taxidermy

Henry, Son of Drew

Henry George Drew was born in 1875, the son of Catherine (nee Beatson) and Samuel Drew. His father Samuel is still a well-known figure in Whanganui, not just as the founder of the Whanganui Regional Museum, but as a scholar, a musician, a philanthropist, a creative jeweller and a successful businessman.

2. Henry Drew

Portrait of Henry Drew.  Source: Public Domain.

Henry is somewhat overshadowed by his father’s reputation, but never-the-less deserves recognition for his own substantial contribution, both to the family jewellery business and to the world of museums.

He attended Wanganui Collegiate School from 1885-1887 and then moved to Wellington to train as a jeweller, and returned to Whanganui to join his father in the family jewellery business. He was renowned as a creative and adept craftsman. The Drew premises still stands on the south side of the Bridge Block at 19 Victoria Avenue. Henry was responsible for rebuilding this shop in 1909, the previous shop being pulled down to accommodate the new. He later moved his business premises further up Victoria Avenue to Perrett’s Buildings, where it remained until the 1950s.

1. Tankard engraved by H Drew

 Engraved by jeweller Henry Drew, this silver tankard has dates, place names and descriptive images of battlefields of North Africa and Italy in World War II where New Zealand contingents fought. Ref: 2003.54.2

Like his father, Henry had a passion for natural history. Samuel Drew maintained contacts with world-renowned naturalists such as the Austrian collector and taxidermist, Andreas Reischek who, on two visits in 1886 and 1888, helped to classify his collections. At the age of 11 young Henry received lessons in taxidermy from Reischek and developed into a highly skilled taxidermist and a recognised collector of New Zealand birds, butterflies and moths.

In 1901, after the death of his father, Henry Drew was appointed Honorary Curator of the Museum. Following the appointment of a paid Curator, George Marriner in 1908, Henry was elected as a trustee and served from 1908 to 1912. In 1916 he was again appointed Honorary Curator, a position he held for three years.

In a 1916 letter to Amy Castle, an entomologist at the Dominion Museum (now Te Papa), he commented, “I have just been appointed Curator of Wang. Public Museum, and therefore my private collection must be reluctantly placed on one side. My duties at the Museum will take up all my spare time.”

Henry has been described as the best taxidermist produced by New Zealand. He mounted exhibits for many different museums around the country. He was especially noted for his ability to mount bird specimens in a natural way. A case of native birds, titled Morepork Under Siege, was mounted by him while Honorary Curator and was on display at the Museum for many years. It depicts a sleepy Ruru, or Morepork (Ninox novaeseelandiae), being besieged during the day by small birds that include Riroriro (Grey warbler), Tauhou (Silvereye), Miromiro (North Island Tomtit) and Piwaiwaka (Fantail). Still in the Museum collection, the diorama demonstrates the sort of natural poses that Drew was attempting to perfect.

20181005_151756_Richtone(HDR)

A close-up view of Henry Drew’s Morepork Under Siege, showing the birds in natural poses. Ref: 1916.66

In 1924 he produced a collection of 350 birds for display at the Wembley Exhibition in England. This included eleven blue penguins which were kept at his home for a few weeks by his two children before being killed and mounted for display. He also mounted a large brown bear that came to Whanganui in a travelling circus.

Henry Drew retired from the family jewellery business in 1949, leaving his son Frank in charge.

 

Libby Sharpe is the Senior Curator at Whanganui Regional Museum

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Taxidermy

The word taxidermy is derived from the ancient Greek roots táksis (arrangement) and derma (skin), and loosely translates to “arrangement of skin”. It refers to the art of preparing, stuffing and mounting the skins of dead animals for exhibition in a lifelike state. Taxidermy takes on a number of forms and purposes, including hunting trophies and natural history museum displays, and sometimes to memorialise loved pets. It is used as a method of preserving specimens for research and recording, and for display, including those that are extinct and threatened, in the form of study skins and life-size mounts. It is practiced primarily on vertebrates (mammals, birds, fish and reptiles) but can also be applied to larger insects and arachnids (spiders).

The earliest known taxidermists were the ancient Egyptians who developed a form of animal preservation through the use of injections, spices, oils, and other embalming tools and methods. The modern form of taxidermy greatly differs from the taxidermy of antiquity, as taxidermists now produce lifelike mounts by accurately modelling the anatomy of animal specimens as they might appear in their natural habitat.

