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Identity Statement

Reference code(s): GB 0060 TM
Held at: Natural History Museum
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Full title: TRING MUSEUM
Date(s): 1890-[1953]
Level of description: Collection (fonds)
Extent: 32.5 linear metres
Name of creator(s): Tring Museum
Detailed catalogue: Click here to view repository detailed catalogue


Administrative/Biographical history:

Tring Museum originated as the private museum of the wealthy aristocrat and banker, Lionel Walter Rothschild (1868-1937), 2nd Baron Rothschild of Tring, in Hertfordshire. Walter began collecting natural history specimens at the age of seven, and converted a garden shed into his first museum a few years later. He visited the natural history galleries at the British Museum as a boy, and started a thirty-year correspondence with Albert Gunther, the Keeper of Zoology. Rothschild studied at Bonn University and at Magdalene College, Cambridge, where he came under the influence of the Professor of Zoology, Alfred Newton.

As a 21st birthday present his father built him a splendid museum on the edge of Tring Park for Walter's ever-growing zoological collections and library. Alfred Minall acted as caretaker and taxidermist, and the museum was opened to the public for the first time in 1892.

Rothschild made use of a great number of professional collectors to build up his museum, including A F R Wollaston in North Africa, William Doherty in what is now Malaysia and Indonesia, and A S Meek in New Guinea. He also undertook one major expedition himself, spending nearly six months collecting in Algeria in 1908. He kept live animals in Tring Park, including emus, kangaroos, zebra and giant tortoises. Rothschild appointed two curators in 1892 and 1893: Ernst Hartert (1859-1933) as ornithologist and Karl Jordan (1861-1959) as entomologist. Hartert retired as Director of the Museum in 1930, and was succeeded by Jordan until his own retirement in 1938. By 1908, when Rothschild retired from banking, the museum had an establishment of eight, including Arthur Goodson who assisted Hartert, and Fred Young who had succeeded Minall as taxidermist. The museum also published its own journal, Novitates Zoologicae, which eventually ran to 42 quarto volumes rich in hand-coloured lithographs. Rothschild added two wings to the museum to house the collections of birds and insects in 1910 and 1912.

In spite of his family's great wealth, Rothschild was often short of money. He sold most of his beetles to raise funds for the Museum, and in 1931 a crisis forced him to sell his collection of birds to the American Museum of Natural History. The remainder of his museum remained intact until his death in 1937, when it was bequeathed in its entirety to the Trustees of the British Museum. This, the largest bequest ever received by The Natural History Museum, consisted of 3,000 mounted mammals, reptiles and amphibians, 2,000 mounted birds and about 4,000 skins, a vast collection of butterflies and other insects, a library of 30,000 volumes, the buildings and the land on which they stood. An Act of Parliament in 1938 allowed the Trustees to accept the bequest. A succession of Natural History Museum staff acted as Officer-in-charge of Tring including T C S Morrison-Scott (1938-1939), J R Norman (1939-1944) and J E Dandy. Collections were evacuated to Tring from South Kensington during the war, but it wasn't until the end of the 1960s that major changes took place. The display galleries were modernised in 1969-1971, though they still retain a Victorian flavour, and the Bird Section moved into a new building on the site in 1971, providing space in South Kensington for Rothschild's insects to join the other entomological collections there. The Zoological Museum, Tring, now comprises a public display of stuffed animals with associated educational programmes, the Rothschild Library, and the staff and collections of the Bird Section.


Scope and content/abstract:

Correspondence of the Tring (natural history) Museum, 1890-1955.

Access & Use

Language/scripts of material:
Chiefly English, some German, French, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese and Dutch.

System of arrangement:

Arranged in sections as follows: TM1 Zoological Museum, Tring: Correspondence (bulk 1890-1908); TM2 Zoological Museum, Tring: Correspondence (bulk 1909-1955).

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:

Archival Information

Archival history:

Immediate source of acquisition:

Transferred from the Zoological Museum, Tring.

Allied Materials

Related material:

Publication note:

Description Notes

Archivist's note:
Entry copied from the Natural History Museum online catalogue by Sarah Drewery.
References: Rothschild, M, 1983. Dear Lord Rothschild. Birds, butterflies and history. Pp 398. Balaban, Philadelphia.

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:
Nov 2008

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