles and fish.
In the first cases (115-118) are the true cranes, including the common
European variety, the Indian crane, the South American caurale snipe,
the common and purple-crested herons of Europe, the Pacific heron, the
crowned heron, the North American great heron, and the African
demoiselle heron. In the two following cases (120, 121) the visitor
will find the American blue heron, and the great and little egrets;
and in the next two cases given to the crane family (122, 123) are the
bittern and little bittern of Europe, the American lineated bittern,
the squacco and night herons of Europe, the American night heron, the
European spoonbill, and the South American cinereous boatbill. The
examination of these varieties will give the visitor a clear idea of
the peculiarities of birds that frequent marshes and the borders of

The next case to which the visitor will direct his steps, is that
(124) in which the Storks of Europe and America, including the white
and black varieties, are grouped. In the case next in order of
succession to that given to the storks (125) are some interesting
branches of the crane family, including the Indian gigantic crane.
Here also are the jabirus of America and Senegal, and the
North-American ibis, which will introduce the spectator to the case of
ibises, among which is the sacred ibis of the Egyptians; the
black-headed Indian ibis; and that of New Holland. Next, in order
(127), are the Godwits, which follow the mild seasons from one country
to another; among them are the English red godwit; and the Australian
terek snipe. In the next case (128) the visitor should examine the
varieties of Snipes and Sand-pipers it contains. These birds hunt
their food in gravel and amid stones in most localities. The most
remarkable of the group are the lanky avoçets, with their long legs
adapted to hunt rivers for fish spawn and water insects: among them,
the long-legged plover should be noticed. The varieties of the
sand-piper, in the next case (129), now claim a careful inspection.
Sand-pipers inhabit various parts of the world, and, like the ibises,
love the neighbourhood of water, where they seek the food congenial to
them. The Phalaropes, which are also represented in this case, are
natives of the eternal ice of the arctic regions, where they subsist
upon crustacea. The visitor passes from the sand-pipers to the case of
Snipes (130), including the British varieties, and the snipe of India.
In the next case (131) the visitor should notice the Chinese and South
American jacanas, that walk about unconcernedly upon the floating
leaves of water plants; with these are grouped the South American
Screamers. The three last cases devoted to wading birds, contain the
varieties of the British and North American Rails: the varieties of
the Gallinule, including the European purple gallinule, the South
American variety, and the Australian black-backed variety; and the
Finfoots of Africa and America. All these birds inhabit marshy land,
or the banks of streams, and derive their food from the insect life
that swarms near the water. With the finfoots the collection of wading
birds closes; but before going on his way, the visitor should glance
at the paintings which are hung about the wall cases in this room or
compartment. These include portraits of Lord Chancellor Bacon; Andrew
Marvel; a copy from the picture at Wimpole of Admiral Lord Anson;
Camden; Matthew Prior; William Cecil, Lord Burghley; Sir Isaac Newton;
Archbishop Cranmer; and George Buchanan. Having examined these works,
the visitor's way lies in a direct line to the last room of the
eastern gallery - to that, the wall cases of which, are filled with the
families of


