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Natural History Museum

British Museum East Africa Expedition


Reference code(s): GB 0060 DF 5000

Held at: Natural History Museum

Title: British Museum East Africa Expedition

Date(s): 1924-1931

Level of description: sub-fonds

Extent: 58

Name of creator(s): British Museum East Africa Expedition


Administrative/Biographical history:

A British Museum expedition to collect dinosaur bones from Tendaguru in Tanganyika was first proposed in 1918 as a result of information received from the geologist C W Hobley. The site had been discovered by a German palaeontologist in 1907 and systematically excavated from 1909 until 1912. A S Woodward, Keeper of Geology, pressed the case, suggesting that the German work had been poor, and that important material must remain to be discovered. Final approval for the expedition was given by Trustees in October 1923. The costs were paid by the Trustees, the Treasury and by a public subscription, which raised enough to buy one motor lorry. William Edmund Cutler, a Canadian with experience of collecting dinosaurs, was appointed leader, and he travelled to Africa in February 1924, accompanied by an undergraduate from Cambridge, L S B Leakey. Leakey returned at the end of the year, and Cutler worked largely on his own until his sudden death from malaria in August 1925.

Frederick William Hugh Migeod, 'an intrepid and experienced traveller', replaced Cutler as leader of the expedition, with Major T Deacon as his assistant. Neither of these two men had any geological or palaeontological training, and some alarm was expressed in London at the lack of proper scientific control over the collecting. A team of forty labourers worked on the site and 431 boxes or packages of bones were sent back to the Museum during 1926 alone. Migeod and Deacon returned to England at the end of 1926, leaving G W Parrett and W Kershaw, two big game hunters, in charge of the site.

A geologist, Dr John Parkinson, replaced Migeod in May 1927, but results during 1928 were disappointing, partly due to illness. Migeod resumed his place as Leader for the years 1929 and 1930, assisted by F R Parrington, and financed by the governments of Tanganyika, Nyasaland and Kenya. The expedition finally closed in January 1931.

Overall the results of the expedition were disappointing. Although a large number of bones had been discovered and returned to London, few appeared to belong to new genera or species, and it was many years before they were all even unpacked. No scientific report of the expedition was ever published.


Scope and content/abstract:

Correspondence and papers of the British Museum East Africa Expedition, 1924-1931, including notebooks and papers of William Edmund Cutler; notebooks and papers of Frederick William Hugh Migeod and miscellaneous and printed material relating to East Africa Expedition.


Language/scripts of material: English

System of arrangement:

As outlined in scope and content.

Conditions governing access:

Conditions governing reproduction:

Physical characteristics:

Finding aids:

Detailed catalogue


Appraisal, destruction and scheduling information:


Archival history:

Immediate source of acquisition:



Existence and location of originals:

Existence and location of copies:

Related material:

Progress reports were published in Natural History Magazine, 1: 34-43, and 275-286, 2: 185-198, and 3: 87-103.

Publication note:



Archivist's note: Entry copied from the Natural History Museum online catalogue by Sarah Drewery.

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

Expeditions | Travel

Personal names
Cutler | William Edmund | b 1876 | fossil collector
Migeod | Frederick William Hugh | 1872-1952 | traveller and fossil collector

Corporate names
British Museum

East Africa