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Beetling away

September 22, 2014

This is a story about the benefits of beetling away in the store rooms of museums.

Dr Livingstone’s beetle I presume?

Dr David Livingstone’s only known beetle specimens were recently discovered at the Natural History Museum after he brought them back from Africa. The 20 specimens date back to Livingstone’s expedition along the Zambezi River in the mid nineteenth century.  The beetles in question were unearthed when the museum’s extensive insect collection was being catalogued and photographed for its online database. The beetles came to light when an unusual box was opened, and in it Dr Livingstone’s name and the name of the Zambezi expedition were written on the specimens’ labels.  This particular case was publicised on the Today programme on Radio 4.

Over in the Red House Museum, Christchurch, the collections are not quite so large, but have a few interesting secrets that a band of staff and volunteers are unearthing as the collections are being catalogued and digitised.  The latest one is the re discovery of the Whizz Bangs, an entertainment group who performed during the First World War to raise funds for injured troops convalescing in Christchurch and Barton on Sea (then south west Hampshire coast).  Perhaps not as eye catching a Dr Livingstone’s beetles but they inspired the museum to recreate the Whizz Bang variety act with the help of the Heritage Lottery Fund and students from Highcliffe school.

Highcliffe School Whizz Bangs 2014

Highcliffe School Whizz Bangs 2014

The Original Whizz Bangs circa 1916

The Original Whizz Bangs circa 1916

And the moral of the story, you never know what is in your museum store until you properly catalogue and digitise it, and when you do, you may get on Radio 4 or kick start a community project.

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