This section of the birds includes all those which are able to support
themselves upon the surface of the water. The varieties include the
gaudy Flamingos; the Albatross that frighted the ancient mariner; the
Pelicans with their pouches; the impetuous Gannets, and the remarkable
Frigate Bird. And here, too, the visitor will find the varieties of
ducks, geese, and swans, all classed in regular order. The web-footed
birds occupy no less than thirty-one cases; to each of which the
visitor should pay some attention. The first case of the series (135)
is gay with the bright red plumage of the flamingos, with their
crooked upper mandible, and their long legs and necks. The next four
cases (136-139) of the series are occupied by the varieties of the
Goose. In the first of these cases the visitor should notice the
varieties of the spur-winged goose from various parts of the world;
including the black-backed goose. In the three following cases the
white fronted and grey-legged European geese; the Canada and
Magellanic geese; and the Indian barred-headed goose; and the
cereopsis from New Holland. The stately Swans from various parts of
the world, all graceful; including the handsome black-necked swan, and
the whistling swan, occupy the three cases next in succession
(140-142). The Ducks occupy no less than eight cases; and the visitor
will linger over the beautiful varieties, without once allowing the
unkind association of green peas to enter his head. In the first four
cases (143-146) are the sub-families of the true duck, collected from
various parts of the world; - the teal from China; the whistling duck
from South America, and the European varieties of the common teal, the
widgeon, and the sheldrake. Three cases (147-149) are filled with
those sub-families of the duck which prefer the sea or the great
lakes, including the handsome red-crested European duck; the eider
duck, which is robbed of its down for the comfort of mankind;[4] the
scoter and nyroca ducks; and, in the third case, the spinous-tailed
ducks of southern climes. The arctic birds, known as the Mergansers,
are grouped in the next case (150): and, proceeding on his way, the
visitor will arrive before the cases (151-152) of Divers, from the
north, so called from the strength with which they dive for the fish
upon which they live; but their powers in this respect are not
equalled by those of a sub-family of web-footed birds, which the
visitor will presently reach. Before reaching the cases in which the
interesting sub-families of the Gulls are exhibited the visitor should
remark the varieties of the Grebes in case 152; the two following
cases devoted to the Auks from the arctic regions; and the true Auks
of Britain; the varieties of the Penguins, or marine parrots; and the
Guillemots. From these birds the visitor's way lies in the direction
of the six cases (155-160) in which the sub-families of the gulls are
grouped. The contents of the first cases will at once strike him: here
are the Petrels, and the associations of shipwreck and disaster with
which they have ever been connected. The group includes the stormy
petrel, and the albatross. They have an altogether wild and singular
appearance. The true gulls of every sea are grouped in the next three
cases (157-159): they come from the ice of the polar seas, and from
our own shores, including the kittiwake gull, and the European
black-backed gull. The last case of the gull family (160) is given to
the Terns, which are caught in all parts of the world; and the
Skimmers, so called from the dexterity with which they skim the
surface of the water, keeping the under mandible immersed, and the
upper dry, in search of prey. Next to the gulls are placed the Tropic
Birds (161), the name of which indicates their native clime. These
birds prey upon fish; some, as the red-tailed tropic bird, darting
upon the flying-fish; and others, as the darters, boldly plunging into
the tide from overhanging boughs, in search of their favourite prey;
here, too, is the common Cormorant. Four more cases remain for
examination, and then the visitor will have closed his inspection of
the museum specimens of birds. These four cases contain, however, one
or two birds, the habits of which are singular. First, there are the
Pelicans with their capacious pouches. The rapidity with which these
birds swallow small fish has been witnessed by most people at our
Zoological Gardens. The visitor should notice next, the European
Gannet, of which strange stories of strength and prowess are related.
The velocity with which they dive in search of food has been variously
estimated. It is said that on the coast of Scotland, fishermen have
found them entangled in their nets at the extraordinary depth of a
hundred and twenty feet below the surface. Pennant relates a story of
a bird, which, on seeing some pilchards lying upon a floating plank,
darted down with such strength, that its bill pierced the board. And
now the visitor should turn to contemplate the grand and solitary
Frigate Bird. This bird appears to have the power of sustaining itself
in the air for an indefinite period, and to wander with the utmost
confidence on its broad pinions, over hundreds of miles of ocean, now
and then dipping to secure its prey. This slim, pale, and solitary
wanderer must have a noble appearance, when calmly sailing upon its
great expanse of wing, a thousand miles from any resting-place, its
food floating in the element below, to be taken at will. Before
leaving the last, or most northerly apartment of the eastern
zoological gallery, the visitor would do well to notice a few of the
pictures which are suspended above the wall cases. Here are portraits
of Voltaire; the hardy Sir Francis Drake; Cosmo de Medici and his
secretary (a copy from Titian); Martin Luther; Jean Rousseau; Captain
William Dampier, by Murray; Giorgioni's Ulysses Aldrovandus; Sir Peter
Paul Kubens; the inventor of moveable type, John Guttenberg (which
would be more appropriately placed in the library); John Locke; a poor
woman, named Mary Davis, who in the seventeenth century, was
celebrated for an excrescence which grew upon her head, and finally
parted into two horns; the great Algernon Sidney; Pope; Ramsay's
portrait of the celebrated Earl of Chesterfield, who, according to Dr.
Johnson, "taught the morality of a profligate, and the manners of a
dancing master," and a landscape by Wilson. At the northern door of
this gallery are, a painting of Stonehenge, and one of the cromlech at
Plâs Newydd, in Anglesea.