2. Drew's museum

 Drew’s taxidermied specimens in the Wanganui Public Museum that opened in 1895 and was situated in Drews Avenue.  Photograph by AD Willis. Ref: 1802.3375

In the Victorian era, taxidermy became very popular and fashionable, with many seeking curiosities for their cabinets in an exciting age of discovery. With the surge of international exploration, there was a growing community of natural history observers, or naturalists, who became intent on discovering fascinating new species abroad.

When new species of mammals, fowl and fish were still being discovered, naturalists looked for ways of preserving them for classification. Famed British explorer Captain James Cook was one of the early supporters of taxidermy for his newly discovered species. Charles Darwin was another early practitioner of taxidermy. He had some specimens from the Galapagos Islands taxidermied in situ; they later helped support his scientific theory of evolution.

In the early 20th century taxidermy came into its own and became a respected art form. Wealthy aristocrats would fill their homes with mounted animals from all over the world. As big game hunting became more popular, so did the practice of displaying wild animals. Early taxidermy mounts were stuffed with sawdust and rags without regard for actual anatomy, so the models were often disfigured. In fact, some mounts from those days skewed how people imagined such creatures for years. The long-extinct dodo is a prime example of creative taxidermy misleading actuality. Over time, taxidermists developed techniques to more accurately represent anatomy.

The Whanganui Regional Museum collection houses many taxidermied specimens, including rare and now extinct species such as huia, koreke (New Zealand quail) and whēkau (laughing owl). There are many trophy heads and even an extinct Tasmanian tiger.

1. Tasmanian tiger

Taxidermied and mounted specimen of the extinct Tasmanian tiger, Thylacinus cynocephalus, first acquired by Samuel Drew for a private museum at his home. Ref: 1805.61

The taxidermy collection started with an avid local naturalist and collector, Samuel Drew. He collected and classified many natural history specimens, certainly enough to establish a small museum at his home in 1880. He was a significant collector of molluscs, birds, and beetles, and maintained contacts with world-renowned naturalists. He exchanged specimens with Julius von Haast, a German geologist, later director of the Canterbury Museum. He met with and corresponded with taxidermist Andreas Reischek, who helped him classify some of his specimens. Reischek also trained Drew’s son, Henry, in taxidermy. Drew’s private collection eventually became too large for his family home and became the foundation of the Whanganui Regional Museum collection that we all enjoy today.

 

Rachael Garland is the Events Coordinator at Whanganui Regional Museum.

Extinct, stuffed and symbolic

Extinct, stuffed and symbolic

Dr Eric Dorfman’s professional credentials would be a separate – and very long – story. The books he’s written and studies he has made, in themselves, would make a fascinating Midweek article (note to self: write fascinating Midweek article about Dr Eric Dorfman’s books and published studies).

In this issue, however, we treat him as the recently appointed director of the Whanganui Regional Museum and hear about his interest in the long extinct Tasmanian Wolf, Thylacinus cynocephalus.

To do that I had to follow the tall, one-time Californian (but I think New Zealand has claimed him now) down into the bowels of the museum, shuffling between shelves until finding dozens of specimens of the taxidermists’ art. There we encountered our Tasmanian Wolf.

The museum has a stuffed specimen, collected by the museum’s founder, Samuel Drew, sometime around 1891, well before the species met its total demise. It looks its age, poor thing, but the astounding fact is that we have one.

Eric lived in Australia for some years and knows a bit about these creatures. So why did he choose it to present to Midweek?  “It’s immensely cool from the fact that we have an extinct Australian species of which there are only a few in the world and exemplifies the importance of the collection internationally, as well as nationally. It’s cool on a personal level because I’m a conservationist by profession and there is still an effort afoot to see if maybe there are some left in Tasmania … and evolutionarily it’s very cool because although it looks like a dog it’s actually more closely related to a kangaroo, koala or wombat.”

The Thylacine is a marsupial and has a pouch like a kangaroo … well, the female does. The museum’s specimen is an adult male. Eric says they are more closely related to the quoll, another Australian animal, which is “more like a marsupial weasel”.  “From an evolutionary standpoint, this is convergent evolution with a dog,” says Eric. “Also biologically that’s very interesting.  One of my research thrusts is about humans’ relationship with nature,” he says. Eric has a book coming out later this year – Intangible Natural Heritage – of which he is author/editor in league with a team of distinguished authors.

