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New year, new resolutions

It’s a brand new year and usually, that means we say goodbye to our old ways and give ourselves new goals to aspire to. Setting New Year’s resolutions is a tradition around the world, so what resolutions have you made? To give you some ideas, we have rounded up some resolutions to help you get your year off to a great start. 

Be more active


You may not want to sweat out in the gym and purchase that expensive gym membership. So how about a run, walk or even a stroll in our Gardens?

Apart from the health benefits from exercise, a walk in our Gardens is free and, no matter the season, there are always new blooms of life flourishing across our 16 acres of land. Have a play in the interactive sound garden, walk your dogs or discover quiet corners for contemplation.

There are also proven mental health benefits to spending time in nature, helping to alleviate stress and anxiety. So discover what our gardeners and curators have developed outdoors, to coincide with the Museum’s collections.

Read a few more books

Did you know that every 1st Sunday of the month our library opens its doors to the public without any need for an appointment? The collection contains books covering anthropology to illustrated monographs and now has over 30,000 volumes.

The library is also staffed on Mondays and Tuesdays, and open to researchers on these days by appointment (please email enquiry@horniman.ac.uk).

Or, if you want to read more with your children, you can find books on our Natural History Gallery Balcony and a reading corner on our World Gallery Balcony.

Spend more time with family and friends

The Horniman offers many free activities, whether you are visiting alone, with a friend or with family.

From photographic displays on our World Gallery Balcony to our permanent collections there is always something to see and to think about.

In the Hands on Base, you can get closer to artefacts and objects. Whether you are interested in Mexican masks or want to learn more about endangered animals, who knows what you will discover in our free object-handling sessions.

Culture has a positive impact on wellness, so making some time for yourself in places like the Horniman, really can help you feel better.

View our Whats On calendar to see current and upcoming events and exhibitions.

Give something back to your community

  • Youth Panel , Balistic
    , Balistic

Volunteering gives an opportunity to give back to your local community, which has social benefits for groups like the over 40s.

Keep an eye on our website for ways to get involved or follow us on LinkedIn to hear about new opportunities.

If you’re aged between 14 and 19 and are interested in making a difference at the Horniman, why don’t you join the Horniman Youth Panel?

World Poetry Day: The Wilsons and Wuhan

World Poetry Day is celebrated every year on 21 March to recognise the importance of poetry to human culture across the world.

At the Horniman we have been searching our collections for objects that will help us join the worldwide celebration and in this hunt have uncovered an object that shows how poetry and art unites us all across borders.

Horniman Object No. 2013.366 may not look like much at first glance. Wooden boards bound into a book by a leather spine does not make for the most eye-catching display, but open up the pages of this tome and you will be stunned. Each double-page spread features a unique poem written in both Chinese and English by an individual whose portrait has been lovingly painted as an accompaniment.

These poems were written to commemorate Reverend Robert Wilson, or ‘Mr Wei’, who had lived in what is now the city of Wuhan in Central China. Robert had passed away, leaving behind his wife and daughters. With the family set to return to England, it seems that friends and congregants of Mr Wilson had collaborated to produce this book to thank his widow for the impact he had on their lives, and to express the sadness that she too was leaving theirs.

We have highlighted three of these poems in particular that highlight how a group of ordinary people used the universal language of poetry to explore the sorrow and grief that they all shared.


Ah! How sad, the pastor is gone to heaven;

Having gone to the heavenly hall he has left

                The world forever.

Alas! The mother teacher has to return solitary,

When I think of the miles of ocean and

                Sea, my heart grows very sorrowful

                And sad.


-          Liu Chang Sin


  • 2013.366_01, Liu Chang Sin's poem and portrait
    Liu Chang Sin's poem and portrait


Oh how joyous! The mutual acquaintance between

The pastor Wei and myself was complete.

Oh how sorrowful! The teacher is gone to heaven,

And the teacher’s wife and daughters will

Now be separated from us.


Still my joy and my sorrow do not simply

Consist in this.


More sorrowful is it, that the harvest is great

And the Labourers few.

More joyous still is it, that there is a day when

The Teacher, with his wife and daughters

Together with ourselves shall meet each

Other in heaven.


