Lost in Museums

The other side of the collection


Of Museums

When the mice get in, the information is lost.

“In the early hours of the following day 600 Grenadier Guards took possession of the geology department at Imperial College (the Royal College of Science had been renamed Imperial College in 1910) and were billeted in all the rooms and laboratories. When [Arthur] Holmes arrived in the morning he had to step over sleeping soldiers lying in the corridors or propped up on the floor alongside cabinets and cases. Others were eating their morning rations using the tops of museum cases as tables. These cases were fitted with drawers filled with important teaching and research collections of minerals and fossils, all carefully labelled. Irreverently the soldiers deposited the remains of their rations into these draws and over time scraps of bread, meat and cheese gradually accumulated. Inevitably this attracted a large population of mice who indiscriminately ate the labels from the specimens along with the scraps. Much information was lost and the value of the collection as a teaching aid was enormously reduced, but it was a minor problem in the scale of this terrible war.”

— Cherry Lewis, The Dating Game: One Man’s Search for the Age of the Earth, (2000) [Canto Classics, 2012], p 106. ISBN 9781107659599

Sometimes things just disappear:

“These [star maps] are to be found in the library of the Royal Astronomical Society, but the Chinese planispheres which J. Williams (1)a presented in 1855 are no longer there, and had indeed already been lost by 1909, as Knobel (1)b tells us.”

a. J Williams, ‘Notes on Chinese Astronomy’ (presentation of planispheres). RAS/MN, 1855, 15, 19.
b. E B Knobel, ‘On a Chinese planisphere.’ RAS/MN, 1909, 69, 436.
Joseph Needham, Science and Civilisation in China: Volume III – Mathematics and the sciences of the heavens and the Earth, (1959) [Cambridge University Press, 2005], p 282. ISBN 9780521058015

Sometimes it is understandable:

“[During the severe winter of 1947] People chopped up old furniture to put on the fire, wooden fences disappeared over night, and trees seen standing one day were no longer there the next. In the Edinburgh geology department a large piece of coal exhibited in the main entrance hall, displaying the beautiful fossil of a three hundred million year old fern, mysteriously disappeared one day. No one complained, they just wished they had thought of it first.”

— Lewis, p 216.

Lord Asriel

A potential prototype for the Pullman character could be Lord Kelvin:

“In 1862 Lord Kelvin was the Professor in Natural Philosophy at Glasgow University and the world’s expert on thermodynamics. A scientist of international repute and ferocious ability, he was then at the height of his powers and widely regarded by his contemporaries as the greatest physicist of his day – a formidable opponent.”

— Lewis, p 34.

Particularly with the context of Rutherford and radium with its invisible particulate rays, standing in the place of Dust.

Maxwell and his Electromagnetic vectors could have a look-in, too.

There was a lot of discovery going on back then. The Age of the Earth, the Age of the Sun, the distance to any other star.