Monday, 10 April 2017

Stunning biological illustrations: the connection between Gosse, Haddon and the Horniman Museum

Alfred Cort Haddon, the famous anthropologist, was the son of a printer [1]. As a child, he was fascinated by Natural History and his interest was encouraged by his mother, who wrote and illustrated children's books. To draw a wide range of animals, young Alfred made visits to London Zoo, but C. G. Seligman writes [2] that he..

..was destined for his father's business, which he entered on leaving Mill Hill School.

According to Haddon's own account, it took his father scarcely two years to discover that it might be less costly to send his son to Cambridge than to retain him in the firm. So to Cambridge he went... study Zoology. After graduating in 1879, Haddon was appointed to a Demonstratorship by Cambridge University and was made Professor of Zoology at the Royal College of Science in Dublin the following year [2]. He..

..was active in marine biology, being secretary of the Dredging Committee, which did much work off the south-west coast of Ireland, and this led to a series of papers, mostly on the Actinozoa [sea anemones and corals].. ..For some years he divided his time between Dublin and Cambridge, lecturing in Dublin during the winter and spending the summers at Cambridge.

Dredging was a means of exploring marine habitats that were otherwise difficult to reach and Haddon was following in the tradition established by Edward Forbes [3] and continued by others, including Philip Henry Gosse. Gosse lived in Torquay from 1857 until his death in 1888 and that town was visited by, or had as residents, many who were interested in Marine Biology, including Amelia Griffiths, Mary Wyatt, and Charles Kingsley [4-5]. It is thus not surprising that Haddon chose Torquay as the site for teaching a field course in Marine Biology in 1879, when he was 24 years old. He used books and identification works supplied by the superintendent of the Museum in Cambridge and among these must have been Gosse's Actinologia Britannica, an authoritative, descriptive guide that is of value today (although some taxonomic names have changed). Henry Gosse was a meticulous scientist and a gifted illustrator and the plates in his books are wonderful [6].

Eight years after the field course, Haddon wrote to Gosse about the publication of Actinologia Britannica, as it had appeared in sections before the production of the final book [7]. At some point, a collection of watercolours by Gosse passed into Haddon's hands and included were many observations, notes, drawings and watercolours by William Pennington Cocks, the Cornish natural historian and retired surgeon that had been sent to Gosse by this "generous contributor of his own material in the cause of science, and an authority on the actinians and other marine fauna of Falmouth Bay" [8]. The collection (see above) was donated to the Horniman Museum in 1906, long after Haddon had shifted his interest to Anthropology (that began in a visit to the Torres Straits in 1888) and a year before Edmund Gosse published, anonymously, his less than flattering memoir Father and Son [9]. Earlier, Edmund had written a biography of his father at the request of E. Ray Lankester and The Naturalist of the Sea-Shore: the life of Philip Henry Gosse [10] has descriptions of Henry Gosse's techniques as an illustrator.

If I was stunned by the plates in Actinologia Britannica, can you imagine how I felt when viewing the originals held by the Horniman Museum (three of which are shown above)? This is what Edmund wrote about Henry's methods [10]:

His books were always well illustrated, and often very copiously and brilliantly illustrated, by his own pencil. It was his custom from his earliest childhood to make drawings and paintings of objects which came under his notice.. ..In July, 1855, he stated.. ..that he had up to that date accumulated in his portfolios more than three thousand figures of animals or parts of animals, of which about two thousand five hundred were of the invertebrate classes, and about half of these latter done under the microscope. During the remainder of his life he added perhaps two thousand more drawings to his collections. The remarkable feature about these careful works of art was that, in the majority of cases, they were drawn from the living animal..

..[Henry] Gosse as a draughtsman was trained in the school of the miniature painters. When a child he had been accustomed to see his father [a professional miniaturist and illustrator] inscribe the outline of a portrait on the tiny area of the ivory, and then fill it in with stipplings of pure body-colour. He possessed to the last the limitations of the miniaturist. He had no distance, no breadth of tone, no perspective; but a miraculous exactitude in rendering shades of colour and minute peculiarities of form and marking. In late years he was accustomed to make a kind of patchwork quilt of each full-page illustration, collecting as many individual forms as he wished to present, each separately coloured and cut out, and then gummed into its place on the general plate, upon which a background of rocks, sand and seaweeds was then washed in..

We can see examples of Henry's "patchwork" approach in the Plates shown above. Close examination of Plate I shows the top right section to be stuck on as are the sea anemones numbered 2, 7 and 8 in Plate III and sea anemones 7, 8, 9 and 11 in Plate VI. As Edmund points out, they are intended as accurate aids to identification, not as works of art, although I think they are beautiful, as are some of Henry's very small watercolours (see below).

They are truly the work of a miniaturist, as there is no shortage of paper on which to paint and it could be that Henry Gosse intended to convey real-life scale as well as accuracy of form and colour.

These are only a very small number of the illustrations held by the Horniman Museum and I would like to thank the Museum for letting me see the Haddon Collection and for allowing me to take the photographs that accompany this post.

[1] H. J. Fleure, rev. Sandra Rouse (2004-2016) Alfred Cort Haddon. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography

[2] C. G. Seligman (1940) Obituary of Dr A. C. Haddon F.R.S.. Nature 145: 848-850.

[3] Daniel Merriman (1963) Edward Forbes – Manxman. Progress in Oceanography 3: 191- 206.

[7] R. B. Freeman and Douglas Wertheimer (1980) Philip Henry Gosse: A Bibliography. Folkestone, Wm. Dawson & Sons.

[8] L. J. P. Gaskin (1937) On a collection of original sketches and drawings of British sea-anemones and corals by Philip Henry Gosse, and his correspondents, 1839-1861, in the Library of the Horniman Museum. Journal of the Society for the Bibliography of Natural History 1: 65-67

[9] Edmund Gosse (1907) Father and Son. London, William Heinemann.

[10] Edmund Gosse (1890) The Naturalist of the Sea-Shore: the life of Philip Henry Gosse. London, William Heinemann.

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