-          Shun Tsi Sin, the local evangelist


  • 2013.366_02, The poem and portrait of Shun Tsi Sin
    The poem and portrait of Shun Tsi Sin


I am having my likeness taken,

And in presenting it to her who is about to return,

My object is to a small degree to soothe the sadness

                Of the voyage,

And not because I regard it of any value.

Though visibly there is a temporary separation,

After death we shall be again near each other.

Say not that the distance will be great there;

In heaven we shall all be neighbours.


-          Chii Hien Ohme


  • 2013.366_03, The poem and portrait of Chii Hien Ohme
    The poem and portrait of Chii Hien Ohme

Horniman History: Lectures given by Women

For International Women's Day, we have a look at some of women who gave lectures here in the early days of the Horniman.

Our Librarian Henry Rowsell recently uncovered an interesting fact about the Horniman as part of #NHEphemera.

The Horniman used to host lectures from visiting experts, as well as our own curators, up until the 1980s. The records show that we had a few well known women lecture, which was (according to author Kate Hill) unusual for the time.

Although women could undertake the public role of lecturing to a mixed-gender audience, they rarely did so, and those who did so had, or were in the process of developing, the professional authority to be able to speak publicly. Moreover, it may be significant that of the museums studied here, only the Horniman recorded women delivering lectures, and these were all in its Saturday afternoon popular lecture series.

In fact, the women we talk about below featured in both Saturday and Sunday lectures, in the morning and evening, repeated three times on Sunday evenings alone. Rather wonderfully, the Sunday afternoon lectures were repeated "to reduce the amount of aimless loafing in the Museum" by visitors during that time.

So who were these lecturers and why were they invited to speak?

Marie Stopes

Many will know her name from the Marie Stopes family planning clinics, but Stopes' original work focused on botany and geology.

  • Women lecturers at the Horniman, Marie Stopes in her laboratory
    Marie Stopes in her laboratory

Stopes graduated from University College, London with a first class B.Sc. after only two years by attending both day and night schools.

She continued racking up firsts, becoming one of the first women to be elected a fellow of the Linnean Society and the first female academic at the University of Manchester, as a lecturer of Palaeobotany (although they later tried to rescind the offer when they realised she was a woman). She took up postgraduate work in Munich in 1903 and became the only woman amongst 500 men, and in 1904 Stopes achieved her doctorate on cycads seed structure and function. She was the youngest person in Britain to earn a DSc in 1905.

In 1907, Stopes was sent on an 18-month expedition to Japan by the Royal Society. Charles Darwin wrote about flowers being an “an abominable mystery” as the earliest samples in the fossil record all dated back to around 100 million years ago in various forms, suggesting an explosion of diversity. This was the mystery that Stopes intended to shed light on.

In her journal she wrote:

August 24th: Really it is hard work to carry tents and everything along these rivers. Often I alone find it difficult to go, and I have nothing to carry – except my fan and hammer, both of which are in constant use.

Her work on angiosperms from Hokkaido, Japan provided vital evidence which proved to be, at the time, the oldest flowers discovered.

Stopes’ Lecture at the Horniman on 2 March in 1912 “Evolution in Plants, illustrated by Fossils” would have doubtless drawn from her experience in Hokkaido.

  • Women lecturers at the Horniman, Marie Stopes' lecture in our records
    Marie Stopes' lecture in our records

Women’s history, like all history, is very complicated. Marie Stropes is an example of a figure whose work enabled and empowered some women, but was dangerous and exclusionary to others.

Marie Stopes was a supporter of Hitler, and was an advocate of with eugenics and sterilization. Although the creation of her birth control clinic in south London gave greater reproductive control to women, Stopes’ ideas about birth control and sterilization were informed by homophobic, anti-Semitic and racist ideas, as well as her prejudice against the disabled and working classes.

Kate Hall

Kate Hall was the Curator if the Whitechapel (or Borough of Stepney) Museum from 1895 until 1909 – the first paid female curator in the country, according to Kate Hill.

Hall was a protégé of Henrietta Barnett. Barnett who, along with her husband, established The Whitechapel Library and Toynbee Hall, as a way of educating working class people in London’ East End. A room was given on the second floor to serve as the Whitechapel Museum, which housed natural history specimens collected by Rev. Dan Greatorex.