Looking at this sad, stuffed specimen, Eric sees past the obvious and finds a symbol of “our coming of age as a society when we realise that doing this [making animals extinct] is a really bad thing.” He stresses that while this new-found consciousness is too late for some species, it’s not too late for many others.

He praises the work of New Zealand’s Department of Conservation (DOC) and its work here and overseas. “DOC is supporting other countries, including the United States, in methodology of setting up island sanctuaries … and it’s fantastic to be in New Zealand – even though this is an Australian species – from the point of view of this is a place where we have come of age in terms of the environment, and I hope we stay there. You can see why this launches into a lot of really interesting philosophical issues … and also thinking about where museums have been and where they’re going.”

It’s incredible, almost, to realise that Samuel Drew, Whanganui Regional Museum founder, actually helped, in his way, send species such as the huia extinct. He did that by trading stuffed huia (probably) to get an example of another species that, itself, would be extinct in another 50 years. At the time he traded for the Tasmanian Wolf, it was reasonably common but he needed it for his marsupial collection.

“No museum curator has ever intentionally sent a species extinct,” says Eric, “but back in the 19th century when species looked like they were going extinct, often, museum curators would run out to make sure they had them in their collection before anyone else got them … the huia was a victim of that kind of thing.”

The Thylacine was once a pan-Australian species, says Eric, with cave paintings to prove it was once even in the very north of Australia in Kakadu National Park. “By the time Drew was around it was restricted to Tasmania,” he says, although it was being hunted until its final (probable) extinction in the 1930s.

Eric says there is enough genetic material in existence so that, one day, techniques of cloning may be able to reintroduce the species. And so we looked at Samuel Drew’s legacy, part of his vision of a great museum that was all-encompassing.  “We now ‘get’ why he did it,” says Eric, “and we now have this incredible treasure. This is an amazing thing to have.”

There are lemurs from Madagascar and animals from all around the world, some exhibited upstairs, others hiding from the light below decks in the vaults. The Thylacine stands with them, an example of old ethics and philosophies and yet a symbol of what we are today. And if we do manage to clone them back into existence, will we look after them this time? The last word goes to Dr Eric Dorfman.

“If the Thylacine is never going to be reinvented and really is extinct, and the same with the huia, don’t we owe it to the species and owe it to ourselves to allow it to awaken us to the realities of what we’re doing to the planet?”

Original article appeared in the Wanganui Midweek newspaper in June 2011.  Reproduced with permission from the author.

Spotted at the museum

Spotted at the museum

I realised Ruth Leopardforce, digitisation technician, is an interesting person when I asked about the origins of her unusual second name.  “I made it up,” she says. And so we moved on.

We were standing beside a small, spotted cat, stuffed and mounted in a semi-crouching position, although slightly off-balance. I put that down to either age or alcohol, with most bets on the former.

Why this exhibit?  Ruth says she has an interest in animals preserved by the taxidermist and an obsession with leopards. We didn’t take that any further, although it promised to be an illuminating discussion. Another time, perhaps.

This particular animal is a Clouded Leopard, a relic from Mr JJ Boyd’s zoo at Aramoho of the early 20th century.  Mrs Hayward’s Aramoho Tea Gardens evolved into the Aramoho Zoo – and enterprise run by animal lover and collector, JJ Boyd. Animals included lions, tigers, black bears, kangaroos, exotic birds, monkeys, tortoises and tropical fish … to name a few.  The zoo closed after neighbours complained that the roaring lions kept them awake at night. I wonder if the smell was ever mentioned.

Mr Boyd moved his zoo, lock stock and marsupial, to Onehunga, where, under the name Royal Oak Zoo, it flourished for 10 years until similar complaints forced its closure.  Ruth says an electrician friend of hers was working on an Aramoho property last year when he discovered a collection of Mr Boyd’s zoo cages under the house.

The featured leopard was stuffed and mounted by Archie Robertson; it was his first job and became part of his house museum collection. Now it is one of three creatures from Aramoho Zoo stored at Whanganui Regional Museum; the other two being a wallaby and a tuatara, of all things.

Original article appeared in the Wanganui Midweek in September 2010.  Reproduced with permission from the Publishers.