Trustee Philip Geddes tells us about the Selborne Albatross, which is being packed for trip to UK onboard British Antarctic Survey research ship Ernest Shackleton.
Even Gilbert White, with his extensive knowledge and love of birds, would have been surprised at the latest addition to his Selborne household – an albatross. Indeed Gilbert would never have seen one – the albatross is not native to Britain, and the first of the species was only identified towards the end of the 18th century.
Next Spring a black browed albatross (Thalassarche melanophris), one of the most majestic animals in the world, with a wingspan of 7 foot 8 inches, will be on display in the new library (formerly the shop) of Gilbert White & The Oates Collections.
This marvellous animal – donated to the Museum by British Antarctic Survey – will be one of the highlights of a complete overhaul of the Museum, started in February 2017 and to be completed by Easter 2018. This £3m project, supported by Heritage Lottery Fund, Hampshire County Council and the UK Antarctic Heritage Trust – among many others – is aimed at restoring large parts of the Museum estate and revolutionising the visitor experience.
The aim of the project as a whole is to secure the future of the Museum and make it a starting point for journeys of discovery in the natural world – as it was in Gilbert White’s day. Our new albatross is a good symbol of this. The Rime of the Ancient Mariner – a poem listing the disasters that befall a ship after the shooting of an albatross – was published by Samuel Taylor Coleridge in 1798. The poem is seen as the start of the romantic period in British poetry,
which led to a rebirth of interest in the relationship between man and the environment. Gilbert would certainly have agreed with one of the final verses of Coleridge’s poem:
“He prayeth best, who loveth best All things both great and small; For the dear God who loveth us, He made and loveth all”.