During this time, Hall founded during this time the Nature Study Museum which opened in 1904, containing living specimens, taxidermy and insects, as well as a bee hive with glass walls, all of which sounds very similar to the Horniman today. The intention of the Nature Study Museum was to give city people the opportunity to encounter live animals, and who may have otherwise not had this opportunity. Over 100,000 people visited in two years.

The lectures Hall gave at the Horniman in January, February and March 1905 drew on her knowledge as part of the Nature Study Museum. The first two talks were, “The life of the honey bee” on 22 January and “The work of the honey bee” on 12 February, with an enigmatically titled lecture: “Trees” following on 5 March. According to St George-in-the-East Church, the bees in the Nature Study Museum had a local fame so it is little wonder that they were the subject of Hall’s lectures.

  • Women lecturers at the Horniman, Kate Hall's lecture in our records
    Kate Hall's lecture in our records

According to the Survey of London, Hall was innovative when it came to education, providing a carefully planned syllabus prior to the school visit. She also created a handling collection of natural specimens which were changed weekly and around 400 children visited for nature-study lessons at the museum each week in 1907.

Dr E M Delf-Smith

  • Women lecturers at the Horniman, A lecture by EM Delf-Smith in our records
    A lecture by EM Delf-Smith in our records

Dr Ellen Marion Delf-Smith, as she was later known, went to school down the road from the Horniman at James Allen's Girls' School in Dulwich, studied natural sciences at Girton College, Cambridge and went on to a post at Westfield College, University of London teaching botany.

According to her obituary in the British Phycological Journal, Delf-Smith had very few facilities or help when she first took up her teaching post and “if she wanted a specimen she had to go out and collect it and prepare it herself.”

She is described as having a remarkable gift for stimulating and training students, “able to discern the faintest spark of interest in a student and to fan it into a flame.” Her determination and initiative led to the University approving the Westfield laboratory for preparing students for pass degree examinations in botany in 1910 and for honours degrees in 1915.

Delf-Smith’s passion within botany lay in marine algae and the process by which plants excrete water (transpiration). It was her results in this area that lead to her award of the London DSc as well as the Gamble prize from Girton.

  • Women lecturers at the Horniman, A lecture by EM Delf-Smith in our records
    A lecture by EM Delf-Smith in our records

She returned to her old stomping ground in South London to give numerous lectures at the Horniman, and we can find listings in our records from 1912, with talks on “The Plant life of a Moor” on 9 March and “The Botany of Bread” on 2 November.

We’ll leave you with a poem she wrote for The Sportophyte, a journal edited by Marie Stopes:

A Botanical Dream

Last night as I lay dreaming

There came a dream so fair

I stood mid ancient Gymnosperms

Beside the Ginkgo rare.


I saw the Medullosae

With multipartite fronds,

And watched the sunset rosy

Through Calamites wands.


Oh Cryptogams, Pteridosperms

And Sphenophyllum cones,

Why did ye ever fossilise

To Palaeozoic stones?

E.M. Delf


World Book Day 2017

In celebration of World Book Day on 2 March 2017, Gill Poole shows us some of the fascinating books in the Horniman Library.

Our Library is an eclectic collection of books, old and new. We have some rare volumes from Frederick Horniman’s original collection as well as newer books acquired over the years to complement the Museum’s various objects and exhibitions.

Gill works in our Library and has the important task of caring for our books and all the requests from people who want to read them. Gill has picked out some of her favourite books from the collection to share with us here for World Book Day. Take it away Gill…

Japanese Fairy Tales

HASEGAWA, T. ,  THOMPSON, David ,  CHAMBERLAIN, Basil Hall  &  HEPBURN, James Curtis  (1885-1889)

These beautiful books area a joy to read because they are so gorgeous. Each volume is colourfully illustrated and the pages are made from crepe paper which makes them soft to the touch. They are story books, translated into English to share to a wider audience all the wonderful fairy tales from Japan.

