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  • Susan Elaine Jones

Further adventures in the archives

It has been a crazy week of adventure, triggered by the deep dive into old museum inventories in the Cambridge University Library. Masked and physically distanced, sitting in silence, the Library is THE social hub of academia - all the vicarious gossip with none of the pesky flesh and blood people - just words in books!

And I love it.

Especially as, bowing to modern times, I no longer have to buy a card, load credit on it, and skulk to the photocopier with books. I can instead just photograph every page on my mobile phone, and transcribe away at home!

Below is the more structured account of what/where/how, including the spreadsheet that you can download for yourself. It may be fun, you can at least laught at my typos. It may be useful to, perhaps one or two other people in the world who handle these museum items. Or it may be a huge white elephant of a project that I did for myself. You can decide. But my favourite snippets include:

The lists, e.g :

  • item 5 - cats kidneys, and part of a human, a Rat's testicle, 2 polypages

  • item 6 - The Spleen

  • item 7 - The Aspera Arteria (1733 inventory)

The many things that are wanting (usually meaning lost):

  • Skeleton wanting the arms (what, no hugs?)

  • Head, wanting the teeth

  • Head of a male, with its horns, wanting the lower jaw (1862 Osteology catalogue)

Other lists:

  • 39 specimens of heads

  • Eight ditto of Scelidotherium leptocephalum.

  • The Polipary of Fungia agariciformis. (Additions lists, various years)

And, the beauty:

  • Four preparations (in four bottles) showing the arteries beautifully ramifying upon the posterior surface of the iris.

  • A testicle injected with mercury by the vas deferens, the epididymis is completely filled, and its convolutions extremely beautiful; the mercury has also passed a considerable way into the tubuli testis.

  • A testicle unravelled to show the tubuli testis - The testicle thus prepared exhibits one of the most remarkable and beautiful structures in the body. (CLARK 1820 Catalogue)

Actually, so many testicles. It obviously takes too long to describe them all:

  • The testicles of a cock sparrow in the month of March—in this month they exceed the size of the largest pea—in December they are about the size of a mustard seed

  • The testicle of a young bull, the spermatic artery is filled with quicksilver

  • Testicles, variously injected

  • Testicles of a rat unravelled

  • Another preparation of the same—the tubuli testis are plainly shown in both. (CLARK, 1862)

And, of course, the elephant in the room.

  • A transverse Section of the Proboscis of an Elephant near the base, in which the curious distribution of the muscular fibres is worthy of remark.

  • Another Section of the same near the extremity.

  • A portion of the small Intestine of an Elephant, inverted to show the remarkable form of the Valvulae Conniventes

  • Part of the small Intestine of an Elephant with a Lacteal injected, the small size of which is very remarkable. (HARWOOD, 1803).

In addition to the elephant, the odd Llama. And I still haven't found any more hint of the Thylacine stomach, that was the whole reason for going down this rabbithole in the first place!

Engraving of man looking wistfully to the right, in old fashioed clothes
John Sheldon, ballooning anatomist

And just when you think it is all going okay, then you check the biographies of some of the contributors to the museum, like John Sheldon, who studied the lymphatic system and embalming. He also enjoyed ballooning - one notable incident where the balloon set on fire, carrying Sheldon and his companion Keegan away. A second where the balloon would not clear the ground, so Sheldon's companion on this occasion, Blanchard, threw all the scientific instruments overboard. Sheldon later, in an incident that may now be thought to be a bipolar issues, determined that he had invented a great way to catch whales with poisoned harpoons, so hopped on a boat to Greenland - to promptly be dumped on a boat back to Britain.

Engraving of man in wig, looking a little like Robert Glenister in a devilsih mood with a Roger moore style single raised eyebrow
Robert Glynn - "just hold that look whilst I get the printing plate and etching acid"

There is also Robert GLYNN, who was teaching anatomy sort of freelance anatomy teacher, who was described as "eccentric in manner and dress"... the latter described as he would wear 'a scarlet cloak and three-cornered hat; he carried a gold-headed cane'. And someday I shall have to write a whole blog of its own on Sir Busick HARWOOD!

But, my week...

Long story short (as there has been a lot of long days and insomnia nights getting this done), I have built a database that covers the Cambridge University Museum Collection for Pathology, Physiology and Comparative Anatomy (now split between the Duckworth, Anatomy, and Zoology holdings). That includes:

  • Mr MORGAN'S Apparatus in ye Anatomy School, January 31st, 1733

  • An Inventory of the Apparatus and Furniture in the Anatomy School, 1746

  • A note of objects that Dr. PLUMPTRE deliver'd to Mr GLYNN for use in his lectures, March 15th, 1750

  • The Collection of Preparations wch in the Anatomy Schools (and those objects found wanting), 1753

  • An Inventory of Furniture and Apparatus in the Anatomy School, October 9th, 1772

  • Descriptive Catalogue of Preparations in Spirits of the Anatomical Museum, 1803 by Busick HARWOOD

  • Catalogue of the Anatomical Museum, 1820 by William CLARK

  • Notes on the annual inventories and additions to the museum, 1844-1865

  • Catalogue of the Osteological Portion of Specimens contained in the Anatomical Museum, 1862, again by William CLARK

The various names mostly tie up with Professors of Anatomy at the University, or else notable fellows of the time, donating random things.

Professors of Anatomy (though role is split in CLARK's time to seperate Comparative Anatomy/Zoology role):

  • John MORGAN from 1728

  • George CUTHBERT 1734

  • (Robert BANKS, 1735)

  • (William GIBSON, 1746)

  • Charles COLLIGNON, 1753

  • Busick HARWOOD, 1785

  • John HAVILAND, 1814

  • William CLARK, 1817

  • George HUMPRHY, 1866

  • Alexander MACALISTER, 1883 - 1919...

And finally.... the excel spreadsheet. Enjoy (if you're a nerd like me)

UMZC inventories 1733 to 1868 v2
Download XLSX • 327KB

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