We often travel to rediscover old stories. This is especially true when it comes to following the track of history’s great explorers. Unfortunately, that experience is often softened and Disney-fied out of existence; after all, the hard work of discovery has already been done. So sometimes it pays to wiggle into the stories from another angle, through the papers, research, and collected materials that scientists and explorers brought back with them.
Britain’s Natural History Museum at Tring in Hertfordshire is open to the public (and free! we love free), but one of its most fascinating exhibitions combining ornithology and an unintentional history of the world’s great explorers is accessible only to amateurs and professionals engaged in original research or looking to create artwork from the displays.
Luckily, Rebecca Morelle at the BBC recently got to take a video camera into the Bird Group’s incredible collection and has posted videos, images, and an interview with the group’s head, Robert Prys-Jones. Included among the million eggs, 16,000 skeletons, and 4,000 nests are the invaluable specimens collected by some of the world’s greatest scientist-explorers. Charles Darwin’s Galapagos birds make a good showing, but so does his personal pigeon collection, which one curator says is the real key to his work.
Morelle also highlights three carefully preserved emperor penguin eggs. While they don’t look like much, these eggs pack a wallop of exploration history. Their collection was part of Captain Scott’s ill-fated exploration and research expedition that eventually led to the writing of my favorite travel book of all time, The Worst Journey in the World, by Apsley Cherry-Garrard, who barely survived the 1911 Antarctic journey intact.
Even viewing these collected pieces third-hand like this gives a faint whiff of that far-off thrill of discovery and the unknown, the pull that keeps our wanderlust intact.