  • World Book Day 2017, Japanese Fairy Tales
    Japanese Fairy Tales

  • World Book Day 2017, Japanese Fairy Tales
    Japanese Fairy Tales

The Anatomy of Horses

STUBBS, George  (1853)

I love horses and I wish I could draw like this! These are the anatomical drawings made by George Stubbs before he started painting his famous horse portraits such as ‘Whistlejacket’. You can see each picture is meticulously accurate, down to the position of each bone, which is why his later paintings are so beautifully lifelike.

  • World Book Day 2017, The Anatomy of Horses
    The Anatomy of Horses

  • World Book Day 2017, The Anatomy of Horses
    The Anatomy of Horses

Ocean Flowers and their Teachings

HOWARD, Mary Matilda  (1847)

This is a rare book and part of Frederick Horniman’s original collection. It is special because it contains 38 real specimens of seaweed pressed inside. It is amazing that is has survived for so long.

  • World Book Day 2017, Ocean Flowers and their teachings
    Ocean Flowers and their teachings

  • World Book Day 2017, Ocean Flowers and their teachings
    Ocean Flowers and their teachings

  • World Book Day 2017, Ocean Flowers and their teachings
    Ocean Flowers and their teachings

Episodes of Insect Life

 BUDGEN, L. M.  (1849-18)

This is a wonderful book. In it, the author tries to make insects seem less… yuck. By creating short stories and poems, he hopes to inspire people to overcome their initial prejudices about insects and get them interested in entomology. It is a very modern approach and makes the book very readable, unlike many dry and dusty books about entomology of the time.

  • World Book Day 2017, Episodes of Insect Life
    Episodes of Insect Life

  • World Book Day 2017, Episodes of Insect Life
    Episodes of Insect Life

  • World Book Day 2017, Episodes of Insect Life
    Episodes of Insect Life

This Sunday we are celebrating World Book Day at our Library Open Day. Come and drop in, no need to book an appointment, and see these fascinating volumes, as well as many more. 

Back to books!

One of our Volunteers, Chiara, tells us about her experience in the Horniman Library.

‘I’ve been working as a Librarian in a public library for ten years, back in Italy.

When I moved to London, I lost contact with what had meant so much to me: dealing with the public (especially kids, since I was mostly working in the library’s children section) handling books everyday (the smell of paper...and dust! How wonderful!) and being in daily touch with local communities. At the beginning of my time in London, I felt a little bit lost.

So when I had the opportunity to join the taster session for Volunteers at the Horniman, I was very excited. Somehow I felt I could be again part of something special.

  • Back to Books!, Discovering books in the Horniman Library
    Discovering books in the Horniman Library

I volunteered with Engage for some months and this reminded me of the brilliant curiosity of children. I also took part in the Half Term activities and I could breathe again the happy atmosphere of families playing and learning together. But there was still something missing for me.

Anytime I could, I started sneaking into the Library to help Helen, the librarian, mending the children’s books. When a volunteering role for a library project arose, I couldn’t resist applying. Then the magic happened, I was working again in a library in the reclassification project!

Now, anytime I go to the shelf, pick a book, browse through it and discuss with Helen the most suitable place for visitors to find it, I feel the ‘librarian thrill’ again.

When I handle the ancient books of the special collection, touching them very gently to respect their age and fragility, I feel again as if I was in one of the ancient libraries I used to attend in Rome.

  • Back to Books!, Examining books in the Horniman Library
    Examining books in the Horniman Library

I feel a little bit homesick, but also home again, because if home is where your heart is...well, my heart has always been beating for books.

I have had experience of various different volunteering roles at the Horniman, having also spent some weeks in administration. It has been amazing to experience different and sometimes surprising opportunities, but in the end I’m so very glad that this way took me back to books.

Find out more about volunteering at the Horniman.

Inspired by Anna Atkins

Today is Ada Lovelace day when we celebrate women in science, technology, engineering and maths.

Our Librarian, Helen Williamson, is here to tell us about her work with our community partners creating beautiful cyanotypes inspired by Anna Atkins.

  • Inspired by Anna Atkins, Cyanotype made by Shaftesbury Clinic, Springfield Hospital.
    Cyanotype made by Shaftesbury Clinic, Springfield Hospital.

‘We have written about Anna Atkins before on Ada Lovelace day but it’s a great opportunity to talk about her again, the beautiful book we hold in the library and the wonderful process of making cyanotypes.