The visitor's way now lies to the west out of the eastern zoological
gallery into the most southerly of the two northern galleries. This
gallery, which consists of five compartments, or rooms, is called


The wall cases of this gallery, to which the visitor's attention
should now be exclusively devoted, contain various zoological
families. In the first eight wall cases of the room are distributed
the varieties of Bats. These are placed here, away from the mammalia,
on account of the pressure of room. They are not to be mistaken as
birds in any particular. They are essentially mammalia, inasmuch as
they produce their young in a breathing state and suckle them. The
bats of England and other cold climates remain in a torpid condition,
and only spread their wings of stretched skin when the songbirds
report the advent of the warmth of spring. The visitor will notice
amongst the varieties in the three first cases, the Brazilian bats,
including the vampire bat (which has been known to attack a man in his
sleep and suck blood from him), the remarkable leaf-nosed bats which
are ranged upon the upper shelves, and the Indian and African
varieties; and underneath are grouped the well-known horse-shoe bats
of the eastern hemisphere. In the next case (4) are the long-eared
European bats, with ears like curled leaves; and the American,
African, and Australian varieties. The fifth case is filled with
groups of the African and Indian taphozous; the South American
tropical bats; and the West Indian chelonicteres and moormops. The
last three cases, devoted to the varieties of the bat (6-8), contain
those sub-families which are known as Flying Foxes, from their great
size. These live on fruits, and inhabit Australia, and the southern
countries of the eastern hemisphere.

The visitor's way now lies westward into the second compartment of the
northern zoological gallery; for in this room, as in the rooms through
which he has already passed, he should confine his attention, for the
present, to the wall cases, reserving the examination of all table
cases for his return visit, on his way out. And here the visitor may
well pause to think upon the zoological travels he has already made,
from the mammalia, which present the highest types of animal life;
through the sub-families of birds, which form Cuvier's secondary class
of vertebrata, or animals with a back-bone; to the threshold of the
room in which the tertiary class of back-boned animals are deposited.
This class includes the great families of


of which there are no less than six hundred and fifty-seven varieties.
Reptiles are vertebrated animals belonging to Cuvier's first great
section, but distinguished from mammalia and birds, by their cold
blood, their oviparous generation, and the absence of either feathers
or hair from their bodies. They take precedence of fish in the animal
kingdom, having lungs for aerial respiration, and "a higher
circulatory organisation than the exclusive inhabitants of the water."
In the museum, Cuvier's classification has been followed, with slight
variations; that is to say, the reptiles have been re-divided into
four classes: - the Sauria, or Lizards (in which class some modern
naturalists, as Merrem and others, include serpents); the Ophidia, or
Serpents; the Testudinata, or Tortoises; and the Batrachia, or Frogs.
The lizards occupy the first ten wall cases in this room.

The first case contains those lizards of India and Africa which have
long held the regard of eastern nations, upon the slender report that
they hiss upon the approach of a crocodile, and so warn the incautious
traveller to retreat in time. The truth is, these sauria prey upon the
crocodile's eggs, no doubt to the particular annoyance of the
crocodile, who are, therefore, it is more than probable, no friends of
the monitors. The Egyptian would love the monitor for feeding upon the
crocodile germ, as much as for his timely warning of the approach of
the uncouth enemy. The curious heloderms, from Mexico, with their
ophidian teeth, lie at the bottom of the fifth case: they are
supposed, but as yet on insufficient grounds, to be poisonous. In the
next case (6) are the lizards of tropical America, called safeguards.
Their reputed peculiarity is that, of beating beehives till they
compel the bees to retire, and then feasting upon the sweet booty: in
the same case with these, is the lizard with the double-keeled tail,
known as the crocodilurus. The visitor next faces a case (7) of
Serpent Lizards, which do not deserve their reputation for poisonous
properties, being quite harmless: here, also, are the Skinks and other
varieties, including the blind worms with their hidden legs. Having
dismissed the serpent lizards, the visitor will notice the Night
Lizards and Guanas. The former are inhabitants of warm climates, and
from the ease with which they can adapt themselves to any positions,
they may be troublesome visitors; they can run with ease about the
walls and ceilings of rooms, like flies; and their propensity is to
roam abroad in the darkness of the night. Their broad, ugly heads, and
repulsive general appearance, have won for them the character of
poisonous reptiles, but the truth is they are harmless. The Crested
Lizards which the visitor will notice hereabouts, are the American
fruit-eating species, celebrated for violent quarrelling among
themselves, and for their power of changing colour with great
rapidity. They do not crawl upon the earth, but live on trees, the
fruits of which sustain them. Here, too, are the Anoles, with their
distended toes, that enable them to imitate the crawling feats of the
night lizards. The tenth case devoted to the lizard tribe, is the most
interesting of the series. It contains the family of lizards known as
the Agama. This family boasts many famous scions. First, here are the
Indian dragons; their resemblance to the fabled monster slain by St.
George, consists of a loose skin over the ribs, which they can open or
fold at pleasure. These bat-like wings will not support them in the

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Online LibraryW. Blanchard JerroldHow to See the British Museum in Four Visits → online text (page 3 of 17)