Graphical version

Natural History Museum



Reference code(s): GB 0060 DF ZOO

Held at: Natural History Museum


Date(s): 1819-2000

Level of description: Collection (fonds)

Extent: 47 series

Name of creator(s): Department of Zoology | Natural History Museum


Administrative/Biographical history:

The Department of Zoology has its origins in the Department of Natural and Artificial Productions which was set up at the founding of the British Museum in 1756. In 1806 it was renamed the Department of Natural History and Modern Curiosities and was under the keepership of George Shaw (1751-1813) and later Charles Dietrich Eberhard Konig (1774-1851). In 1836 the Department was divided into three branches, of which zoology was one, and in 1856 the branch was given the status of a department, with John Edward Gray (1800-1875) as the first Keeper, and a staff of 15. Gray made great progress in registering, cataloguing and exhibiting the growing collections, and was the first zoologist to gain and deserve scientific eminence through his work at the Museum. Although Gray pressed long and hard for a move to larger premises, he had been succeeded by Dr A Gunther (1830-1914) by the time the move to South Kensington took place in 1883. When Gunther retired in 1895 the department had a staff of 35, divided into the Vertebrate, Invertebrate and Insect Sections.

In 1913 the Insect Section became the separate Department of Entomology. In 1922 the department was divided into nine sections, including Mammals, Birds, Fishes, Mollusca and Crustacea. The number and precise designation of the sections has changed over the years, and by 1965 there were 17, each with its own head, and keeping its own records. By 1965 the department was responsible for one of the largest and most important collections of zoological material in the world, and was an international centre for research in animal taxonomy and systematics. The research was supported by a fine departmental library, rich in manuscripts and rare books. The department was also responsible, in conjunction with the exhibition staff, for displays in the zoological galleries. Staff numbered 98, who between them saw to nearly 5,000 visitors a year, coped with the acquisition of over 35,000 specimens a year, and were responsible for over 100 monographs, papers and reports.


Scope and content/abstract:

Papers of the Department of Zoology comprising: DF200 Keeper of Zoology's correspondence and files; DF201 Keeper of Zoology's out-letters; DF202 Department of Zoology: Keeper's miscellaneous documents; DF203 Keeper of Zoology's wartime papers and memoranda; DF204 Registers and indexes of Zoology departmental correspondence; DF205 Zoology Reports to Trustees and other official documents; DF206 Keeper of Zoology's subject files; DF207 Zoology Departmental finance and accounts; DF208 Keeper of Zoology's staff files and official diaries; DF209 Zoology reports of progress, monthly and annual; DF210 Keeper of Zoology's building and accommodation files; DF211 Keeper of Zoology's publication files; DF212 Keeper of Zoology's confidential files; DF213 Keeper of Zoology's expedition files; DF214 Keeper of Zoology's Great Barrier Reef Expedition files; DF215 Keeper of Zoology's John Murray Expeditions files; DF216 Zoology Acquisition, loan and exchange records; DF217 Artwork for publication; DF218 Zoology Accessions Registers; DF219 Collection Catalogues; DF220 Zoology Departmental Visitors Books; DF230 Bird Section correspondence; DF231 Vertebrate Section reports to Trustees and other official documents; DF232 Mammal Section correspondence; DF233 Fish Section correspondence; DF234 Osteology Section subject files; DF235 Reptile Section correspondence; DF250 Invertebrate Section correspondence and papers; DF251 Invertebrate Section reports to Trustees and other official documents; DF252 Crustacea Section correspondence; DF253 Coelenterata Section correspondence; DF254 Mollusca Section correspondence; DF255 Arachnida Section correspondence; DF256 Crustacea Section research papers; DF257 Coelenterata Section research papers; DF258 Coelenterata Section collection records; DF259 Parasitic Worms Section correspondence; DF260 Sponge Section correspondence; DF261 Bryozoa Section correspondence; DF262 Invertebrate sections visitors books; DF263 Sponge Section, photographs and artwork for publication; DF264 Echinodermata and Protochordata Section correspondence; DF265 Annelida Section Correspondence and Papers; DF266 Echinodermata and Protochordata Section research papers; DF270 Zoology Library accession records; DF271 Zoology Library correspondence and memoranda; DF272 Zoology Library catalogues and related material.


Language/scripts of material: English

System of arrangement:

As outlined in the Scope and Content.

Conditions governing access:

By appointment with the Archivist, by email to or by post to the Museum Archivist, Natural History Museum, Cromwell Road, London SW7 5BD.

Conditions governing reproduction:

At the Archivist's discretion. Photocopying service available. Digital photography (without flash) permitted for research purposes on completion of a photography permit form.

Finding aids:

Detailed catalogue



Archival history:

Immediate source of acquisition:

Transferred from the Department of Zoology.


Related material:

Most of the records from 1756-c 1850 remain in the archives of the British Museum.


Archivist's note: ntry copied from the Natural History Museum online catalogue by Sarah Drewery.
References: Gunther, A E, 1975. A century of zoology at the British Museum through the lives of two keepers, 1815-1914. Dawsons of Pall Mall.
Gunther, A E, 1980. The founders of science at the British Museum 1753-1900. The Halesworth Press.
Stearn, W T, 1981. The Natural History Museum at South Kensington. Heinemann. Chapter 12.

Rules or conventions: Compiled in compliance with General International Standard Archival Description, ISAD(G), second edition, 2000; National Council on Archives Rules for the Construction of Personal, Place and Corporate Names, 1997.

Date(s) of descriptions: Sep 2008

Arachnida | Arthropods | Organisms
Birds | Animals | Zoology
Bones | Musculoskeletal system | Anatomy | Biology
Coral reefs | Land forms | Topography | Geomorphology
Echinodermata | Marine animals | Aquatic animals | Animals | Zoology
Expeditions | Travel
Invertebrates | Organisms
Mammals | Animals | Zoology
Molluscs | Animals | Zoology
Museum collections | Museum facilities
Reptiles | Animals | Zoology
Shellfish | Fish | Aquatic animals | Animals | Zoology
Sponges | Animal products | Agricultural products

Personal names
Murray | Sir | John | 1841-1914 | Knight | oceanographer

Corporate names
Natural History Museum

Australia | Oceania