The cyanotype was invented by Sir John Herschel in 1842. He was a family friend of Atkins and a regular visitor at the family home in Kent. Atkins was a keen artist, as well as an enthusiastic botanist, and recognised that Herschel’s new invention, which required only a few chemicals, water and sunlight, offered an opportunity to approach botanical illustration in a different way.

  • Inspired by Anna Atkins, Cyanotype made by Aisling from the Horniman Youth Panel.
    Cyanotype made by Aisling from the Horniman Youth Panel.

In 1843, she started work producing the cyanotypes that would make up Photographs of British Algae: Cyanotype Impressions. It is considered to be the first ever photographically illustrated book and we are very lucky to have a copy in our library which was previously owned by the museum’s founder, Frederick Horniman.

To make a cyanotype, objects are placed on a sheet of chemically treated paper and then exposed to sunlight. The length of exposure depends upon how bright a day it is. Once exposed, the paper is washed in water and dried, with the colour fully developing when dry.

The process of creating cyanotypes is almost unchanged since Anna Atkins was making her book, and it creates remarkably stable prints. Most early photographic prints have deteriorated completely by now or need to be kept in strict, environmentally-controlled storage. Cyanotypes, on the other hand, have endured amazingly well. The colours in our copy of her Photographs of British Algae are beautifully vivid and the paper is robust enough for handling and display.

  • Inspired by Anna Atkins, Cyanotype made by David Quan from Redstart Arts.
    Cyanotype made by David Quan from Redstart Arts.

Over the summer the library and the learning team ran an engagement project with a number of our community partners who were challenged to make cyanotypes of their own, inspired by Anna Atkins and using the botanical world around them. This is some of the beautiful work they produced.

  • Inspired by Anna Atkins, Cyanotype made by Eliot Bank Museum Club.
    Cyanotype made by Eliot Bank Museum Club.

  • Inspired by Anna Atkins, Cyanotype made by Esther and Maya from the Horniman Youth Panel.
    Cyanotype made by Esther and Maya from the Horniman Youth Panel.

  • Inspired by Anna Atkins, Cyanotype made by L.G, Arts Network.
    Cyanotype made by L.G, Arts Network.

  • Inspired by Anna Atkins, Cyanotype made by the Stroke Association.
    Cyanotype made by the Stroke Association.

A book of all of the cyanotypes made during this project is available to view in the library, alongside other material about Anna Atkins.

Visit one of our Library Open Days on the first Sunday of every month, or book an appointment.

Art inspiration at the Horniman library

How the Horniman library influences local artists.

For the last 115 years the Horniman Museum library has been a resource for anyone wishing to research subjects related to natural history, anthropology and musical instruments.

This group includes not only academics, curators and students but also gardeners, textile designers, architects and artists. 

One such artist is Ian Robinson who visited the library in 2015 and spent time with some of the older anthropology books in our collection, which had originally belonged to Frederick Horniman. These resulting works were exhibited at the Affordable Art Fair in Battersea earlier this year.

For anyone interested in visiting the library, we are open by appointment on Mondays and Tuesdays, and on the first Sunday of every month (no appointment needed). 

Find out more information about the Horniman library.

More of Ian’s artwork can be viewed on his website.

Bookblitz: Early Entomology

It's been a while since we last had a Bookblitz blog post, so we're returning to the topic with a look at some of the most stunning works from our historic Library collection.

Linking with our collections, the Horniman Library contains many newer works all about entomology, or the study of insects. Now a staple of natural history museums, a few centuries ago studying these small creatures was a rare practice, making our detailed 17th and 18th century guides to the insect world particularly special. Several were highlighted as 'stars' of our collection by the recent Bioblitz review.

  • Our early entomological publications were highlighted by the Bioblitz project as 'stars' of our collection, Photo by Vicky Pearce
    , Photo by Vicky Pearce

It is thanks to collectors such as Frederick Horniman, who had a particular interest in entomology, that these early volumes have survived.

  • Frederick Horniman's own bookplate in an early Entomology volume, Photo by Vicky Pearce
    , Photo by Vicky Pearce

The earliest entomology volume in our collection is Samuel Purchas' 'A Theatre of Political Flying-Insects', published in 1657, which spends much time expanding on 'the excellency of the bee'.

  • Chapter page of Samuel Purchas' 'A Theatre of Political Flying-Insects', published 1657, Photo by Vicky Pearce
    , Photo by Vicky Pearce

  • Samuel Purchas' 'A Theatre of Political Flying-Insects', published 1657, Photo by Vicky Pearce
    , Photo by Vicky Pearce

It is not until the slightly later volume by Johannes Godartius that we start to see the inclusion of illustrations, a feature of entomological works that so often captures attention.

  • 'Johannes Godartius of Insects', published 1682, Photo by Vicky Pearce
    , Photo by Vicky Pearce

  • 'Johannes Godartius of Insects' offers illustrations on fold-out pages, Photo by Vicky Pearce
    , Photo by Vicky Pearce

The monochrome images in 'Johannes Godartius of Insects' (published 1682) were printed from careful copper etchings made by a 'Mr F Pl'.

  • A closer look at some of the copperplate illustrations from 'Johannes Godartius of Insects', Photo by Vicky Pearce
    , Photo by Vicky Pearce

Later still, entomological illustration hits a high in 'Metamorphosis insectorum Surinamensium' by Maria Sybilla Merian.

  • Maria Merian's study of insects is punctuated with stunning full page illustrations, Photo by Vicky Pearce
    , Photo by Vicky Pearce

Merian was one of the first people to study the life cycle of butterflies in detail, including their transformation from caterpillars.

  • Maria Merian was one of the first people to closely observe and document butterfly metamorphosis, Photo by Vicky Pearce
    , Photo by Vicky Pearce

She also illustrated her own work, producing dozens of beautifully detailed prints not just of insects but of the many animals and plants that shared their habitats.

  • Merian also studyied plants and other animals, depicting them in detail in her illustrations, Photo by Vicky Pearce
    , Photo by Vicky Pearce

This copy, published in Dutch in 1730, has been later rebound by Horniman himself. This was often done to better protect pages as well as to give a collector's library and more uniform look, meaning it is rare to see older volumes in their original binding.

  • A label shows where Frederick Horniman rebound his older volumes, Photo by Vicky Pearce
    , Photo by Vicky Pearce

Also highlighted by our Entomology Bioblitz is an 1821 volume written in High German. This was especially unusual to find outside Germany at the time Horniman was collecting.

  • 'Schmetterlings Cabinet' is printed in High German, Photo by Vicky Pearce
    , Photo by Vicky Pearce

Christian Friedrich Vogel's 'Schmetterlings-Cabinet für Kinder' is a children's guide not only to various species of European butterflies, but also to catching, keeping and displaying your own specimens. By this time, entomology and further study of the natural world had become a popular hobby for young people.

  • Vogel's work contained detailed notes on how a child could capture and preserve their own specimens, Photo by Vicky Pearce
    , Photo by Vicky Pearce

The book is filled with vibrantly hand-coloured plates, not unlike modern nature guides.

  • Just one of many detailed illustrations that make up this printed 'butterfly cabinet', Photo by Vicky Pearce
    , Photo by Vicky Pearce

  • Vogel described and illustrated each butterfly species clearly, Photo by Vicky Pearce
    , Photo by Vicky Pearce

  • Each of Vogel's illustrations is meticulously hand-painted, The colours of these illustrations remain remarkably vivid after years preserved between the pages., Photo by Vicky Pearce
    The colours of these illustrations remain remarkably vivid after years preserved between the pages., Photo by Vicky Pearce

If you're interested in viewing these stunning early entomological books for yourself you can book a visit to our Library by emailing our Librarian on enquiry@horniman.ac.uk. You can also discover insect specimens in our collections.

Bookblitz: The Oldest Book in the Collection

So far in our Bookblitz series, we've shared some fairly old volumes from our Library collections. However, not many come close to the age of this book.

  • De Materica Medica V, The oldest book in the Horniman Library, Photo by Vicky Pearce
    The oldest book in the Horniman Library, Photo by Vicky Pearce

De Materia Medica is a hugely influential early medical text, first written almost 2000 years ago, around 40-90AD. Our volume isn't quite that age, but is an edition of the last book (there 5 in total) printed in 1529.

  • De Materica Medica V, The oldest book in the Horniman Library, Photo by Vicky Pearce
    The oldest book in the Horniman Library, Photo by Vicky Pearce

The text is printed in its original Greek, accompanied by a Latin translation and a newer Latin 'interpretation', probably added in the 1500s.

  • The text is printed in ancient Greek and Latin, with a newer 'interpres' in Latin, Photo by Vicky Pearce
    , Photo by Vicky Pearce

Our copy was rebound in the 1800s, and is accompanied by an additional 1830 commentary on all 5 books in De Materia Medica.

  • De Materica Medica V, The oldest book in the Horniman Library, Photo by Vicky Pearce
    The oldest book in the Horniman Library, Photo by Vicky Pearce

There is lots of bookworm damage clearly visible both to the binding and throughout the pages, although the beetle larvae which caused this have long-since died.

  • Our De Materia Medica has noticeable pest damage, but is in relatively good condition for its age, Photo by Vicky Pearce
    , Photo by Vicky Pearce

Still, this elderly book is in better condition than many Victorian volumes which, while younger, were produced in greater numbers and at lower cost.

  • De Materica Medica V, The oldest book in the Horniman Library, Photo by Vicky Pearce
    The oldest book in the Horniman Library, Photo by Vicky Pearce

De Materia Medica remained in print for 1500 years, becoming the supreme authority for European medicine for centuries. It's author, a Roman physician of Greek origin called Pedanius Dioscorides, became known as the 'father of pharmacology' for his extensive advice concerning the creations and applications of medicines.

  • De Materica Medica V, The oldest book in the Horniman Library, Photo by Vicky Pearce
    The oldest book in the Horniman Library, Photo by Vicky Pearce

Today, digitised copies of De Materia Medica can be accessed online. It remains a prime source of information about medicines used by the Greeks, Romans, and other ancient cultures.

Bookblitz: Another Frederick Hornemann

During the Bookblitz of our historic volumes, our librarian Helen came across a book that seemed at first as if it might contain a typo or two. 'Frederick Horneman's Travels in Africa' sounds like it might be an account of our founder's adventures during which he gathered some of the museum's collection.

But on closer inspection this volume is quite a bit older than our own Frederick John Horniman, who was born in 1835. The book contains an account of the incredible travels of a German man with a name rather similar to that of our founder.

Friedrich Hornemann (his name is anglicised to 'Frederick' for our volume, while the last 'n' is removed in the printed version) spent years exploring parts of Africa which no Europeans had travelled to in around 100 years.

  • The Journal of Frederick Horneman's Travels, The printers didn't seem to agree with Hornemann about the spelling of his name
    The printers didn't seem to agree with Hornemann about the spelling of his name

His 'Travels' contains both handwritten entries and printed accounts translated from the original German for the years 1797-8, during which he travelled the 'Interior of Africa', setting out from Cairo in Egypt. He was just 24 at the time.

Hornemann was perhaps a good deal more of an intrepid traveller than our founder, who obtained most of his collection by buying it from other explorers, and only travelled widely much later in life.

It is tempting to imagine our own Frederick Horniman reading these accounts, perhaps developing a desire to do some of his own travelling in and collecting from 'undiscovered' lands.

  • Our Frederick Horniman's own bookplate, Hornemann's journal was a part of our founder's own personal library
    Hornemann's journal was a part of our founder's own personal library

Hornemann's account is punctuated by his hand drawn maps of the regions, while large fold out charts by Major James Rennel are added to this volume to show his whole journey.

Also included are a number of letters and minute documents detailing the preparations needed to arrange for his trip, which was undertaken on behalf of the London-based African Association (explaining why his journal is written in English).

They provide a brilliant insight into 18th century travel, detailing the expenses expected to occur (including a compass, telescope and sextant), languages Hornemann would learn in advance and his need to become familiar with the 'manner and customes of all such stangers'.

We're unsure what happened to this world explorer. It seems he kept travelling for the rest of his life, and in 1803 was recorded as being in Tripoli. It is thought that he died in 1819, somewhere in or near Nigeria. No other European explorer followed his route again until 1910.

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